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Presidential Race in Florida Tightens; Gov. Ron DeSantis Not Releasing School COVID-19 Data; Interview with former Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention at the Department of Homeland Security Elizabeth Neumann. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 15, 2020 - 10:30   ET




RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's Puerto Rican, and a newly registered Democrat who is supporting Biden. He says the more Trump talks about socialism --

THOMAS SANTIAGO, BIDEN SUPPORTER: That really resonates with them. Because for them, you know, somebody like Hugo Chavez or Fidel, they don't want to have anything to do with, you know, people who are like that.

KAYE (voice-over): Trump may see an opening in Florida with Hispanic voters. Biden isn't doing as well with that voter group as Hillary Clinton did back in 2016. Clinton won Florida Hispanics by about 30 points, exit polls show. But a recent NBC/Marist poll shows Trump with 50 percent support among Hispanic voters here compared to Biden's 46 percent.

Diella (ph) Giardo (ph) is Cuban-American. She's supporting Trump because she grew up in a socialist country, and returning to that is her greatest fear.

Florida State Senator Annette Taddeo, a Democrat, warns her party needs to take such concerns seriously.

ANNETTE TADDEO (D), FLORIDA STATE SENATE: The socialist, communist attacks have worked, especially with Cuban-Americans. And so we have seen a hemorrhaging of those voters.

KAYE (voice-over): None of this seems to be lost on the Biden campaign. It may be why Kamala Harris and her husband visited a Venezuelan restaurant in Doral, Florida last week.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We've got to make sure everybody votes, OK?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, yes, trust me. You have mine (ph).


KAYE (voice-over): And Biden will be campaigning today in the purplest part of the state, the I-4 corridor. Former Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg is also planning to spend $100 million in Florida to try and secure a Biden victory.

Florida political expert Susan MacManus.

SUSAN MACMANUS, RETIRED POLITICAL PROFESSOR: it will only work if it's well done and well targeted. Just spending generally isn't a guarantee that you're going to grab a lot of people's attention.

KAYE (voice-over): Ana Sofia Pelaez is a Democratic organizer with the Miami Freedom Project, is Cuban-American and voting Biden.

KAYE: Why do you think some Cuban-Americans are supporting Donald Trump?

ANA SOFIA PELAEZ, ACTIVIST: We don't all support Donald Trump. There's a lot of, you know, voters out there that Joe Biden, you know, he can win. We're a very purple demographic.

KAYE (voice-over): She says voters in that purple demographic want to see Biden talk more about the issues, like his promise to halt mass deportations.

Acemeno (ph) Acevedo (ph) Arana (ph) is a Trump supporter. He's from Nicaragua, and tells me he believes Trump has deported fewer people than the Obama administration, when Biden was vice president.

Meanwhile, Tristan Garcia, who is supporting Biden, has a warning for Hispanic Trump supporters.

TRISTAN GARCIA, BIDEN SUPPORTER: Trump's not going to to help anybody. Trump's not going to help anybody but himself. He doesn't care about anything or anybody.


KAYE: And just to be clear, no Republican candidate has won the presidency without winning the state of Florida since 1924. But meanwhile, here in Central Florida, where Biden is coming today, where we are, this is one of the most competitive areas of the state.

Back in 2016, the campaign spent millions of dollars just along the I- 4 corridor, that's how critical it is. So it's no surprise that Biden is choosing this area to come to as his first visit to Florida for the campaign. There are a lot of people who escaped Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, a lot of Puerto Rican voters here. No doubt he'll be trying to make some inroads with them -- Jim, Poppy, back to you.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Randi Kaye, thanks so much.

We're joined now by CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, good to have you. And I know it's always a mistake to describe any voting group as a monolith, right? I mean, people make their decisions and there's always a broad set of viewpoints.

But we know the Trump administration's policy regarding immigration from Latin America. I mean, you know, not just attempting to stop illegal immigration, but even restrict further legal immigration -- you look at the statements of Stephen Miller and so on. What is the reaction among Latino voters to that policy in particular?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you just heard in Randi Kaye's excellent piece. The people who are trending towards or even saying that they will vote for Donald Trump who are Latino voters, say they're doing that because of -- for lots of reasons, one of which is the argument that the Trump campaign is -- apparently with those voters successfully making -- about the fact that you have to worry about socialism.

Because so many Latino voters, either they come from or their family comes from places in South America, Central America, elsewhere where that is a reality, it's not just a theoretical thing. And so that -- it's no surprise, that is why the Trump campaign is leading with that issue with those voters.

The one thing I will say though, is Randi -- of course, rightly -- said that Republicans in the last hundred years or so haven't been able to win the White House without Florida. But that's not true for Democrats and Joe Biden, he does have a path to win the White House with the Electoral College without Florida, it just makes it a whole lot harder.

