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CNN NEWSROOM

Medal Of Honor Awarded to Soldier Who Braved Heavy Enemy Fire, Flames And Smoke to Rescue Dozens of ISIS Hostages Trapped in a Burning Prison; California Father And Husband Describes Harrowing Escape from Raging Wildfire; Nation Remembers 9/11 While Suffering from Pandemic; Boos Heard During Show of Unity Before Chiefs/Texans Game; Dolphins Won't Take Field for Anthem. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 11, 2020 - 15:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:30:00]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- found it really and astounding 17 deployments in defense of our nation. General Milley, that's a lot, right? Is that a lot?

GENERAL MARK MILLEY, U.S. ARMY, CHAIRMAN OF JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: A lot.

TRUMP: It's a lot, OK, I needed that little extra confirmation. That's a lot.

He now serves as an instructor at the U.S. Army Special Operations Command training the next generation of American warriors. Today he joins the immortal company of our most revered American heroes. Pat, you personify the motto: "Rangers Lead the Way" and you inspire us all.

It is now my privilege to present Sergeant Major Thomas Patrick Payne with the Congressional Medal of Honor. I'd you like to ask the military aide to come forward and read the citation. Thank you very much.

MILITARY AIDE: Attention to orders. The Medal of Honor is awarded to Sergeant First Class Thomas P. Payne, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk, his life above and beyond the call of duty on October 22,

2015.

His heroism and selfless actions were key to liberating 75 hostages during a contested mission that resulted in 20 enemies killed in action. Sergeant First Class Payne's gallantry under fire and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the United States Special Operations Command and the United States Army.

(TRUMP AWARDS MEDAL TO PAYNE)

(APPLAUSE)

MILITARY CHAPLAIN: I invite you to join me in prayer. Gracious God, thank you for the gift of liberty that you have given us and for those who have safeguarded liberty through heroic acts for our sake and for the sake of others. Your call upon each of our lives may not be to serve as first responders, or warriors on the field of battle rushing into burning buildings, rescuing others.

Even still may our participation here today and the strengthening of your spirit compel us all to live lives of honor and valor for the good of your kingdom, for the good of our own families, and for the good of the United States of America. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Sergeant Major Thomas Patrick Payne there and his family. Thank you, sir. We'll be right back.

[15:35:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin. And before we went to that Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House, we were talking about those wildfires raging across the Western U.S. and for my next guest and his family, this unfortunately is not entirely new. They have prepared before to have to flee. The wildfires that burned through their town in Central California but never have to leave such a ferocious and fast-moving fire as the one raged through the community of Big Creek this past week.

Forcing Toby Wait and his wife to grab their three kids and dogs and take off in the middle of the night. So Toby is with me now. And Toby, I am so sorry that you have lost your home in this fire . But, you know, you have you and your wife and your children and your three dogs. They are safe.

[15:40:00]

You are also the Superintendent of Big Creek School District and Principal of Big Creek Elementary School. So, let me start with how are you holding up and where are you holding up?

TOBY WAIT, LOST HOME IN BIG CREEK FIRE: We're holding up very well. And you hit the nail on the head, my wife, my children, my pets, we're all safe. And really when you peel the layers back of the onion, that's really what matters is our family.

Right now we're holed up in Fresno. We're heading to my parents in Hanford, we're with my wife's parents here in their living room talking with you.

BALDWIN: Well, thank them for me that, you know, that they were able to help us out in having this conversation. And will you just take me back? I mean was it a bang, bang, bang on your door from firefighters and that was it or what?

WAIT: Yes, you know, we had an idea we may be evacuated Friday night. We were on Point Road in Big Creek looking over the canyon. So we went home and went to bed and then at 4:00 in the morning the sirens were going off and the loudspeakers you have to evacuate. And of course, we just grabbed a few items as we figured we'll be back home on Sunday. So we did not pack much.

Lo and behold, we took off, we went on this four mile drive up out of Big Creek. It's called the Beaver Slide. Our daughter was driving a car, and as we're going out, and really kind of dove tail into the last segment, the Medal of Honor, you know, as we are leaving firemen and fire personnel and these just incredibly brave women and men are coming into Big Creek.

They do not know us, the do not know our circumstance. Yet they are racing in to save our property so to speak. And I just cannot say enough, especially today being 9/11 with the work that they do on a daily basis. Just thankful.

BALDWIN: Amen to that. You know, and I think about your family. I was reading about some of your children. They've obviously had so much to process, not just with the fire but this year.

I was reading, Toby, that your 18-year-old daughter was forced to, you know, forego high school graduation like so many young people in this country. And start college because of COVID and now here she's lost her home and then your oldest son is actually in college in Missouri and, you know, some sweet family took him in during the pandemic and now he's there processing all of this loss from far away and you haven't met that family. Is that correct? I mean I'm sure -- you have much gratitude toward them, yes.

WAIT: Oh, absolutely. He's at Lindenwood University. I've never met this family. They're just incredible people who have just taken my son in as their own and helping him to process this grief.

