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President Trump Awards Medal of Honor; Wildfire Crisis; Nation Marks September 11. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 11, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: To never truly seek an answer to that question, it is also a shame.

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Our special coverage continues right now with Brooke Baldwin.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Brianna, thank you so much.

Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin, and thank you for being with me here on CNN this afternoon.

Today, our nation comes together to remember its worst modern day tragedy. It was 19 years ago when the world watched in horror as the United States was attacked by terrorists, nearly 3,000 lives lost, thousands more injured, and a world changed forever.

Shortly, President Trump will be awarding the Medal of Honor to Army Sergeant Major Thomas Patrick Payne as part of an elite unit in Iraq. Sergeant Major Thomas stormed a burning building under enemy fire, used bolt-cutters to free dozens of prisoners locked in a room, left the building briefly, and then went back in to make sure no one was left behind.

And he is the first living Delta Force member to receive the Medal of Honor. We will take you live to that ceremony at the White House the second it begins.

Today also marks exactly six months since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. And yet experts fear it is far from over.

A new forecast from the CDC predicts that another 20,000 people could die from the virus in just the next three weeks. And now Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging people to -- quote -- "hunker down," saying the virus is only going to worsen in the coming months, while conceding that things may not return to normal even with a vaccine until the end of next year.

So, when asked about President Trump's claim that the U.S. had turned a corner on COVID, Dr. Fauci had a different view.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with that, because, if you look at the thing that you just mentioned, the statistics, Andrea, they are disturbing.

We're plateauing at around 40,000 cases a day, and the deaths are around 1,000.


BALDWIN: Now, when -- let's go to CNN's Jeremy Diamond at the White House.

And, Jeremy, Dr. Fauci didn't stop there. When you watch this interview, he was also quite critical of the conversation between President Trump and veteran journalist Bob Woodward dating back to early February, when the president admitted to intentionally downplaying the virus to the public.

What did Dr. Fauci say?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, I think you and I both remember time after time where the president would say one thing downplaying the seriousness of the threat of this coronavirus, while Dr. Fauci and other public health experts were offering a very different message, trying to impart the seriousness of the situation to the American people.

And that is exactly what Dr. Fauci recounted in responding to this interview with Bob Woodward. Listen.


FAUCI: And, certainly, there were disagreements. As you know, there were times when I was out there telling the American public how difficult this is, how we're having a really serious problem, you know, and the president was saying it's something that's going to disappear, which obviously is not the case.

So, there was and is some disagreements in what we say and what comes out from the White House. But, again, we're trying to get the right thing done by getting the right word out.

But I can't have any explanation for the conversations between the author of the book, Bob Woodward, and the president. So, I mean, I can't comment any more on that, except to say, yes, when you downplay something that is really a threat, that is not a good thing.


BALDWIN: Not a good thing.

DIAMOND: And, of course, Brooke, we have known for months now that President Trump downplayed the threat of the coronavirus. What's new is the fact that the president is admitting in this on-the-

record recorded interview with Bob Woodward that he did indeed intentionally downplay it, and he knew the seriousness of the threat as early as February.

But, Brooke, what is remarkable is the fact that the president is continuing to do this. As you just mentioned in your intro there, the president last night at his rally was talking about the fact that we are rounding the corner of this virus, that numbers are plummeting, when, in fact, we are stagnating at about 35,000, more than 35,000 cases a day, more than 800 deaths per day.

And we are getting these warnings now from Dr. Fauci and other public health experts that we need to buckle up for a really rough fall and winter.

BALDWIN: Like he said, wouldn't go back to normal until potentially the end of 2021.

Dr. Fauci also expressed concern about mask use, or lack thereof, Jeremy, at large gatherings outside, saying you're not protected just because you're not indoors. But that's what we keep seeing at Trump rallies.

And CNN -- and I want to play -- I know you have seen this, but I want our viewers to watch this. So, CNN caught up with some attendees at a Trump rally who weren't wearing face coverings and asked them why not.

