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The Terrorist Attacks On September 11th, 2001, At World Trade Center Towers In New York and Pentagon Remembered On 20th Anniversary; Former President George W. Bush Delivers Remarks At Memorial For Terrorist Attacks On 9/11; Florida Appeals Court Overturns Ruling Allowing Governor Ron DeSantis' Ban On Mask Mandates To Stand; Biden Administration To Issue Rule Requiring Large Businesses To Mandate Worker COVID Testing Unless Employees Get Vaccine. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired September 11, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Today marking 20 years since September 11th, 2001 -- 2,977 people died on that day in the deadliest terror attack in history. And in ceremonies at all three attack sites this morning, victims' names were read aloud. In New York, people came together to mark this solemn day.
Children placing flowers for loved ones they never got to meet. Men and women in tight embrace, mourning those they lost. And three presidents and first ladies were on hand for the memorial in lower Manhattan. Tolling bells followed by moments of silence marked to the minute when the planes hit the two towers and when each of them fell.
At the Pentagon, an American flag was draped down the side of the building before the names were read there.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: J. Joseph Ferguson. Amelia V. Fields.
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WHITFIELD: And in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the president and first lady laying a wreath in the memory of the everyday heroes who took down Flight 93 and stopped it from reaching its intended target, the nation's capital.
Across all three of those sites today, we have seen outpourings of raw grief and emotion alongside proud declarations of patriotic resolve. Presidents, past and present, and other top officials joining everyday people at the day's many ceremonies.
Polo Sandoval joining us now from New York with more on this. So Polo, we saw a lot, a lot of emotion and a lot of hope displayed at so many different ways. POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And a lot of powerful moments, too,
Fred. One of them happened only about an hour ago when that somber sound of Taps could be heard echoing through lower Manhattan ending, at least signaling the end of that particular ceremony, as you mentioned. The commander in chief starting a full day of attending multiple memorials by making the stop here in New York earlier this morning.
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SANDOVAL: At dawn, the unfurling of a flag over the side of the Pentagon hit by jetliner 20 years ago signaled the beginning of the day of tributes. It's one of three sites where Americans gathered in somber remembrance, honoring each one of the 2,977 people killed in the terrorist attacks on September 11th. At the footprints where the Twin Towers proudly stood over lower Manhattan, President Joe Biden and the first lady were joined by the Obamas and a sea of 9/11 families to memorialize those lost two decades ago.
At 8:46 a.m., the first of six moments of silence marking the instant the first hijacked airliner struck the North Tower. Mike Low's daughter Sara was a flight attendant on that plane.
MIKE LOW, LOST DAUGHTER SARA ON 9/11: As we recite the names of those we lost, my memory goes back to that terrible day when it felt like an evil specter had descended on our world. But it was also a time when many people acted above and beyond the ordinary.
SANDOVAL: The tributes continued throughout the morning, with the nation pausing five more times -- the moment each Twin Tower fell, when the Pentagon was attacked, and the moment united Flight 93 crashed into the field in Pennsylvania.
KAMALA HARRIS, (D) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is truly an honor to be with all of you at this field of honor.
SANDOVAL: Along with Vice President Kamala Harris, President George W. Bush, who served as commander in chief in 2001, helped lead a memorial at that site.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The 33 passengers and seven crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected by fate. In a sense, they stood in for us all. The terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people.
SANDOVAL: And at the Pentagon, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, honored the victims of the attacks and the service members who died in the subsequent war in Afghanistan.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS: Never forget those who were murdered by terrorists. Never forget those who rushed to save their lives and gave theirs in exchange. Never forget the sons and the daughters, the brothers and sisters and the mothers and fathers, who gave their tomorrows for our todays.
SANDOVAL: Tonight, the sky over lower Manhattan lights up again with the annual tribute and light. It's a reminder of the nation's resilience and an iconic symbol honoring those killed, and the nation's unbreakable spirit.
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SANDOVAL (on camera): It was precisely today that New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed some legislation that's meant to help World Trade Center first responders. This bill, these series of bills that she signed just today to mark the anniversary, Fred.
It's supposed to basically expand the criteria for those who responded to the World Trade Center site and hopefully make it easier for them to apply for benefits online. Fred, these are so many Americans that participated in rescue and recovery efforts really following the events that took place 20 years ago today.
WHITFIELD: Polo Sandoval, thank you so much, in New York.
