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Trump To Hold First Indoor Rally Since Tulsa Event Linked To Virus Surge; Judge Temporarily Bars USPS From Sending Out Election Mailers Containing False Statements; Devastating Wildfires Stretch To Several States. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 13, 2020 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Despite the coronavirus pandemic, volunteer work continues with safety protocols in place to help patients pay off their medical bills. We'll continue to share these truly inspirational stories all week. And be sure to watch the Champions for Change one- hour special this Saturday 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

And there's breaking news tonight. As the president is getting ready to hold yet another campaign rally, this one in Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas, the author of the fourth coming book on the Trump presidency, Rage, Bob Woodward is telling CBS's 60 Minutes, the president was warned as early as January of this year that this pandemic would be like potentially the 1918 flu pandemic that killed at least 50 million people worldwide and hundreds of thousands of people here in the United States. Listen to this.

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BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, RAGE: (INAUDIBLE) said his contacts in China told him this is going to be like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people in this country. It was the stunning moment in the Trump presidency and I think in American history, because he then went on to publicly dismiss the virus and he knew that this was a pandemic coming.

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS ANCHOR: And this is January 28th?

WOODWARD: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, with nearly 200,000 Americans dead from COVID over the past six months, the president is holding his first major campaign rally in three months indoors, going against all the guidelines set by his own White House coronavirus task force.

Jeremy Diamond is outside the Trump event in Nevada for us. Also with us CNN National Political Reporter Maeve Reston, who is joining us from Los Angeles.

Jeremy, the rally is expected to start in Nevada an hour or so. That's what were told, that's where the president is expected to show up. Is the campaign enforcing any measures at all that could help prevent the spread of this virus among the thousands of people who will gather indoors?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've been told that they will be doing temperature checks for people entering this rally and that they will be providing masks to attendees.

But what we have seen so far is that most people who attending the president's rally are not wearing masks. And there will be no social distancing at this rally as we see thousands of Trump supporters inside this manufacturing facility here to hear the president of the United States.

This is the first rally that the campaign has held indoors since that June rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And, of course, we know, Wolf, that that Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally led to a spike in coronavirus cases in Tulsa, in the state of Oklahoma,

Wolf, to see the thousands of people gathered here today and entering this indoor facility for a rally in September of 2020 is really to enter an alternate universe in which this coronavirus pandemic does not exist. Of course, it does, Wolf. We know that there are still more than 35,000 new cases per day in the United States, more than 800 daily deaths.

And we've heard every public health experts, say, not with the president is saying in terms of we are rounding the final turn, cases are plummeting, instead, Wolf, they are warning about a potentially dangerous fall and winter to come ahead. Wolf?

BLITZER: And you and other journalists, Jeremy, have made a decision not to go inside for health reasons, right? You don't want to be exposed potentially to a spread of coronavirus.

DIAMOND: That's right, Wolf. And if you listen to every public health expert, that is what they would advise you to do. Is to not attend an event where you have thousands of people packed together inside, in an indoor space, where people are not wearing masks, where people are not social distancing. And that is, in fact, what the Nevada state coronavirus regulations say. They ban public gatherings of people 50 or more, but the president and his campaign holding this rally tonight in defiance of those regulations.

BLITZER: I take it there are still people waiting in long lines outside to get inside. Is that right, Jeremy?

DIAMOND: That's right, Wolf. We have watched thousands of people lined up over the last several hours and they're packing into this building. We've seen images from inside the rally where most people are not wearing masks, where there are chairs tightly packed together.

So, obviously, every public health expert who sounded off on this today is saying that this is a bad idea, that this could potentially lead to a spread of coronavirus cases.

[21:05:00]

And I tell you, Wolf, in speaking with attendees at this rally today, they have made very clear that they have no concerns for their personal health. Many of them do not believe in the science behind mask wearing, do not believe in the coronavirus pandemic itself. And what they failed to recognize is the potential impact that they could have on others, particularly if they have this virus and they are not showing symptoms.

But, of course Wolf, we know that they can still be spreading the virus to others in their communities. And many folks who we spoke today, Wolf, they were coming from out of state. So they are coming here to this rally gathering with thousands of people and then potentially going and spreading this virus to people in other states.

