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Des Moines Opens Online Only; Wildfires Burning Across Western U.S.; Trump Claims about Pandemic; NFL Season Kicks Off. Aired 9:30- 10a

Aired September 11, 2020 - 09:30   ET





There was a battle underway in the state of Iowa where the Des Moines Public School District began the year with online classes only, as many districts have, defying an order from the governor and a judge's ruling.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to our Evan McMorris Santoro. He's been following education very closely.

Good morning, Evan.

Did they -- did they defy this -- it's quite a move -- because of the numbers and the Covid count?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, that's exactly right. This is a debate about who gets to decide when schools open, the local leadership and the parents and teachers or the governor? In a -- in Iowa, the governor said that 50 percent of students must be able to return to schools statewide. The Des Moines Schools defied that and sued her and then a judge didn't issue an injunction, meaning that the governor's orders stayed in place.

Now, the Des Moines schools have decided to continue to stay online anyway and it's really an open question as to what that means for students now. Are they trapped in the middle of something, we don't know yet, but that's what's going on, that local control versus the governor.

HARLOW: Yes. We will --

SCIUTTO: It's tough to watch. And it's a struggle, obviously, for school districts across the country to get this right.

Evan McMorris-Santoro, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, so, set your DVRs or tune in live, even better, tomorrow morning. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Erica Hill and the "Sesame Street" crew. Join them for answers to your questions and your kids' questions about returning to school and, of course, virtual learning. "The ABCs of Back to School," CNN/"Sesame Street" town hall for families. It is right here on CNN tomorrow morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

SCIUTTO: Massive wildfires -- they're just stunning -- are continuing to tear through parts of California, Oregon and Washington state. Huge parts of those states. We're going to bring you there, live.



HARLOW: All right, in about 30 seconds we will take you to the third moment of silence this morning. Obviously it is 19 years since the terror attack of 9/11. And we will observe silence, listen to taps. This is from American Airlines Flight 77, Jim, that struck the Pentagon.

SCIUTTO: I remember seeing the smoke from the roof of the Pentagon from the roof of my apartment building in D.C. 19 years ago. A shocking moment. Seconds away now.

Let's listen in on the moment of silence.


SCIUTTO: The flag hanging there from where the plane struck. You may remember the night following the plane striking the Pentagon. It was firefighters who lowered a flag over what was then rubble. They rebuilt that very quickly and that's how it looks today.

HARLOW: Yes. We'll continue to bring you these moments of silence throughout the morning.

Meantime, at least 23 people are dead this morning from the wildfires that are ripping across the West Coast. More than 100 of them burning from California to Washington state, producing so much smoke, look at that, that's an image from NASA, folks. That is how far away this smoke is visible.

Take a look at this video from Oregon. Gutted homes and ruined cars are all that is left of the small cities of Phoenix and Talent (ph). More than 500,000 people under evacuation orders in that state.

And to California, where more than 14,000 firefighters are battling nearly 30 blazes. Two of the largest, not contained this morning. Officials say more than 3 million acres have burned this year. That is twice the size of Delaware.

Daniel Sweeney is with us, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of Environment and Sustainability.

Good morning. Thanks for being here.

DANIEL SWAIN, CLIMATE SCIENTIST, UCLA INSTITUTE OF ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY: Good morning, Poppy. Thanks for having me. HARLOW: I worry that people are not fully understanding the connection

between the changing climate, climate change, human contribution to it and what we're seeing happen in California. I think Governor Newsom laid it out well yesterday.

And "The New York Times" this morning writes this, quote, it's an example of something climate experts have worried about for a long time but which few expected to see so soon, a cascade effect in which a series of disasters overlap, triggering or amplifying each other.


Is that what's happening?

SWAIN: I would agree that it is -- it -- it's just really a shocking development in California, although, from a climate or fire scientists' perspective, unfortunately, probably not too much of a surprise. This is something that had been long predicted, as the governor suggested, by fire and climate scientists that would arise in a warming climate.

