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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Doctors Worry Labor Day Travel Could Fuel Another Surge; Taliban Claim Capture Of Final Holdout Province; White House Pivots To Domestic Agenda As Biden Faces Several Crises; Midterm Election Outlook; California Recall, Droughts & Fires Threaten California's Sequoia Trees; Ex-Marine Charged With Killing 4, Including A Mom Holding Infant Son. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 16:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Happy Labor Day. The virus isn't taking the day off.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Welcome to the new normal. Packed stadiums, packed airports, packed ICUs. Are three shots are best hope for getting out of this mess?

Then, keeping a low profile. After his awful August, President Biden spends a relatively quiet Labor Day close to home. Will his September be any better?

And they're nearly as tall as moon rockets that have been around since before the Roman Empire. But can California's giant sequoias sustain climate change, drought, and wildfires?


HILL: Welcome to a special edition of THE LEAD. I'm Erica Hill, in for Jake Tapper.

We start today with our health lead. And new concerns on this Labor Day that the long holiday weekend could worsen the coronavirus surge in the U.S. Despite travel warnings from the CDC, millions hit the roads, rails, and skies for a getaway. College football is back with tens of thousands of mostly maskless fans packed into stadiums and some of the last districts to return to school are back tomorrow for in-person learning, including many in the Northeast.

As CNN's Nick Watt reports, top health officials worry this can put even more strain on hospitals which are already running out of ICU beds in parts of the country.



NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Summer is over. This week in the Northeast, many schools start back, but ominous signs from the South. Kentucky schools opened already, and already one in five districts have closed at some point due to case counts, quarantines, or just lack of staff.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: We have a record number of Kentuckians in the hospital battling COVID, in the ICU battling for their lives.

WATT: And they're overwhelmingly unvaccinated. South Carolina has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country and the highest infection rate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE : We will have another uptick with the universities opening up. We'll have a further uptick with the schools not having masks on. And we'll have Labor Day travel on top of this. So, yes, there will be a further uptick.

WATT: Meantime, more data that vaccine booster shots are now necessary due to the delta variant.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The data from the Israeli studies are that there's a rather substantial diminution in protection against infection and unquestionable diminution in the protection against hospitalization.

WATT: With a booster, that protection bounced back and then some. The plan was to start third shots here in two weeks. But might only be Pfizer that rolls out then. Moderna's delayed by a data review.

GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R), WEST VIRGINIA: We've got people that are well beyond six months that are 60 and older that need the booster shot. And we can't give it to them because we're being held up by, you know, the nation and on the federal level right now.

WATT: More evidence boosters are needed, a beginning and end of summer comparison. Four times the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 now. Average new daily cases up over 800 percent. Back then, we were losing an average of 594 lives a day. Now, 1,561.

The difference, fewer mitigation measures and delta.

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: We need to rev up our game around getting unvaccinated persons vaccinated.


WATT: Now, Israel's medical chief has been asked to address FDA advisers at their meeting next week and will present some more data on the boosters. Now, I'm not saying we're getting ahead of ourselves with all this booster talk, but listen to this. Still more than a quarter of eligible Americans have not yet had even their first vaccine shot -- Erica.

HILL: So important perspective. Nick Watt, thank you as always.

The CDC urging unvaccinated Americans not to travel for the three-day holiday weekend.

CNN's Pete Muntean is live at Washington Reagan National Airport.

So, Pete, what are we seeing in terms of numbers? Does it seem like many people listened to those warnings from the CDC?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, a lot of people are still traveling even in spite of that CDC warning. But what's so interesting here is that these numbers are not as high as the commercial airlines had hoped. The TSA numbers from this holiday weekend show there are about 85 percent of what they were back in 2019 before the pandemic. And it could be a while before we see numbers this strong again.

Airlines are now saying that bookings are going down, cancellations are going up, and they're all blaming it on the rise of the delta variant, really a sudden end to the summer travel surge that we have been seeing.


I asked United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby about this. He paints a bit of a rosy picture. He says that as vaccinations go up, these numbers should normalize a little bit. But remember there's still a lot of uncertainty ahead when it comes to travel. More travel restrictions going into place. Hawaii even saying people should not travel to the state right now.