BLITZER: You know, Maeve, the previous week revealed that President Trump had downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic for months and months, made disparaging remarks also at the same time about the U.S. military. He seems to be back in his element right now with these political rallies. Could they help him overshadow those stories, which have been so negative?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think it's going to be very hard, Wolf. Obviously, we had the September 11th anniversary last week, which was a reminder to people of what the leadership styles have been of past presidents in moments of crisis like this when they try to bring the country together rather than dividing people.

But what we saw in Nevada on Saturday night and what we will likely see again tonight from President Trump is this relentless effort to win reelection by dividing people and pitting them against one another. And we saw that really caustic rhetoric from him last night where he talked about how he was angered by a Democratic ad that mentioned some of those disparaging comments that he allegedly made about the military and said that that had now essentially led him to be unleashed. And he was now bound to be vicious in the campaign.

So I don't think that we're going to see any kind of change of course here for Donald Trump. He clearly believes that this is how he can win reelection. And it's really going to be up to the American people to decide if this is the kind of leadership that they want in a crisis.

BLITZER: Yes. You've been doing some terrific reporting on all of this, Maeve, on cnn.com. Give us your sense right now of how this campaign between Trump and Biden is shaping up.

RESTON: We are seeing a real tightening of the race in some of those battleground states. And we certainly have always expected that particularly in the after Labor Day period when voters really start to focus on the campaign and their decisions.

But, obviously, ballots are already going out and so you're seeing this huge push by Democrats to get their voters to send their ballots in early, at the same time that Trump is trying to undermine the election systems of the United States with his relentless campaign against mail-in voting.

So it's difficult to know how these controversies over the past two weeks or so from Bob Woodward to The Atlantic Article about Trump's comments about the military, how those are affecting voters because opinions have hardened so much. But there still is that narrow slice of persuadable voters out there who will be tuning in to rallies like tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly will. You know, Maeve, after the president's rally last night, you wrote a piece entitled, Trump relishes his role as a divider as he vows to be vicious. He used that word actually. Is the president about to turn things up a notch and how will that impact this final stretch of the campaign?

RESTON: Well, he certainly seemed to preview that last night talking about former Vice President Joe Biden as being shocked and making his usual comments for describing Biden as a puppet of the radical left. But I think we should expect to see a lot more contentious and negative ads in these next couple weeks, even particularly because people will be voting already. And the Trump campaign is counting on that kind of disparaging of Biden in order to bring Biden's negative numbers up and really rally their base to get out and vote in this election.

We are seeing also that Biden has a lot of work to do with Latino voters and in some respects with black voters as well, those -- that group that Donald Trump is trying to peel off. So we are going to see Joe Biden do a lot more of that kind of outreach over the next couple of weeks and I think we can all expect that it's just going to get tighter and tighter as we head into the final stretch, Wolf.

BLITZER: Excellent reporting, from Maeve Reston, thanks very much. Jeremy, excellent reporting from you as well. Be careful out there in Nevada. We'll watch it very, very closely. The president expected to speak about an hour or so from now. We'll see what he has to say and how that unfolds. Guys, thanks very much.

I want to get to another key battle ground state right now. We're talking about Michigan, where both candidates spent some time this past week hoping to build some swing state momentum.

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The Michigan secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, is joining us right now. Madame Secretary, thank you so much for joining us.

A key part of the president's pitch has been to discredit mail-in voting, even telling his supporters in one state to vote twice by mail and then go show up in person. You're probably sick of this question, but, again, can you clarify the process for voters in your key battleground state of Michigan? Should they follow the president's advice and vote with the mail-in ballot and then show up and see if they should vote again on Election Day, November 3rd? JOCELYN BENSON (D), MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: No. No voter should attempt, even attempt to vote twice. And there's really no need. I think what is happening here, and the president is doing, is leaning in on the newness, the uncertainty of voting by mail. But what we've done in Michigan, as in many other states.

In fact, most states with vote by mail this year will have a ballot- tracking system in place for citizens from their own home to track once their ballot has been receive and counted. We've launched that on our website, michigan.gov/vote and again many other states have done that as well.

So when citizens vote by mail, they can find out and confirm that their vote is counted, not by going in person to the polls on Election Day, but by tracking their ballot through their state's tracking system. Again, at Michigan it's michigan.gov/vote, or by calling their local election administrator and confirming the receipt of their ballot.

