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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Death Toll Rises in Northeast after Hurricane Ida; President Biden Visits New York and New Jersey Tomorrow; Former Marine Appears in Court, Charged with Four Counts of First Degree Murder. Officials: U.S. Helped 4 Americans Leave Afghanistan Overland; Battle Over Mask Wearing, Critical Race Theory And Gender Equality In America's Schools; "LFG" Explores The Fight For Equal Pay By The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 20:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: The city's medical examiner will determine his cause of death. Williams was just 54 years old.

Thanks for joining us tonight. AC 360 is now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: And good evening. I hope you had a good Labor Day weekend, certainly much deserved rest for the entire country.

The unofficial end of summer. That's what this weekend was. Unfortunately, it begins with a rise in the death toll after Hurricane Ida.

In the northeast where President Biden will visit tomorrow, 52 people now reported dead across six states most in New York and New Jersey. Stories of people trapped in apartments, others unable to hold on to loved ones, a Trooper in Connecticut swept away after responding to a missing persons call.

According to the mayor of one town outside New York City, the floods used to come every 20 to 25 years he said. Now, they're coming every three, four, and five years he said.

In a moment, we'll have a live report from Louisiana as well. First, Athena Jones joins us with the latest from New York City. So what's going on?

ATHENA JONES, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we are in Queens, one of the areas hardest hit by the storm in New York City, both in terms of damage as you can see from the debris piled up behind me.

All up and down this block, people are clearing out, cleaning up, putting out appliances and furniture to try to begin to rebuild their lives so hard hit with damages, but also with loss of life.

Many of the deaths in Queens occurring in flooded basement apartments. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice over): Heartbreaking stories of loss. New York Police showing video of their attempts to rescue a Queen's couple and their two-year-old. All three later found dead in their flooded basement apartment.

Two other Queens' residents died when a wall in their home collapsed in the flooding.

New York officials and F.E.M.A.'s administrator touring storm damage in hard hit Queens Monday.

DEANNE CRISWELL, F.E.M.A. ADMINISTRATOR: What we saw today was absolutely heartbreaking the amount of damage and destruction that these families have experienced.

JONES (voice over): Communities across the region beginning to put their lives and homes back together after the devastation wrought by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

BARBARA AMARANTINIS, QUEENS RESIDENT: If you drive around queens, it looks like a bomb went off. Everybody's personal belongings are out on the street. We just need someone to help us out.

JONES (voice over): State and Federal officials say help is on the way, with President Biden's set to visit New York and New Jersey Tuesday after approving Federal disaster relief for five New York counties and six in New Jersey to help families and businesses repair and rebuild.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): We are at least $50 million in damages and we anticipate the numbers to go up. But I did trigger the threshold that we are eligible to apply for a major declaration assistance.

JONES (voice over): The true extent of the storm's impact is still being realized, Ida claiming the lives of at least 50 people across the region. At least four died in Pennsylvania and at least 27 people lost their lives in New Jersey where Governor Phil Murphy toured flood damage telling reporters he plans to ask the President to provide Federal disaster relief to more counties.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): There were 15 other counties in New Jersey and we are in there fighting on behalf of any of those other counties that we're impacted.

JONES (voice over): State and local officials now focused on how to be better prepared for the next storm by improving infrastructure and putting better warning systems in place to alert people of the danger.

MAYOR TOM MURPHY, MAMARONECK, NEW YORK: We have sea walls that need to be raised. We have sewers that were built a hundred years ago. We really need help from the Federal government to get back on our feet and get ready for the future because we can't abandon communities like Mamaroneck, New York.


COOPER: So, Athena, how do people who need storm relief get it from the Federal government?

JONES: Well, one way, Anderson is that the city, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio saying today that the city will be sending teams door to door to people's homes in all of the storm affected areas to make sure they are aware of these benefits and that they sign up to get this relief.

We're talking about an important relief from the Federal government like grants for temporary housing, for home repairs. So valuable aid, and officials here want to make sure everyone who should get it can get it -- Anderson.

COOPER: Athena Jones, appreciate it. Thanks so much.

The President's visits in the New York Metro area tomorrow follows one he made last week to Louisiana. Wherein this moment, close to half a million people are still without power and where the intense heat after the storm has claimed even more lives among the state's seniors.