Here they were.



QUESTION: Why are you not you wearing a mask?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because there's no COVID. It's a -- it's a fake pandemic created to destroy the United States of America.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it doesn't do anything, really. These little things, this is the worst pandemic in the world? A little mask? A little mask, this protects you from the world's deadliest and scariest virus that ruined our economy? And we have to wear this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone who is here signed up for that. They understand they're taking a risk.

QUESTION: You're not worried about all these people in here not wearing masks?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not worried about it. I'm more worried about, like, the state of our country more than anything.


DIAMOND: And, Brooke, as you watch that sound, I mean, you just have to wonder what those individuals' views would be on mask wearing had the president from early on in this pandemic said that wearing masks are important, wearing masks is a patriotic thing to do, as he, of course, started to do much more recently.

But, still, the president still isn't wearing a mask very frequently in public. And, of course, more notably, his campaign is holding these events where thousands of people are gathering together, as if this is some kind of alternate universe where the coronavirus pandemic does not exist.

And, of course, they are still not requiring attendees to wear masks. It's optional.

BALDWIN: Despite all the warnings we have been getting since the -- from the scientists.

Jeremy, thank you very much for that.

Meantime, the head of Operation Warp Speed -- that's the federal government's vaccine program -- is speaking out today about the accelerated effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.

He talked to Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the process so far.

And so with me to talk about that is CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

So, Elizabeth, what did he say to Sanjay?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Dr. Slaoui talked to Sanjay about the timing of the vaccine, which is, there -- of course, there's been so much discussion. Is it being rushed? Is it not being rushed?

Let's take a listen to what Dr. Slaoui told Sanjay.


DR. MONCEF SLAOUI, CHIEF ADVISER TO VACCINE EFFORT: If we know a vaccine is 70 or 80 or 90 percent effective, it would be unethical to hold it back.

I would, frankly, turn the question the other way around and say, what would be my ethical reason to withhold a vaccine that I could have developed faster from being developed faster?


COHEN: So, let's unpack, Brooke, what Dr. Slaoui said at the end of that. You could look at it two ways. He could be saying, why wouldn't we cut red tape and get through this as quickly as we could in a safe and scientifically sound way, but cut through the red tape that you have usually, normally, in pre-COVID times?

Or you could look at it and say, oh, he's saying let's cut safety corners.

Having spoken with Dr. Slaoui before, I can tell you that he means the first. He means cutting red tape. He means manufacturing the vaccine while we're studying it, and then, if it doesn't work out, you just don't use it.

But, of course, there is such concern about this. But I will tell you, Brooke, the folks who I have talked to who are concerned -- these are infectious disease experts, vaccinologists -- they're not so worried about the data gathering that's going on right now. That's being done by real scientists.

What they're worried about is that if the data is done and it looks kind of eh, that there is going to be pressure on the FDA brass to give it the stamp of approval, that the president is going to pressure the head of the FDA to put a vaccine on the market that may not be so great. That's where the worry is.

BALDWIN: Elizabeth, understandable. Thank you so much for the update there.

And the Coronavirus Task Force over at the White House is placing a sharper focus on colleges and universities, as campuses continue to grapple with worsening outbreaks.

In their recommendations to states this week, the task force pushed states to take measures to prevent more outbreaks as the school year gets under way. And this is all happening as there are now more than 40,000 cases across college campuses in all 50 states.

You see all the red on your screen. And controlling the rapidly spreading virus is proving to be more difficult than some may have predicted.

With me now, Anne Rimoin, epidemiology professor at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health.

And, Anne, I want to start with this. There was an article in "The New York Times" that pointed out that even the campuses with the best plans in place, like the University of Illinois' massive testing program, they haven't been able to overcome the behaviors of college students.

So what can, what should these colleges do?