Now, travel experts do caution to us that this is typically the time that travel numbers begin to slump off a little bit. But they say that there's no doubt that the delta variant is having an impact here. The TSA said today's air travel numbers will not set a pandemic-era air travel record, which is so interesting because it's typically the last day of a holiday weekend that is the biggest -- Erica.

HILL: Interesting. Pete Muntean, appreciate it. Thank you.

Joining me now to discuss, William Haseltine, chair and president of Access Health International, former professor at Harvard Medical School.

So, you know, Professor Haseltine, when you combine that labor day travel, we see these big crowds returning to college football. Yes, they're outside but it feels pretty close together. More schools back to in-person learning this week.

Are you concerned we could see another surge?

WILLIAM HASELTINE, FORMER PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: I am pretty sure we will. All the indications are this virus is very transmissible, that it's much more than it was this time last year. We've seen plenty of surges last year from the same kind of behavior. We think that people are relaxing. I'm happy to see that people are getting the message a little bit, especially for travel. But I'm pretty sure there's going to be another surge, yes. HILL: I mean, look, it's important to be blunt here, but it's tough I

think for a lot of people to hear that, especially after the last major American holiday summer, the fourth of July, President Biden declared, quote, we're closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus. Now, we're at Labor Day. As Nick laid out for us, we're averaging 1,500 COVID deaths reported every single day. Hospital ICUs and a number of areas nearing capacity or already there. What happened over the summer?

HASELTINE: What happened is a delta variant -- actually two things happened. This pandemic is driven by behavior and the virus. And both behavior got looser, more people felt they were in the clear. Those people who never were taking precautions didn't have precautions. And those people who were relaxed. And there's a much worse virus out there, much more transmissible.

You know, we have underestimated COVID from the very beginning. The last administration underestimated it. And I'm sad to say this administration has underestimated it, too. We were all hopeful when we saw the rapid declines at the beginning of the summer that it was over.

But it's clearly not over. We're back up to where we were very close to the peak of our worst times and worst times it looks like they are to come before they get better.

And we got to take this seriously. This virus is going to come back again and again. That's my view as a virologist. That's my view from studying coronaviruses. And I think we have to think about it like flu. Maybe we have to get a vaccine every year or maybe we have to get it twice a year. But whatever it is, the vaccines are going to be a big help. But they won't help if you don't follow sensible precautions when the virus is around.

HILL: Yeah, and they don't help if you don't get them in the first place, as we know. When we look at, you're talking about, we may need a shot every year, maybe we may need two. You know, so much talk about the booster shot, especially from the administration. The language is changing, right, to now that nearly every American could need a third shot.

This guidance has changed so quickly. That's been frustrating for a number of people. In many ways I think just highlights the consistent issue with messaging.

HASELTINE: It's partly messaging, but it's partly new knowledge too. And I think the one thing that you learn in medicine when you're looking at a new problem is not to overpromise, not to underestimate disease. How many of us had diseases that we've underestimated how serious this is?

COVID is a really serious disease, and the virus is very, very tricky. It's honed its teeth for millions of years in infecting animals that have already been infected so it knows how to come back. And those are really difficult problems to solve. It doesn't mean it's insoluble. People don't like to hear about it, but when you look at some parts of the world, whether it's 1.4 billion people in the nation and almost nobody has died, maybe 24 people in the last year and a half.

Humans can control this. We can do it. But we have to do it with solidarity. We have to do it with community.

We have to do it with a willingness to be willing to sacrifice to protect others because they will sacrifice to protect us. That's what we need to do. Medicine plus caring for ourselves and other people is what we need.


HILL: Caring can go a long, long way.

You know, as we look at what could be coming in terms of guidance for a third shot or a second shot, depending on if you have the J&J vaccine, there was that original September 20th goal. Pfizer looks like it will have the FDA approval for an additional shot before Moderna. Could people who got Moderna or Johnson & Johnson get a Pfizer booster shot?

HASELTINE: Absolutely. You know, one thing that is very good news is that the government has prepared for a third shot, whether or not the FDA has approved it. They want to be in a position so that it's there when the green light goes on.

