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Interview With Dr. Anthony Fauci About Booster Shots Amid COVID-19 Delta Surge; Biden Hopes For Labor Day Reset After Chaotic August; New Jersey Tornadoes; Melania Trump. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 05, 2021 - 16:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: As bad as the coronavirus pandemic was last year at its peak, it's worse now in many parts of the U.S. Georgia is now seeing its highest number of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic with less than 10 percent of ICU beds left. One hospital there nearly doubled its ICU capacity but it's still overflowing.


DR. JAMES BLACK, DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY SERVICES, PHOEBE PUTNEY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: The emergency department is full and the hospital is full. We're unable to place many patients. Any time a patient is discharged, we have patients waiting on those bed and the emergency department by extension is also full.


ACOSTA: In Kentucky, hospitals are also in trouble prompting Governor Andy Beshear to send the National Guard to the hardest hit.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: Well, our situation is dire. We are setting case records. We have a record number of Kentuckians in the hospital battling COVID, in the ICU battling for their lives. We have a record number of families that are praying for their loved one who is on a ventilator and needing that assistance to breathe.


ACOSTA: And here's your daily reminder that it doesn't have to be this way. August CDC data shows 99.99 percent of people, that's almost 100 percent, who are vaccinated avoid hospitalization or death from the virus. Unfortunately many kids who are heading back to the classroom after Labor Day aren't old enough to get a shot.

In a new CDC study shows more children have needed emergency room visits and hospitalizations in states with lower vaccination rates. In other words, adults' refusal to get vaccinated is hurting and potentially killing innocent children who have no choice, no option for protection.

In Washington, a vaccine mandate for teachers and staff goes into effect next month. Plus in Florida, school districts are defying their own governor doubling down on school mask mandates that fly in face of the Governor Ron DeSantis' ban. Masking does help while we wait for the next line of defense, COVID-19 booster shots, but the exact timing has been a subject of debate. It's up in the air right now.

Let's get right to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Fauci, there's been some confusion about these boosters. The White House initially targeted the week of September 20th. This morning the president's chief of staff wouldn't commit to that timeline for that third dose of authorization. But you have said that the 20th is still in play. Help us sort this out for the folks at home who are wondering about this.

Where are we headed when it comes to boosters? When is that going to get up and running?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, Jim, the plan had been, and really still does remain in place, that by the week of September 20th, we would get the booster program for both the Pfizer and the Moderna products operational. But we had always said from the very beginning that would depend on a few factors that would have to be in play.

One that the companies would submit to the FDA the appropriate information to allow the regulatory approach of that to be the way it should be. And then the FDA would then make a recommendation which you would follow because they are the last word in the regulatory aspect of all of this. And the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that advises the CDC would recommend it.

What has happened is that Pfizer, one of the companies that has the MRNA, has gotten the information in, has been examined and things look like they are ready to go. Moderna might be actually a little bit behind that. And if they are, what you might see is rather than the simultaneous rolling out of the booster program of both those products, you may have the sequential by about a week or two.

I don't think that is a major issue there but we would have liked to have seen it happen all together simultaneously. But ultimately the plan will be implemented as was originally put forth.

ACOSTA: OK. So Pfizer may be good to go on September 20th but Moderna might wait a couple of weeks.

FAUCI: Correct.

ACOSTA: We're hearing about people who want to mix and match. If you're a Moderna person, can you go get a Pfizer booster or is it better to wait?

FAUCI: Well, it's better to wait, Jim. We are doing what's called mix and match studies right now, where you take a look at one who gets Moderna, followed by Pfizer, Pfizer followed by Moderna, et cetera. We'll have all the necessary information in a few weeks. It may not be exactly on the week of September 20th. But it will be very soon thereafter.

ACOSTA: OK. A lot of people out there trying to DIY this as you may understand. The surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has said that the threshold for boosters was a significant increase in breakthrough infections particularly breakthrough hospitalizations and deaths. Is there evidence of significant increase in these breakthrough hospitalizations and deaths? And can you point us to that evidence? Are you seeing that?


FAUCI: Yes. Well, you look at the evidence from the cohorts here in the United States. There's no doubt that there is a diminution in the efficacy of the vaccine against infection, namely symptomatic infection. There's a slight suggestion in a couple of the cohorts that it also is true for diminution of protection against hospitalization. Not profound but the suggestion when you look at the data is there.