Martin Savidge is in New Orleans with the latest there. So, what do we know about what was discovered in New Orleans over the weekend?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is sort of the tragedy that came after the storm. And it began on Friday when members of the City Health Department for New Orleans began investigating a number of buildings that they knew were senior living facilities.

And so once they got into the very first building, they said they found deplorable conditions. Clearly the buildings were obviously without electricity. People were without air conditioning. The temperatures had soared inside of the building, and many of the seniors inside were trapped because the elevators didn't work and they couldn't use the stairs to even get down to the ground floor.

All weekend long, they continued to look at building after building after building that was for housing the elderly. All told they found 10 which they've now shut down, evacuated hundreds of senior citizens to shelters to the north of Louisiana. And sadly, they also found five people who died.

And they say that in some cases, these buildings did have a staff, but the staff self-evacuated, leaving the city's senior citizens all on their own -- Anderson.


COOPER: And what has the mayor said about this?

SAVIDGE: Yes, Mayor Cantrell was really upset about this today. She was fired up at her press conference. Here is more of what she said about it.


nothing but a sign that says call 3-1-1, when they're responsible, I have a problem with that.

So, we're not going to get into a blame game scenario. We're going to call it what it is. And it was negligence, and it is not on the backs of the City of New Orleans.


SAVIDGE: Well, in fact, there is some pushback against the City of New Orleans and it is coming from some of the owners of the buildings.

In fact, the New Orleans Archdiocese, the Catholic Church owns a couple of those buildings and they say, they reached out to the city before Friday, and said the city should have known there was a problem. In fact, they said, "In the days following Sunday's landfall, Christopher Homes' leadership repeatedly requested assistance and resources from civil authorities. After the death of one of our residents was reported five days later on Friday, September 3, civil authorities finally responded and provided resources to evacuate those residents who had not voluntarily evacuated."

In other words, why did this city wait until Friday, when the storm had hit on Sunday, to suddenly say, we should investigate the welfare of senior citizens. They say they don't want a blame game, but it's in full force here tonight -- Anderson.

COOPER: And how are things in New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana?

SAVIDGE: If you're talking about the City of New Orleans getting better, 70 percent of the electricity by this evening is expected to be restored. And they hope to have most of the power back by Wednesday.

But elsewhere, still about half a million people without electricity. And in many of the sort of rural or more distant parishes, it's going to be problematic because where the power lines have come down, it is so remote, they're going to need boats or airboats just to get in and try to find those systems.

So that's what they're saying not until the end of the month for power for them. There are grocery stores, more of them that open today, more gas stations opened that have gasoline. The hospitals are up and running. And the National Guard is handing out food, water, and ice.

So, it's improving, but there's still a lot of suffering going around.

COOPER: Yes, Martin Savidge, appreciate it. Thank you.

I want to get perspective now in the destruction of Ida in the northeast, as well as the President's visit from Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President who is now the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City.

Mr. Adams, thanks so much for being with us. This morning, you drew a comparison between President Carter's visit to the South Bronx in the 1970s, which brought a lot of global attention to the plight of the city, to President Biden's visit to Queens tomorrow. You think it's that significant?

ERIC ADAMS (D), MAYORAL CANDIDATE, NEW YORK CITY: Yes, I do. When you look at the 13 lives that were lost here, the devastation of not only personal injury, but property damage, it is really going to highlight how our inner cities must start looking at how we deal with climate change.

COOPER: Most of the deaths in New York City happened in converted basement apartments, the illegally converted basement apartments that flooded. People were trapped drowning in their own homes. What -- how do you stop that if you're mayor?

ADAMS: Well, of course, we also lost lives also in vehicles, and as we deal with addressing the basement apartments, we also have a housing crisis. It is predicted that about 100,000 people are living in basement apartments, and many of them are low income New Yorkers. So, we don't want to create one crisis -- stop one crisis and create another.

We need to be smart about this with early warning systems and to legalize some of the apartments, and then we need to transition people into permanent housing. We have to be smart about addressing this real issue that we are facing dealing with our climate, and the weather, and in the climate around affordable housing and living standards.

COOPER: Do you think this city -- and I mean other American cities are prepared for what potentially lies ahead as the climate continues to change?

ADAMS: Oh no, we're not, and we have to be honest with ourselves and I say this over and over again. Listen, we screwed up our planet. Let's be honest about that. And we have to be prepared for the future.

