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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Blames California Wildfires On Lack Of Maintaining Forests Instead Of Climate Change; Katrina Survivor Prepares For Hurricane Sally; Top HHS Spokesman Says Government Scientists Guilty Of "Sedition"; Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) Discusses Judge Ruling PA Coronavirus Restrictions Unconstitutional & Mail-In-Voting Delays. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 15, 2020 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00]

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Seung Min, it is just remarkable because we do see this in the coronavirus as well, people who spend years and years and years studying their craft, studying their science, make a point.

And the president just shakes his head and cocks his head and rolls his eyes and says, go away, essentially.

Every expert you talk to about this issue in California says, yes, we have a wildfire problem, always, but it is exacerbated by climate change.

The scientists have no doubt and the president says it will get cooler.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and this is a pattern that we've seen from the president, even before his presidency and his rise in public office, denying the science behind climate change. He have's called it a hoax.

His -- his administration has clearly taken several steps that -- that environmentalists have decried as being damaging to the climate.

And you saw that again yesterday. He was really challenged by a couple of state officials in California that climate change is, yes, an aggravating factor in these wildfires out west. And he said, I don't think science knows.

We've seen that where he's denied the science and research on public and climate issues to sort of further his open political vows and his open political agenda.

And right now, what he has consistently done in wildfires, not just right now but from, you know, from a couple of years ago, is that he had blamed the forest management issue, saying the leaves aren't being racked and there are trees exploding.

And that's true to a certain extent. Governor Newsom acknowledged that yesterday saying we've not done justice to forest management. But as the correspondent pointed out earlier, it is -- it is, first of all, by far, not the only factor. And the president and the federal government itself has a role here in doing that.

KING: Right. And so I want you to listen to the president this morning on "FOX & Friends." This is a pattern, too. The president thinks if he keeps saying it, it turns out to be true. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): You have forests all over the world. You don't have fires like you do in California, you know.

In Europe, they have forest cities. You look at countries, Austria. You look at so many countries. They live in the forest. They are considered forest cities, so many of them.

And they don't have fires like this. And they have more explosive trees. They have trees that will catch easier. But they maintain their fire. They have an expression, "They thin the fuel."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There are a couple of parts to that. Again, he can say that and the parts of it might well be correct.

But those country, number one, the European countries are much more aggressive in signing on, agreeing that climate change is a problem and doing things about it.

Number two, if they, quote, unquote, "thin the fuel," which, yes, you're right, Governor Newsom says it's an issue. But back to that point, the president says it's your problem, California. And more than half of the lands out there are federal lands.

He thinks he can just talk about it and not have any responsibility for it.

KIM: Right. After staying pretty quiet on the wildfire issue for several weeks, when he first really spoke out about it in the open at a rally in Nevada over the weekend, he did mention the forest-clearing issue.

He said it again yesterday and he said it again this morning.

And this is also a pattern from the president that he kind of repeats his own kind of separate reality to wish it to be true and kind of impress that upon the supporters who really follow, you know, whatever he says.

But, again, science and facts point out that manmade climate change is undeniably making the conditions out west worse for the wildfires.

That is something that the president has not admitted to, did not acknowledge that when he was pressed upon by the -- by the state officials yesterday,.

And something that is, obviously, looking at his past rhetoric on this issue, is most likely something that is not -- something that he's not going to acknowledge in the future.

KING: "Climate arsonist" is the term used by the Democratic nominee, Vice President Joe Biden. Certainly debating points.

Seung Min, appreciate the reporting and the insights there.

[11:33:59]

Up next for us, another trouble spot. Hurricane Sally bearing down in the gulf coast. We'll speak with a man who lost his house to Katrina as he prepares for Sally 15 years later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:39:00]

KING: Hurricane Sally is a category 1 storm this hour, projected to create a significant rainfall event at a minimum when it makes landfall along the gulf coast late to the or early tomorrow.

South Mississippi is one of the areas under a hurricane warning. And the storm surge could be up to nine feet, according to hurricane forecasters.

So stay or go is a pressing question, again, for gulf coast resident.

Mike Taylor is in Long Beach, Mississippi, and plans to stay there despite losing his home to Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago. And Mike's 8-year-old nephew, Matthew, is here with us as well.

Good to see you both.

Mike, you lost a house 15 years ago. Some would think, OK, I'm not going to go through that again, I'm out of here.

You've decided to stay for Sally and you're getting help from your nephew to put sandbags around your house.