BLITZER: I understand, Madame Secretary, that, what, about 2 million absentee ballots have already been requested in Michigan. How does that compare to the amount you're expecting? Are you confident you can handle an increased workload during this coronavirus pandemic where a lot of older Americans, people with underlying health conditions simply are not going to wait in long lines on Election Day?

BENSON: Yes. And what we've been working towards November since the beginning of this year and the outbreak of the pandemic, planning for a significant increase of citizens to vote by mail. We're anticipating about 60 to 70 percent of the citizens who vote this November in Michigan will be casting their ballot early or through the mail. That's why we've also installed 1,000 drop boxes around the state of Michigan, which will be an alternative secure way for citizens to return the ballot.

We've also, as I mentioned, implemented that ballot tracking system. And we provided our clerks with more machines and are recruiting more election workers to help increase their capacity to process all of these ballots that will be sent through the mail.

The big thing we need to focus on and will be focusing on in a weeks ahead is educating voters about doing everything they need to do to ensure their ballots are received and counted on time because so many will be voting by mail for the first time.

BLITZER: You recently said that Michigan won't announce a winner until every vote is actually counted, even if that takes until the Friday, let's say, after the election, November 3rd, which is a Tuesday. Trump officials are now trying to claim that a winner must be declared on election night, which is simply not true. It has no legal basis at all. Sometimes you wait. I covered the 2000 election where we waited a month until the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bush v Gore, as all of us remember. What's your response to what the White House is asserting?

BENSON: Well, the most important thing for an election administrator to do is to report accurate results and account and process those ballots efficiently and securely. So that's our job. That's what we'll be focused on. And anyone running for office, I would advise, or anyone who is on the ballot should probably wait until every vote is counted before declaring victory or defeat, simply because that's how democracy works. We count every ballot and that's how we determine who wins an election.

BLITZER: I interviewed Debbie Dingell, the Congresswoman from Michigan, yesterday. And you probably remember back in 2016, she was strongly urging the Hillary Clinton campaign don't ignore Michigan. Don't take it for granted. Show up. The Hillary Clinton campaign barely went to Michigan at all until the very end. They lost Michigan by a few votes to Donald Trump and that helped clinch the election for Donald Trump, and she's worried right now. How do you see it unfolding in your state? What's going on in Michigan? How close is it going to be?

BENSON: Well, what I've seen, first and foremost, is that citizens want to vote. I mean, we're anticipating record turnout, more citizens than ever before in our state will be participating in this fall's election. And that's a good thing for democracy when you have such high turnout.

And so it also reflects that people are engaged, people are watching, people are getting information. And everything our office is hearing is a lot of questions, a lot of voters really want to make sure that their ballots are received and counted on time. So I'm confident that that extra engagement, that high turnout is going to better ensure that this year, in Michigan elections will be a true and accurate reflection of the will of the people.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to Michigan, good luck to you, Jocelyn Benson, the secretary of state of Michigan. Thanks as usual for joining us.

BENSON: Always a pleasure, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: And stay safe out there. Coming up, we're keeping an eye on Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas, where President Trump is about, in the next hour or so, to hold his first indoor political campaign rally since June.

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And as the CEO of Pfizer is feeling good about the safety of his vaccine, so much so he now says the company is expanding its phase three trial and we could even know if it works, he says, by the end of next month. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: Experience tells us that about two or three weeks we could very well see a surge of coronavirus cases in and around Henderson, Nevada. That's outside of Las Vegas. That's where President Trump is set to hold a rally in the next hour or so, his first indoor rally since the one he held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, back in June. At that time, CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, called the rally criminal endangerment. Listen to how he described tonight's rally to our colleague, Ana Cabrera.

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DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Negligent homicide. What else could you call an act that, because of its negligence, results in the death of others?

People will die as a consequence of this.

Enough people contract the virus. And at a gathering like this, people will -- some people will die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with Anne Rimoin, Epidemiology Professor at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health, and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Epidemiologist, public health expert, former Detroit Commissioner.

Dr. El-Sayed, you have been critical of the president for holding these rallies outdoors. Tonight, it's indoors, indoors. Clearly, he's not planning to give these rallies up. What's your reaction when you see these live pictures coming in?

ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I'll tell you, this is not negligence. This is willful disregard for the wellbeing of people who support him. And it is in keeping with the way that he has failed our country when it comes to dealing with this pandemic.