We look at our sewer systems here in New York, many of them are made out of bricks. We're going to prepare -- can be with the rain or when you see something like that. When you're ready for the rainfall, which is not ready for that of course.

I was out that night and I saw the level of rain in our city. That was just really something that was unbelievable to witness.


ADAMS: And so what must we do? Let's be honest. Let's look at what other countries have done across this globe, like the Netherlands and say, how do we live with water? We thought we could just build walls around our seashores and our water areas where high water are located, but that's not the reality.

This came from inland. This came from the sky, and I think we just need to rethink about living with water and how we do it correctly.

I think the immediate help, I was happy that the Governor decided to deploy the National Guards to help in the cleanup effort, and then we got into some new things about early warning systems, using technology and any other living, everyday New Yorkers know when a storm is coming.

COOPER: It's obviously the last thing this city needs, New York City. I mean, given the economic issues, you know, public safety issues, I've got to say for, you know, you and I have often discussed problems with police departments in this city and across the country, you were a captain in the New York City -- I believe you're retired as a Captain in the New York City Police Department.

I've got to say, to watch these videos of the police officers out during the storm dive in underwater trying to get people, I mean, it's just one of those, you know, moments where you know, you're very thankful for the folks who are out there, the police who are out there, the fire -- you know, firefighters as well.

ADAMS: Right, and you should never mix up the two. The call for proper police reform has nothing to do with our real admiration for the men and women who put on that blue uniform and put themselves in harm's way all the time.

I believe that we have one of the most amazing law enforcement entities on the globe, not the entire country and I'm proud of what they do anytime there is an emergency, they place themselves in harm's way. And we don't have to mix up the justice we deserve with the safety we need.

And the police department did an amazing job as well as our first responders and our firefighters in saving the lives of a large number of New Yorkers.

COOPER: Eric Adams, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

ADAMS: Thank you. Take care.

COOPER: All right, you, too.

Still to come tonight, a story, but I warn you now is just horrific. A former Marine sharpshooter charged now with the murders of four individuals in Florida, including a baby. He showed up killing people, allegedly in two homes early in the morning, had no connection directly with the people he killed.

It is a stunning story. We'll have that for you next.

And later, two incredible stories of two groups of people escaping Afghanistan and the Taliban, details when we come back.



COOPER: A tragic story out of Florida tonight. A former Marine sharpshooter served in both Afghanistan and Iraq appeared in court today after being charged with four counts of first degree murder including the death of a baby. No plea entered yet, however, the judge ordered the man to remain in jail without bail.

He has no attorney and said, he plans to hire one. In the meantime, he's going to be represented by a public defender.

Randi Kaye joins us from Florida with the latest. So investigators are they still on the scene -- Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Anderson. They are still processing the scene. They've been doing that now for a couple of days or so. You can probably see the Polk County Sheriff's forensic lab trailer behind me there and then over my right shoulder here is that burned out pickup truck that was on fire actually, when the Deputies arrived. They said that the suspect apparently caused that fire.

Also there's a path here from the street leading up to the house here behind me. The suspect had put some glow sticks there trying to entice the Deputies as they arrive to actually enter the home just trying to pique their curiosity apparently.

But the Sheriff here has said that this suspect was prepared for Armageddon. So, that's why they have so much to process here. They said that there were three guns inside, so they're going to look very closely at those and process those. There were bullet holes all over the house in the doors and the windows, they are processing those.

Also, plenty of blood was left behind at this horrific scene and we are getting more and more details about this, Anderson. And I just want to warn you that some of those details you may find disturbing.


SHERIFF GRADY JUDD, POLK COUNTY, FLORIDA: He is evil in the flesh. He was a rabid animal.

KAYE (voice over): Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is talking about a 33-year-old ex-Marine who is now charged with killing four people in a horrific pre-dawn shooting.

LIBERTY ULRICH, NEIGHBOR: It was just -- it was continuous, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

KAYE (voice over): It happened about 4:30 in the morning Sunday at this house in Lakeland, Florida.

JUDD: In the main house, we discovered a man, a woman and an infant in the mother's arms all shot to death.

KAYE (voice over): Authorities say, the baby boy was just three- months-old. Also dead, the baby's 62-year-old grandmother who was hiding in her closet in another house on the property. The family dog also shot and killed.