Today, former president George W. Bush drew a parallel between the extremism that drove the 9/11 attacks and the domestic terrorism fueling so many threats that continue on U.S. soil today. Joining us right now from Shanksville, Pennsylvania, CNN's Paula Reid. So Paula, you were there as the former president spoke.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: -- Flight 93. Of course, Flight 93 was one of four commercial airliners hijacked on 9/11, but it did not make it to its intended target, which is believed to be the U.S. Capitol because the 40 passengers and crew members on board banded together, voted, and decided to storm the cockpit. So instead of crashing in Washington, it crashed here in the field in rural Pennsylvania.
And unity and Americans coming together, that was really the theme of today's memorial. Vice President Kamala Harris and former president George W. Bush both gave remarks in tribute to the lives that were lost here in Shanksville.
And it's really interesting, former President Bush, his remarks are really making headlines because he touched on the unity that he observed when he was leading the country in the days following 9/11 and how that is such a contrast to the current climate. And he also talked about the significant threat of domestic extremism. Let's listen to what he said.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: And we have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, and their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.
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REID: Vice President Kamala Harris also touched on this idea of unity and how it's really embodied in that collective effort aboard Flight 93. Following the memorial, friends and family members of those lost were able to go and visit the crash site. And Fredricka, that is so significant because they have been the ones really rushing to build this memorial.
Some of them believe that not a lot of attention is paid to what happened here in Shanksville, that people are familiar with, of course, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacks, but people tend to forget what happened here. And they've recently finished this incredible memorial where you can come here and learn more about the sacrifices that were made, and arguably, the lives that were saved because of what happened on Flight 93.
Now, President Biden also paid a visit here. He and the first lady, they laid a wreath in tribute to those lost, but the only president, current or former, that we heard from today was George W. Bush, and his remarks are going to be what people are talking about for the next few days.
WHITFIELD: Yes, he was poetically blunt, shall we say. All right, Paula Reid, thank you so much in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
President Biden has been traveling throughout the day, marking this somber anniversary. Arlette Saenz joining us right now from the White House. Arlette?
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fred, President Biden just left Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and now will be making his way to his final stop on this September 11th anniversary where he will visit the Pentagon and Arlington, Virginia, and lay a wreath there.
The president began his day at ground zero at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City where he was accompanied by the former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton as well as first lady Jill Biden and former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. And the president stood there as he listened to the names that were read of each individual who lost their lives in the September 11th attack.
After visiting New York City, the president then traveled to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where he laid a wreath in honor of those who lost their lives on Flight 93. One person whose name he laid the wreath in front of in particular was a man named Jeremy Glick.
He was 31 years old on United Flight 93, and he was one of the men who strategized to overtake the hijackers who likely intended for that flight to hit the U.S. Capitol, but with that heroism and bravery of the passengers and crew on that flight, ultimately that flight crashed into a rural field in Pennsylvania. The president and first lady laid a wreath there and then they actually walked the flight path and saw that boulder where that impact site was.
And the president also made an unannounced stop at the Shanksville volunteer fire department. This was the fire department that was first on the scene on 9/11 at that crash site. The president has visited that fire department as vice president back in 2012 and also last year in 2020, and he spoke to reporters while he was on site. We're still waiting to get the complete video of that moment, but he called the actions taken by those passengers and crews on Flight 93 as an act of genuine heroism.
He also talked about the need to unite the country and for people to come together in the aftermath of September 11th and other major events. But the president also offered a defense of his decision to withdraw the American military presence from the country of Afghanistan. That war began after these 9/11 attacks in 2001, and take a listen to what the president had to say.
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JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you had told anybody that we were going to spend $300 million a day for 20 years to try to unite the country after we got bin Laden, after Al Qaeda was wiped out there -- can Al-Qaeda come back? Yes, but guess what? It's already back in other places. What's the strategy? Every place where Al-Qaeda is we're going to invade and have troops there? Come on.
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SAENZ: So in the next few hours, we will see President Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff laying a wreath at the Pentagon as they wind down this day of remembrance 20 years after those attacks on September 11th. Fred?
WHITFIELD: A very long and heavy day. Arlette Saenz, thank you so much from the White House. Appreciate that.
And then tonight on CNN, join Jake Tapper, Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, plus musical artist H.E.R., Brad Paisley, Maroon 5, and Common, for a special tribute to the families of September 11th. "Shine a Light" begins tonight at 8:00.
Also coming up, I'll talk with the brother of a firefighter who died at the World Trade Center. But first, more sights and sounds from the 9/11 memorial, earlier today, the American flag carried through the crowd in lower Manhattan.
