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Somber Ceremonies Mark 20th Anniversary Of 9/11; Afghanistan's Future Under Sharia Law Unclear; Biden's Sweeping Vaccine Mandates; Man Walks Over 500 Miles To Honor Fallen 9/11 Firefighter Brother; U.S. Capitol Police Announce Six Disciplinary Cases; Push To Remove Governor Newsom Enters Final Stretch; Teen Players Square Off In Women's Tennis Championship. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired September 12, 2021 - 05:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pillars of light rising into the air. Tributes in three locations to those who lost their lives 20 years ago on 9/11.

Plus, the ethics of vaccine mandates.

Should anyone have to get vaccinated to keep their job?

And the U.S. Open's new champion, a British teen wins her first grand slam in grand fashion.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. This is CNN NEWSROOM.


BRUNHUBER: As people around the world remember the victims of September 11th, we're seeing the first of what could be several documents released by the FBI related to its investigation of those terror attacks.

This follows an executive order by U.S. President Joe Biden. The document still contains significant redactions but here's a bit of what we're learning.

It points to alleged logistical support provided to at least two of the hijackers by a Saudi consular official and a suspected Saudi intelligence agent.

Based on multiple connections and witness testimony that that agent is described as a Saudi student in Los Angeles at the time. The document describes him as deeply involved in providing travel assistance, lodging and financing to help the two hijackers.

The Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday it welcomes the release of documents but any allegation that Saudi Arabia is complicit in the September 11th attacks is false.

The release of those documents closed out a somber day as Americans stopped to remember the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives 20 years ago.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Each person's name was read allowed on Saturday so that none are ever forgotten. And seeing a loved one's name engraved in stone can be an emotional experience for family and friends.

The enduring sense of loss transcends the generations. Just listen to this young girl speaking directly to the uncle who died on 9/11 long before she was even born.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My uncle, firefighter Christopher Michael Mozzillo, I know you're with us every day, watching over us. And even though I never met you in person, I still miss you a lot.

Mom always tells me all the crazy fun things you did and I'm sure, if you were here, I'd probably be doing them with you.


BRUNHUBER: In honor of the 20th anniversary, the Manhattan skyline is, again, illuminated by two beams of white lights to fill in where the Twin Towers had stood. Ceremonies were also held at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. All of them attended by the president and first lady. We begin our coverage with CNN's Arlette Saenz at the White House.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Biden, visiting all three sites of the September 11th, 2001, terror attacks. Marking the 20th anniversary since those attacks, on Saturday.

The president, starting his day in New York City, at Ground Zero. Where he was accompanied at the 9/11 Memorial by former president Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

They stood at that site as each of the names were read of those killed in the terror attack 20 years ago. The president, also stopped in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to lay a wreath at the site where Flight 93 crashed into that rural Pennsylvania field, after some passengers overtook the hijackers who had hoped to land that plane in the Capitol. Instead, it crashed and killed those on board, in Pennsylvania, 20 years ago.

The president, wrapping up his day at the Pentagon, laying a wreath there, with Vice President Kamala Harris. And, in a video, released ahead of the 9/11 remembrances, the president called for a moment of unity.

As he was speaking with reporters on September 11th, he shared the story of how one of his friends lost a loved one, a son, in the tower attacks, in New York City. And he recalled the emotions that many of these families are feeling, on this anniversary. Take a listen.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a tough day for him and for everybody who lost somebody. And, you know, I know you heard me say it before and I'll probably get criticized for saying it again but these memorials are really important.

But they're also incredibly difficult for the people who are affected by them because it brings back the moment they got the phone call. It brings back that instant we got the news, no matter how many years go by.


SAENZ: The president, trying to strike some empathy there, on this 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The president, calling many of the actions of people that day, genuine heroism -- Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


BRUNHUBER: The war that began after the attacks has just ended. Afghanistan's economy is now in shambles, prices are high and money is scarce. And many Afghans face an anxious daily reality.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The change of regime has brought disappointment for everyone. Especially the younger generation. And women and the educated class. There are no hopes for their country, their education or their future any longer. They have no faith left. They are in a state of suspense.


BRUNHUBER: The Taliban are seeking international legitimacy and have formed an interim government but hardline makeup will complicate normalization. It's unclear how radical their interpretation will be this time around. But one Taliban police chief told CNN that nothing has changed.


QARI HAQMAL, TALIBAN POLICE CHIEF (through translator): There is no difference between the laws 20 years ago and now. Only back then, the U.S. was too powerful. They were doing a lot of propaganda. All other countries were under the United States. Therefore, they had made plans for their invasion. There was no other

problem. The mujahideen still have the same law. There hasn't been any change to it. Obviously, people change. But that hasn't changed. It is the law of Allah. There is not going to be any change in it.


BRUNHUBER: Journalists in Afghanistan are giving us a sense of how that rule of law is being applied to them. They say they were covering a women's protest in Kabul last Wednesday, when they were detained by the Taliban. Two of them said that they were taken inside the station, where they were severely beaten.