And now we are there with a Pfizer. And I think we'll soon be there within the month for Moderna, a month to two months with Moderna. So we have enough vaccines to do the booster.

You know, for those who are sports fans, think of this as a three- pointer. It's something you really can do. It's the best thing you can do. We know that the level of protection is much better with a third shot.

And that's not unusual for vaccines. Many, many vaccines require third shots, and the third shot of a trio takes place six months after the last shot. So this is quite normal. It's really something we need to think about because it really makes a big difference in your level of protection.

And when you measure it for a level of hospitalization and disease, it makes a big difference. If you haven't had your first, start catching up as soon as you can.

HILL: Third time is a charm, William Haseltine, always appreciate it. Thank you.

HASELTINE: My pleasure. Thank you, Erica.

HILL: New information about Americans still stuck in Afghanistan, including how the United States helped to evacuate some citizens by land.

Then, a three-month old baby, her mother and grandmother among the four victims killed by a gunman who police say had no connection to them. The latest on that investigation, ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


HILL: Topping our world lead, the Taliban sharing this image today of their flag flying high over the governor's office in the last remaining province, there it is, resisting a takeover. The anti- Taliban fighters, however, denying they lost. In fact, they say they are still fighting and are appealing to the rest of the country to join them in a, quote, general uprising.

Joining me now from Islamabad, Pakistan, is CNN's Nic Robertson and CNN's Katie Bo Williams live from Washington.

So, Nic, first to you. What more are you learning about the fight in Panjshir Province and what could come next?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the Taliban has been seemed to round up a lot of the fighters from the Panjshir Valley, but what we're hearing from the National Resistance Front, which are the fighters from that valley, they say that, look, while the Panjshir is one long valley with high mountain peaks, it's always been a sort of a place that's been strategically defended very strongly. That seems to have crumbled.

So, what the resistance front is now saying is, look, there are a lot of offshoot valleys, the mountains are very high. I've spent time there. It is pretty austere and steep terrain. They say they've still got fighters in the side valleys. In fact, one of their supporters who's just tweeted out over the last few minutes they are fighting on four fronts.

The reality is they've been pressed, they've been pressed hard. They lost round. And this appeal for a national resistance for other leaders to rise up and is probably not going to garner a lot of support in the short term. In the longer term it might because there's a lot of, you know, former warlords, their sons as well fighters, people who are very accomplished at fighting who could rally to that cause at a later time.

But for right now, they really seem on the back foot, and the Taliban have the upper hand, at least at the bottom of the valleys and in the sort of main government center district, if you will.

HILL: Katie Bo, as we look at what's happening on the ground in terms of Americans who are still in Afghanistan, the White House defending its evacuation efforts. This after Republican Congressman Mike McCaul claimed that the Taliban were actually holding Americans and Afghan allies hostages there. What more do we know about that situation?

KATIE BO WILLIAMS, CNN REPORTER: Yeah. So, what we know right now is that there are a number of chartered airplanes that are on the ground at an airport in a northern city in Afghanistan called Mazar-i-Sharif. And the Taliban are not allow those planes to leave. Now, these are planes that were supposed to be bringing out some number of U.S. citizens, U.S. visa holders, allies of the United States, Afghans who had worked with the United States over the last 20 years of conflict in addition to some vulnerable populations like women and girls, for example.

Now we do know that there are negotiations underway to try to get the Taliban to agree to allow these planes to leave. But as to whether or not this is a hostage situation, as Congressman McCaul has suggested, that has been disputed by some of the private groups that are organizing some of these flights. People can leave the airport. They just can't get on an airplane and leave Afghanistan and go to Qatar, as was originally the plan.

But, you know, look, the bottom line here, Erica, is that it is unbelievably difficult for the United States to really have a great idea of what is going on, on the ground in Mazar right now, much less sort of manage the situation because the fact of the matter is, is the United States government doesn't have an official presence there. There are no diplomats there. There are no service members. The United States doesn't control the air space. So this is tricky.