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[14:17:27] WHITFIELD: So many lives changed forever. This morning, Frank Siller honored his brother who lost his life on 9/11 by completing a 537-mile journey that ended where the Twin Towers once stood. Siller walked the final path through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the same path his brother, Stephen, took 20 years ago today.
Stephen Siller was a New York firefighter. He had just gotten off his shift at Brooklyn's squad one fire station when the first plane hit the north tower. Stephen jumped in his truck to rush to the scene, and when he realized the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was shut down, he strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and raced through the tunnel on foot to the Twin Towers, ultimately giving his life to save others.
Joining me right now is Frank Siller, Stephen's older brother. Frank Siller now the chairman and CEO of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Frank, so good to see you. What a journey this continues to be for you. So on this somber day, you just walked in your brother's footsteps, completing that 537 mile never forget walk, going through that same tunnel to ground zero. So expresses what you are feeling right now.
FRANK SILLER, BROTHER OF STEPHEN SILLER, FIREFIGHTER WHO DIED ON 9/11: Well, it was a very emotional walk, especially the last three miles. I started at the Pentagon on August 1st. I walked to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and then ended up here today, walked through the tunnel with my family.
I was thinking when I was going through the tunnel, I was thinking my brother, the day he was born, because I'm a lot older than him. He's the youngest of seven kids, and he was our little miracle. So I was 14 years younger than him. And then I remember when he was eight-and-a- half years old, and my father died, and a year-and-a-half later my mom died.
And he questioned to me, he said, Frank, why was I even born? Why am I here? And I said, Stephen, don't say that. Mommy and daddy love you so much. They brought you into this world, and I don't know why they died, but God put you here for a reason and one day you'll do something very special.
And he was very resilient and he grew up. And I'm thinking of all these things in my head when he was a little boy orphaned, and we raised him. And then I'm saying, my God, he grew up to be this outrageous human being and he loved being a firefighter and brotherhood and the other family of being a firefighter. And then he was on top of the world. He was married. He had five kids. He had everything. He was the happiest he ever was.
And then he does this feat, he does this act, running through the tunnel with his gear on his back. And I was thinking of what he was thinking of that day, and I really was totally overcome with emotion. But I'm very proud of the fact that I did this in memory of him.
WHITFIELD: That is so beautiful. And it sounds like while your brother was questioning his very existence, his purpose in life, it sounds like, really, as the little brother who always admires the big brother, you've always understood what his purpose is to be. So in a strange way, does it seem like it was not at all a surprise that he would do this very courageous thing, putting all this gear on his back and running right toward terror, danger?
SILLER: Yes. No, it didn't surprise us at all. As a matter of fact, on September 11th, 2001, when the south tower came down, I turned to my mother-in-law and I said, Nancy, I think I just lost my brother. And I didn't know. I didn't know how he got there. I didn't know if he was there. I called him over and over and over again and tried to speak to him.
As a matter of fact, one of his buddies, a firefighter buddy called me during the day and said, Frank, Stephen is on a list of missing firefighters. And I said, Rich, I've been trying to call him, I've been trying to call him. And he goes, Frank, it's bad down here. I said I know, I've been talking to other firefighters. I can see. And he goes no, Frank, it's bad. I said, I could see, Richard. He goes, no. Nobody's coming home. And it was his way of telling me that my brother's not coming home. And it's a moment and a day that I'll never forget.
But we're so proud of him and what he did, saving other people's lives, giving up his own life. And these firefighters, first responders, police officers, they gave their life. There was 2,977 murdered, but these first responders gave their life, and they ran into that building, and saved, the biggest rescue mission ever. And I couldn't be more proud to be Stephen Siller's brother. And he has inspired many people to be a better person and to do good.
WHITFIELD: That is so true. And so, I wonder, what is your hope, particularly this day forward? Because there's a generation who is completely detached from what happened on 9/11, and they're really learning about it for the first time. So what are you hoping, whether it be a day like this or a remembrance of your brother, how are you hoping it will continue to inspire people?
SILLER: Well, first of all, I will always be talking about my brother and what he did. But the story of 9/11, there's so many stories. Stephen is just symbolic of the heroism that was that day. I think it's so important that we do teach Americans that we were under attack, that Islamic terrorists try to kill as many Americans as possible, and they did kill 2,977. We don't want this to happen again. Plus, they have to know, like I said, all these acts of courage.
