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Trump Visits California; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D- CA). Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


I'm Jake Tapper. And we begin this hour with the politics lead.

President Trump is right now leaving California, where he received a briefing on the deadly and devastating wildfires during a short stop on his campaign swing of the rest. More than 16,000 firefighters are currently battling 29 active fires in California right now.

Western wildfires this year have burned millions of acres and killed at least 35 people. The policy differences on environmental issues between President Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden could not be clearer.

Biden, echoing scientific consensus, noted this afternoon that the increasing frequency and intensity of these severe weather events demonstrate a need, in his view, to tackle the climate crisis. President Trump, conversely, seems to be blaming Californians for sufficiently raking leaves in the forest and continuing better forest management, even though, as the governor just pointed out to President Trump, the vast majority of the forests in California are federal.

And President Trump's push against climate science is something that one California official took issue with today when he met President Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we're seeing this warming trend make our summers warmer, but also our winters warmer as well. If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it's all about vegetation management, we're not going to succeed together protecting Californians.



TRUMP: You just -- you just watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish science agreed with you.


TRUMP: Well, I don't think science knows, actually.


TAPPER: The fires are just one matter of life and death that President Trump is facing right now in his job.

As he ignores the science of climate change, as you saw in that clip, he is also ignoring the science of the coronavirus pandemic, holding a crowded indoor rally with thousands in attendance, few masks in sight.

President Trump, in holding that rally, was defying local restrictions in Nevada, as well as guidance given by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, also defying simple common sense.

As the U.S. approaches 195,000 deaths from COVID-19, less than 5 percent of the world's population, more than 20 percent of the coronavirus deaths worldwide, according to official statistics, it's a comparative failure with any other Western wealthy nation.

And now CNN has exclusively obtained a new recording of President Trump talking to author Bob Woodward, with President Trump a month ago today bewilderingly insisting that he could not have done anything more to save lives, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With fires ravaging the West Coast, President Trump made a brief stop in California to assess the damage after being criticized for largely staying silent on the devastation he's blamed on forest management.

TRUMP: There has to be good, strong forest management, which I have been talking about for three years.

COLLINS: As he met with California Governor Gavin Newsom in a stop added two days ago, the trip only emphasized Trump's reluctance to accept climate change.

TRUMP: Trees fall down. After a short period of time, about 18 months, they become very dry. They become really like a matchstick, also leaves. When you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground, it just sets it up.

COLLINS: Scientists have concluded it's greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels that are making the fires longer-lasting and more damaging.

QUESTION: Is there a climate change issue in California?

TRUMP: You will have to ask the governor that question. I don't want to step on his toes. GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): But, please, respect -- and I know you do -- the difference of opinion out here as it relates to this fundamental issue on the issue of climate change.

COLLINS: Former Vice President Joe Biden said Trump doesn't listen to the experts.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more America ablaze?

COLLINS: The president's visit coming after he held a rally with thousands of people indoors yesterday, blatantly defying the governor of Nevada's order limiting indoor gatherings to 50 people.

Many in the audience weren't wearing masks, and Trump openly mocked the governor's restriction.

TRUMP: And if the governor comes after you, which he shouldn't be doing, I will be with you all the way.

COLLINS: Trump told "The Las Vegas Review-Journal" that the limitations didn't apply to him and he wasn't worried about getting COVID-19 from being in the room.

TRUMP: No, I'm not concerned.

QUESTION: What about people here?

TRUMP: I'm more concerned about how close you are, to be honest with you.


COLLINS: The revelation that Trump knew the dangers of coronavirus came from Bob Woodward's book.

In new audio obtained by CNN today, Trump repeatedly asked what Woodward the pandemic would affect his reelection chances.


TRUMP: So, you think the virus totally supersedes the economy?

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Oh, sure. But they're related, as you know.

TRUMP: A little bit, yes.

COLLINS: Trump also told Woodward, nothing more could have been done on COVID, despite what Dr. Anthony Fauci told Jake Tapper in April.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I mean, obviously, you could logically say that, if you had a process that was ongoing, and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, the president has just left California. He is now on his way to Arizona, where he's going to be holding a Latinos for Trump event, as polls show he is edging Joe Biden out with that group.