HILL: Yeah, it certainly is. Meantime, in terms of who the United States would even be talking to, the Taliban is expected, as we know, Nick, to have their new government in a few days.

So, A, what can we expect? And B, why has it taken so long to put that government out there?

ROBERTSON: Well, we know that their current supreme leader, what they call their commander of the faithful is going to remain the sort of head of state or become the head of state, if you will.


What happens below that isn't clear. Pakistani sources, they may have insights because their head of intelligence was in Kabul talking to the Taliban over the weekend, said that there were disputes between some of the sort of stronger military commanders over who could be the defense minister. But what we're hearing is don't expect any women to be in senior positions, and this inclusive government that the Taliban talked about having former Afghan government members in there, perhaps senior members. You know, no one at the moment is telling us or giving us an indication that any former senior political figure is going to get a meaningful position in the Taliban government.

The latest coming from the Taliban is that this government should come soon, but it could be what they're describing as a sort of, you know, a temporary government, you know, where they maybe changed some positions in the near future. Really what they mean by that isn't clear. I think one of my biggest takeaways at the moment is that the Taliban sources that in the past have been quite loquacious and have given us some useful insights that have been reasonably accurate, they've all gone quiet at the moment.

This really is being held close by the Taliban, and it's taking longer, and that's giving countries like Pakistan and their intelligence services a degree of concern.

HILL: Yeah, understandably. Nic Robertson, Katie Bo Williams, appreciate it. Thank you both.

No rest for the White House on this holiday as President Biden faces multiple challenges, including problems within his own party. That's next.



HILL: In our politics lead, President Biden is closing out the summer with his worst job approval numbers yet after a chaotic exit from Afghanistan, a slowdown in the economic recovery, and a rise in COVID deaths and cases.

Now as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, the White House is going all in on Biden's top domestic priorities at all costs.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In moments, President Biden will return to Washington where a series of health, economic, and legislative challenges are facing him.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's keep going. Let's stick together. Let's remember who we are.

COLLINS: The U.S. military has left Afghanistan, but the White House is still trying to get dozens of Americans out of the country.

RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We believe it's around a hundred. We're in touch with all of them.

COLLINS: On top of that, the president is confronting a dramatic new rise in COVID-19 infections. He'll give a major speech Wednesday as several states are running out of ICU beds.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The thing to do right now is to pull out all the stops on everything we can do to prevent new infections. You're going to be in a situation where you're going to have to make some very tough choices.

COLLINS: The surge is creating new uncertainty and causing Biden's poll numbers to drop, 52 percent of people now approve of the way he's handling the pandemic, down 10 percent from 62 percent in June. The president says the delta variant is to blame for the latest anemic jobs report.

BIDEN: I know were people were looking and I was hoping for a higher number.

COLLINS: That comes as federal funds that helped ease the shock of the pandemic ended for more than 7 million Americans today. Tomorrow, the president will travel to storm-ravaged New York and New Jersey to survey damage and make the case for serious action on climate change.

BIDEN: Yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here.

COLLINS: This as Senator Joe Manchin, a fellow Democrat, is threatening to upend the president's legislative agenda, calling for a, quote, strategic pause on his colleagues' costly social policy program.

Biden's chief of staff Ron Klain says he's confident they'll get Manchin's critical vote in the end.

KLAIN: If I had a nickel for every time someone's told me this package has been dead, I would be a very, very rich person.


COLLINS (on camera): And, Erica, we should note that on top of that and those Americans that are losing those expanded jobless benefits, there are another 3 million who are losing the $300 weekly supplement as well. Ron Klain in that interview where he was saying that he would be a very rich person if he had a nickel for every time someone said that the president's legislative agenda was dead, also said in that interview that he thinks that the jobs are out there for those people who need them and that the states have the resources to move people from unemployment to employment.

HILL: Kaitlan Collins with the latest for us -- Kaitlan, thank you.

Let's discuss further. Joining us now, Hilary Rosen and Scott Jenkins.