When Deputies arrived, there was a shootout involving dozens, maybe even hundreds of rounds says the Sheriff. Windows and doors were left riddled with bullet holes and Deputies heard a woman scream and a baby whimper. JUDD: He was a coward.

KAYE (voice over): Investigators say the suspect was wearing body armor, but surrendered after he was shot.

JUDD: It would have been nice if he had come out with a gun and then we'd have been able to read a newspaper through him, but when someone chooses to give up, we take them into custody peacefully.

If he'd given us the opportunity, we would have just shot him up a lot.

You see it's easy to shoot innocent children and babies and people in the middle of the night when you've got the gun, and they don't. But he was not much of a man.


KAYE (voice over): When Deputies finally got inside, they discovered the bloody scene along with an 11-year-old girl who had been shot multiple times, but is expected to recover. Investigators say it does not appear the shooter knew his victims.

ULRICH: That's the scary part for me, because since it was random, I'm literally the next runway and it could have been -- it could have been me or my family.

KAYE (voice over): The suspect now faces four charges of murder, as well as other charges, including attempted murder. The Sheriff says the suspect told them he was a survivalist and high on meth, and this terrifying detail.

JUDD: He just explained that they begged for their life, and that he shot and killed them anyway.

KAYE (voice over): The suspect served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was a designated sharpshooter. His girlfriend told investigators the suspect recently started to believe he was communicating with God.

JUDD: She said he had PTSD. I've seen him depressed. And he said, you know, God spoke to him. And now he can talk directly to God, and she said I've never seen that kind of behavior.

KAYE (voice over): According to the criminal affidavit, the suspect told authorities "voices and God told him to do it." He allegedly said he shot the infant "because I'm a sick guy," adding "I want to confess all of it and be sent to jail."


COOPER: And Randi, you and I were talking about it on the other show "Full Circle" earlier. He actually showed up at this property hours before the shooting and then came back.

KAYE: Absolutely, Anderson. Nine hours before. In fact, this really all started on Saturday night when the suspect according to the Sheriff came by here. He was talking to the man out front who now turns out, he is one of the victims. He was mowing his lawn and the suspect apparently said to him, according to the Sheriff, that he was looking for a girl named "Amber" saying that it was his daughter and the suspect was apparently saying he had a message for her, he had been communicating directly with God and had a message for her.

Well, the man said, there is nobody here by that name. You have to go and then somebody else came outside from the house. Now, we know that person is also a victim in this case, came outside and said to the suspect you have to go, I'm going to call police. Nobody here by that name.

And he said that he is communicating with God. They told him they didn't believe him. He left apparently quite angry about that, and went home, drove about 45 minutes away to his home, Anderson, and somehow found his way back here at 4:30 in the morning on Sunday, high on meth according to authorities and shot the people that he had the altercation with on the front lawn and the others who were inside -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, the 11-year-old girl, she was shot multiple times. She survived -- she is -- do we know how she's doing?

KAYE: Yes, she's doing well. She is going to recover according to the Sheriff. She was shot actually seven times in her legs. It was really incredible that she survived this. It's a wonder she survived this.

But the Sheriff says that he spoke with her aunt, and apparently she told him that this girl had prayed and play dead and that is how she managed to survive this -- Anderson.

COOPER: Randi Kaye, appreciate it. Thanks.

As I mentioned to Randi, I spoke with the Sheriff there today on my online show, "Full Circle." It's an amazing and frankly chilling conversation. You can check it out at circle.

Next up, there's breaking news. The remarkable story of how a Texas woman and her three children escaped from Afghanistan by traveling overland. How they managed to get to safety, that story coming up.



COOPER: We are learning a bit tonight about a remarkable escape from the Taliban, an American woman and her three children who got out of Afghanistan via an overland route after not being able to fly out. Tonight, reportedly, they are safe.

CNN's Alex Marquardt now with details. So, what happened?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, this information is from the Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin, who says that these four Americans who the State Department announced earlier today who made their way out of Afghanistan overland, as you mentioned are in fact, three children and their mother.

Now, he spoke with our colleague, Brianna Keilar, earlier today. He says that this family was not able to get out at the airport amid those scenes of chaos that we remember. They were not able to fly out from there. They were not able to fly out from another location in Afghanistan.

