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Sally Dumps Two Feet Rain In Gulf With More Still To Come; Hurricane Sally Pounds Gulf Coast; President Donald Trump Struggles With Truth In Voter Town Hall; Trump: "I Hope There's Not A Race Problem" In The United States; Twenty-three States Report Uptick In New Cases, 10 Trend Down, 17 Hold Steady. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is top of the hour I'm John King in Washington. Thank you so much for sharing this very busy news day with us. The Trump Administration today outlining how it plans to vaccinate the country against the Coronavirus when there is a vaccine.

But listen to this, CDC Director just last hour with a remarkable statement. Dr. Robert Redfield says masks are better protection from the Coronavirus than a vaccine.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: These face masks are the most important powerful public health tool we have. If w did it for six, eight, tens and twelve weeks we'd bring this pandemic under control.

I might even go as far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent and if I don't get an immune response the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.


KING: Remarkable to hear that from a top government scientist in a week we've watched the President of the United States have two indoor rallies with a ton of people with no masks.

Listen to Dr. Redfield 50,000 more COVID cases today. If you need more proof to listen to Dr. Redfield 50,000 more COVID cases today and worry that big movement in the wrong direction might be start of a bad fall trend.

And this, the big ten changing its mind now plans to play football this fall that after pressure from lawmakers chief among them, the President of the United States more on those developments ahead. We begin this hour, though with devastation and darkness stretching across the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Sally is here and it is wicked. The slow-moving storm now a category 1 sustained wind speeds right now sit at 80 miles per hour that's enough to decapitate palm trees.

Already more than 500,000 people have lost power along the Gulf Coast and in places 24 inches of rain already on the ground. Let's get you some perspective from on the ground CNN's Gary Tuchman in Pensacola Beach, Florida.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John well, I can tell you for sure is that, at some point at some point Hurricane Sally will come to an end here. Sure it doesn't feel like it right now, because it has now been 21 hours since the torrential rain started and they've never let up.

We've had tropical storm-force winds continually for many hours with hurricane-force gusts, but this is not considered a wind event. This is not like Hurricane Laura three weeks ago, where we had 140 mile- per-hour winds - Lake Charles, Louisiana and cause immense structural damage all throughout the city.

We don't see a lot of damage to buildings surrounding us here in Pensacola Beach because winds haven't been like that. However, we see flooding all over the place and it is a major concern the flood surge. It's still hard to tell how much flood damage there is because there are places we just can't get to?

Right now we're on an Island, this is Santa Rosa Island, Pensacola Beach, it is a barrier island to the South of the City of Pensacola. The bridges that connect this island to the mainland have been closed since last night once the winds got about 40 miles per hour.

People were told, if you decide to stay in your homes, you can, that's a voluntary evacuation, not mandatory, because they haven't opened up many shelters partly because of COVID that people didn't want to be with so many other people.

But they said if you did decide to stay you're stuck here until the hurricane is over. It's not over. So they're still stuck here. But this great concern - let's just have once these winds come to an end and once the rain come to an end they start exploring what kind of damage they see?

They are telling people; they're asking people, pleading to them, please, do not go out in your cars right now. There's a great chance that you could end up going into a puddle that turns into a lake and your car could wash away and, please, beware of the power lines that's what people are being told.

So far this is the most important thing when we cover hurricanes to try to give people information so they don't get hurt or get killed. Right now we haven't heard of any casualties but, of course, it's early. John?

KING: It is early and let's hope it stays that way. Thanks to Gary Tuchman and all our correspondents out there. Some people evacuate many people hunker down brace for storms it is like few to go out to chase them.

Brandon Clement is a storm chaser he joins us now on the phone. Brandon, you're somewhere in Florida, is the best of my understanding near Pensacola tell us what you're seeing?

BRANDON CLEMENT, STORM CHASER, WXCHASING: I'm between - and Pensacola. Winds are still gusting evenly over tropical storm force occasionally we have a hurricane-force gust. But lots of flooding lots of flooding here. Last night lots of really intense winds it is kind of even caught me off guard how intense the winds were in Orange Beach stuff similar to what we saw in Laura in that area.

A lot of structural damage didn't happen in Orange Beach mostly because of Hurricane Ivan. It wiped out almost the whole area. When they built back they build back to a Cat 4 code. So it helped minimize the wind damage, but the surge damage is still immense especially over towards the Fort Morgan Gulf Shores area and then the Perdido Key.

Perdido Key, a lot of surge in that area has pushed a lot of boats into homes, a lot of cars flooded out pretty bad situation all around. I know that spins all the way into Pensacola as well.