So, Hilary, these two new polls which came out over the last few days show President Biden's approval rating dipping significantly. You see it down 44 percent in this new ABC/"Washington Post" poll. How concerning are those numbers for Democrats heading into 2022?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think they're thinking about 2022 at this stage is kind of premature. I think we're going to see a renewed effort coming, you know, this month back to the Senate, back to the house to actually pass the legislation that Joe Biden promised the American people he was going to pass. And I think that as long as he is doing the job he said, get the pandemic under control, get people vaccinated, get the economy moving again, I think people are going to reward that at the polls, and I think that's what they're focused on is getting this stuff done and hoping that the election then takes care of itself.

HILL: So, as we look forward to that election, it was interesting what we heard from Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger over the weekend, urging his party to refrain from pushing lies and conspiracy.

Take a listen.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): All I can say right now is my party has to embrace truth, we have to have a full reckoning of what happened on January 6, and we have to turn away from conspiracy. I think, if we're going to be in charge, and pushing conspiracy and

pushing division and pushing lies, then the Republican Party should not have the majority.


HILL: Scott, do you agree? Should the majority in the House, should Republicans if they to gain it, should they not there? If they keep embracing the big lie, how damaging is that moving forward?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the January 6 matters actually far more impactful for 2024 than 2022.

I think the midterms already favorite Republicans. Historically, they would favorite Republicans anyway. You see the American people turning against Biden for a number of reasons. If the economic indicators continue, if people remember the shame of his Afghanistan decision, if we continue to have inflation, if we continue to find out that Joe Biden isn't the person that he told us that he was during the campaign, I think that a wave could be building even greater than history than might otherwise indicate.

The January 6 matter to me is far more impactful for the next presidential election. But I think, for the midterms, frankly, Republicans are in a good spot. And with all due respect to Adam, who I respect very much in like very much, I think it would be an epic disaster to advocate for Democrats remaining in the majority, when you see the extreme policies being pushed by Biden and his party.

HILL: Hilary, I'm going to guess, knowing you two well, you don't agree with that, specifically the way that Scott has set up where things stand right now for President Biden.

What's your take on what we heard from Congressman Kinzinger?

ROSEN: You know, he did say in that interview beforehand that he was a Republican and wanted them to win the majority.

But I think the point he is making is one that is important. And it is relevant to the midterms, even though Scott doesn't want to talk about it, which is, why should people vote for a congressman who lies? Why should they want a majority leader and a speaker who lies to them every day, in fealty to Donald Trump, about who won an election almost now a year ago?

And so I think there is something to that. But I think, most importantly, Democrats are delivering, Joe Biden is going to be delivering what people want. These provisions are popular. Moms are staying home because they don't have affordable child care. People are worried that these storms are never ending, unless there's some aggressive action climate change.

There is support to move infrastructure. So I think if Democrats still deliver what they said that they were going to deliver in the last election, that's what the midterms are going to matter most about. HILL: There's a lot of focus, understandably, on the issue of abortion, which is coming front and center again, based on what we saw with a new law out of Texas.

Hilary, today, Attorney General Merrick Garland promised to protect abortion clinics in Texas by enforcing a federal law that prohibits people from blocking entryways to the clinic or making threats against patients.

But, really, is that enough? I mean, how much of a difference do you think that is going to make?

ROSEN: No, it's not enough. And I don't think that he or the president thinks it's enough.

I mean, it is frightening to think that women in Texas are going to have this kind of government control over their bodies, where vigilantes can come and enforce a law for money. So I think that the attorney general is doing everything they can. There is a law on the books that says that you cannot threaten anyone going to an abortion clinic, and they're going to try and use that.

But, really, what we need is a Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade to be codified into law. A huge percentage of the American people do not want this law changed. Members went to the Supreme Court and got confirmed, like Justice Kavanaugh, promising senators that he was not going to change this law.

There is a real threat to women's independence here and women's health care. And I think that the Republicans are going to rue the day that they support this Texas law and that they have supported such a dramatic shift in women's rights.

HILL: Scott, there is concern among some conservatives that this could really backfire on Republicans and could harm them at the ballot box.

How concerned are you, specifically when it comes to, for example, suburban women?


JENNINGS: I'm not too concerned.