How could you make your calculation?

MIKE TAYLOR, HOUSE DESTROYED IN HURRICANE KATRINA: Well, you've just got to be prepared. And the house that I lost was south of the tracks and now I'm north of the tracks, so I feel pretty safe.

KING: You say you feel pretty safe.

The resilience -- I've been in your community. It was many years ago. The resilience of folks along the coast is remarkable.

[11:40:09]

But you've also got to make a line there. I saw in some of the note how you think technology is so much different now than back in the Katrina days that it helps you make a smarter decision, is that right?

TAYLOR: Oh, by facts and circumstances, yes. Now we're tracking storms as soon as they come off the coast of Africa. So, you know, it gives us a great feeling to know, you know, what it's going to be and how strong.

And where I live, we have a great first responder corps. And the emergency management team down here is just exceptional. So I feel like we're prepared.

KING: So you've been helping the next generation there get ready for this. I understand Matthew has given you help with some sandbags throughout the house.

Matthew, if you can hear me here, do you agree with Uncle Mike's plan, or is he taking a risk here? What does he tell you about hurricanes?

MATTHEW TAYLOR, NEPHEW OF MIKE TAYLOR: I agree with Uncle Mike's plan. And I do not agree that this is a like safe storm to stay.

I follow like it's going to be like dangerous because it's going to strike at night, more common, probably. Instead of striking during the day when you can see it, it's going to strike during the night when you can't see it.

KING: And so, Mike, just walk me through, you know. Obviously, you live there, and so this is your nephew, a young man being raised in this area of the country. He's got some concerns there.

How do you deal with that while keeping your house safe?

TAYLOR: Well, you just got to keep them close to you and just tell them that you'll take care of them.

KING: Amen to that.

Mike Taylor, young Matthew, we wish you the best. We hope this storm takes a turn. And we're certainly glad the family is together as you go through this. We'll keep in touch and see how this plays out in the days ahead.

Grateful for your time today. Thank you so much.

TAYLOR: Thank you so much for having us on.

(CROSSTALK)

TAYLOR: And God bless the gulf coast.

KING: Amen. The best to you both and your family and your community as well.

Up next for us, we shift back to policy here. A Trump loyalist involved in coronavirus policy, paid with your tax dollars, accuses CDC scientists of sedition and warns of left-wing hit squads.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:46:55]

KING: Fact-free conspiracies, they are a daily feature of the president. Now a top government official mirroring the boss.

Michael Caputo is the top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency tasked with leading the government's coronavirus response.

He says career government scientists are guilty of what he calls "sedition." These remarks coming in a live video event Caputo hosted on his personal Facebook page and Twitter account.

CNN's Sara Murray joins us now with more detail.

Sara, Michael has been controversial at times throughout his career, but this even goes outside of those lines, suggesting that scientists at the CDC, because they take the coronavirus seriously, are somehow treasonous, committing sedition.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. These were pretty extreme comments that he made in this Facebook Live.

I think he is reflecting what is a suspicion among some, some with political histories in the Trump administration, that there are people working in these health care agencies and the CDC who are out to get the president.

But it's obviously very extreme language.

And frankly, you know, it's not something that we're not used to seeing from Michael Caputo. This is the guy with a political history, who has now been installed at HHS and has a very long history of speaking his mind.

You know, he wrote a book which includes a number of conspiracies about the Biden family.

He's one of the people who is pointed to in the Mueller report as a witness that potentially lied to investigators.

And he was insistent throughout the Mueller investigation that the Trump campaign did nothing wrong, that there was no collusion. That certainly endeared him even more to President Trump.

You know, he got in hot water during the last campaign when Corey Lewandowski, the then-campaign manager, got fired. Michael Caputo was kind of publicly celebrating this. He ended up then resigning from the campaign.

And he's also a longtime friend of Roger Stone, you know, another obviously very outspoken person.

He certainly falls in the category of people within the Trump administration who believe that there are people who are always out to get the president and always out to get the president's allies.

Now, I was chatting with Michael Caputo earlier. He did note that there are some other things going on and that his family has been getting threats.

And part of that is what was coming across in this Facebook Live video and may have caused him to be a little angrier than he would be otherwise.

But I do think, John, there's a really deep suspicion within many in the Trump administration that somehow some of these scientists are out to get the president.

KING: OK. Well, they should call them in and have meetings maybe as opposed to accusing them of things like sedition. But we'll watch again as always.