KING: You mentioned you were taken aback by the winds. Orange Beach I think you said. You do this I'm going to call you an adventurer. So you're a storm chaser, you're adventurer some people call you a little nuts that's come with the territory you're out there chasing the storm.

But you have experience here so help us put Sally in context. You've obviously done this before through other storms. For better or worse what makes Sally unique and different?

CLEMENT: Well, it sat off-coast for a long time and usually a weakening as it comes in. It was exactly the opposite what happens here is the strength of the hurricane coming in. There are no winds along the Orange Beach area directly on the water probably rivaled that of Hurricane Laura in Lake Charles.

I'd say it was pretty similar too, even stronger than the Hurricane - was in Marco Island part when it came in. Not at the keys but Marco Island. So it was a storm that felt more like a major hurricane than a Category 2 I think the last one was Category 2 coming in.

It felt like a major hurricane for sure. It has had a long duration almost like Hurricane Harvey did in Texas and that has produced a lot of rain and a lot of flash flooding inland and then a lot of storm surge along the coast.

KING: It's hard in the early hours that we're in the early hours sometimes to assess the scope of the damage. We know 500,000 people lost power at least temporarily. Again, with it raining so hard and the winds blowing so hard, sometimes it is hard to get perspective. But in terms of damage whether it is downed power lines or bent trees busted cars and buildings, what are you seeing?

CLEMENT: Yes, all of the above. All of the above and a long, big area, Hurricane Laura, in Louisiana, it didn't have tighter gradient, that was a smaller damage path. This was larger but the damage in the Lake Charles area was a lot more intense from the wind damage.

Like I said, mostly because of building codes and this area that got hit was hit from Ivan. That made a big difference when they built back, built stronger codes helping them a lot from the wind damage. But there are still plenty of wind damage, they're building their own, there are still plenty of - damage stuff blown all over the place, lots of trees, power lines down. But storm surge and the flooding is probably is definitely the bigger concern.

KING: Brandon Clement is a storm chaser making his way across Northern Florida at the moment tracking Hurricane Sally. Brandon, I appreciate your insights. Keep in touch, like to know what you see as you continue on your journey and, please, stay safe as you do so.

Let's check in with our Weather Center now. Meteorologist Jennifer Gray is tracking Sally as well. What's the latest Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well John, the storm is slowly moving to the north. It is moving slightly faster than it was this time yesterday, at about 5 miles per hour but still a fast walking or slow jogging pace. This is going to continue to sit over the Deep South throughout the day today into the night.

And so we are still going to have a major flood concern all across the Florida Panhandle as well as much of Alabama as this storm slowly heads to the north. Here is the radar estimated observed rain. And all of this area shaded in white is more than 20 inches of rain.

We've had reports of Pensacola has received 24 inches of rain. Panama City has received more than a foot of rain. A lot of this is offshore, but you can see a lot of it is onshore right around the Florida Panhandle and you see the areas shaded in hot pink, even red, that's six to ten inches of rain.

So as this storm slowly lifts to the north you're going to continue to see that flood threat. Here the flash flood warning this big box shaded in red those are all the areas that need to watch out for flash flooding throughout the day today and tonight and as the storm heads to the north.

Of course, that's going to shift to the north as well. Current winds, we're seeing gusts of 52 miles per hour 29 in Dothan 61 mile-per-hour gusts in Milton, Pensacola still getting 61 mile-per-hour wind gusts. So with this storm moving so slowly you're getting those winds for a long, long time and so that's why we're seeing lots of damage along the coast.

Here's where Sally sits now with 80 mile-per-hour winds. Gusts of 100 moving to the north-northeast 5 miles per hour and on the current track the storm will finally pick up some forward speed by the time we get into the overnight tonight and into tomorrow morning. But, John, I just want to point out something that's really interesting. We've had six landfalls within the Atlantic storm base of this year. Some of them in the U.S. one hit Belize, one hit Bermuda. All of them strengthened at least 15 miles per hour or more within 24 hours of landfall.

As Brandon mentioned just before you came to me, that's rare for a storm to do. We've seen every single storm that's made landfall this season do that. So what used to be rare now seems to become the norm, which is very alarming with these storms.

KING: It is alarming. We're grateful Jennifer Gray will keep track of this for us over the next several days. Jennifer thank you so much. Up next for us, a shift to politics President Trump makes a rare trip outside of his bubble face-to-face with undecided voters.



KING: A most unfamiliar challenge last night for President of the United States trying to convince undecided voters that he's the right person to lead on issues like the Coronavirus, on race and on health care. But the incumbent struggle both with the voter's questions and with honestly.

He repeatedly strayed from the reality on the pandemic insisting he never minimized the Coronavirus threat. He did. He said so. It is recorded. We have it on tape. The president also so confused about masks. Listen here in one answer he suggested some people think masks are bad. Scientists say, tell us they are the best weapon to fight the virus.