SCIUTTO: Yes, yes.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: I think it's interesting, Dana, that Joe Biden's support with Hispanic voters is softer right now than Hillary Clinton's --


BASH: It is.

HARLOW: -- was in 2016. And I think Michael Bloomberg sees that as a big problem. That's why -- you know, got to be a big reason why he's pouring $100 million into Florida to try to be a game-changer there. Do you have any reporting on whether that's going to have to change the president's strategy in Florida?

BASH: So interesting. Look, the Bloomberg team -- Michael Bloomberg himself, and of course separately the Biden campaign, they're certainly hoping it will. They're hoping it will force them to spend more time and resources in Florida.

So much of this is kind of a game of whack-a-mole when it comes to those resources, when you look at the broad map but more specifically that six or seven real battlegrounds that will decide this election. And Florida's not a cheap state. But as you, again, heard in Randi's piece, just spending $100 million doesn't necessarily win you anything unless it's done very strategically --

HARLOW: Right.

BASH: -- what it has done is signal, you know, legally, Michael Bloomberg in what he's doing, he can't coordinate with the Biden campaign. But by saying it publicly, he's signaling to the Biden campaign that they can spend money and resources elsewhere because they've got more in there.

And one other thing I just want to add on that when it comes to how that money -- or any money -- is targeted, we're talking about Hispanic voters now, which is, you know, a very important voting bloc in Florida. But the other thing to keep in mind is seniors.

Randi was in the Villages -- I can't tell you how many times I have been in the Villages covering presidential campaigns because it is such a huge place to go for seniors. And that is something else that's flipping when you look at polls this year. Traditionally, it is the Republicans who win seniors in Florida. I just looked it up before coming on, the president won by 17 percentage points when it comes to seniors.

Now, Joe Biden has a slight -- within the margin of error, but a slight -- edge with regard to seniors. That's such an important voting bloc in Florida.


HARLOW: They'll take it, right? Dana, thanks -- thank you, good to have you.

BASH: Thank you, you too.

HARLOW: Tonight, you'll want to watch our colleague Anderson Cooper, hear unreleased audio, new stuff from Bob Woodward's interviews with the president. The legendary journalist will talk about his new book, "Rage," on A.C. 360 tonight, 8:00 Eastern, right here on CNN. We'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: Well as some students return to school, the state of Florida is seeing a major jump in coronavirus cases among children. A stunning 26 percent increase in infections, positive test rates, since many Florida schools opened their doors just about a month ago now.

HARLOW: So why is the state still not releasing K through 12 COVID-19 data for all of their public schools? Our Rosa Flores investigates.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, boys and girls, I need --

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Classrooms like these are what Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been pushing for for months -- GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Because the risk, fortunately, for kids is

extremely, extremely low.

FLORES (voice-over): -- but he did not present a statewide safety plan. And more than a month into face-to-face learning, he has not released COVID-19 data on schools. For families like the Richardsons (ph), the lack of information made it difficult to decide between virtual and in-person schooling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was stressful.

REESE RICHARDSON, STUDENT IN MARTIN COUNTY, FLORIDA: It was even up to the last second, I was still having second thoughts.

FLORES (voice-over): Reese Richardson started seventh grade in person at Martin County public schools, one of the first districts to reopen in the state. One day after reopening, an entire classroom in the district was placed under quarantine, and hundreds more students just days later.

CNN was given access to Jensen Beach Elementary School, where there has not been an outbreak. The halls are marked to facilitate social distancing, the dining area is disinfected after every use.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, guys --

FLORES (voice-over): But the desks are not six feet apart because there is not enough room.

JAMIE MCNEALY, TEACHER IN MARTIN COUNTY, FLORIDA: If we took the bookshelves and things out, I might be able to space them out more.

FLORES (voice-over): The superintendent says parents were warned.

LAURIE GAYLORD, SUPERINTENDENT, MARTIN COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Yes, that was information that was put up, you know, right up front.

FLORES (voice-over): Unlike the state, the Martin County School District does release its own COVID-19 data. So far, it's reported 23 positive or presumed positive cases, and has quarantined about 510 students.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why has the state not released a statewide COVID-19 --


DESANTIS: Every single day on the -- on -- when you get the daily report -- excuse me --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But specific -- but for specifically for school districts, Governor.

DESANTIS: Excuse me. When you get the daily report, you can see by age how every new positive case is broken out. FLORES (voice-over): State data shows a 26 percent increase in cases

among children under 18 since classes started, and the overall positivity rate is 14.3 percent. The pandemic has also killed eight children in Florida, including a 9-year-old with no pre-existing conditions.

Now, Florida's largest teachers' union is running TV ads to pressure DeSantis to release the data.

ANDREW SPAR, PRESIDENT, FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: When we deny that information, it just causes the spread to grow much faster.

FLORES (voice-over): Reese stopped going into school after a week and a half.

RICHARDSON: Kids were taking off their masks, they were touching, they were close in the halls.