We have the opportunity with our children here to go through this process. But my daughter Madeline, she just cannot get out of 2020 quick enough. It has been tough for her as it's been for many --

BALDWIN: She's not alone. She's not alone, Toby.

WAIT: Absolutely. Thank you.

BALDWIN: What do you want people to know, people who are watching from all across the country, people who want to help, people who are hanging on your every word, what do you want Americans to know?

WAIT: You know, really, it's not just Big Creek and, in our case, or Pine Ridge, the other school involved or Sierra High School, this has really become a national issue certainly on the West Coast.

But, you know, we're not going to let this become a defining moment for us. We are not going to become victims of this fire. Yes, it has changed our circumstances, for those who have lost family members, my heart just breaks for them. But my advice is let's don't become victims.

Through this whole process, the incredible generosity that people have shown, first in this political climate that's very nasty, just to see the goodness of people who are helping out, who are purchasing gift cards and gas cards, opening up homes for people. And it is just such a nice feeling knowing that there are so much good

going on in our society when we hear just the opposite.

BALDWIN: It is so true. Whether it is fires or COVID or you know what. I hate that it takes something horrible for us to really, you know, open up our eyes and see that there are really so many good people out there. But there are.

Toby Wait, we're thinking about you and your family. Be well. Thank you so much.

WAIT: Brooke, thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you. Coming up, the nation, as he just mentioned, marks 19 years since September 11th and those attacks. While, of course, struggling with the current coronavirus pandemic, so let's talk about why the grief this time feels much different?

[15:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Today marks 19 years since the terror attacks of September 11th. And as a Americans observe the anniversary with public ceremonies and private mourning, the nation is once again in the midst of an unthinkable tragedy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the lives of more than 60 times the Americans who died on 9/11. And here is the heartbreaking way that CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner put it this morning. This is what he said, quote --

They're reading the names of those killed on 9/11. It would take three days to read the names of all the Americans who died during this pandemic.

And a new interesting, incredible piece in "The Atlantic" asks this important question -- why does the grief of 2020 feel so different? Why does our country so

united after 9/11 feel so splintered now?

So joining me is the author of that piece, journalist Garrett Graff. And he is also the author of "The Only Plane in The Sky, An Oral History Of 9/11."

[15:50:00]

So Garrett, always a pleasure to have you on, my friend. And I mean reading this "Atlantic" piece, you know, one of the enduring memories of 9/11 and the days afterwards was that, you know, we all came together, right, that national unity.

And I'm curious what did you learn about why and then with this current COVID, you know, global fatal pandemic, we're all splintered. Why? GARRETT GRAFF, AUTHOR, "THE ONLY PLANE IN THE SKY, AN ORAL HISTORY OF

9/11": Yes, 9/11 taught us in many ways to do national grief to sort of collectivize the individual grief of a mass tragedy like that.

And yet as you said, you know, we are now living through something that is still unfolding 60 times the number of casualties of 9/11. And yet our country this year seems splintered, not united.

And I think some of that has to do with this pandemic is literally robbing us of our ability to celebrate grief collectively. You know, one of the things that really united us after 9/11 was the human touch. It was the ability to do these mass funerals, to do candlelight vigils, to gather together.

And now we find ourselves in a pandemic where literally you are robbed of the ability to hug friends and family. And that effectively the only mass gatherings that we have seen in the country in the last six months have actually been angry street protests, not mass vigils.

BALDWIN: To that point, I jotted down this quote. You talked to a woman who lost her husband and she put it like this -- it's not just the punishing the people who die, it's the punishing the people who are left.

And just to put a fine point on, today we have this image of Joe Biden and Mike Pence greeting each other today at the ceremony there in New York with the fist or the elbow bump there. There has not been anything close to a bipartisan response to the pandemic. And COVID is an external threat, right, just like terrorism. Is this about our politics or is this about the nature of the specific crisis, do you think?

GRAFF: I think it's both. You know, there was a certain unity and a certain purity that came out of 9/11. You know, we understood that innocent people had been killed by a great evil. And yet here, you know, part of what makes this so challenging is the politics of the response, but also the sense that we are still living it.

You know, that there are potentially 100,000 Americans between now and the end of the year who might still die from this epidemic. And that, you know, you can imagine how different our reaction would be on September 11, 2001, if we had imagined or known that 100,000 more Americans might be killed by terrorists by the end of December.

BALDWIN: I wanted to ask you about something else. You've been busy writing, Garrett, and you wrote this piece for "Politico" on a major generational moment. So you talked to all these kids who were born on 9/11, 2001. And so this November 3rd is actually their first election they will ever be able to vote in.

And they've gone through mass school shootings. They've now gone through, you know, coronavirus. You talk about how, you know, President Obama was kind of a blur for them. They were too young. What are they saying to you about all of this?

GRAFF: Yes, this is a fascinating moment of transition in our American history because you're seeing for the first time the literal post 9/11 generation coming into our politics. So I went out and interviewed, you know, people who were born on September 11, 2001, itself, to hear what it's like to have their lives be book-ended by beginning with 9/11 graduating high school, beginning college now in this pandemic.