However, when you look at the Israeli data, and they are about a month or so ahead of us in every aspect of this vaccinations, boosters, et cetera, the data from the Israeli studies that there's a rather substantial diminution in protection against infection and an unquestionable diminution in the protection against hospitalization.

The good news, Jim, is that when they boosted people, they had a dramatic and profound increase in the protection against infection as well as the protection against hospitalization. So their data clearly show that we are going in the right direction of where we need to go with regard to boosters. But importantly the data also show that when you give those boosters, you reconstitute to an even higher level than before the protection against both infection and hospitalization.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you about the Israeli experience because they started after six months after vaccination. Their data found that diminution started six months after vaccination. Why are we waiting in the U.S. until eight months? I mean, a lot of people in the U.S. thought we would get it after six months.

FAUCI: Well, good question, Jim. The plan for the rollout was at the September 20th, the week of September 20th. That would actually be about eight months from the time the very first people in this country got their vaccinations in January. So that's the eight-month issue. But remember we had said and we continue to abide by it that the ultimate implementation of that will be according to the regulatory aspect of the FDA and the recommendations of the ACIP, the Advisory Committee and Immunization Practices.

So, although the plan for eight months is still there, we're still planning to do that, there very well may be a range of time when the recommendations are being made. So I don't think there's a situation that it is now immutable that we may not be able to change it, but we are certainly still planning for eight months.

ACOSTA: And Dr. Fauci, let me get out of the weeds a little bit and let me just ask some plainspoken questions here. Are we in a situation now where we need these boosters, where they're necessary because so many people chose to go unvaccinated?

FAUCI: Well, I think there's an indirect --

ACOSTA: Isn't that plainly the case to some extent?

FAUCI: Well, to some extent that's indirect. We need the boost because ultimately it may turn out, Jim, that the ultimate proper immunization regimen is a three-dose regimen. Remember, we made it a two-dose regimen. We were dealing with an emergent situation. We needed to get those vaccines out because they were life-saving. And in fact, they have been life-saving.

What we're observing now, not only here in the United States but in other countries, including Israel and the U.K., that the durability of the protection tends to wane particularly in the context of the Delta variant. The good news, as I mentioned a moment ago, is that the boosters really jack up the response very, very high. And we hope that that response would be durable.

Getting back to your question, is that when you have unvaccinated people you have a dynamic of virus replication and transmission in the community which is not only not good for the people who are unvaccinated, but indirectly it may ultimately be detrimental to the unvaccinated people because the more circulation of virus you have, the more breakthrough infections you will see. So the best thing that we could have is the overwhelming majority of the population get vaccinated.

That would unquestionably bring the level of virus so low in the community that you would not only see unvaccinated people who are vaccinated now protected but the people who were originally vaccinated would not have as many breakthrough infections.


ACOSTA: It seems --

FAUCI: So that's the reason why we continue to urge people to get vaccinated.

ACOSTA: Yes. It does seem that there's an urgency for these vaccine boosters because of the prolonging of this pandemic and because of the people who are getting, you know, not to the point where they're getting vaccinated. But let me ask you about something else related to this. So many ICUs are running out of hospital beds right now.


Hospitals are in a situation where they're playing musical chairs. They're shuffling patients around to create space. I know you heard about this. In Texas, it was reported the other day that U.S. Army vet couldn't be treated for pancreatitis because the ICU at the hospital near his home was full. Is it time to start prioritizing ICU beds for people who are vaccinated? Are going to get into a situation in this country where you can't have hospitals full of unvaccinated people or we at a position where we just don't have a choice, we have to treat people if they're sick?

FAUCI: Well, you know, that's a tough call, Jim, to prioritize the vaccinated versus an unvaccinated person. I don't think we're going to get there. There's talk of that. What we really should be doing, and I hope we are doing it, is to do everything we can to mitigate this number of people who are getting infected and requiring hospitalizations and ICU beds.

We are perilously close, as you mentioned in the beginning of the segment, of having in certain areas of the country getting so close to have full occupancy that you're going to be in a situation where you're going to have to make some very hard tough choices. The thing to do right now is to pull out all the stops on everything we can do to prevent new infections, which will ultimately lead to hospitalization.