FLORES (voice-over): Last week, 40 students at her school were quarantined.

Until Florida gets a handle on the COVID-19 situation in schools, the Richardsons say they're staying home. Rosa Flores, CNN, Martin County, Florida.



SCIUTTO: Coming up, a major shift in the Middle East, an agreement to normalize relations about to be signed at the White House. Will it make the region safer?


SCIUTTO: A peace deal and a signing just about an hour away at the White House. The agreement between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain largely seen as a foreign policy win for this president, progress between nations who have been at loggerheads for decades.


Joining me now is Elizabeth Neumann, she's former assistant secretary for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention at the Department of Homeland Security under President Trump. Elizabeth, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So first, as we're about to witness this signing in the White House, tell us the significance of these agreements between Israel and the Gulf nations of UAE and Bahrain.

NEUMANN: I mean, it's certainly historic, right? And I am the first one to say we need to give credit where credit is due. This took leadership, this took kind of the thing that we all had hoped, early on in the administration, that this president would bring, kind of an outside-the-box approach to very tough problems.

So I think they deserve credit. I know they built on work that had been done in Bush and in Obama, so credit to the American people, credit to the great diplomats and national security officials that have been serving for the last few decades. And reaching this point, it's good news for our country, it's good news for Israel and the Middle East.

SCIUTTO: No question.

I want to move, given your expertise, to domestic threats here. Your specialty of course was domestic terrorism. I want to ask you, because we've seen a lot of violence across this country -- as you're well aware -- over recent weeks and months. What is the primary domestic terrorism threat in the U.S. today?

NEUMANN: Yes, it's a great question. Over the last few years, we have been increasingly concerned about white nationalist and anti- government extremist violence. CSIS did a study and looked at planned and carried out attacks in 2019, 63 percent of those they classified as a right-wing extremist ideology promoting those -- planning those attacks.

You look back over the last 10 years, and you have any number of attacks that have occurred. We all think that they are ISIS, right? Or other homegrown violent extremists. But in fact, 76 percent of them were conducted by a white nationalist or anti-government viewpoint. And again, that doesn't mean that there aren't other threats in our country. But when you're looking at lethality, we do see more willingness to kill people out of that right-wing extremist viewpoint.

So we definitely have recently had more violence that's been in the moment between left-wing and right-wing causes, and that's extremely concerning to see that tension grow. And any time you bring weapons and angry people, it just -- it can boil over and we have incidents maybe that weren't premeditated, and that is also of concern.

SCIUTTO: OK. As you know, the president's been reluctant to call out -- condemn right-wing extremist groups, focusing his attention on Antifa. And we hear from a whistleblower inside the DHS that there was a deliberate effort to downplay threats from one group or put them on an equal level with threats from groups such as Antifa even though the data doesn't back that up.

I'm curious, does that hesitation to publicly call them out, does it embolden those groups?

NEUMANN: Absolutely. And I don't have firsthand knowledge that the whistleblower's accounts are true, but it is very consistent with what we've seen out of many parts of our government, whether you look at what was happening with HHS and its new reports coming out that you had political appointees with no scientific or public health experience, tinkering with reports out of the CDC, to what we've seen out of the intelligence community to what we're seeing out of the Department of Homeland Security.

You're increasingly seeing political operatives reach into what has historically been apolitical functionings of government and trying to get the message to match what the president is saying -- as opposed to the opposite, right? The facts coming up from the scientists or from the intelligence community --


NEUMANN: -- to the president and saying, Mr. President, this is the threat. And then letting the president's message match that threat.

SCIUTTO: Yes, trying to back-justify those comments.

But before we go, in 2016 -- as you know well -- Russia interfered in the election. It's the intelligence assessment they are attempting to do -- doing so in many ways in this election. By the president refusing to call that out publicly and repeatedly, does that embolden interference by Russia and other foreign actors in this cycle as well?

NEUMANN: I think it does. It's really a shame because the best way to counter disinformation is to educate the American public. And because the president's not willing to acknowledge this threat -- even though you have others in government very clearly speaking out, this is happening -- and it's happening by more than just Russia, but Russia certainly started and is the most prolific in their efforts.


If the president would speak out, it would help inoculate many Americans from being persuaded by information that's just not true and is a plant from a foreign government that's hostile.


NEUMANN: I think it's really important for people to understand, Russia's intent is social disruption, social disillusion within our country. And they will do -- use whatever means they need to. They look at a guy like President Trump and say, hey, he's doing it for us. He is divisive --


NEUMANN: -- he is causing the country to implode on itself. And so we don't have to do as much because he's doing it for us.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, that's an alarming thing to hear from someone -- particularly with your job in this administration. Elizabeth Neumann, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

NEUMANN: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: Great to have her perspective on it.

Thanks to all of you for being with us. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow. SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with John King will start

right after a short break.