The president had power to implement a national mask mandate but he found a way last night to pin the absence of one on his 2020 opponent.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They said at the Democrat Convention they're going to do a national mandate. They nerve did it, because they've checked out and they didn't do it. A good question is, you ask, like, Joe Biden.


TRUMP: They said we're going to do a national mandate on masks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Told on all Governors to have them it is a state responsibility.

TRUMP: But he didn't do it and he never did it.


KING: Joining me now for the conversation, Francesca Chambers with McClatchy Josh Dawsey with "The Washington Post". Let's just be clear Francesca, Joe Biden's not president he pointed that out in a tweet last night. He can't impose a national mask mandate. He can talk about one and he can suggest the Governor move to do it in their states but the President punting there.

But the president also saying some people don't like masks. They don't think they're effective and he mentioned a waiter who apparently waited on him recently at a meal. That's the President of the United States. This is his own CDC Director someone who knows the science just moments ago.


REDFIELD: These face masks are the most powerful public health tool we have. If we did it for 6, 8, 10 and 12 weeks we'd bring this pandemic under control. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine because immunogenicity may be 70 percent and if I don't get an immune response the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.


KING: Francesca it is mind numbing, I'm going to use that term instead of a stronger one to hear the President of the United States still seven months in, 50,000-plus new infections yesterday saying some people don't think masks work when his own scientists are begging the country to please consistently use a mask. Help us.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: And it's still not clear, John, where he's getting information. Last night you noted he mentioned a waiter but he didn't go further than that. And this town hall, John, really showed the limitations of the strategy that the White House and the president have been taking so far to the election as well.

The White House generally puts him in front of tightly controlled crowds, audiences, where they screen people even small round tables at his rallies; he is speaking mostly to his supporters. And the only when the time he is getting question aggressively is by the White House press core.

But he can leave and he commonly does when he doesn't like the questions. At something like this, the president's unable to do that and had to face really tough questioning from the average voters and this is also something he's going to have to deal with at the debates.

KING: And Josh, since the beginning of the Trump Administration, you and I have had this conversation before. Two weeks has been kind of a hastag, if you will. The president keeps saying I'll have it for you in two weeks. I'll have it for you in two weeks.

Again last night George Stephanopoulos asked him the question, sir, you for a long time including in an interview with me have promised a health care plan with the American people. Listen?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I interviewed you in June of last year you said the health care plan would come in two weeks. You told Chris Wallace this summer, it would come in three weeks. You promised an Executive Order--

TRUMP: I have it already.

STEPHANOPOULOS; - but you've been trying to strike down pre-existing conditions.

TRUMP: I have it already. It's a much better plan for you and it's a much better plan.


KING: It's a much better plan that we have never seen. His Chief of Staff today saying it might come through some executive action. Josh, the president is on the record. His administration is in court trying to throw out Obamacare.

Trying to throw out the protection that if you have a preexisting condition you cannot be denied insurance and yet the president sat there, telling George, but more importantly no offense to George, telling voters who are asking him health care questions, my plan's better and you're good.

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You remember, John, I mean, the president's first stumble was repeal and replace and failing legislatively on that. And since then you know RNC and campaign surveys have shown repeatedly that one of the biggest gaffes to Joe Biden is on health care.

You saw in the 2018 midterms a lot of voters said that they were voting health care primarily in mind. And in recent weeks the president has again seen that gap from some of his campaign advisers and has tried to do several EOs on drug pricing.

He has talked about drug pricing extensively, he is promising a health care plan that has not materialized. It's unlikely that it would be able to pass at least legislatively in the next seven weeks to say the least.

But the president is trying to convince people that he would be better on health care than Joe Biden. So far that's not been the argument that people aren't buying in a lot of these key swing states. And I think when you see the White House try and focus on health care a few more times in the last 48 days or so until the election.

Whether folks think there's any sort of substantive promise that they are getting from the White House I guess that remains to be seen.

KING: And one of the voters who asked a health care question says she left that town hall. She wasn't sure she was going to vote on the way in. She says she will definitely vote now and she says she will vote for Joe Biden. Now the subject of race also came up Francesca. A voter told the president he heard the president say you know when police officers shoot black men they're choking like missing a putt the president has compared it to a clutch putt in a golf tournament. One of the voters said, OK, that's one answer Mr. President but you haven't talked about broader issues. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said everything else about choking and everything else but you have yet to address and acknowledge that there has been a race problem in America.


TRUMP: So if you go - well, I hope there's not a race problem. I can tell you, there's none with me because I have great respect for all races for everybody. This country is great because of it.