DR. ANNE RIMOIN, UCLA EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Brooke, you're bringing up a really important problem, that it isn't just about the testing. It isn't just about the masking. It's not just about the social distancing. And it's not just about the hand hygiene. It's about all of these things together. And it is very complicated. Kids at universities are away from home for the first time. Under the best of circumstances, it's hard to get people to follow the rules. We were all in college at a certain point -- or those of us who were in college at a certain point really remember what is like to be at that age, and really trying to figure out how to follow these rules.


You have kids that are going to be in close quarters. They're going to be in the exact ideal conditions that spread the virus. The good news is, is that there is testing going on. We're identifying a lot of these outbreaks.

But Dr. Fauci brought this up. We have had numerous people bring this up. The problem is, is that nothing happens in a vacuum, and that these kids -- having these outbreaks in these kids means that, when -- if they go home, they're going to spread it to their parents, who are going to be in their 50s and 60s, or multigenerational households, and up to their 70s, 80s and 90s, people who have other issues and are vulnerable.

And that also goes with the staff and the faculty, who are also exposed. So it is a huge problem. And it is not a problem that was not foreseeable. We all knew that kids going back into school was going to create a situation where we were going to see very large numbers occur.

BALDWIN: We're not just rounding the corner, right? That's what -- also what Dr. Fauci said in his way, obviously disputing what the president have been saying.

And on this notion, Anne, about everyone's wondering, myself included, when are we going back to -- air quotes -- "normal," Dr. Fauci today reiterated that he believes that we will have a vaccine end of this year, or maybe beginning of next.

But I want to read exactly what he said after that -- quote -- "By the time you mobilize the distribution of the vaccines, and you get the majority or more of the population vaccinated and protected, that's likely not going to happen until the mid or end of 2021."

So he says, if you're talking about getting back to a degree of normality, which resembles where we were prior to COVID, he said it's going to be well into 2021, maybe even towards the end of 2021.

Does that sound about right to you?

RIMOIN: Dr. Fauci is very wise. And I think he's being very realistic. And I think that that's the problem here, is that we spend a lot of time looking for these magic bullets that are going to save us, but we don't have those. They don't exist.

I have spent my entire career working on immunization, emerging infectious diseases and trying to deal with logistics of getting things like vaccines out to populations. Under the best of circumstances, it is difficult.

And here, we are combating politics. We're combating vaccine hesitancy. We are going to be combating so many things. So it is not realistic to think that, even if we find that a vaccine is useful, effective, safe, that being able to get it to the public and in enough time and with the -- with both doses -- this is a vaccine that is likely going to be two doses -- is going to take time.

So this goes back to, what do we have to do? We have to deal with these blunt measures, which have been very effective in other places, wearing a mask, hand hygiene, social distancing.

BALDWIN: Yes. So, we all need to -- again, speaking to myself as well -- slow our roll. We are not going to be normal for a little while.

Anne Rimoin, thank you so much for always all of your perspective.

Coming up here on CNN: Massive wildfires continue to rage across the Western United States. I will speak with a man, a father, a husband who barely escaped from the flames with his family and his pets.

And the nation remembers those lives lost on 9/11, while wrestling with the current coronavirus pandemic -- how the unity we all felt 19 years ago is missing during this current national crisis.

And the NFL returns, and some fans are heard booing during a show of solidarity before the game. Let's talk about that and what the NFL needs to do next.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: The wildfire crisis in the Western United States is deepening by the hour, with a total acreage burned so far almost as large as the state of New Jersey.

In California alone, more than a dozen fires are raging, some turning deadly, some leveling entire towns and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.

The latest to explode overnight is this Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest, doubling in size since Sunday, with more than 23,000 acres now uncontained. Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon, now under a state of emergency, as fires there near the state's largest city burn.

CNN's Camila Bernal is on the ground forests in Estacada, Oregon.

And, so, Camila, I mean, I can just see the smoke even behind you around that bend. Tell me what you have been seeing and some of the stories you have been hearing.