HARLOW: Can you explain to people in very layman's terms, explain why climate change makes this so much worse, specifically the fires.

SWAIN: So the main connection between climate change and wildfire, particularly in a place like California, is essentially through temperatures. So warming temperatures are probably the most obvious impact of climate change. And, in this case, they are probably the most direct influence on wildfire.

What's happening is that warming temperatures are drying out thee vegetation, creating more evaporation from the soil and requiring more transporation (ph) from plants themselves. And since, of course, it is the living -- mostly the living vegetation that is the fuel for these wildfires, how dry that vegetation is very much affects how intensely and how quickly these fires can burn.

HARLOW: And --

SWAIN: So really what's happening is that climate change is increasing the severity of wildfire in that way, through the vegetation.

HARLOW: It also goes -- goes beyond the devastation, the economic toll that this reeks, the lives that are lost, to -- to the drinking water supply, right? You have the CDC out this week warning that people with Covid-19 are at an increased risk because of the smoke and then add on to that the runoff into the drinking water supply from burned homes.

SWAIN: Yes, there's really two classes of major public health threats that can arise when you have wildfires on this scope, especially ones that burn into populated or urban areas, one -- both of which are occurring right now.

The water quality issue where you have either runoff into drinking water reservoirs from the ash and debris from the fires themselves once the rains come, or in urban areas when homes burn, that's right, there are serious water quality problems from toxins that are released when those pipes burn. And the air quality issue, of course, is particularly acute right now because we're still in the middle of a respiratory pandemic.


SWAIN: So that dense smoke is even worse than it might be otherwise.


I understand. Well, I don't understand why, but the reality is this becomes a political battle, right, even though the science is just so aligned on climate change.

I just want to leave people with this, Daniel, and this is a quote from the administration's own report on this from 13 different federal agencies updated this year, quote, greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the only factors that can account for the observed warming over the last century. Those are the facts, Daniel, are they not?

SWAIN: That's -- that is absolutely right. As a climate scientist, I can't find anything wrong with that statement.

HARLOW: Thanks for being here and thanks for your work

SWAIN: Thanks again for having me.


SCIUTTO: Well, President Trump just compared his handling of the coronavirus outbreak to the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill during World War II. What does the history actually tell us? Next.



SCIUTTO: This is the scene now at yet one more piece of hallowed ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 went down. It's believed the hijackers overpowered by the passengers. The president there with the first lady. He will speak shortly. And at 10:03 a.m., they will observe a moment of silence for when that crash took place. We will bring you the president's comments live as they happen.

Well, another story we're following this morning, President Trump is now attempting to make his defense. This following the release of tapes in his own voice revealing the president knew exactly how dangerous this virus was in early February while he continued to say it was not so dangerous, no more so than a regular flu in public for days and weeks afterwards.

Yesterday, in the White House Briefing Room, a reporter asked President Trump why he lied to the American people about the severity of this.

HARLOW: His response, quote, I didn't lie. He then proceeded to tell some lies at his rally last night in Michigan.

Daniel Dale joins us for a fact check.

Good morning, Daniel.

There is a lot here, but I'd like to begin with the president's comparison of his public reaction contrasted with his words to -- to Bob Woodward in early February with -- with the actions and the words of Winston Churchill.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Yes, so he started arguing yesterday that not only was he correct to conceal the true severity of the coronavirus from the public to, he says, keep the public calm, but he argued that his was positively Churchillian (ph).

Listen to what he said at a campaign rally yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Hitler was bombing, I don't know if you know this, when Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, a great leader, would oftentimes go to a roof in London and speak.


And he always spoke with calmness. He said, we have to show calmness. No, we did it the right way and we've done a job like nobody.


DALE: So this is wrong both specific and generally. I reached out last night to a bunch of Churchill historians. They say, number one, Churchill would sometimes go to roofs to watch the bombing. He never actually broadcast from the -- from the roofs.

More importantly, though, Churchill, they say, did not conceal the severity of the Nazi threat from the British people. There were occasional times where he did temporarily keep bad news from the British public. But, for the most part, he was famously forthcoming with the British people. For example, in his famous first speech to the House of Commons, he said, we face many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. He said, we're facing our ordeal of the most grievous kind.