But I want you to look at the room where the president is going to host this event. We have got our team in the room. See how many chairs there are and how closely they are together. Our team counted over 500 chairs, though, of course, it's unclear yet if all of them are going to be filled.

But it just shows you, if so, this is going to be another event where the president is throwing these COVID-19 precautions to the wind, basically.

TAPPER: We know that the virus has struck minority groups, Latinos and African-Americans, disproportionately hard.

Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Congressman John Garamendi of California, a Democrat. And the largest fire in state history is currently burning in his district. The fire is just 30 percent contained. Garamendi is also a surrogate for the Biden campaign.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

President Trump today focused on forest management as the solution for alleviating some of the fires and for the problem in the future.

You have touted your efforts on preventative forest management to make them more resilient to wildfires. So, is there any truth to what the president is saying here?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Certainly, there is. Certainly, we do need to manage the forests better. Certainly, there are many things that can be done.

But I notice he didn't bring a rake with him, nor did he bring money. That's what it's going to take to do it. And it's only this year that we were able to set up a funding mechanism for the U.S. Forest Service that allows them to manage the forests with some money.

Previously, all the money was spent on fighting the fires. Nothing was left to manage the forests. But the issue is far, far bigger than raking the leaves. It's an issue that we have to deal with climate change.

Jake, we knew back in the 1990s. I was deputy secretary at the Department of Interior. In the run-up to the Kyoto climate conference in 1998, we studied what would happen if the climate got warmer. We predicted exactly what is happening today, with hurricanes, with floods, with superstorms, and with fires.

We knew the forest we're going to die. And here we are, 22 years later, and the president denies climate change. This man is a danger, not only the pandemic, but he's a danger to our communities.

TAPPER: And also, Congressman, Governor Newsom, California Democratic Governor Newsom today pointed out to President Trump that a majority of the forests in California -- I think I -- I think I have this right -- are federal lands, and it's a small minority that are that are state lands.

Is that correct? And how does that relate to this issue of management of the forests?

GARAMENDI: Well, as I said a moment ago when talking about federal forest money, previously, the money was consumed in fighting fires. There was nothing left over to manage.

We now have a new funding mechanism in place. We do need to manage the forests. But it's -- and the great majority of forests in California are federal. But the fires are occurring not only in the federal forests, but they're also occurring on private lands. And they are occurring in our cities, certainly, as you saw in Oregon.

We're having firestorms in our cities, in our suburbs in the cities. And it is directly related to climate change. We know this.

TAPPER: Right.

GARAMENDI: Unfortunately, the president simply refuses to accept the responsibility that is his.

Thank God Biden made it very, very clear what he will do as president. He will address these issues.

TAPPER: So, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was on "STATE OF THE UNION" yesterday. And he suggested to me that, in his view, President Trump responds to disasters in Republican-leaning states more quickly and more aggressively than he does when the disasters are in Democratic-leaning states.

Take a listen.


ERIC GARCETTI (D), MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: And from the president. I wish that we would get as much attention, not based on an electoral map, but just purely on being Americans and the need for leadership to be from the White House for all of America.


TAPPER: Do you agree with that sentiment? President Trump is more readily offering support to Americans in primarily Republican-led states, like Texas or -- let's say Texas?

GARAMENDI: Well, we certainly know that the president is paying attention to the red states, and even more so to the states that are in play, the swing states. With regard to California, yes, we do need federal help. We do need assistance. And, frankly, we need the HEROES bill. Unfortunately, the president refuses to recognize that state, local governments around this nation, red, blue, independent, whomever, swing and not, are all hurting for money.


And so the HEROES bill, which is in play -- which is, unfortunately, not in play here in the Senate, has to provide the money that these local governments need, not just to sustain the firefight, but also all of the other, the fighting the coronavirus, the testing, the tracing, all of those things.

And I must go back and just -- Biden gave an exceptional speech earlier today just ahead of the president -- and the stark difference between a Biden that's looking to the future, protecting America from all of the climate catastrophes that are already with us, and a president that simply denies that there even exists such a problem.