And so you see this brazen putting of his own political self-interests over the public health of the communities that he's visiting, the health of people who even support his campaign, let alone all of the rest of us who have to deal with the consequences and the fallout.

And to see this from a president of the United States, it's of a tragedy that has taken nearly 195,000 lives. I think it's just a real condemnation of his approach to this public health disaster in the way he believes that we are just going to follow in line with what he's doing that is hurting people.

BLITZER: Yes, it's one thing to do it outdoors on the south lawn of the White House. At least that was outdoors, Professor Rimoin. It's another thing to do it indoors. These people are going to be sitting close together, most of them not wearing masks, for several hours and they're going to be screaming and shouting and singing and applauding. What do you think?

ANNE RIMOIN, EPIDEMIOLOGY PROFESSOR, UCLA FIELDING SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: I think that we're watching a perfect storm for more spread of the virus. We know that this virus spreads more efficiently indoors. We know that wearing a mask makes a difference. We know that social distancing makes a difference. We know that this exact scenario has played out over and over again and we always see spikes after this.

I absolutely agree with my colleague that this is absolutely the opposite of what we need to see happening. We need to see leadership from the top, public health leadership and public health modeling good public health behavior from the very top. Instead, we are seeing the opposite. It is dangerous. This is an infection of politics in our public's health and it is disastrous.

BLITZER: And it's hard to believe this is going on already in the past six. As I keep saying, more than 194,000 Americans have died in these forecasts suggest it could double in the next few months. It's so worrisome to see this.

Dr. El-Sayed, there is potentially a little good news out there. The head of Pfizer now says that they hope know if their vaccine will work by the end of October, whether it's safe and effective. How long would it take after that, assuming it is, we don't know if it will be, before we could see it available to millions of people?

EL-SAYED: Well, the good news is that Pfizer has object tainted about $1.95 billion in funding from Operation Warp Speed, and, in part, because they wanted to parallel the science in conducting trials to make sure that this vaccine is safe and effective, but also to produce in real-time, at the same time, 100 million doses of the vaccine. And given that it's a two-dose vaccine, it will be 50 million people could benefit from it. And so it could follow pretty soon after.

At the same time though, I do think that we need to take this news with a grain of salt. There is a lot of incentive for any corporation to be the first to produce an effective vaccine. And to see a CEO get out ahead of the science here, I think, is something that we should take with a grain of salt because, of course, there's a real business incentive to be first.

And as a scientist, I want to see what the trial evidence shows to make sure that this is, in fact, safe effective.

BLITZER: Yes. Those are the key words, safe and effective.

And, Professor Rimoin, Pfizer also says it's now trying to expand its trials to include more vulnerable populations, including younger people under the age of 18, those with chronic conditions, for example, HIV. So what do you think about what's going on? Do you think there will be a safe and effective vaccine, let's say, by the end of this year?

RIMOIN: I think that it's anybody's guess whether or not what the data will tell us and we shouldn't be able to guess what the data is telling us. That's for the data safety and monitoring boards, these independent boards that are looking at the data to be able to tell us.

What we need to be able to say right now is that we are moving forward in a positive direction. It is important that they start enrolling people from vulnerable populations. We don't have enough people in these trials right now that are minorities, that are from vulnerable populations, people with HIV, people with cancer, people of varying age groups.

[21:25:10]

The immune system is different in every person, but in particular people who have co-morbidities or underlying conditions or are very elderly or very young. We won't have all of these data by the end of the year, most likely.

So I think we need to take all this with a grain of salt. And as my colleague said, be very cautious when we see CEOs of companies coming out and making these kinds of statements. It's very, very good for business, but it really is just all speculation at this point. And giving a lot of good words forward without a lot of data, I want to see the data. Show me the data.

BLITZER: Yes, everybody wants to see that. All right, guys, thank you very, very much, Professor Anne Rimoin, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. I appreciate your joining us. Thanks for all the important and good work both of you are doing at the same time. Stay safe out there.

Meanwhile, temporarily blocked, a federal judge tells the United States Postal Service not to send out mailers that a Colorado election official says could discourage people from voting.

And we're also following Tropical Storm Sally, the latest on the track. There's a new forecast, could be a Hurricane Category 1 or Category 2 by the time it hits around New Orleans Tuesday morning.