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke, the smoke is actually so thick that it's hard to see. Your eyes get irritated. It's hard to breathe.

But the reality is that it does not compare to what people are feeling, people who are seeing those flames getting closer and closer to their homes.

And I want to just first show you what we're seeing here. This is one of the roads that we have been going sort of up and down. Yesterday, when we went in, we saw the flames getting very close to those homes.

Unfortunately, some of those structures were on fire. When we went in yesterday, we had to actually come back out of this area. Today, it's just that cloud of smoke, a permanent cloud of smoke that, of course, it's difficult to see.

But, of course, firefighters continue to be in this area, and the people here have been told to leave to evacuate. It's a total of half- a-million people in this state that had been told to leave their homes. Let that number sink in. That's more than 10 percent of the population in Oregon that have left their homes and don't know if they're coming back or when they're coming back.

And the situation gets even harder and more heartbreaking when you hear stories like the one of Wyatt Tofte and his family. This is a 13- year-old boy who we're told was found inside of a car with his dog on his lap.

They believe that he went into this car looking for shelter. That car went up in flames. His mother is at the hospital right now in critical condition being treated for severe burns, his grandma, unfortunately, also passing away.


That is why the governor here is telling people, you may not get a second chance. And it's why she's telling people get out of these areas, because, right now, the fire is at zero percent containment there.

This means it's out of control. And this means that it is going to be days, maybe even weeks before people can return to their homes. They believe the death toll will probably go up because the flames are so uncontrollable at the moment.

So, it is a long road ahead for these families and for the firefighters -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Feeling for the families and, as you point out, importantly, those firefighters as well racing towards those flames.

Camila, thank you. Great job out there.

And I want to pause on all of this.

Let's go to the White House, as we see the president here about to award the Medal of Honor.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please join me in welcoming today's extraordinary recipient, Sergeant Major Thomas Patrick Payne.



TRUMP: Thank you very much.

We're grateful to be joined by Pat's really wonderful wife, Alison.

And, Alison, thank you very much for being here on this very momentous occasion. This is the big one. You know that. This is the big one.

Also with us is Patrick and Alison's 6-year old son, Aaron.

Aaron, thank you for being here.

He got a very nice little award back there, a beautiful pen, right?

You're going to save that pen. Thank you, Aaron.

I want you to know that your dad is one of the bravest men anywhere in the world. You know that, right? You knew that before. I think you knew that before we knew it. So, congratulations to both.

With us also is our first lady.

Thank you, darling.

And Vice President Mike Pence.

Mike, thank you very much.

Along with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Mark, thank you.

Congressman Richard Hudson.

Richard. Richard, thank you very much.

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy.

Thanks, Ryan.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.

Mark, thank you very much.

It's amazing the way all these big generals are showing up. This is something, huh?

(LAUGHTER) TRUMP: This is the big one, as I say. Always do. It always will be.

The Army chief of staff, James McConville.

James, thank you. Thank you very much, James.

And Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston

Thank you, Mike. Thank you very much.

I also want to recognize the three Medal of Honor recipients that are with us, Matthew Williams, Edward Byers, and Walter Marm.

Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you.


TRUMP: That's great. A lot of brave people are with us today.

Pat grew up in a small town in South Carolina. His dad is a police officer. His grandfather served in World War II and Korea, Vietnam. Service to our country really goes through their veins very, very rapidly.

Exactly 19 years ago today, on September 11, 2001, news of the attack on our nation's great, great country -- this was just an attack like has never happened to us. But it went through Pat's high school and went through his classroom. And Pat was sitting there listening.

His teacher solemnly told the students that their generation had a fight to win. They were going to fight and fight to win. In that moment, Pat was called to action. He knew that his country needed him.

Ten short months later, at the age of 18, Pat was in Army basic training at Fort Benning. Soon, he joined the elite ranks of the legendary Army Rangers. Pat became an exceptional soldier and expert sniper. He saw heavy combat in multiple theaters of battle.