I promise you, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation will always focus on the fact we never forget. It's our first mission. Yes, we built specially adapted smart homes for our country's most catastrophic service members. We build mortgage free homes for gold star families or pay off their mortgages, and we deliver mortgage-free homes for our first responders who die in the line of duty that leave young families behind.
But our first duty to make sure we never forget. And I promise you, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation is going to set on a big initiative to make sure that we never forget. And that's why my walk is called the never forget walk.
WHITFIELD: We thank you, Frank Siller, thank you so much for all that you have done. We thank your brother, Stephen, and the 2,996 others who certainly gave the ultimate sacrifice. Thank you so much.
SILLER: Thank you, and God bless. And God bless America.
WHITFIELD: Amen, Frank.
We'll have more news in a moment, but first, members of the United States military concluded readings of the names of those killed on 9/11 with the rendition of "Amazing Grace."
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
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WHITFIELD: The fight over masks in schools taking another turn in Florida. On Friday, a Florida appeals court overturned a ruling allowing Governor Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates to stand. But some of the state's largest school districts like Broward County say the court's decision will not immediately change their mask policies. Cases reported in the state have been on the decline but remain high. The last week saw an average of over 14,000 per day. There were also over 2,400 newly reported deaths last week alone.
Joining me right now is Dr. Anand Swaminathan, emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Good to see you, Doctor. So how worried are you about this continued fight over masks in schools?
DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: It's definitely worrisome because judges shouldn't be making public health policy. This is about public health. It's not about politics. It's not really even about the law.
Masks clearly help to reduce transmission, and we should be embracing policies that allow that kind of masking, especially in schools where we have kids who aren't vaccinated who are vulnerable. This is one of the layers that we can add to help to protect students.
So these kind of fights over masks are really wholly unnecessary, and the recommendations should be based on science and what's best for public health.
WHITFIELD: And in a state like Florida where community transmission rates remain high, how important is it for the government, whether it be at the state or on the federal level, to try to put rules in place that would perhaps address either the COVID numbers that continue to increase in certain areas?
SWAMINATHAN: Well, it makes it even more important. And that's why these masks are critically important when there is a high transmission level, and again, when you have a very susceptible population in kids under the age of 12 who can't get vaccinated. We should be doing everything in our power to protect that group, and that's not what you have seen here.
What the governor is doing here is really putting these kids in harm's way as we see cases, pediatric cases tick up, pediatric ICU beds being filled. We should be doing everything that we can to protect that group until they have access to vaccines, and even then, of course, we should still be doing everything we can to protect them.
WHITFIELD: And what are your thoughts on President Biden instituting new rules requiring vaccinations for federal workers? Is it your hope that perhaps it will invite more private industries to do the same, or perhaps even be somewhat contagious to states who have been for so long resisting encouraging vaccinations?
SWAMINATHAN: President Biden's plan has a lot that we should like. What it's doing is really tapping into all of the different tools that we have in our kit to help fight this pandemic. And it's the first real comprehensive plan looking at all those tools. It's not just about vaccines.
It's about masking. It's about testing. Testing was a huge stress in this plan, and we need to put more stress on how we're doing testing. Supporting hospitals, financial supports, and using policy to back these mandates.
But what we need to see is really a more proactive response going forward of what we can do to anticipate the next needs and put in more rules to help to stem this pandemic. And yes, mandates are important, the mandates we have are great, but we need more of those.
We need a travel mandate. If you're going to travel domestically on a flight, you have to be vaccinated. We should be seeing a strong recommendation from the CDC saying that all children over the age of 11 should be vaccinated in order to be in school. We should see very strong mandates coming forward.
Everybody who's eligible for a vaccine in a school setting should be vaccinated. And we should see the government helping to support and push that forward. So I think that the plan helps, but we really could expect more and we should expect more in the coming weeks and months to come out and support our fight against the pandemic even more.
WHITFIELD: Dr. Anand Swaminathan, always good to see you. Thank you so much. Stay well.
SWAMINATHAN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Still ahead, in a matter of weeks, businesses with 100 or more employees may need to ensure workers are vaccinated or tested once a week for COVID, all a part of stringent new vaccine rules imposed by President Biden, which are getting some fiery pushback in some corners. We'll talk more about that next.
And tomorrow night on CNN, join Jake Tapper as he asks the tough questions about America's longest war. What went wrong in Afghanistan. This new CNN Special Report begins at 9:00 p.m. eastern and pacific.