We'll be right back.

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BLITZER: A federal judge has just temporarily barred the U.S. Postal Service from sending out what Colorado's top election official is calling false statements. Those statements say -- those statements, she says, may discourage voters from casting their ballot in the November election. This temporary restraining order will stay in effect until next Tuesday. This is all according to court documents filed last night.

CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams is joining us right now. So, Elliot, Colorado secretary of state told CNN today she's suspicious of these mailers based on the president's ongoing narrative that there will be widespread voting fraud tied to the election. So what's going on here? How do you see it?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, so what the mailing said is that people need to have gotten their ballots in by, I think, 15 days before Election Day, right? Now, look, there's one of two things that can be going on. Number one, it might just have been sloppy or negligent from the U.S. Postal Service, right?

Their goal is to ensure that mail gets there on time. Their goal isn't necessarily to protect elections. And it might have been an act of just trying to get people mail things in early, and they sent that across -- out into Colorado.

Now, the problem though, Wolf, is by saying -- and I know it's a little bit confusing, but by setting that 15-day deadline, that actually violates Colorado law, right?

Now, and I know it's a little bit confusing, in contrast given the nation's history of voter suppression and given the conduct of the president's and the U.S. postal commissioner's conduct around this election, the Colorado secretary of state had every right to sue the U.S. Postal Service to seek this temporary restraining order.

And so, absolutely, this was the right decision by the court and it was the right decision for the secretary of state to bring this lawsuit.

BLITZER: Let's remember, 51 days until the actual election.

As you know, Elliot, the president has called on voters, and this is hard to believe, but he's actually called on voters to vote twice in an effort to prove he's right that a mail-in election won't work. Have you ever seen a president openly push Americans to commit what clearly would be a crime? You can't vote twice. You can only vote once. He says, go ahead, vote by mail, but then go ahead and show up on Election Day and see if you can vote a second time to make sure your ballot is counted?

WILLIAMS: Well, Wolf, the supreme irony is that an individual who postures himself a law and order president has, as you've said, urged people to commit or hinted at peoples committing either federal or state felonies. Look, his supporters have claimed that he was joking here, but we've been here before. And it's just indefensible. And, frankly, if he is joking, that's a very odd sense of humor for the leader of the free world to have.

Now, look, to be clear, we want to have elections in which we trust the outcome. We don't want fraud in our elections. And I think we, I, you, everybody can agree with the president on that. But just look at the facts on voting by mail, five states, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Utah, all have universal vote by mail and don't have widespread fraud as a problem. Nevada in their primary earlier this year had universal vote by mail where everybody got a ballot and they did not have allegations of fraud.

So this idea that the president is putting out there that we are just automatically opening ourselves to widespread fraud is just simply incorrect and it's actually going to cast doubt on the election.

Now, one thing to be concerned about -- not concerned about, but one thing to be aware of, is that about 60 percent of the electoral votes in the country can be counted after Election Day. About 60 percent of those votes are in states that allow the votes to be counted post- Election Day.

So what we might have is a result that takes a while to get here, but that doesn't mean that there's going to be widespread fraud. The president should know that and shouldn't be confusing Americans by putting this information out there.

BLITZER: A lot of crazy stuff going on right now. Elliot Williams, as usual, thank you very much for your legal expertise. We appreciate it.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Millions of acres scorched out on the west coast right now. Tens of thousands of firefighters are on the frontlines.

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There is no sign of the wildfires easing up at all. We're going to go out to California and get a live report, an awful situation unfolding right now.

We'll be right back.

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BLITZER: In California right now and up the entire West Coast, it's a wildfire nightmare. Bone dry conditions, high winds, record heat are fueling nearly 100 separate and very destructive fires from south of Los Angeles all the way to Washington State. Millions and millions of acres already have burned. Thousands and thousands of homes and other structures are already gone. Even several small towns completely wiped out.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Southern California for us just outside Los Angeles. Paul, people who live right there, they are under a mandatory evacuation orders. Based on what you can see and hear, are residents following those orders?

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PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are. They are being very compliant, Wolf. 305 homes, not people, 305 homes here in the Arcadia- Sierra Madre area under mandatory evacuations, others under voluntary. And some of them are rather stoic about this because they understand the need for fire vehicles like that to get through and for them to get out of the way.