So, they made their way out of the country, essentially on foot via that overland route.

Now, we did ask the State Department about this earlier today. They didn't offer much in the way of confirmation. I want to read you part of their statement to us, they said: "We provided guidance to them, worked to facilitate their safe passage and Embassy officials greeted the Americans once they had crossed the border. In order to protect their privacy and preserve the viability of our tactics, we are not in a position to offer additional information."

Anderson, these are just four of the estimated 100 Americans who want to leave the country since the full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

COOPER: Traveling overland, through to, I guess, to Pakistan, there has got to be a lot of Taliban checkpoints along the way.

MARQUARDT: This is a huge test of that assurance that the Taliban has given the U.S. and other countries that they will allow people out of the country if they've got the requisite travel documents.

What this family told Congressman Mullin is that on that journey, this harrowing journey, they had to go through more than 20 different Taliban checkpoints. And at one near the border crossing where they crossed out of Afghanistan, they had to wait for more than 13 hours.

Now, the State Department has said that the Taliban was aware of this evacuation and did not impede that process, that is absolutely critical. This assurance is critical because so much of these people getting out hinges on what the Taliban does.

Anderson, we've also been following another group of people trying to get away from Afghanistan and come to the U.S. They are Afghans who worked very closely with U.S. forces, Afghan pilots, members of the Afghan Air Force. And in order to prevent their equipment from falling into Taliban hands, they fought until the last moment and then literally flew their aircraft out of the country. Many of them are now trying to get to the U.S. And they're discovering how hard that is.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): As the Taliban swept across Afghanistan and closed in on Kabul, an order went out from the head of the Afghan Air Force to pilots, get in your aircraft and get out of the country. The pilots, many of whom were trained by the United States took dozens of planes and helicopters flying north to safety in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But now they're stuck, too scared to go back on enable for now to get to the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are living here as like a prisoner. I can say that clearly.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): I spoke today with a U.S. trained pilot in Uzbekistan, held in a camp whose plane was shot down by the Taliban in Afghanistan as he fled. He was rescued by an Afghan helicopter pilot and flown across the border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My aircraft got shot and so I returned back for landing. The aircraft crashed. That was kind of like a forced landing. My back got injured a little bit, that's why I'm in the hospital.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The pilot is a colonel, we are not naming for security reasons. He says he is one of over 460 pilots, mechanics and others in Uzbekistan. He tells me he hasn't heard from U.S. officials about what will happen next. And many of their families are still in Afghanistan, trying to get out.

GEN. DAVID HICKS, RET, U.S. AIR FORCE: There's rarely a day that goes by that there's not either an Afghan Air Force member or an immediate family member that either is detained or killed by the Taliban.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Retired General David Hicks was in charge of training Afghan pilots in the United States, and is now working as part of a large network called Operation Sacred Promise, trying to get them to the U.S.

HICKS: That's all volunteers. You know, former servicemen, some civilians that are actually joined the team. And then there's some that are still active duty, and they're doing all of this on their personal time trying to get these folks out. And it's been, it's been a rollercoaster ride for the last three weeks.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Hicks says he's also in touch with the U.S. train pilots in Tajikistan, where he's told there are over 140 Afghan personnel and 13 aircraft. For help, Hicks reached out to lawmakers in Congress, including Representative Austin Scott, who's Georgia district, some of the pilots trained in.

REP. AUSTIN SCOTT (R-GA): People understand these are people that fought with the United States on our side of a two decade war. And I'd like to see them allowed to come to the United States, fully vetted, come to the United States with people who fought with our troops, to protect our troops, and did the right thing that the United States asked them to do.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Scott says Uzbekistan wants the Afghans out of their country. Both he and General Hicks are critical of how slowly the State Department is moving.

HICKS: They've known for two weeks and three weeks in each of those locations, there's personnel there. And to my best of my knowledge, nothing has been done to move any of them.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Alex, what's the State Department's saying about that? MARQUARDT: Well, not very much, Anderson. They didn't respond to our request for comment. They did speak to Reuters saying that the U.S. government is working closely with the Uzbek government that the Afghans and their equipment are secure. There is some evidence, Anderson that this process is moving, or at least has started. Two sources familiar with this process are telling me that biometrics have been taken from at least some of them and that is a first step in the vetting and processing before many of these visa applicants can make their way to the U.S. Anderson.