You know, this is a generation for whom many of them, their first national news story that they remember is the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. And that they have grown up with school shootings in a way that, you know, none of the rest of us who grew up earlier can even fathom.

And that part of what struck me in the series of conversations was their level of hope and optimism about how they will be able to change the world as they come into politics. That this is a generation that would have any right to believe that they have given up hope on America. And in fact, I found quite the opposite in conversations with them. That this is a generation --

BALDWIN: That they're actually still hopeful --

GRAFF: Yes.

BALDWIN: That given everything they've gone through and lived through including currently, you know, it has to go up. Garrett Graff, thank you so much. Read all things from him, the book, you know, "The Atlantic," "Politico," Garrett, thank you so much for your time today, I appreciate it, good to see you.

And I want to get to this before we go. With socially distanced fans in the stands, and calls for social justice on the field, the NFL kicked off its 2020 season last night.

[15:55:00]

But it was the actions of some fans in Kansas City during a pre-game moment of unity between the Chiefs and Texans that lit up social media. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD: Boo, boo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: LZ Grandson is an ESPN host and sports and culture critic for the "L. A. Times," so good to see you, friend. And let's talk about this. Because, you know, you can clearly hear boos among the cheering. I know that the reaction has been shock, it's been anger.

Houston Texans star JJ Watt called the booing unfortunate but, you know, his head coach said he didn't really hear it and actually thought it could've been because, you know, the Texans had just taken the field.

So my questions to you, LZ, number one, could both be right? And number two, you know, talk to me about the NFL fan base and culture and why that may have led so many to believe that this was a backlash specifically against "Black Lives Matter"?

LZ GRANDERSON, ESPN HOST: Well, first of all it's good to see you, Brooke. And, yes, I do believe that both scenarios can indeed be true. In fact, I have seen other reports from people who say they were in the stadium that there was a moment of confusion because the booing actually began when the Houston Texans appeared, not when they actually came together.

So I think it's responsible for us to flesh this out a little bit more. But with all that being said, I don't think any of us are surprised that there may have been people who were actually trying to boo the show of unity because they are sick and tired of talking about racism.

And, you know, that is their opinion. That is certainly their prerogative of those of us who are sick and tired of racism itself as opposed to just talking about it have a different perspective.

As far as the NFL and its relationship with "Black Lives Matter," I mean it's well-documented. We know where they were four years ago when Colin Kaepernick began his protest. It's a lot different from where they are today. However, I would say, as long as Colin Kaepernick hasn't gotten a proper opportunity to try out for a team. That the NFL still has hasn't adequately proper come to a Jesus moment.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about a potential come to Jesus moment. Kaepernick, that all began -- that was 2016. You had, you know, Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, you know, didn't acknowledge the reason for his protest until this summer.

So that was four years later saying that the league was wrong, right, not to listen to Kaepernick, and then Goodell's video was only after a group of players demanded a response in the wake of George Floyd's death.

So now you have this season. You have "Lift every voice and sing," which is really known as the black national anthem. It's being played before the games. You see the players they can wear patches honoring victims of systemic racism.

But many say the NFL is still not doing enough including players for the Miami Dolphins, you know, they plan to sit out both anthems. And they released this video, I want to play this clip explaining why. So here's part of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lift every voice and sing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is just a way to save face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lose the mask and stop hiding the real game face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if my dad was a soldier but the cops killed my brother, do I stand for one anthem and then kneel for the other?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This attempt to unify only creates more divide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, we will skip the song and dance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as a team we'll stay inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need changed hearts, not just a response to pressure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enough, no more fluff and empty gestures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need owners with influence and pockets bigger than ours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To call up officials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And flex political power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Do you think, LZ, that these gestures are empty? And what would you like to see in terms of action from the league going forward?

GRANDERSON: Well, I do believe that the actions are arriving from a disingenuous place. But I wouldn't necessarily say that it won't mean something to everyone, right.

Like there are some people who are going to be moved and touched by it and I'm not going to discount that. But I do think it originated out of a cynical place that we need to appease all these protesters so that we can make our money.

As far as what more can the NFL do? I said it earlier. It begins with really acknowledging what happened four years ago in a sincere way and not trying to talk around Colin Kaepernick, but fully acknowledge. One, that he's still a viable quarterback in this league and, two, we haven't treated him fairly in this discussion at all.

The NFL is trying to say I'm sorry without apologizing to the person it offended. And as long as you try to live your life that way, you are always going to have a dissatisfactory result. It needs to start there.

Beyond that, NFL owners need to embrace the fact that there's really only two sides in this conversation. Either you're racist or you're anti-racist. And you mentioned the Miami Dolphins who had that video. Stephen Ross to his credit has donated a great deal of money and resources towards criminal justice issues. And I applaud that.

But this is also a man who supports a President who is anti-"Black Lives Matter." Stephen Ross needs to make a decision --

[16:00:00]