WHITFIELD: The White House said it could be a matter of weeks before President Biden's new vaccine and testing mandate for certain employers goes into effect. The new vaccine rules will impact as many as 100 million Americans, including federal workers, health care staff, and employees of large companies. CNN's Matt Egan has more on how businesses are reacting.
MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Hi, Fredricka. These are aggressive steps from the White House, and they underscore concern about the direction of the pandemic and the economic recovery. President Biden says the goal here is to protect vaccinated workers from their unvaccinated coworkers.
Some major companies have already announced vaccine mandates, including United Airlines, Tyson Foods, and Facebook. But many companies haven't, and that's going to need to change. Officials say the government will take enforcement actions against businesses that don't comply, including fines of up to nearly $14,000 per violation.
But while many Republican governors are blasting Biden's new vaccine order and promising to sue, some business groups are cheering. The powerful Business Round Table led by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said it, quote, welcomes the Biden administration's continued vigilance in the fight against COVID. The National Association of Manufacturers says Americans can be grateful for Biden's focus on vaccinations, but stress requirements must be structured in a way that doesn't negatively impact the operations of manufacturers.
Other business groups say the devil will be in the details of how these new requirements are structured. The White House is also boosting emergency loans to small businesses hurt by the pandemic. Small businesses can now take out up to $2 million in the low interest, long-term loans.
That's up from just half-a-million dollars now. These loans don't need to be repaid for two years and they can be used by business owners to hire and keep workers, buy inventory, or pay down debt racked up during the pandemic.
Fredricka, these steps come as there's mounting evidence that the Delta variant slowing the economic recovery. Restaurant reservation and air travel have taken a hit. More companies, including Microsoft and American Express, are delaying their return to office, and hiring slowed dramatically in August. Fredricka, President Biden is clearly taking action to save lives, but
make no mistake, these steps are also designed to boost the recovery that is losing momentum.
WHITFIELD: Matt Egan, thank you so much for that.
Several Republican governors and GOP lawmakers claim the mandate is government overreach and call it unconstitutional, and some are vowing to challenge it in courts. Shan Wu is a former federal prosecutor and a defense attorney. Shan, always good to see you. So is this vaccine mandate constitutional? Will it hold up in court?
SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think it will, Fredricka, which certainly doesn't mean it won't be challenged in court. But it's a very smart legal move on the part of the Biden administration to use the OSHA emergency regulations because it's a workplace safety issue for the employees.
Now, unfortunately, OSHA has not had a great track record in court. Over the last 30 years, they've only done about nine of these emergency rules, and some six of them were actually successfully challenged in court. But I think those are distinguishable. Those tended to be very industry specific -- pesticides, asbestos, and this is really unprecedented. This is a global pandemic, so I think it's going to survive in court.
WHITFIELD: And then here is the statement coming from Texas Governor Greg Abbott's spokeswoman. "The federal government needs to stop trying to run private businesses. Texans and Americans alike have learned and mastered the safe practices to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID and do not need the government to tell them how to do so."
So from the president's point of view, from the White House -- I know it does make you chuckle a little bit considering what's happened in recent days and weeks there, but can the president try to enforce a mandate on private businesses as well?
WU: Oh, absolutely. And I think the key to that is that the private businesses have an effect on the interstate commerce, and OSHA can regulate the safety for these workers. And obviously, if the workplaces are unsafe, people are getting sick, that's going to impact the national economy as it already has.
So I think they are on sound ground here, and obviously people like Governor Abbott are using this as a political moment. And they can certainly go to court, and I think the danger is, Fred, whether they can find a conservative-leaning federal district court judge who might try to enjoin the rules on a national basis. So that's kind of like the danger point.
WHITFIELD: All right, and then yesterday, a state appeals court in Florida handing down a major win for Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis when he reinstated a ban on mask mandates in school. How might this ruling potentially impact the legal fight in other jurisdictions over school masks, or masks being worn in schools and being enforced as such?
WU: I think, ultimately, it's not going to have much of a ripple effect outside of that court and jurisdiction. These are going to be fights which are very much literally school district by school district. Certainly, they're going to try to rely on that to argue that there's a win here for anti-mask mandate folks, but it's not going to be binding on other courts, and it's just going to be used as a persuasive type of argument. I really do think this is going to be something that you see fought out in many, many local skirmishes.
WHITFIELD: Shan Wu, always good to see you. Thank you so much. Be well.
WU: Good to see you. You, too.