And you were talking about these fire numbers as we look at fire burning in these hills above these foothill communities. California alone has seen 3.3 million acres burned. On this Bobcat fire, we now have 33,000 acres burned. But they are feeling better about things because, as you can see, it's cleared up just a little bit. The wind is calm. We don't have is those Santa Anas that we get in October and November that can wreak so much havoc.

So, for the first time, if you can listen carefully, you can hear that the jets are up and it looks like this the spotter plane is going through just off of our field of vision to the right. That spotter plane will sort of let loose with a (INAUDIBLE) and the bigger plane can know where to drop retardants.

So, a better picture here on this fire. I'm in Arcadia. It has really been a challenging time, Wolf. And you have been talking about that air quality. It has been horrendous. And it does not only include California, Oregon and Washington, we understand over the border, Vancouver, Canada, also with just terrible air pollution right now.

BLITZER: And some areas have seen entire block after block after block of homes simply burned to the ground with people losing all of their possessions. It's so awful to see that.

VERCAMMEN: Yes, it is, Wolf. And it's a complete incineration. And I know you have covered disasters and sometimes you're at a tornado or a hurricane. I mean, with a hurricane there's a build up to it. Yes, there's that with fire too. But when they come roaring through so quickly, as they did, especially in Oregon and in Northern California, when it goes through those neighborhoods, it just takes everything out.

And that's why these people in this neighborhood, you'll talk to them and they talk about the things that they need on their checklist. First off, they are told to park their cars with the nose so they can get away quickly and then grab those prescription drugs. Grab any of those key medicines. Make sure you have your insurance papers, all your identification and anything else physical, a birth certificate that you would need.

Of course, a lot of things are online, but those keepsakes, those mementos, those should also go with you and be ready to go in the car if you're on a voluntary evacuation. And then we saw the cars leave here. Those were the people that were under that mandatory evacuation.

BLITZER: At least 33 people out of the west coast already dead, killed, in these fires. And many, many more are missing right now. Paul Vercammen, stay safe out there. We'll be in touch. Thanks very much for your excellent reporting.

We're also keeping a very close eye on a very severe weather system heading for the Gulf Coast. The city of New Orleans has been seen -- has begun very serious storm preparations just ahead of the tropical storm, Sally. The mayor of New Orleans earlier today making a mandatory evacuation in order for people who live outside the city's levee protection system.

CNN's Tom Sater is closely watching this storm. Tom, we're still referring to this as Tropical Storm Sally. But it looks, based on all the latest forecasts, it's going to be a hurricane, at least Category 1, maybe Category 2, by the time it hits New Orleans, what, Tuesday morning.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: After midnight tomorrow night, the fear is it's putting the brakes on, and that's the last thing we want. The benchmark here for named storms, 15 years ago, 2005, we went through the whole alphabet and then six letters into the Greek alphabet. Look at all of these. We are ahead of that pace by 20 days.

The convection all day long with Sally has been well off to the east and it needs to get near the center, the core really strengthened. The last several little loops here on our satellite image, the bright white showing it really now starting to get to the center. And that goes right along with the radar picture because we're getting strikes in the core. So I think by morning, we're going to have ourselves a hurricane.

Here is the problem though. As it slides through the area, watch this animation, it puts the brakes on. We think tomorrow night it slows down, maybe moving 4 miles an hour. You can outrun this. And that's going to allow for catastrophic flooding, one to two feet of rainfall, all this area of purple. That's 10 to 20 inches. And it looks like the center may move right over the city of New Orleans.

In red are the warnings all of Southeast Louisiana. Remember, they just hit last month by Hurricane Laura. There's still 50,000 without power and debris that could be picked up by some of these winds. But you're going to have winds 90, 100 miles per hour. Plaquemines Parrish, St. Bernard over towards St. Charles.

But the problem is, really, that as the system moves in this angle of approach, here is Hurricane Katrina's, see how it's coming almost at a 45-degree angle.

[21:45:03]

When this system moves in with the winds, it's going to put New Orleans on the wrong side. So it will be nice to see a little bit of a shift in this track at least in the forecast, but we're talking to 7 to 11-foot storm surge in this area. So, again, fear is, with the levees and everything, we're just hoping that the system can at least pick up some speed. But right now, unfortunately, Wolf, that does not look to be the case, so after midnight tomorrow night.