COOPER: Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

I also want to correct myself I misspoke, I said earlier about that family of four who'd crossed over, out of Afghanistan overland, I said, I assumed it was to Pakistan. I shouldn't have made that assumption, because there's obviously a number of countries that could have been in the U.S. government's not saying.

Up next, the battle over mask wearing and more in America's schools with more students heading back to the classroom this week.



COOPER: A summer there started with high hopes through the COVID vaccines is ending with a surge in COVID cases and deaths. There are four times the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 now compared to Memorial Day. Average new cases daily cases up over 800%. Back then we're losing an average of 594 people a day now 1,561.

Now with that as a backdrop this week ahead more students return to the classroom for new school year and across the country. That means more debates over mask wearing and other things.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has more in the culture wars in America schools.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our children, our choice.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our children can't be vaccinated. Mask up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You hit me in my mouth. You don't hit me in the mouth.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't spit on you.



SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These ugly scenes are happening outside schools and in school board meetings all over the country.


SERFATY (voice-over): Some school districts are now battlegrounds in the highly partisan culture wars, issues like mask wearing, critical race theory and gender equality have led to anger and threats from both sides.


SERFATY (voice-over): Protesters outside a school board meeting in Williamson County, Tennessee erupted after the board voted for temporary mask mandate in elementary schools.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are.


SERFATY (voice-over): The local police had to step in to control the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS: Shame on you, shame on you.

SERFATY (voice-over): This school board in Loudoun County, Virginia, were meeting on critical race theory in transgender students rights critical race theory holds that much of America's history includes systemic racism, teaching it has been restricted and at least 28 states. According The New York Times and the nonprofit educational news outlet Chalkbeat.


Attendees say the crowd here was so upset they screamed and threw things at board members.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're teaching children to hate others because of their skin color. And you're forcing them to lie about other kids gender. I am disgusted by your bigotry and your depravity. It's time to replace (INAUDIBLE).

SERFATY (voice-over): One attendee was even arrested by police for allegedly threatening to hurt someone.


SERFATY (voice-over): The San Diego County Board meeting on vaccines it's just one more example of how children are being placed front and center in these debates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your children and your children's children will be (INAUDIBLE). They will be asked how many vaccines have you had? How (INAUDIBLE).

SERFATY (voice-over): Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: A lot going on in America schools, recently I talked about it with the Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.


COOPER (on-camera): Secretary Cardona, how do you cut through the noise to make sure the kids are not getting caught in the middle of these sort of cultural wars going on in classrooms?

MIGUEL CARDONA, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: You know, we really need to focus on what's best for students. And at this point, we're talking about making sure students have an opportunity to be in the classroom safely, and making sure our staff feel safe going to work, so that we don't have another year of disrupted learning. Students suffered enough, it's time to make sure we do everything we need to do to focus on our students being in the classroom safely.

COOPER (on-camera): You have two decades of experience as a public school educator. Have you ever seen a time in your career where political division in the country has seeped so far into the world of education? I mean, parents are getting into fistfights over mask mandates.

CARDONA: I really haven't. And it is unfortunate, we need to make sure we stay focused on getting our students back in the classroom safely. Letting our educators teach, letting our school leaders do their jobs and our district leaders do their jobs. It is unfortunate to see what's happening. But, you know, across the country, we're seeing also great examples of students coming back into school after a year of absence, because educators and leaders are doing the right thing.

So, I'm really pleased with that. But we need to make sure across the country that all children have an opportunity to come in safely and not worry about catching COVID in school.

COOPER (on-camera): Should there be mandatory vaccinations for teachers?

CARDONA: You know, I support states when they're doing that. We don't vaccinate, we don't we don't mandate vaccines or mask at the federal level. We just want to make sure that we're doing everything in our power to keep our students coming into the classroom safely. And I do support those places where they're requiring a -- it passed FDA approval. We know it helps keep our children safe. So, I do support it.

COOPER (on-camera): The Department of Education recently opened investigations into whether five states that ban mask mandates are discriminating against students with disabilities who might have a higher risk for severe illness, obviously, from COVID-19. And one of those states Iowa's governor, Kim Reynolds said that the Biden ministration, quote, decided to pick a political fight and went on to say, quote, we will continue to support individual liberty over government mandates. Is that what this is about individual liberty?