Vaccination is the number one. And if that means mandates at the local level for vaccinations, we've got to make sure that masking is implemented. And even if there are mask mandates, which they're trying to push back against mask mandates, there should be mask mandates because we know masks work. For sure, they work. So to try and prevent the masking of individuals just doesn't make any public health sense.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you, COVID cases are at unprecedented levels among children in many parts of the country. The hospitalization rates for children are higher in states with lower vaccination rates. Again, this correlation between these lower vaccination rates and all these public health problems. There are kids who can't get vaccinated obviously in many cases. And they're being impacted by parents who are making these bad choices.

What can we do to protect these children in these low vaccination areas who are ending up in the hospital?

FAUCI: Well, the way you protect children who because of their age cannot get vaccinated yet is to surround the children, be it friends, family, school, teachers, personnel in the school, surround the children with vaccinated people. And in the school system, that's the reason why the CDC recommends the using of masks in the school system even when there are many, many vaccinated people.

We've got to protect the children. If we want to keep them physically in school, present in school, we've got to do everything we possibly can to protect them from getting infected. And as I mentioned, that's getting people around them vaccinated and wearing masks.

ACOSTA: And we know you're monitoring the new variant, forgive me if I'm not pronouncing that correctly. I'm doing my best. Hard to keep up with these variants. Is this variant going to be more problematic than the Delta variant which has obviously been a real game changer when it comes to this pandemic?

FAUCI: Well, we are watching the new variant very, very closely. There are isolates of the new variant in this country. The thing that is telling us that it isn't an immediate issue right now is that the Delta variant continues to be profoundly dominant in this country. More than 99 percent of the isolates in this country are Delta. So Delta seems to be pushing out all the other variants. That doesn't mean we're not keeping an eye out on the new variant and taking it seriously. We don't see it as an immediate threat right now.

ACOSTA: OK, not right now. I wanted to ask you about some of the problems with disinformation that we're having right now. You've had a debunked misinformation coming from some high places throughout this pandemic. Some of the latest, FOX's Tucker Carlson, he's been defending counterfeit vaccine cards. Let's just watch a little bit of that.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Buying a fake vaccination card is an act of desperation by decent law-abiding Americans who have been forced into a corner by tyrants. You know what's a serious crime? Forcing Americans to take drugs they don't need or want. That's a very serious crime. And let's hope in the end someone is punished for it severely.


ACOSTA: And the podcast host Joe Rogan, he came down with COVID. He says he's been taking the livestock de-wormer Ivermectin as well as other treatments that people talk about on the internet and so on, doesn't have any effect on COVID obviously.


Did you ever expect that you would have I guess to compete, with the likes of Tucker Carlson and Joe Rogan, Dr. Fauci? And are their voices more powerful and I guess more widespread than people like yourself, other public health expert who are out there? And isn't that part of the problem?

FAUCI: Well, Jim, disinformation and misinformation is really a very serious issue when it comes to a public health issue like COVID-19 in which it is essential to get correct information out both for people who are infected and who do need proper medication and proper care to foster things that are unproven right from the beginning has always been a problem.

The best way to counter disinformation and misinformation is to try as best as we all can to get the proper and correct information out, but one of the enemies of public health is disinformation and unfortunately we do see that in some corners.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you, let's talk about the COVID end game in the U.S. Is the goal zero spread or is it to minimize severe disease? Because those are two different goals. What do you think?

FAUCI: Yes. Well, there are certain levels of goals. The first thing you wanted to do is to get out of the pandemic mode. We are in pandemic mode now. We are averaging on a weekly basis, about 154,000 infections per day. That's a lot of infections. So we've got to get it way, way, way down first. Then when you get it way down, if we get the majority, the overwhelming majority, I mean, almost everybody who is eligible to get vaccinated, vaccinated, you're going to see the level of infection so low that it no longer will be a public health threat.

That doesn't mean you've eliminated it completely and you never see another infection but it means that it is at such a low level that we really can get back to the kind of normality that we all crave. So there's multiple stages in what you want to do. The first thing we have to do, we can't be having 150,000 new infections per day. That's pandemic numbers. That's first thing we've got to crack down one right away.