In 2010, during a deployment in Afghanistan, his leg was severely wounded by an enemy grenade. While recovering in South Carolina, Pat met with his wife, Alison.

Well, that was probably not a bad wound then, was it?


TRUMP: It was worth -- I hope you're going to say it was worth it.


TRUMP: It was.

Less than two years after being injured, Pat competed against some of America's toughest warriors and won the prestigious Best Ranger Competition, among the most grueling physical contests anywhere in the country. [15:25:07]

In October of 2015, on his 14th deployment, Pat was part of a team assigned to plan and conduct an operation to rescue over 70 Kurdish prisoners being held by ISIS barbarians in Iraq.

The team soon received horrifying intelligence that the terrorists were planning to massacre their captives and bury them in freshly dug graves. Pat and his teammates raced into action.

After midnight on October 22, Pat boarded a helicopter and departed on a mission to free the hostages from two buildings guarded by dozens of ruthless and bloodthirsty ISIS terrorists. He was in command of a team clearing one of the compounds.

As soon as the ramp to his helicopter went down, Pat rushed into a blistering hail of gunfire. Pat and his team swiftly overpowered the enemy, secured the building, and freed 38 of the hostages.

Then Pat received word that the rest of the assault team was facing harsh resistance in another complex. Pat turned to one of his fellow soldiers and said: "Let's get into the fight right now. Let's get into the fight."

He saw that the other building was on fire and he knew more of the hostages were still trapped inside. He and his team climbed up ladders to the roof and opened up fire on the enemy. Multiple ISIS fighters detonated suicide vests, ripping a portion of the building into pieces.

But Pat and his fellow Rangers fought through the fire, the bullets and the deadly blasts. Pat navigated to the front door, and saw the captives were being held behind a metal door secured by two very heavy padlocks. He grabbed a pair of bolt-cutters and ran through smoldering flame and smoke.

As bullets impacted all around him, Pat succeeded in cutting one of the locks, before scorching, sweltering heat forced him to leave the building for some air. Pat caught his breath in a few seconds and was back.

He ran right back into that raging blaze. He sliced the final lock and released the rest of the hostages. As the building began to collapse, he received orders to evacuate, but he refused to do so. He didn't want to leave anyone behind.

Pat ran back into the burning building that was collapsing two more times. He saved multiple hostages. And he was the last man to leave. He wouldn't leave. No matter what they said, no matter who ordered him to do it, he wouldn't do it. He was the last one out.

It was one of the largest and most daring rescue missions in American history. Pat and his team rescued 75 captives and killed 20 ISIS terrorists.

Pat, you embody the righteous glory of American valor. We stand in awe of your heroic daring and gallant deeds. You truly went above and beyond the call of duty to earn our nation's highest military honor.

Pat would be the first to remind us that he was not alone that day. In the battle, one Army Ranger made the ultimate sacrifice, Master Sergeant Josh Wheeler.

Josh was something, right, Pat? Josh was something. You've said that before.

Today, we're deeply moved to be joined by Master Sergeant Wheeler's wife, Ashley Wheeler.

Ashley, our hearts break for your loss. A great man. That was a great man.

Ashley -- where is Ashley?

Ashley, please stand up. Thank you.


TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you, Ashley.

Our nation endures because fearless warriors like Josh are willing to lay down their lives for our freedom. Our children can grow up in peace because Josh had the courage to face down evil. Our debt to him and to you is everlasting.

And, again, thank you very much, Ashley. We appreciate it very much. We will honor him forever. You know that. Very special group of warriors, men, great men.

Pat has said that, as soon as our soldiers' boots hit the ground, they are ambassadors of the American way of life. Everywhere they go, the men and women of our armed forces instill our friends with hope, our enemies with dread, and our fellow citizens with unyielding American pride.

Over the course of his service, Pat has embarked on an astounding, really an astounding 17 deployments in defense of our nation.

General Milley, that's a lot, right? Is that a lot?