CARDONA: You know, I support the ability for local districts to make decisions on how to safely reopen schools, we really need to keep the politics out of it. We did this last year. You know, I was commissioner of a state last year and we reopen schools by working well together, communicating regularly. We're prepared the Department of Education to work with every state, every governor to do what we can to support their safe reopening. We've done a lot at the department in terms of handbooks and guidance, we really need to work together to keep our students safe, number one, and learning in the classroom. They've, as I said earlier, they've suffered enough, they've been disrupted. We can't let this year be another year of disruption.

And I'll tell you, Anderson, in those places that are less likely to enforce the mitigation strategies that we know work. We're seeing sad stories of emergency rooms being filled up and I see use being filled up, we could do better and our students deserve that.

COOPER (on-camera): And just finally, I mean what do you say to parents who say this is a matter of individual liberty and they don't want their kids being forced to wear a mask when going to school? They think it ruins the experience for their child in the school.

CARDONA: You know, I understand the emotions are strong on both sides but disrupted learning or being forced to learn from home. This is worse, and children are fine. I was in a school earlier today. The children are fine. This is more than just that parent's child. This is about the child that sits next to that parent's child who might have a vulnerability, who might have a disability and is more likely to end up in the hospital if he or she catches on.


So let's come together around our children. I mean, their safety is the most important thing for us. So let's keep them safe. And as soon as we're able to remove the mask, believe me I want them off too. But right now, that's not that -- it's not the time to take them off yet.

COOPER (on-camera): Secretary Cardona, appreciate your time. Thanks.

CARDONA: Thank you.


COOPER: Just ahead on this Labor Day Monday the CNN Films "LFG" airing in just a few minutes. Profiling the U.S. women's national soccer team and why their biggest battle may be happening off the field with the captain of the team told me next.


COOPER: On this Labor Day, there's a new scene in film airing in just a few minutes it's called "LFG". And it captures members of the U.S. women's national soccer team and their battle for equal pay. They won four Olympic gold and four World Cup championships and the players alleged they're not receiving pay that's equal to what the men's team makes.

A federal court disagreed last year throwing out the players equal pay claim. The judge found that the women's team negotiated a different pay structure than the men's team and that the women's players were already paid more than the men's team. The players are now appealing.

Earlier I talked with Becky Sauerbrunn, captain of the U.S. women's team.


COOPER (on-camera): So Becky, thanks so much for joining us. Talk about the thought process that you and your teammates went through about bringing the suit for equal pay.

BECKY SAUERBRUNN, CAPTAIN, U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM: Yes, sure. So I've been on the team for a decade and I've been through a few rounds of collective bargaining. And each time we were making some strides in working conditions and better pay. But it seemed like the gap in a lot of cases was still widening when it came to our male counterparts.

And so we started to explore different avenues of how can we close the gap. And in 2016, we decided to file a complaint with the EEOC. And we were really excited about that. It was a huge move for us. And it was just going so slow, they had not come to any sort of judgment and results.


And so, we decided then in 2019, that we were going to withdraw the EEOC complaint and actually file a lawsuit. And so we kind of escalated pretty quickly.

COOPER (on-camera): The -- I mean, the U.S. women's soccer team has been incredibly successful, four Olympic gold as we mentioned, for World Cup championships, including obviously 2019. Was it a hard decision? I mean, to effectively decide to sue, I don't know if you're suing your boss, but you're -- to sue, I guess your boss.

SAUERBRUNN: Yes, very much suing your boss. And surprisingly, it wasn't that tough. The program, the women's program has been around for a few decades now. And really, it was -- it was time, it really was time. And so when we brought this to the team, and kind of tried to explain what this would look like how long it would take the energy in the asks of effort from the players, everyone was on board, and it was really pretty astounding and astonishing. And it makes me really proud to think about but we were like full steam ahead. Let's do this.

COOPER (on-camera): So a federal judge dismissed the equal pay claim of the U.S. women's national team lawsuit, which your team is now appealing. I'm wondering what your reaction was when you heard that news? SAUERBRUNN: Oh, man, very, very disheartening. I think we all kind of had a minute where we held the pity party, and we were like, oh, this is terrible. How could they think that? And, you know, we disagreed with the judges arguments. And then really, it was OK, what are our next steps? And I don't think anyone actually thought, OK, that's it. Let's just, you know, clap your hands and be done with all this. It was very much like, OK, how does this appeals process work? Do we need to bring on a new legal team, just, you know, it was all like, OK, what's next? What's next? What's next, this fight is not over.