ACOSTA: Yes. But do you think -- and we have to quickly wrap this up, but do you think it's possible that we're just not going to get over this in the near future? I know you've talked about early next year. But it just seems like at this rate, that seems like wishful thinking.

FAUCI: Yes. I think it's entirely feasible if we really put a full court press on the vaccination and get those 75 or so million people who have not yet gotten vaccinated who are eligible. If we can get them vaccinated in the next month or so as we get into the winter, I think we could really crush those numbers low.

It's up to us, Jim. It's our choice. If we want to end this -- if we want to get these numbers really down, we can do it.

ACOSTA: All right, Dr. Anthony Fauci, I hope you're right. I hope we can do it. I know you're up against it. But thanks so much for your time this afternoon. We appreciate it as always.

FAUCI: Good to be with you.

ACOSTA: Good to talk to you.

FAUCI: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: Coming up. COVID, Afghanistan and a weak jobs report. A look at President Biden's tough month and how he may address it going forward. That's next.



ACOSTA: President Biden is spending the holiday weekend at home in Delaware after a difficult month for his administration. There's continuing frustration over the evacuations from Afghanistan and the deaths of 13 U.S. service members. Add to that confusion over vaccine booster shots and surging COVID cases. The president also blames the Delta variant for a weak jobs report which showed the economy created 235,000 new jobs last month, the lowest number since January.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Biden plan is working. We're getting results. There's no question the Delta variant is why today's job report isn't stronger. I know people are looking at it and I was hoping for a higher number.


ACOSTA: A new "Washington Post"-ABC News poll shows the president's job approval rating has dipped to 44 percent, down from 50 percent back in June.

And joining me now former Republican congressman from Virginia, Barbara Comstock, and CNN political commentator and former White House adviser, Paul Begala, to former President Clinton.

Paul, should the president and his team be worried about these approval numbers? I hate to do the poll question first, but it's there.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, the poll numbers -- yes, but really because he needs to be worried about those COVID numbers that you're discussing with Dr. Fauci. COVID is probably the biggest reason that President Biden got elected. He's got to get his arms around it. He's doing all that he can. He's got to step it up more. I like seeing Dr. Fauci even though it's a holiday weekend, making himself available to you and to our audience to make sure people know just how threatening this is.

I do think that that's at the root of this. I think the president's analysis is exactly right. But we've got to find a way to protect ourselves and love our neighbors and get those vaccines in people's arms. And a lot of it is combatting the misinformation. My hat is off to Dr. Fauci and to you for confronting it so candidly in that prior interview.

ACOSTA: Yes. Congresswoman, I mean, I just have to ask you, why is it that we're seeing these rates in Trump country jumping off the map for COVID and the low vaccination rate down there in those red states down south. How do we get on top of that, do you think?


BARBARA COMSTOCK (R), FORMER VIRGINIA REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I think they need to replicate good governors like Governor Hogan of Maryland who has almost 80 percent -- I think it's over 80 percent of eligible vaccinated individuals in his state.


COMSTOCK: And he's been a leader on this and he, as he pointed out this morning when he's on TV, he's criticized both Donald Trump and now President Biden on -- you know, when he didn't think they were moving quickly enough on this or getting the right messaging out there. I think he is a great model for both Democrats and Republican, and more importantly he's brought people together on this issue which is so needed right now.

ACOSTA: And Paul and Barbara, both of you, I want to get your take on this. The Qanon, the so-called QAnon shaman, Jacob Chansley, he pleaded guilty Friday for his role in the Capitol riot. Take a listen to what his lawyer says about his client's view of Donald Trump. I think it's pretty telling.


ALBERT WATKINS, ATTORNEY FOR 'QANON SHAMAN" JACOB CHANSLEY: He had a fondness for Trump that was not unlike the first love a man may have for a girl or a girl for a man, or a man for a man. The first love always, always maintains a tender and soft spot in the heart of the lover.


ACOSTA: Congresswoman, I never thought this would come back to love. We can't blame all of this on love, can we? You've worked very hard on this issue, I know, so I wanted to ask you about that, first. What did you make of that? What a bizarre comment.

COMSTOCK: Yes, I'll tell you, what's love got to do --


COMSTOCK: Yes, what's love got to do with it? I mean, this was an insurrection. Now, you know, these people who bought in to Donald Trump's big lie obviously they are the ones suffering. And I believe there was also discussion that he was still -- people were encouraging him, hey. you might get pardon from somebody who is never going to be president again which would be Donald Trump.