KING: I hope there's not a race problem. That's the President of the United States more than three and a half years into his term, including during a summer, at the end of a summer when I went to the fall, of a racial reckoning across the country. Not the answer that voter was looking for.

CHAMBERS: And John, call it racial justice or racial disparities, whatever you choose to call it. It is not something that the president has focused on as he campaigns for a second term whatsoever. If you look at his second term agenda has put out by the campaign, and just look through the things that he's looking to do in a second term.

The only thing in there that seems to be aimed at African-American voters is the opportunities zones that they have passed and he says that he would like to expand. You don't see anything specifically related to otherwise to underserved communities or to the minority communities whatsoever.

Nothing about criminal justice reform, about COVID-19 particularly as it pertains to those communities, and that is just not what the president is running for re-election on.

KING: And, Josh what do they think inside the White House and more importantly I guess inside the Trump Campaign about doing events like this? On Fox News Laura Ingraham called this an ambush by ABC.

Yes, ABC put the President of the United States, the leader of democracy in a room with voters where he had to answer questions from his citizens. I guess Fox News considers that an ambush. Does the Trump Campaign think that this is a good idea that they should do more of this or do they see last night as let's keep the president away from voters?

DAWSEY: Well John, again being advisers have told me they're going to see more of this and it is personally because of necessity. They're trailing in a lot of these battleground states. A lot of suburban voters have seen the president as his conduct as to, vote for him and is too odious to vote for him and a lot of his policy positions they don't like.

And they're trying to re-introduce him to voters in different scenes. I was told by several campaign advisors yesterday that you should see more of this. Also the president wants to draw contrast with Joe Biden who he is saying is you know largely not coming out and doing large events.

The Biden campaign obviously sights Coronavirus and health care concerns while they're not. But you're trying to show a more robust schedule. I don't think the advisors that I talk to around the president saw it were an ambush or a bad evening.

Even though some of his answers on Coronavirus were not particularly helpful to the president and they're telling some of the other answers they think show him in a different light to voters. Now whether that's true or not remains to be seen. But the ambush sentiment that you mentioned is not one I heard commonly shared in Trump World.

KING: Just on state TV not from Trump land itself. Josh Dawsey and Francesca Chambers I appreciate the reporting and the insights today. We get closer to Election Day. Up next for us, the president says the Untied State is rounding the turn on Coronavirus. Our new numbers tell us, not true.



KING: Rounding the turn. That's the term the president keeps using when it comes to the Coronavirus. He says the country is rounding the turn meaning rounding the turn for the better. The new numbers though show another spike in cases, a big spike in cases. It raises the question of whether we're taking a wrong turn.

Let's go back through and look about at the 50-state map. This is where we're right now and this is a much bad - excuse me, much worse map, speak English, than it was yesterday. Its 23 states - 23 states you see the orange and red that's 23 states reporting more Coronavirus cases now than a week ago 23 states trending in the wrong direction.

17 states holding steady. That's the beige. Ten states trending down is green. You wish more states were down. Arizona and California among those going down they were big drivers of the summer surge but 23 states trending up.

Just one week ago only it was nine states trending up. So you have a number of states - these are not all big numbers but you have a lot of states especially up in here, again, the case counts aren't - cumulatively they add up.

If you look at the case trend right now, here's the question, right? We were trying to get down under 40,000 yesterday, 52,000 plus new infections reported just yesterday, is that a one-day blip? Is that the result of Labor Day? Or we're beginning to see that? We don't know yet but something to watch as we go forward.

52,000 new infections that's the highest number in quite some time the death count yesterday also above 1,000 as we watch that play out. Now testing by day, pretty stable - we've been around 600,000-plus tests for quite some time.

Lot of experts would like a lot more than that. The administration says this is enough. A lot of experts would like more testing especially as you get back to campus back to school and back to work to have better eyes on the virus but this number has held steady for quite some time.

If you look at the national positively rate, above 5.2 percent - 5.2 percent on average Coronavirus tests coming back positive again public health experts say you want to shove that below 5 percent hovering right about 5 percent right now.

Why are we getting new cases? We'll look at the state map. You want to be light, you want to be as light as possible that's a low infection rate. Most of the northeast which went through this early is way down low.

But you see the darker colors? 12 percent Florida 16 percent Mississippi and Alabama 14 percent Kansas 17 percent South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri also in double digits Idaho and Utah as well.

Higher positivity rate means more infections mean more cases. So we're going to see where we're headed here? The administration's testing CZAR Admiral Brett Giroir saying on Capitol Hill just a short time ago he believes we are in better shape.

Some would contest this, but he believes we're in better shape now than we were coming out of Memorial Day but he adds a big but.