WHITFIELD: First responders from across the country are honoring their fallen brothers and sisters today on this 20th anniversary of 9/11. This group from the Covington, Georgia, Fire Department met with three members of the FDNY who survived the attacks -- 343 firefighters, 23 police officers, and 37 port authority officers died in New York on September 11th.
We'll be right back.
WHITFIELD: President Biden is heading to California Monday for a big rally in support of Governor Gavin Newsom ahead of this week's recall vote. If a majority of voters say yes to a recall, then the candidate with the most votes becomes governor. Congress talk show host Larry Elder is polling closest behind Gavin Newsom.
Both candidates are painting the election as being about much more than just the California governor's job. Let's bring in now Jean Guerrero. She's a columnist for "The Los Angeles Times" and author of the book "Hate Monger." So good to see you, Jean. So the candidates say this race has national implications. Why does that remain the focus?
JEAN GUERRERO, COLUMNIST, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": It has national implications because California has been the most pro-immigrant and one of the most pro racial justice states that we have in this nation. Gavin Newsom has been part of that, implementing pro-Latino and pro- immigrant policies, more of those than we have ever seen from any previous governor.
And if the Republicans succeed in turning this deep blue, very pro- immigrant state and flipping it red and having somebody in power who completely opposes the values of the majority of Californians as far as racial justice and immigrant rights, that is going to embolden other anti-immigrant and xenophobic governors in other states. It could also have implications for immigration reform in Congress, and perhaps most worrisome of all, the governor would have the power to appoint a replacement for Senator Dianne Feinstein if anything were to happen to her.
And Larry Elder himself has said that he would appoint somebody that represents his values, which are anti-science. He doesn't believe in doing anything about climate change. He doesn't believe in having any mandates, masking mandates, any kind of vaccine mandates for COVID whatsoever.
And he plans to scale back all of the progress that California has made on immigrant rights over the past few decades, all our sanctuary policies, health care for undocumented immigrants as well as immense investments in our public education system. So it would have broad repercussions nationally.
WHITFIELD: So then on the local level, and I'm talking strictly in the state then now, too, there are other issues that are vital. The economy, homelessness, COVID, the environment, the drought, continued drought, are those issues where these candidates and even the incumbent are getting the attention of voters?
GUERRERO: Well, Larry Elder, the Republican frontrunner, has made a huge deal out of the homelessness problem that we have in California, and that's been a major theme in FOX News propaganda, anti-Newsom propaganda, and anti-California propaganda that has played an outsized role in this election.
But the fact of the matter is that they're distorting the reality, which is that homelessness in California as a result -- it is a result of housing prices here. But all of that is not due to progressive policies that have been implemented in recent years. It is due to moderates and conservatives in California who resist affordable housing being built near their neighborhoods.
So they mischaracterize this as being about progressive policies because the people who are behind this election, and it is so important to get the word out about this, are anti-immigrant nativists and anti-progressives that want to discredit the idea that a multiracial democracy can work. They want to discredit the idea that if you have progressive policies that embrace racial diversity, that try to decrease economic, social, and racial inequalities, that that's -- that that can actually work, which is something that California has demonstrated.
We have a long way to go. We still have problems, but Governor Gavin Newsom has taken concrete steps that have benefited the lives of the most vulnerable Californians as well as working class people in this state. And they are trying to cast him as somebody who hasn't done anything for the working class.
But now you're starting to see the polls reflect the reality, which is that most people approve of Newsom's efforts in this state to decrease inequality. And the Latino vote is going to be decisive. Early on, we were seeing polls --
WHITFIELD: -- extensively about that. Yes, go ahead. GUERRERO: Yes, Latinos make up a large percentage of the voters in California and will be decisive in this election, but they weren't getting the information about all of the things Newsom has done for them, investing more heavily in public education than any governor we've ever seen, expanding health insurance to undocumented seniors, making sure that our essential workers, such as farm workers, domestic workers, were taken care of during the pandemic.
Stimulus checks, providing housing for farm workers who got sick with COVID so that they don't get their families sick. So he's taken immense steps to protect this community.
But early on, the polls did not reflect that because of the fact that Latinos have been very much targeted with disinformation on social media from the right wing. But now that Newsom has been directly campaigning in these communities, things are starting to shift, and we're seeing that --
WHITFIELD: Well, just days away, days away from this recall vote. Jean Guerrero, "The L.A. Times," thank you so much. Appreciate it.
GUERRERO: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: And thank you to everyone for being with me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The CNN NEWSROOM continues with Jim Acosta in a moment.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: We are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.