They provided CNN with videos of the injuries they sustained. We'll show you the images but some viewers might find them difficult to watch.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): In describing their ordeal, the men said that the Taliban would hit them with whatever they could find. One said he asked his captors to at least hit him on all sides and not just his back.

NEMAT NAQDI, AFGHAN JOURNALIST (through translator): They were hitting me with extreme force and I really thought that this was the end of my life. They had hit me on my arm with such extreme force that I could not move it.

But during the last two days, it has gotten better. My left eye has been hurt so seriously that it is still red and I'm worried that I can't hear anything in my left ear, it has a buzzing noise. I was given four or five very hard slaps on my face.


BRUNHUBER: The Committee to Protect Journalists says the men were among at least 14 journalists detained over the course of two days while covering protests in Kabul. CNN has reached out to the Taliban for comment but haven't received one so far.

Senior international correspondent Arwa Damon has reported from Afghanistan and joins us now live from Kabul.

Arwa, the experience of those journalists, as we just saw there, seems to be more evidence of what that Taliban police chief says explicitly, that when it comes to enforcing their version of the law, nothing has changed in 20 years.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And all of this came as quite contradictory, if we go back to what the Taliban spokesperson was saying after they had initially taken over Kabul, saying that girls and women would be allowed to go to school, that journalists would be allowed to work within the framework of sharia law, which then, of course, led to questions about exactly which framework are they referring to, given it is a very widely open to different forms of interpretation, with the Taliban choosing to interpret and implement it in the strictest way possible.

Keeping in mind, though, that even a Taliban that is perhaps slightly more lenient than it was 20 years ago, still would be today one of the most, if not the most oppressive of governments, when it comes to girls' and women's rights and also freedom of speech.

And, so, if you're an Afghan in Afghanistan right now, these words have to be absolutely terrifying.


DAMON: Afghans don't have the option to leave their country. They are effectively trapped there. And very few countries are having a discussion as to how to, you know, pressure the Taliban to try to uphold certain basic freedoms and also what to do about those Afghans who actually want to leave.

When it comes to global leaders, the U.S. included, they have, by and large, abdicated responsibility, with the bulk of the conversation centering around how to keep themselves safe; in other words, how to ensure that Afghanistan, even if it is under the Taliban, does not become a country from which terrorist organizations can launch an attack on the West.

No one is really talking about the fate of the Afghan people, at least not talking about it in a concrete way that would provide them with solutions and alternatives that don't involve living under the Taliban, living under this very strict interpretation of sharia law.

And for all the Taliban is saying, that this is the word of God; actually, the word of God is the Quran. Sharia law, that is man's interpretation of it and that's how the Taliban is choosing to interpret and implement it.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thank you so much, Arwa Damon in Istanbul, appreciate it.


BRUNHUBER: My next guest worked with journalists like me as an interpreter and policy adviser for Western entering governmental agency in Afghanistan. And he is still in Kabul. And we're identifying him only as "Mohammed." He joins us by phone.

Good to speak with you. We worked together years ago when I was reporting there. And it is sad to speak with you now under these circumstances with them back in power. How are you coping now?

"MOHAMMED," AFGHAN INTERPRETER: Hello. It is very difficult, life under the Taliban. It is fearful, dark, hopeless, uncertain and moralless (ph). There are no women ministry (ph) and no law and everything looks grim.

BRUNHUBER: What are the biggest challenges right now for yourself for most Afghans, the food shortages, access to cash? "MOHAMMED": Well, let me divide the people into two categories, the people who work for the international community live in fear. They are trying to save their life. So one day they might come for them.

And the second group of people who didn't work for the international community, they are not feared of the Taliban but they are hopeless. So there are shortages of food, banks are closed, shops are closed, streets are empty and the town looks like a military zone.

BRUNHUBER: I mean, for you personally, because you worked with Western organizations and you worked with the Afghan government itself, do you feel as if you have a target on your back?

I mean, are you waiting for a knock at the door?

"MOHAMMED": Yes, I worked for more than a decade for the international community supporting Afghan women. And I also worked for a U.S.-funded project. So at the moment I'm indoors and I hardly go out.

I'm sure that once the Taliban have access to all the government files and to realize where people live who worked for international community, they identify and they will come after us.

BRUNHUBER: Oh, my gosh. That must be terrifying for you and for many women. I mean much of your work revolved around trying to recruit and train women police officers. And that is just one area that women made huge strides, working in what was traditionally male occupations.

The Taliban have promised that women can continue working.

But from what you've seen so far, do you believe them?

"MOHAMMED": Well, to be honest, I wouldn't believe it at all. If we go back two months ago or before the collapse to the Taliban, we can see that they committed genocide, they killed people.


"MOHAMMED": They killed all different types of people, women, children, religious clerics.