BLITZER: I feel so bad for those folks in Louisiana, around New Orleans, as you pointed out exactly almost 15 years ago, Katrina hit that area. We covered it extensively at the time. We didn't realize that almost 1,800, a little bit more than 1,800 people died as a result of that hurricane. Let's hope this is nowhere near that at all.

Tom, thank you very much. We'll stay in close touch with you as well.

Coming up, President Trump defends downplaying the coronavirus pandemic by comparing himself to the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, during World War II. And that's not the first global leader he's likened himself to.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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[21:50:00]

BLITZER: These are live pictures coming in from President Trump's first indoor rally in some three months. This is going against the recommendations of his own coronavirus task force. The president is continuing to downplay the coronavirus pandemic even as new revelations show he was fully aware as early as January of the enormous dangers of this pandemic and he is desperately trying to defend his actions by invoking Winston Churchill.

Our Brian Todd has more on that.

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BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump reaches into his playbook for damage control, pulling out his tactic of comparing himself to great leaders as he tries to fend off criticism for telling Bob Woodward he downplayed the pandemic to the people.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, a great leader, would oftentimes go to a roof in London and speak. And he always spoke with confidence. He said, we have to show confidence. No, we did it the right way.

TODD: Winston Churchill went to roof tops to view the German bombings of London but never spoke from the roof tops.

According to an author who worked from Trump, that's the least of Trump's transgressions in comparing himself to Britain's wartime prime minister.

TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, TRUMP, THE ART OF THE DEAL: What he's trying to do is to twist the facts of what's happening to allow him to come out looking good. So he does something absurd like compare himself to Churchill who was very deliberate in keeping his voice calm but also in being authentic and truthful about what was happening.

TODD: Indeed, in 1940, as he urged the British to be positive, Churchill also told them, quote, we have before us many, many long months of struggle and suffering compared to this from Trump to Woodward in March on the pandemic.

TRUMP: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, RAGE: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: Because I don't want to create a panic.

TODD: At the same rally on Thursday, Trump didn't compare himself directly to Franklin Roosevelt but he invoked it.

TRUMP: As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. That's it. We're doing very well.

TODD: But Roosevelt, unlike Trump, also leveled with the American people as World War II drew to a close, saying, quote, the point in history at which we stand is full of promise and danger.

Trump seems to have a pattern of inaccurate comparisons of himself to other leaders. He's compared himself to Ronald Reagan and this comparison to Lincoln recently.

TRUMP: And I say very modestly that I have done more for the African- American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln.

TODD: Trump has, according to South Dakota's governor, openly stated he would like to be alongside Lincoln on Mount Rushmore.

We asked Tony Schwartz, his new book, is about trying to recover from working with Trump on his memoir, why Trump keeps making these comparisons.

SCHWARZ: He has pushed himself into this inflated state to make up for the fact that what he's actually feeling right now is very, very deeply worried that his self-destructiveness is going to cause the end of his presidency.

TODD: With these comparisons to Churchill and others, can Trump go beyond his base and reassure swing voters about his handling of the pandemic?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: This is not something that he believes is going to win over new voters. These revelations are astounding with a crisis that impacts everybody in this country.

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BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, excellent reporting, thank you very much. We'll be right back.

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BLITZER: Sadly, the United States has now lost more than 194,000 people to the coronavirus. Before we sign off tonight, I would like to take a moment to remember some of the truly wonderful Americans we've lost in this deadly pandemic.

Jason Garcia worked as a nurse in a hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas. He lost his battle with coronavirus in late August. His boss says there was one thing that she didn't know how much she appreciated until he was gone, and that was his smile.

Jason leaves behind a wife and two children. He was 42 years old.

Derek Leppert, affectionately called Coach Lep, was a high school baseball coach in Kansas. This week, the Kansas City Royals held a moment of silence in his honor. The school principal said that Coach Lep was known for his booming east coast voice. He frequently used it to give students trouble for being late.

He is survived by a wife and children.

Kelly Balser had been a school nurse in Katy, Texas for 22 years.

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She passed away after a long fight with COVID-19. Her family said she was their rock. Kelly's principal put it simply, and I'm quoting now: We need to love each other as much as she loved all of us. May they rest in peace. And may their memories be a blessing. I'll be back tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM 5 p.m. Eastern.