I mean, look, the confines of most elections are broadly fought on these lines. Republican is the pro-life party, Democrats the pro- abortion, and will do just about anything to defend abortions, and Republicans in most cases will do just about anything to push pro-life jurists and pro-life policies.

I don't really think that has changed here. Now, if we have a Roe vs. Wade decision next year in the run-up to the midterm, I think that would be the time to relook at the political calculus.

But at the end of the day, I think you got to ask yourself, what are people really going to be voting on next year? I think it's going to be on the economy, the state of the country. Does Joe Biden have the judgment, competence and honesty that he promised us during the presidential campaign? I think that's why his approval ratings are down right now.

So I'm dubious that abortion is going to be the number one issue in the election, when people are going to the grocery store and their bills are skyrocketing, and skyrocketing every month with no one end in sight.

HILL: We will be watching for all of it.

Hilary Rosen, Scott Jennings, thank you both.

JENNINGS: Thank you.

HILL: With time running out in California's recall election, Governor Gavin Newsom is turning to a key group to help him keep his job.



HILL: With the California recall election now just one week from tomorrow, Democrats from every wing of the party are pulling out all the stops to ensure Governor Gavin Newsom keeps his job.

As CNN's Kyung Lah reports, this holiday weekend, Newsom himself is angling for support from union workers to get the votes he so desperately needs.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Let's vote no, no, hell no. No, no, hell no. No, no, hell no.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a sweltering Labor Day weekend, California Governor Gavin Newsom rallied the foot soldiers who fought for him before, leaning on organized labor to keep him on the job.

NEWSOM: We embrace unions. We embrace social justice, racial justice, economic justice. All of those things are at risk if we don't turn out the vote on September 14.

LAH: That's the last day to vote in the Republican-backed recall of the Democratic governor.

The Los Angeles Federation of Unions says it spent $2 million to protect Newsom, calling half-a-million voters. Union member Hugo Soto- Martinez, son of immigrants, has helped knocked on 60,000 doors in Los Angeles, aiming to hit 100,000 before voting ends.

HUGO SOTO-MARTINEZ, UNITE HERE LOCAL 11: Organized labor has been key in making sure that this becomes a deep blue state. So the values of the state reflect the union values, and those are workers. Those are immigrants. Those are people who work for a paycheck in this country. LAH: National Democrats boosting Governor Newsom this holiday weekend

have called the recall an attack on unions, from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): SEIU, all the unions are in the house.


LAH: To Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Vote no on the recall!


LAH: The Newsom campaign says unions have contributed $14 million to fight his recall, a worthy investment, believes union member Shavon Moore-Cage.

SHAVON-MOORE CAGE, UNION MEMBER: I am for Gavin Newsom. And so whatever I have to do to keep him in office, to keep the people empowered, I'm going to do that. Larry Elder doesn't represent everybody. He doesn't represent all colors and all nationalities. He may say he does, but his action speaks louder than words.

LAH: Republican challenger and conservative radio host Larry Elder has slammed the union money backing the governor, especially the California Teachers Association.

LARRY ELDER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: The number one obstacle to school choice is the teachers union. What is the number one funder of my opponent? Teachers union.

LAH: It's a criticism the governor brushes off, especially with just over a week to go before the election.

NEWSOM: It's about energy. It's about boots on the ground, door knocking. It's about text messaging. It's really about turnout. Labor knows how to turn out.


LAH: You saw Senators Warren and Klobuchar there nodding at organized labor with Governor Newsom.

Vice President Kamala Harris also hit a similar note in a tweet just a short time ago. She tweeted: "The American people know that, when unions win, families in, communities win, democracy wins. When unions win, America wins."

She will also be in California later -- in the middle of this week, Erica, rallying beside the governor -- Erica.

HILL: Kyung Lah with the latest for us, with the countdown officially on.

Kyung, thank you. Some of the oldest living things on the planet outlived the Roman

Empire, but they may not be able to survive this new threat.

That's next.



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: In our national lead, more than half a million people still without power in Louisiana just over a week after hurricane Ida made landfall. Ida did more damage to the distribution system in New Orleans than hurricanes Katrina, delta, and zeta combined.

And in Mamaroneck, New York, one of several places hit hard by Ida's remnants, hundreds of people remain displaced.