COOPER (on-camera): So I mean, we should also point out the judge rule that that the U.S. women's national team earned more both cumulatively, and on an average per game basis than the men's team during years, the lawsuit is suing over. Did his reasoning make sense to you?

SAUERBRUNN: Unfortunately, it did not make sense to us, what we're really arguing is about rate of pay. And so, unfortunately, we had to play about 30 more games and have to be very successful in all the games that we played in to even make a comparable wage to what the men had. So for us, it's not about the accumulative amount, it's actually about the rate of pay. And in that respect, there is discrimination.

COOPER (on-camera): And just be clear the prize money amounts for World Cup. Specifically, they're determined by international Soccer Association of the U.S. Soccer, is that right?

SAUERBRUNN: FIFA is responsible for the bonuses that get paid to each Federation. And so, if we win the World Cup, that money then goes to the Federation, and the Federation decides how that's dispersed to the players.

COOPER (on-camera): In working conditions -- there's a working condition settlement that's been reached. Did that give any kind of -- was that a forward step?

SAUERBRUNN: I think so. Yes, I think working conditions are extremely important. And luckily, we did come to a very nice settlement, where we have equal working conditions to the men. I would say that that was a long time coming. We are very, very happy that we got to that point. And now it is on to the equal pay and making sure that there's no more wage discrimination between us and our male counterparts.

COOPER (on-camera): I mean just why were working conditions different between women and men? It just -- as an outside observer that makes no sense.

SAUERBRUNN: Exactly. It made no sense to us either. So --

COOPER (on-camera): When you say different in what way were they different?

SAUERBRUNN: Well, we are basically a traveling circus. And so, we have all this stuff that we have to schlep from one location to the next location to play. And for the most part, the men were getting better travel conditions, they were getting the charter flights, and even their staffing was better, and they were traveling with better equipment. And so, it's all these things that really add up when you consider that our job is to travel the world playing soccer.

COOPER: Yes. And to someone listening to this, they maybe they think, well, you know, it sounds glamorous, that you're traveling the world, and you're complaining about how you're doing it. When you're traveling the world, I mean, as I can speak from experience, this stuff really matters, like how you get from point A to B, when that is your entire life, when your entire life is spent in hotel rooms and getting from one place to another, you start to, you know, notice when other people are doing it in a way that's much more -- much easier for them and actually helps them play better probably and you have to expend all this energy dealing with all this crap that no one else does.

SAUERBRUNN: Yes, very much. So I mean, you hit the nail right on the head. It is a competitive advantage. And it goes from travel to hotels to staffing of, you know, your medical staff. So it's kind of runs the gamut.

COOPER (on-camera): So you've said that that what you're doing isn't about you and your teammates involved in this lawsuit. It's not only about that, that it's something much bigger. What is your message for, for young players, both men and women, boys and girls getting into the sport on the future of equal pay?


SAUERBRUNN: Yes, I very much feel that there's 28 plaintiffs in this lawsuit. And for the most of us, for the most part, we will not be getting any sort of advantage from getting equal pay, we're going to phase out we're going to get older, we're going to be done with playing soccer. So it's really about doing this for the next generation.

And so, I'm hoping that the young girls and young guys out there that are getting into the sport, that they're not going to have to fight this fight, that it's already been fought, and that women will be valued just as much as our male counterparts.

For the young guys and for the grown guys. Be allies. You know, like if you see something ask questions, why is it run this way? You know, don't put your head in the sand. You know, we need allies and, and men fighting for us and fighting for women that has a huge impact.

COOPER (on-camera): Becky Sauerbrunn, I appreciate talking to you. Thanks so much.

SAUERBRUNN: Thank you so much.


COOPER: Be sure to tune in the new CNN film "LGF", profiling members of the U.S. women's national soccer team premieres in just a few minutes at the top of the hour right here on CNN. We'll be right back.



COOPER: We hope you've had a nice Labor Day. As we mentioned earlier the CNN Films "LFG" starts right now.