We have got to -- we have got to make a change. We cannot let time go by any longer without fully addressing the climate crisis. And Biden laid it out clearly what he would do.

TAPPER: One last question for you, sir, about the coronavirus and this new recording from Bob Woodward with President Trump.


TAPPER: I want to play an excerpt of President Trump talking about his efforts to tackle the pandemic. Take a listen.


WOODWARD: You and I...

TRUMP: Nothing more could have been done. Nothing more could have been done.


TRUMP: I acted early. I acted early.

WOODWARD: We will -- we will make -- this will...

TRUMP: We will see.


TAPPER: Do you agree with that? Nothing more could have been done and he acted early?

GARAMENDI: What's the current count on lies that the president had has stated? We're at 20,000 lies over the last four years. You can add that one more to it. The fact is, he didn't act early. All he did was to shut down some of

the travel from China. He opened -- left the door open to Europe, and he left some, I don't know, 60,000, maybe 100,000 additional people come into the United States from China. That's all he did.

But worse than that is that he denied the reality of the pandemic. He knew back in February that this illness was far more serious than the common flu. He said it himself in the tapes to Woodward.

And now here we are, nearly 200,000 Americans dead, dead as a result of the infection that has overtaken us, and an economy in rubble, in ruin. It is an indictment, an indictment of the Trump administration, and specifically of Trump himself.

He had the knowledge. He had the information. He refused to act to protect Americans. And, for that reason, for that reason alone, he must go.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California, as you can see, also a forceful advocate for the Biden campaign, thanks for your time today.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of California, Oregon and Washington.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thanks so much.

Some breaking news for you now. The world's largest producer of vaccines says that there may be enough doses by the election, just not this election. The scary outlook ahead.

Plus: Florida's governor pushed to reopen schools, but he's not telling parents some key numbers about coronavirus.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead today, the CEO of American drug company Pfizer says there's a good chance we will know if its coronavirus vaccine works by the end of next month. But the world's largest vaccine manufacturer is warning today if the coronavirus vaccine requires two doses, the world will not have enough until 2024, as CNN's Athena Jones now reports.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A major warning on the vaccine front. The head of the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, telling "The Financial Times" there won't be enough vaccines available to inoculate everyone in the world until the end of 2024 at the earliest if two doses are needed to provide immunity, as expected.

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, INTERNAL MEDICINE AND VIRAL SPECIALIST: All of the studies are showing that to get an adequate immune response is going to require two doses probably spaced a month apart.

JONES: But --

RODRIGUEZ: What we need to keep in mind is that it may not require first and foremost everyone in the world to get vaccinated to slow down or even stop this spread.

JONES: Meanwhile, a bold prediction from vaccine-maker Pfizer, which is already manufacturing hundreds of thousands of doses in the hopes its COVID vaccine is deemed safe and effective.

ALBERT BOURLA, PH.D., CEO, PFIZER: We will know if the product works by the end of October.

JONES: Six months after the president declared a state of emergency to combat COVID-19, still a mixed picture across the United States, with 24 states showing a downward trend in new infections, 16 states holding steady, and ten states and Puerto Rico on the rise. New infections up 55 percent in Wyoming, 36 percent in Wisconsin, and 10 percent in Connecticut. Texas now behind just New York and New Jersey in the total number of COVID-19 deaths. In California, where cases are falling, San Francisco today re-opening hair and nail salons and gyms with limited capacity and face coverings required.

COVID spread in higher education remains a concern with more than 45,000 cases reported at colleges and universities in all 50 states. One reason seems like this one near NYU over the weekend are raising eyebrows.

And there are new concerns about politics impacting U.S. agency scientific guidance. A federal official telling CNN, Assistant Health and Human Secretary Michael Caputo and his team have been altering the CDC's weekly science reports so that they don't undermine President Trump's optimistic political messaging on the virus.


DR. JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: They're trying to craft a message from our scientific organization. This is not about the message, this is about science.

JONES: In fact, "The New York Times" reports Caputo accused CDC scientists of sedition on Facebook, stating, without evidence, the agency was harboring a resistance unit determined to undermine the president.