In our "Earth Matters", California firefighters are making significant progress against the Caldor Fire near Lake Tahoe, as CNN's Stephanie Elam reports, wildfires, drought and climate change are also threatening California's most unique national beauties.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From their size.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: General Sherman is 275 feet tall. Holy cow.

ELAM: To their longevity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before ancient Rome, before Christ, I mean, these trees were mature.

ELAM: Much about giant sequoia trees is on a grand scale. With that distinctive red/brown bark covering their thick trunks, sequoia trees can only be found in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a resilient tree. They are tough. Almost nothing can kill them.


ELAM: But climate change is changing that, shrinking the giant sequoia's footprint.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A giant sequoia that was first weakened by drought was then subject to impacts by the bark beetle, which then further weakened the tree and potentially made it more susceptible to mortality from fire.

ELAM: The stag tree is said to be the fifth largest tree in the entire world. It's lived more than 3,000 years. And yet we're seeing that wildfire is threatening these giant sequoias more than ever before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The castle fire was a wake-up call, an estimated 7,500 to 10,600 trees were destroyed in that one fire alone.

ELAM: Started by lightning in August 2020, the Castle Fire was part of the sequoia complex that burned more than 174,000 acres, scorching several sequoia groves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was devastating, heartbreaking. Everything had been incinerated. It was a field of the world's largest burned up toothpicks.

ELAM: After decades of suppressing forest fire, other trees and brush have grown rampantly around the sequoias.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fires that used to burn every five to ten years in the sierra would just keep down the competition and reduce the fuel naturally.

ELAM: On land owned by the Save the Redwoods League, we hiked out to see just how deadly Castle Fire was here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For you us to see 10 to 14 percent of the total of giant sequoias alive killed in one year in one fire is -- there's nothing to compare that to.

ELAM: Yet fire in and of itself is not the enemy of the giant sequoia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their cones open up, their seeds start to germinate after a fire.

ELAM: So near those lost giants where the fire wasn't too intense, small shoots of hope take root.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I see is a lot of these little baby giant sequoias that have sprouted up since the fire happened.

ELAM: Without an urgent response to the climate crisis and increased forest maintenance, experts worry more of the once seemingly impervious sequoias will be lost.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The biggest worry for me is we have two fires burning right now that are threatening groves that we have not been able to treat. The risk is still there.

ELAM: Stephanie Elam, CNN, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


HILL: Up next, the girlfriend of an accused killer revealing new details about his state of mind just days before police say he shot and killed a three-month-old baby.



HILL: In our national lead, a three-month-old baby, mother, grandmother, and another man all dead after what police are calling a rampage that. Mass shooting took place Sunday morning outside Lakeland, Florida, in between Tampa and Orlando.

As CNN's Randi Kaye reports, the suspected gunman is a former marine sharp-shooter whose girlfriend revealed some disturbing details to police.


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

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Polk County sheriff Grady Judd is talking about 33-year-old Bryan Riley, an ex-marine who is now charged with killing four people in a horrific predawn shooting.

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

KAYE: 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: 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. Windows and doors were left riddled with bullet holes.

JUDD: He was a coward.

KAYE: Investigators say the suspect was wearing body armor but surrendered after he was shot. That's when police went inside and discovered the bloody scene along with an 11-year-old girl who had been shot multiple times but is expected to recover.

The sheriff says there does not appear to be any connection between the shooter and his victims. He 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: The suspect served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was a designated sharp-shooter. 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'd never seen that kind of behavior.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KAYE (on camera): Even more bizarre, investigators say the suspect actually came here Saturday night hours before the shooting. He came across a couple of people on the front lawn and told them he was here to see a woman named Amber, a daughter who he was told by god was going to take her life. And people told him there's nobody here by that name, you should go away, we're going to call the police. Apparently, he got so angry, he returned nine hours later and killed them and others inside, Erica.

HILL: Oh, what a horrific story.

Randi, thank you.

Thanks for joining us this afternoon. I'm Erica Hill, in for Jake Tapper on this special edition of THE LEAD.

Our coverage continues right now.