So this is sad that people who believed in Donald Trump are now, you know, going to pay very personal cost, as they should. These were criminal actions on January 6th. I don't think we've still gotten to the bottom of it because I think a lot of the people who needed to be held reasonable, people at the White House who may very well, as information comes out, have been involved in this rally and egging on this kind of activity, and that's why I think it's so important that we get these phone records, that we get these text records of people. They are -- who are engaged in that activity and in the days before, in the days following and I think this is going to be a very important --

ACOSTA: Even Kevin McCarthy's records, do you think, Congresswoman? Sorry to interrupt.

COMSTOCK: Well, I think anybody. One of the first people I'd focus on are people like Donald Trump Junior, Donald Trump, Mark Meadows. People at the White House, people who are conducting the rally. So I think where those lead you? But I do think, you know, as Paul knows, I subpoenaed a lot of phone records and a lot of e-mail records in my day of the Clinton administration. Congress has an absolute right to subpoena those records and I think what they have done is exactly appropriate.

ACOSTA: And Paul, I have to ask you about the California recall. If California voters are successful and they remove Governor Gavin Newsom, the conservative radio host Larry Elder is the Republican frontrunner, he could become the governor of California and he has said that if he becomes governor, he will flip the Senate by replacing Senator Dianne Feinstein, I suppose, if she retires or something along those lines, with a Republican senator.

What do you think of that and do you think the coast is clear for the governor of California because, I mean, that's what you're hearing from a lot of Democrats? The latest poll shows he's fine, but the Republican voters out there in California are motivated and the recall process favors them to some extent.

BEGALA: Absolutely, Jim. I know you know this, and Barbara does, but our viewers should understand in California, it's idiosyncratic to say the least. Governor Newsom could get 49 percent and get tossed out of office and replaced by the right-wing radio host you mentioned who is only pulling at 24 percent. That's just the way their system works. Newsom has to be over 50 percent. That is to say, Democrats and Republicans who want to keep their governor have to vote no on the recall.

Now I talked to some California Democrats today. They are not saying we're comfortable or confident. They are very concerned. The very early returns. Everybody gets a mail-in ballot. They don't have to use it. They can vote in person. The early returns are somewhat encouraging I think for the Democrats and for Governor Newsom, but they're very concerned about people voting in person where Republicans usually perform better these days because Trump so discredited mail-in ballots.

So I think it's a huge controversy. I don't know why Larry Elder would want to nationalize this. Right? He ought to be talking about local California issues. He wants to be the governor of California. When he nationalizes it, I think he hurts his own cause. But God bless him, he told the truth. He wants this office, he says, so he can flip the Senate to Mitch McConnell. He has also said his view of abortion is, abortion is murder. That's a pretty strong three-word sentence. That's not the view of most Californians. They don't want to have the kind of Texas abortion bounty law that we're seeing in my beloved home state of Texas.

So, I think Elder may have made a mistake here in trying to nationalize this race. But the Democrats had better work like everything depends on it because it might.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Paul Begala and former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock. Thanks so much to both of you for coming on this Labor Day weekend. Hope you enjoy it. Get some time out there to enjoy some of this great weather in the D.C. area. It's been terrific. Thanks so much.

BEGALA: Thanks, Jim.


ACOSTA: All right, coming up, Ida's aftermath is staggering damage in one New Jersey community hit by the storm and a tornado spawn by it.

Plus, 20 years after the September 11th attacks, we are remembering the hero, victims and survivors. The documentary "911" airs tonight at 8:00 right here on CNN. [16:30:58]


ACOSTA: In all, at least 50 people have died in the Northeast from Hurricane Ida.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a major tornado coming this way.


ACOSTA: This video shot in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, when one of the three confirmed tornadoes in the state touched down. There you see in that video right now. This one uprooted trees and knocked out power for about a third of the town. Dozens of homes were either badly damaged or were completely leveled. Astoundingly, none of New Jersey's 23 deaths were related to the tornadoes. Mullica Hill is in Harrison Township, New Jersey. And its mayor, Louis Manzo, joins me now. Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for being with us this afternoon. Update us on the recovery efforts. How are things going?

