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Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA Founder & Executive Director, Discusses Importance of Remembering 9/11 First Responders; 9/11 Reinforced Clashing World Views Trump and Biden; At Least 20 Dead as Wildfires Burn Across Western U.S.; Laura Cox, Michigan Republican Party Chairman, Discusses Trump/Biden Race, Trump Claiming He Saved U.S. Auto Industry. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 11, 2020 - 11:30   ET



PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: Today, he knows, in New York City, where we live, and in New York State, and all across America, firefighters are out in fire trucks. And today, we honor and respect and salute them.

I think we need that now more than ever, John, because we're so divided. And we may forget that there was a time when we actually came together in a moment of crisis and showed the best of what have America is all about.

And we've also got to never forget that it's not over. And thousands of our friends who served in 9/11 died and many more are suffering now from the adverse health conditions and exposures of 9/11.

If we really never want to forget, we have to recognize the importance of that day but commit to remembering it in the future. And that's important now and in the days to come

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: You mentioned your young son. There will be people who vote in this year's presidential election who were not alive on that day, not alive on that day 19 years ago, which is bizarre.

I was covering the White House that day. I remember the Bush administration staffers, the Secret Service rushing us all off the grounds. People flying out of their shoes, they were running in such a panic.

What do you say and how important do you think it is for people with the experience like yourself to talk to those who don't remember?

RIECKHOFF: It's critical. I feel like an old guy now. I feel like I'm an old guy talking about Pearl Harbor or talking about the day Kennedy was shot.

I think that in times like this, especially, we have to take the political views and the big talkers and put them on one side and look for the keepers of the flame, look for the people who preserve our oral history.

And that's why it's so important not just to understand the folks who were there but anybody who was impacted.

We do a celebration of life in my family every year on 9/11. And we go around to everyone who is there's and say, where were you on 9/11 and what was your story. Everyone has had a 9/11 story. And everybody's 9/11 story is important because it's because we're so interconnect.

I think we need that spirit now, John, more than ever. The coronavirus is another crisis hitting us. And 9/11 first responders are uniquely vulnerable to the coronavirus.

If we really do want to remember that time, we've got to commit to those folks right now. There's a #myfriendsaredying. Today, we'll add 27 new names who died from 9/11 health impacts.

And it wasn't firefighters. There were kids at Stivenson (ph) High School who are coming down with cancer.

So we can unite around this issue. And maybe, at least today, it can give us that moment and the rally point as we come into another chaotic time of the election and division and a time when America will be pulled apart.

We've got to remember that spirit of 9/11 and try to bring it forward in whatever way we can.

KING: If your son has asked you or does ask you, dad, in a moment, tell me one story from being there at Ground Zero on that day that shapes what you think every day after, what would it be?

RIECKHOFF: You know, I used to walk him to school past Ground Zero. I never thought I'd have a family in Battery Park just blocks away from where I worked as a rescue worker, but that's the case.

You know, I tell him about the firefighters who ran in. Because he knows firefighters. If you live in New York and, frankly, if you live in any town in America, you've probably got a volunteer firehouse and people around you.

And I tell you about the heroism. He knows Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers famously said, when the times are tough, look for the helpers. The firefighters are our helpers.

But I also tell him that all Americans are helpers. That's the spirit of the citizenship of this country.

And this is a time when you can have pride in your country and the good kind of pride, not the hijacked pride we've seen so often in politics.

So that's what I tell my son. It's about heroes and leader. And he's one of them.

KING: Paul Rieckhoff, appreciate your insights and remembrances today. We can talk about some of the other stuff another day. I most important today, the focus right there.

I'm grateful for your time and insights. And, of course, grateful for your service. Thank you.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, John. Appreciate you.

KING: Thank you.

Both President Trump and the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, of course, attending 9/11 ceremonies today.

This context from Matt Viser at "The Washington Post." "The September 11 attacks targeted the cities that molded the two men, Washington and New York, reinforcing the clashing world views they now offer the American electorate.

Biden's embrace of U.S. institutions and global alliances and Trump's distrust of foreigners and insistence that America must go it alone."

Matt Viser, the national political reporter for "The Post" is the with us right now.

Matt, you're very well pulled together this critical day and how it does reinforce the very different perspectives of these two candidates.

MATT VISER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Also sort of where they were. Nearly two decades ago, both men in different places and at different moments.

Biden is alone on an Amtrak train when the towers are struck. And his wife, Jill, is - it's not open once he gets to Washington. You know, sort of his core belief that institutions should go forward.

And Donald Trump at that the moment is in Trump Tower saying that he's witnessed it and calling in to a TV show. And he is also lamenting an institution. But it's Wall Street. He's upset that that is shut down, you know.