Sara Murray, appreciate the reporting and the context there on Michael Caputo. Very important there for us.

[11:49:29]

Just ahead, a federal judge has ruled Pennsylvania's coronavirus restrictions are unconstitutional. The state's lieutenant governor with us, live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The president is celebrating a federal court ruling that puts some Pennsylvania's coronavirus rulings in jeopardy.

A U.S. district court just ruling yesterday that Democratic Governor Tom Wolf overstepped his authority and some state restrictions on large gatherings and on businesses are unconstitutional.

The president praising that decision on Twitter with a slew of retweets. He also voiced hope it would be extended to other states with strict shutdowns like Michigan and North Carolina.

But the governor Pennsylvania does plan to appeal.

Pennsylvania's Lieutenant Governor, John Fetterman, is with us now live.

Lieutenant Governor Fetterman, it's good to see you, sir.

The state will appeal, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will appeal. Do the restrictions stay in place until then or have you not heard from the courts yet?

[11:54:59]

LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): Well, the overwhelming majority of the restrictions in place will stay simply because a lot of the actions that were taken were taken back at the height of pandemic and were successful. And Dr. Birx, of course, the White house coordinator, said that we did

a, quote, "remarkable job."

So the president's own point person on the pandemic was in our state less than two weeks ago saying we did a remarkable job. So what the governor did during that period worked well.

KING: That's a place where your world and my world overlap. The president says one thing and the top scientists say something very different.

FETTERMAN: Clearly.

KING: The president also says, just about every stop, again yesterday, that all these Democratic governors are doing this on purpose, doing it to hurt him politically, they have the restrictions in place and, lo and behold, November 4th they will lift them.

What's the standard in Pennsylvania, Election Day or science and data?

KING: Of course, it is not the election. But you know who is driven by the election? The president. The president retweeted about my state 19 times yesterday.

And I think that shows two things. One, just how important Pennsylvania is in picking the president. And, two, just how concerned his standing is within our state.

So if you talk about the politics of this virus, the governor's played it straight down the middle. And science and data driving the decisions, whereas, politics and the other considerations that are clouding other judgments.

I think the tragedy, when we look back on this, is that all these people didn't have to die. And it happened because we made each other the enemy, not this virus.

And that's the one thing that the governor's never forgotten in Pennsylvania is the common enemy in the state is this virus. And he took appropriate steps to make sure that Pennsylvania came out as a remarkable job.

KING: You mentioned -- well, let's just show that, actually. Show right now your positivity rate down to 6.4 percent. That's higher than the national average.

When you look at the COVID as is, if you look at your part of the country going through this early on, is in much better shape now as you look at it.

A question about moving forward from that, into the election, because Pennsylvania like many states has this plan for much more aggressive use of mail-in voting, but you have this issue of the ballot delays now being held up.

This is a Burks County director of elections saying, end of September, beginning of October for when the ballots will be ready to send to voters. We are just estimating.

What is the status here? Are you worried that the delays now getting ballots approved throw kinks in the system here while everybody's watching?

FETTERMAN: I'm not worried.

My understanding is that it's come down to a challenge with respect to whether the Green Party appears on our ballot or not, and that's before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. And they understand how that ruling needs to be expedited.

I'm concerned about attempts made to discredit mail-in voting. It is 100 percent bipartisan.

The president's campaign promotes it. The Republicans in Pennsylvania promote it. One side. And then claim it's subject to fraud on the other. When the truth of the matter is more Republicans voted by mail than Democrats did.

There's simple fixes to guarantee a timely, safe and completely accurate count of the votes.

KING: If you have a state like yours tending to be close on presidential politics, what is your best guess, if you have a record number of mail-in ballots, Wednesday, Thursday, maybe Friday before we know the winner of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, not Tuesday night?

FETTERMAN: A lot depends on what the Republicans in our state legislature are willing to do.

The governor today released common sense, not controversial fixes to this bipartisan vote-by-mail bill. They're very straight forward. They're common sense.

If they adopt most of those, I suspect we would be able to deliver our results rather rapidly. If we are mired in this law that will hamstring some results, it may take longer.

But I think the most important thing is accuracy of the vote and the fact that the other side will try to create doubt or cast this idea that there's fraud and not the case.

[11:59:58]

Vote by mail in Pennsylvania is secure. It's completely bipartisan. And we need to make it about the virus, and the choice that we all are going to have in November, and Pennsylvania's role in picking the president.