LOUIS MANZO, MAYOR, HARRISON TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY (via Skype): Well, Jim, as well as can be expected, I guess, (INAUDIBLE.)


MANZO: Considering the last four days have been so devastating to so many families, with more than 130 properties damaged, 35 completely destroyed, families uprooted, infrastructure, you know, affected, poles down. The damage to trees and all the foliage is unbelieve. And to look at that and have toured it for the last three or four days and realize that no one died or was seriously injured, that's miraculous and we're just thankful.

ACOSTA: We're thankful for it, too. Because some of the images that we're seeing, we're showing some of it now to our viewers, were -- I mean, some of these homes were just wiped off their foundations.

As you know, Mayor, President Biden is traveling to New Jersey and New York this week. What do you want to hear from the president and what does your community need from the federal government right now?

MANZO: Yes. So, we -- you know, it's been great, all of the relationships with all of our county leadership and, certainly, the governor coming down here, you know, the day afterward and touring all the sites. And we are meeting with people from FEMA tomorrow. We know that the president will be in the state, you know, whether it's late in the day or the following day. What we're looking for is the declaration needed that gives us access to those resources for our residents once their insurance coverages are maximized and, certainly, for all of the damage to any infrastructure. And we're looking for that to, hopefully, move forward in the coming days.

ACOSTA: And let's talk about what the FEMA administrator, Deanne Criswell, said this morning about extreme weather, and then, I'll ask you about it on the other side.


DEANNE CRISWELL, ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: This is the crisis of our generation, these impacts that we're seeing from climate change. And we have to act now to try to protect against the future risks that we're going to face.


ACOSTA: Mayor, do you see it that way or do you think we're seeing some of the effects of climate change? Did that, potentially, play a role in the devastation in your community? What do you think?

MANZO: Well, there have been four EF-3 tornadoes in the history of New Jersey, and this is the first one in the last 30 years. So, regardless of where it's rooted in and where it's coming from, there is no denying that weather events have become more intense in recent years.

And so, I do think that it's important for leadership, at the federal level and then down at the state and local level, to take this into account as we plan our infrastructure. How we build our towns, density, circulation and so forth. Because his is the new norm. Regardless of -- you know, I really get kind of impatient over the conversation of what its rooted in. It's real. It's here and we have to deal with it.

ACOSTA: All right. Mayo Louis Manzo, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it. And, once again, all of our best to your community as you're trying to clean up after all of this. And, as you said, miraculous that nobody was hurt or killed in your community. Obviously, a lot of -- a lot of problems in other areas where folks were not so fortunate. But thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it, sir.

MANZO: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Thanks a lot.

Coming up, with the former president teasing another presidential bid, what does the former first lady think? We've got some exclusive CNN reporting, coming up.



ACOSTA: As former President Donald Trump mulls his political future, there is one person who is staying noticeably quiet, his wife, Melania. The former first lady has retreated more and more from the spotlight, since departing Washington last January. So, what does all of that mean about this talk about Trump in 2024?

Let's talk about that with CNN White House Correspondent Kate Bennett. Kate, you've been digging in on this. There could be some tea leaves, I suppose, some clues in all of this. We haven't seen much of Melania Trump since she left the first lady's office.


ACOSTA: It's sort of remarkable.

BENNETT: I mean, it is, if you look at her predecessors and other first ladies who have really take advantage of this vast platform that they have to promote, you know, whatever platforms or initiatives.


BENNETT: They've gotten into mostly charitable established foundations, worked at their husbands' libraries. None of that from Melania Trump. It's been seven months since she opened the office of Melania Trump, with a very official-looking seal. Nothing from her.

But, you know, Jim, she's not a prolific presence. She wasn't when she was first lady. She certainly wasn't during the 2016 campaign. And when I -- what I learned, writing this piece and talking to some people who knew her, before, during and now after, is that she really has no interest in doing it again. So, if Donald Trump wants to run for president, I don't think we're going to see Melania Trump out there with him.

ACOSTA: And why do you think that is? Why is that?

BENNETT: Well, I mean, she's an --

ACOSTA: She's just not that into it?