So they have very different reactions that I think inform sort of where they were at that moment. And their positions are sort of formed by that moment and hardened over time in how they approach world views and how they are informed today.

KING: I want you to listen a little bit to the former vice president this morning just trying to -- he took his ads down today. He said no ads on television today. No official campaign events. He said not on this day.


JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm not going to be making any news today. I'm not going to talk about anything other than 9/11. It's a solemn day. We pulled all of our advertising down. We can get back to the campaign tomorrow.


KING: In addition to that, Matt, he did have a moment at Ground Zero this morning. He knows Mike Pence well. When he was in the Senate he was vice president. Mike Pence was in the Congress and then Indiana governor before he was vice president.

And they had a moment where they did what was supposed to happen, even in the middle of a campaign, stopped, said hello, greeted. The former vice president saying hello to the Pences there.

This pause won't last long. It may not last more than an hour or two. But it's important that America step back, including its political leaders on this day, is it not?

VISER: Yes. And I think, as was remarked earlier, you know, we're in the midst of a different tragedy now than we were after 9/11.

But in reporting this latest piece, I was struck a little bit by the difference between the two.

Right after 9/11, there were moments of national unity that lasted for a while. I mean, we engaged in divisive political debates to be sure. But in this moment, it only lasted sort of a week or two, you know, in terms of the coronavirus.

KING: Right.

VISER: And both candidates, Biden and Trump, are both visiting Shanksville, which is kind of a place that remembers average Americans kind of taking things into their own hands, this sort of "let's roll" moment, which has kind of has been lacking in this current context, the call for sort of national unity.

KING: Matt Viser, "The Washington Post," greatly appreciate it.

People go online. Please read the full report. It's fabulous.

Matt, thanks so much.

And to your point about Shanksville, anyone out there who wants to visit one of the 9/11 memorials, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, is a remarkable site if you want to remember the real heroes.

Matt, thanks so much.

Up next for us, two of the largest wildfires in Oregon could soon merge. Live on the scene, next.



KING: At least 20 people now dead as wildfires ravage the west coast. Firefighters are struggling to put out the flames in California, Oregon, and Washington State.

Officials say over three million acres have been burned in California alone. That's twice the size of Delaware.

Here's some pictures of parts of Oregon. And 500,000 people have been forced to evacuate in Oregon. Look at those pictures Absolutely stunning.

CNN's Camila Bernal is on the ground for us in Oregon.

Camila, the pictures stop your heart and 500,000 people evacuated.

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it definitely does. And when you think about it, when you let that sink in, it's more than 10 percent of the population who have left this state or who have had to go somewhere else because their homes are in danger.

And because they don't know when they will be able to return or, if they even return, if they will be able to find a home.

I want to show you what we're seeing now. This is a road that has been closed. And we went down this road a couple of minutes ago and there's areas in there where you absolutely cannot see five, 10 feet in front of you because the smoke is just so thick.

So far, it's been about 900,000 acres that have burned. And the governor here said that, to put it into perspective, it means that more than double the amount of land that normally burns in an entire year has already burned with this fire.

The problem is it's still not under control. They had not been working on containment up to this point.

Thankfully, the weather conditions are improving and looking forward to the weekend. They do expect some showers on Monday.

But it is just now they are trying to get ahold of the flames because, at the moment, it's still uncontrollable -- John?

KING: Well, let's hope the weather does turn the way they wish.

Camila Bernal for us on the ground for us in Oregon. I'm grateful for the important live reporting there.


Coming up for us, the president says the Obama/Biden administration destroyed Michigan's auto industry and that he saved it. But the numbers, the facts tell us something different.


KING: The president hoping very much in 2020 to recreate this map from 2016, including here in Michigan. He was there last night. He's hoping for some Michigan deja vu. The president visiting just a day after a visit by the Democrat, Joe

Biden. Biden leads in all the polls in Michigan, but the president has seen this movie before.

Let's look at Michigan in 2016. Look how close it was. Just a little over 10,000. Just shy of 11,000 votes.

This is the closest of all the states. Remember close elections, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan. That's why Trump is president. This was the closest of all of them, 47.6 to 47.4.

Take a look at the map. See the red. That's 2016. That's the Obama victory in 2012. See the blue. Watch a lot of that blue disappear. Trump flipped key counties in 2016 that Obama and Biden won in 2012.

Trump trailed in the polls in Michigan all the way until the end, but he won it. Telling the crowd last night, let's do it again.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was election eve but, by the time I got here, it was late. Some of you were in that audience, 32,000 people. She had 500 people.


TRUMP: I said, why are we going to lose Michigan. And we didn't.


KING: With us now, the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Laura Cox.


Thank you so much, Chairman Cox, for being with us.