JONES: Now, I should point out, Michael Caputo is a political appointee. "The New York Times" quoting him saying, telling his Facebook followers, quote, scientists deep in the bowels of the CDC have given up science and become political animals. They also quote saying, quote, there are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Athena Jones, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Dr. William Schaffner. He's a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Dr. Schaffner, I want to start with your reaction to this "New York Times" reporting Trump HHS official Michael Caputo accusing the Centers for Disease of Control, or members of it, of sedition, having a resistance unit determined to undermine President Trump.

You're a longtime adviser to the CDC. What's your reaction?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Well, I'm very distressed, Jake, at those words, because that's not the CDC personnel that I know. They work very hard, they're apolitical in their work. They're devoted to science. They're devoted to actually getting out the best information as quickly as possible so that the American people can be as healthy as possible.

And they have a wonderful track record going back to HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika virus, in protecting the United States from invasion by infectious agents and dealing with them after they arrive.


SCHAFFNER: They're a model for the rest of the world.

TAPPER: So, Doctor, this new reporting comes after CNN confirmed a different story by "Politico" that Trump appointees, including Caputo at HHS, have been pushing to change language used in these weekly CDC morbidity and mortality reports, and other reports about the coronavirus. Sources telling CNN that the political appointees' apparent goal was to make sure that the data released by the CDC did not undermine President Trump's political messages.

We should point out that Caputo says that they were just trying to make sure data drives policy, not, quote, ulterior, deep state motives, unquote, from the CDC. What was your reaction to that story?

SCHAFFNER: Well, I find it abhorrent that political influences are trying and perhaps successfully inserting themselves into the CDC communications, which have always been a model of science-based rectitude very, very rigorous. They are the bible that everybody in public health reads not only in this country but around the world. We can't have them contaminated with politics. Politics should be kept out of public health. Politicians should be supporting public health, not trying to spin it.

TAPPER: And, Doc, the world's largest vaccine maker warning if the vaccine ultimately requires two doses per person, that the world will not have enough of the vaccine until 2024.

What might that mean for any sort of timeline for returning to more -- to some sort of normal?

SCHAFFNER: Well, we're thinking about the global economy and also the economy here in the United States. I suspect we'll have more vaccine for the United States before we have it for the entire world. And some vaccines under development now require only one dose.

So, I think that timeline can be accelerated surely here at home and even around the world. I'm more optimistic than that.

TAPPER: I wanted to get your reactions to President Trump's really rally in Nevada last night. It deified state regulations, thousands of people crowded indoors, very few masks, no distancing.

When you see these images, what do you think?

SCHAFFNER: Well, what I think, Jake, is that the virus was there. It was uninvited. People brought it in. It spread during those circumstances. And those circumstances were actually 180 degrees opposite from current, good public health practice that should not have occurred. We should not have these large gatherings.

This is not a political statement. It's a simple public health statement. We need to avoid large gatherings today and for the foreseeable future.

TAPPER: You know, we've talked about this before because President Trump obviously had that rally in Tulsa, not to mention of course his acceptance of the Republican National Convention nomination at the White House where it was outdoors at least, but still very few -- very little adherence to guidelines.


We don't know, though, how that affects, who gets it as a result. Is that just because we just don't have the contact tracing? I mean, because it seems like we see these things and we say, well, people are going to get the virus because of it, but then we seldom hear about that actually happening.

SCHAFFNER: It's so difficult to trace back where an individual could have gotten COVID, because there are so many opportunities today. So, it's very difficult. But there is no doubt, ask any public health person in the country today, these large gatherings are accelerants for the virus. They will spread among the personnel not only locally, but these people will then return to their homes, sometimes quite distant, and set up mini outbreaks in those locations also.

It all just keeps fueling the outbreak. It's the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing.

TAPPER: President Trump says that he's not worried about getting it from these events. But it's not only about him, of course.

Dr. William Schaffner, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

SCHAFFNER: Thanks. TAPPER: A massive manhunt is underway for the gunman who ambushed two Los Angeles County deputies. We're going to go live with the latest on the search. Stay with us.