BENNETT: I think she is, in a way. But I think it was a chap -- one of the people I spoke to said it was a chapter in her life. It's over. It's not to be repeated. She's also incredibly private. So, it's a catch 22 of her often saying, you don't know me. This is lies. This is gossip. An inuendo when people try to report on her. But, at the same time, she never sat down for an interview. She did less than five on camera interviews. Two of those I wouldn't really call an interview. They were on another network.

ACOSTA: Right.

BENNETT: And zero print interviews in the entire four years. No talk shows. No nothing. So, it's very challenging to get to know someone and understand what it is that is keeping her behind the scenes, without letting the public know. But I will say this. The Trump base, just fine with it.

ACOSTA: They're fine with it. No question about it. And if she's not out there -- I mean, let's just keep in mind, Donald Trump may be putting all of this out there just because he is starved for the attention. He wants people to talk about him. This may have nothing to do with whether or not he's going to run for president again.

We talked to a Trump official yesterday who said he hasn't made any decisions.


ACOSTA: Not close to one yet. But if he does get out there, who would be out there by his side? Would we see Ivanka again?

BENNETT: Well, she's said, and I reported on this, too, that she has stepped back from politics. She doesn't really want anything to do with it. Her husband, Jared Kushner, is writing a book. There's some tension there between his father-in-law and after the White House years (ph). So, I don't think you'll see Ivanka. Probably Lara Trump, Eric's wife. Probably Kimberly Guilfoyle, Don Junior's girlfriend.

But it is so interesting. Here is Donald Trump that's taken his own post-presidency platform and used it to influence an entire political party. He's capitalizing on it as much as possible. And then, there's Melania trump who really hasn't worked that angle at all. So, it's, again, another anomaly of American politics.

ACOSTA: It is. It's strange. But it -- if that's what they want to do, that's what they want to do. Do we know how she's spending her time these days?

BENNETT: So, she's moved -- apparently, moved back to Mar-A-Lago, where she will be full time there. And their teen-age son is in school there. Again, she's a full-time mom and devotes herself to being around him. Like I said, she's very private. She's, apparently, working on some things with the office that we have yet to see.

But, again, it's just she retreated back into the life she was in before. She does have dinner with the president. There were some sightings of them at Bedminster. But, certainly, it's a quieter life. And, again, as you said, completely her prerogative. Not right or wrong. And there's a way that she approached being first lady, you know, without the standards of most other first ladies in an antiquated role.


BENNETT: So, in a way, I kind of respect that she's just not that into it.

ACOSTA: It's a continuation of how, basically, she handled herself in office.

BENNETT: That's so true.

ACOSTA: All right. Kate Bennett, we know you're going to keep tabs on this. Thanks so much. We appreciate it.

BENNETT: Yes, thank you.

ACOSTA: And we'll be right back.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ACOSTA: Twenty years after the September 11th attacks, we are remembering the heroes, victims and survivors. Tonight, CNN films presents the documentary, " 911."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Both towers of the World Trade Center have been hit by aircraft. Both are in flames.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is black smoke coming from both of the towers. It's a horrific scene here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were two planes. I saw the second one hit. It hit the other tower.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All we knew is that a second plane hit, and we had a will the of people trapped.


ACOSTA: It's going to be a powerful special. Be sure to tune in. That's tonight at 8:00 right here on CNN.

As the damage from Hurricane Ida comes into focus, there are people on the ground right now starting the rebuilding process. 2008 CNN Hero of the Year, Liz McCartney, co-founded the St. Bernard Project in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The group has helped restore thousands of homes following natural disasters across the U.S. A top priority after Hurricane Ida.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because of the timing of the tides, I think Ida pushed a lot of water into places that don't normally experience flooding that are outside of New Orleans. But we were really taken off guard. Typically, you can go to the communities in the outlying area to access the resources, to help people recover.

With power out in Baton Rouge, it's become a much trickier situation. We have teams to assist with mucking and gutting and mold remediation. What we've been able to do at SBP is help homeowners understand how they can buy the appropriate materials that actually kill mold spores.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then, learn how to dry their house out, so that when they do start to rebuild it, their house doesn't have any mold in it. And they can live safely in it.

I just want to say thank you to everybody who is supporting people who have been impacted by Hurricane Ida. The immediate response is really important. The long-term recovery is going to take more time. And so, we ask do you stick with it. Come on down and volunteer. Share your talents and help us make these communities even stronger in the future.