One historian, Richard Toy (ph), of the University of Exitor (ph), said there is a big difference between telling people to remain calm in the face of a serious threat, Churchill, and downplaying the seriousness of a threat, Trump.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We will fight them on the beaches. He didn't say the Germans weren't come. He talked about standing up to them. All right, the auto industry. The president made a specious claim

about his administration's role with the auto industry. I want to play that and have you fact check it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After the last administration nearly killed the U.S. auto industry, I saved the U.S. auto industry.


SCIUTTO: That one is a pretty bald-face falsehood. Tell us why.

DALE: The local paper, "The Detroit Free Press," basically did this fact-check for me. They pointed out that even before the coronavirus pandemic, there were 2,400 fewer auto and auto parts jobs in Michigan than there were before Trump took office.

They pointed out that his claims about many new plants being built are not true. Only one new assembly plant is being built under Trump in Michigan. And his claim that he forced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to make Japanese companies invest in Michigan is also just entirely false.


It also, we should note, the Obama administration that bailed out the auto administration in the midst of the last financial crisis.

DALE: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Which it could reasonably claim made a difference.

Sorry, Poppy.

HARLOW: No, not at all. Right, that effort actually led by -- led by former Vice President Joe Biden.

Daniel, we always appreciate you on TV and in print for keeping them honest. Thank you.

DALE: Thank you.

HARLOW: Moments ago, Vice President Mike Pence greeted former vice president, and current Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden. The two are together right now. You see them in the other picture that there was there at the 9/11 memorial ceremony taking place right here in New York City at the site where the Twin Towers fell on this day 19 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jose Bienvenido Gomez.



SCIUTTO: Well, the NFL's back. The first game since coronavirus and racial tensions took over the public spotlight. You know, I was hoping for some moments of unity and there it didn't quite see them.

HARLOW: Yes, you're right.

Andy Scholes is live in Kansas City.

What happened, Andy?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, they did try to do a show of unity. And as a part of the new NFL social justice initiatives, you know, the league is planning this whole entire weekend on playing both the black national anthem, which is the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and "The Star Spangled Banner" at every single game.

And the Chiefs decided to stay on the field for both of those anthems, while the Texans remained back in the locker room. And a Texans exec telling NBC that they didn't want to be seen as celebrating one song while throwing shade on the other. That's why they decided to stay in the back.

But the Chiefs, though, they all lined up at the goal line for the black national anthem and video tribute and then just one player, defensive end Alex Okafor, kneeling during the national anthem with his fist raised in the air.

Now, once the Texans did take the field, both teams gathered at midfield for a moment of unity.


SCHOLES: Now, you hear some boos there on the broadcast. I was in the stadium. I didn't hear any of the fans booing in the area where I was sitting. JJ Watt said after the game, though, he didn't understand why anyone would boo that moment.


JJ WATT, HOUSTON TEXANS DEFENSIVE END: The booing was unfortunate during that moment. I don't -- I don't fully understand that. There was no flag involved. There was nothing involved with that besides two teams coming together to show unity.

PATRICK MAHOMES, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS QUARTERBACK: We wanted to show that we were unified as a league. And we're not going to let playing football distract us from what we're doing and making change in this world.


SCHOLES: Yes, and the Chiefs going on to win that game over the Texans 34-20. Guys, first game since the pandemic started. They allowed 16,000 fans in Arrowhead Stadium.


SCHOLES: It seats 76. SO they were spread out quite a bit.


SCHOLES: So a successful first start to the NFL season in terms of having fans.

SCIUTTO: Andy Scholes, thanks very much.

Good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

Nineteen years ago today, on 9/11, 2,977 Americans were killed in the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil. Let's listen to this moment of silence when the south tower fell.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Christine Lee Hanson.


HARLOW: Right now the ceremony underway in Pennsylvania also to remember those who were killed when United Flight 93 went down.