Ronna McDaniel, who is now the head of the Republican National Committee, used to have your job. She is among those telling the president she is worried that he is not on TV enough in Michigan. And Joe Biden, if you turn on a TV, is everywhere.

Do you share that worry? And did you share that with the president?

LAURA COX, CHAIRMAN, MICHIGAN REPUBLICAN PARTY: Yes. You know, he knows. We want him here in Michigan. He never forgot Michigan since 2016. And he is up in Michigan again. And he has a buy continuing through the month of September.

We are excited. The enthusiasm is palpable. And we're excited to re- elect the president again with a bigger margin this time.

KING: You can't get much smaller. I love close races but I know - I know, if you're the chairman, you don't like close races. You like winning, if it's close.

COX: Yes.

KING: But, look, we are in the middle of a pandemic right now and the economic impact is an important part of the conversation.

And the president has been dealt with a tough hand because he's the incumbent president during the time of this economic wipeout caused by the pandemic.

Last night, though, he suggested that he saved Michigan. Listen.


TRUMP: You better vote for me. I got you so many damned car plants.


TRUMP: Have you seen what we're doing here? All the plants that have been built, are being built. And what about the plants that are being expanded?


KING: On the front page of "The Detroit Free Press," it said the president made wild claims about auto plants.

I want to show you the numbers. This is January 2017, the last month of the Obama administration. President Trump became president on the 20th. And 174,000 auto and auto-parts jobs in Michigan. February 2020, this year, before the pandemic hit, already there were 2,400 fewer jobs. And almost 20,000 fewer now.

But I don't think it's fair to the president to use that July number because the coronavirus pandemic would have hurt any president's job numbers, any state's jobs numbers.

But if you just look at when he took office, in February this year, pre-pandemic, the numbers were down.

How can he say he created more jobs, more plants?

COX: You know, I don't think anybody can argue with how successful Michigan was doing in the manufacturing sectors. The governor, in her State of the State in January, was bragging about all the investment coming into the state of Michigan.

We're excited about what the president has -- his track record of successes in Michigan.

And we believe voters, when they go to the ballot box in November, will remember that and know that there's no better man to lead us, who is fighter for American workers and American jobs better and stronger than President Trump.

KING: But the numbers speak for themselves, don't they? These are Trump administration numbers. These are not numbers from the fake news or someone else. These are a Trump administration Labor Department number that show

fewer jobs in auto parts and auto industry in February of 2020 than when he took office.

COX: Well, listen, you know, in Michigan, for example, we had a plant closing in Mexico and moving to the city of Detroit, which hadn't happened in over 40 years.

The president fights for trade policies and economic policies that are, bar none, they stand up for themselves.

We've been then hit by a global pandemic. And I know, as we go through the recovery, his strong economic policies are going to make sure that we ensure American jobs for American workers first, whether it's trade or economic policies.

We had historic unemployment rates for women, minorities, African- Americans, Asians, Hispanics, in Michigan. A historic rate.

And I know that he will have the policies in place to make sure that he is fighting for American workers and Michigan workers.

KING: You know the state polls, including your state polls as well as anyone. That's your job.

If you look at the state polls, those big three, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, that the president flipped from blue to red last time, a lot of Republican strategists in Washington say Michigan seems to be the most stubborn. It seems to be better for Biden consistently.

And there's been some talk to the president's campaign, maybe just worry more about Wisconsin. The president doesn't need Michigan. It was critical last time.

What is your take?

COX: I believe Michigan is absolutely winnable. He's been invested in the state since 2015, like I said. And he's not forgotten us.

We have 80 people throughout the state training volunteers every day. We have reached over five million voter contacts, thus far, we're building on it every day .

And we're talking about why folks need to elect Republicans up and down the ballot, like John James for the U.S. Senate. Those kinds of things are going to matter.

We'll talk about the track record of successes by the president and Republicans and continue to pound that message in as we continue through the next 53 days.

KING: And 53 days, that's a true party chair. Counting the days. I hope I get out to Michigan. One bad thing about this pandemic is not getting to travel as much to the great states.

Laura Cox is chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Thank you so much for your time.

COX: Thanks for having me.

KING: You're welcome. Thank you.

The Treasury Department now slapping sanctions on a Ukrainian lawmaker who met with President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in an effort to smear Joe Biden.

The Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin calling Andriy Derkach a Russian agent and says he had been using, quote, "manipulation and deceit" to try to influence the U.S. election.


When asked about the federal government's move, Giuliani texted CNN, "Who cares?" But he acknowledged he has received documents from Derkach about Biden.

When we come back, the coronavirus trends this hour. The president says get back to work. His top infectious disease expert says hunker down.



KING: Hello, everybody. Top of the hour. I'm John King in Washington.