And so what they are doing now, you can see that they are shooting people, killing people; they have broken their promises. So I wouldn't believe it at all. They have not changed.

I hear some countries are making excuse for themselves, saying that the Taliban has changed, in order to make an excuse and have a relation with the Taliban. But that is not true. I can't see any changes.

How can you expect the Taliban to be changed what they did in the past?

BRUNHUBER: We should note the Taliban have denied many of those killings that have been alleged but certainly, from what we heard from that police chief in Mazar-i-Sharif, he says nothing has changed from 20 years ago.

I want to ask you, we're talking now just after this country and the world has marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11. I wanted to get your perspective with the country now having come full circle under Taliban control.

What are your thoughts on this anniversary 20 years later?

"MOHAMMED": Well, the anniversary seems like on the president of the United States and the world power, they are celebrating the anniversary, giving their messages but nothing has changed in Afghanistan.

But 20 years of so-called progress we made in this country is gone with the blink of an eye. And so in this part of the world, nothing has changed.

You can see the most powerful countries in the world came to Afghanistan to fight terrorism. And so they have two objectives, to fight the terrorism of Al Qaeda and also to build the economy in Afghanistan.

So now Al Qaeda and the terrorist group and those who harbored them, they identify Taliban as terrorists now. But why they are now defeated like the Americans who were brought into Afghanistan and now the Taliban are back.

So we cannot compare the world's country with the group of Taliban. We have nothing. The whole world left Afghanistan alone, they withdraw. And it looks like a joke to me.

BRUNHUBER: Listen, I know you want to leave the country. I wish you luck. Stay safe. And let's stay in touch. Really appreciate you speaking with us.

"MOHAMMED": Thank you. But I feel like I'm a stranger in my own country now. I don't belong to this country anymore.

BRUNHUBER: As I say, I really hope that you are able to escape and find a new life somewhere else. I'm sure there are thousands and thousands of Afghans who sadly feel the same. It's been great talking to you but also very poignant and sad.

"MOHAMMED": Thank you very much for having me on the program.


BRUNHUBER: A sad homecoming on the sad anniversary. The body of one of the last Americans killed in the Afghanistan War is back in Massachusetts. U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo and 12 fellow service members died in the Kabul airport suicide bombing during the evacuation.

Marines, law enforcement, firefighters and members of the community were escorting her remains to her hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

A man is honoring his fallen firefighter brother in a very special way. We'll have more of CNN's 9/11 anniversary coverage ahead.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): We just want to give you a live look now at the tribute of light in New York on display one day a year from dusk until dawn to honor those killed on September 11th, 2001.






BRUNHUBER: Despite some U.S. states showing a decline in recent COVID infections, others are struggling to stay on top of a surge that is taking a devastating toll.

The U.S. averaged more than 1,100 COVID deaths each day of the last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to lay out a plan on Thursday for vaccine mandates. He's hoping to curb a spread driven by the Delta variant and the unvaccinated.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message to unvaccinated Americans is this.

What more is there to wait for?

What more do you need to see?

We have been patient but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.


BRUNHUBER: Biden has faced a lot of blowback from Republican leaders following the mandates and overreach and vowing to fight them in court. Earlier CNN spoke to a bioethicist and asked if he thought the mandates were necessary.


DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN, GROSSMAN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: We are in a plague. It goes on, we're well past 1.5 years of it. Worldwide, it is killing millions. It is costing us a fortune, around the world, in hospitalization.

Schools have been closed, kids damaged psychologically and socially from having to quarantine and stay home. The economy is stagnant in many parts of the world and on and on, the misery goes. We have tried to persuade people to take vaccination; we have tried to

incentivize them sometimes with free meals, free drinks, lotteries and so on. But there is a core, particularly, in the U.S., who won't do it.

And it's time to say, you must do it, because you have to protect the weak and the vulnerable in your community, the people who you can't vaccinate, young children, people with immune diseases.


CAPLAN: And you got have to be a responsible neighbor in terms of trying to cut down on the transmission.


BRUNHUBER: Canada's federal election is just eight days away. The vote will decide whether Justin Trudeau remains prime minister. And despite contentious moments during their debate on Thursday, the top five party leaders united to send a message about fighting the pandemic. Here's Trudeau and the conservative leader.


ALL: We're all in this together.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We've come so far in the fight against COVID. It's time to finish this pandemic for good. So get vaccinated. If you know someone who hasn't, talk to them.

For our kids, for our communities, for our economy, it's how we get forward together.

ERIN O'TOOLE, LEADER, CONSERVATIVE PARTY OF CANADA: Vaccines are safe and effective for use. Vaccines are the best way for you to protect yourself, your family and your community. So get vaccinated.


BRUNHUBER: President Biden's new vaccine requirements could apply to as many as 100 million Americans. Even so, the mandate isn't as sweeping as it is in some countries, three of which are requiring their entire adult population to be inoculated.

Indonesia, which has reported more than 4 million COVID cases, was first to impose a COVID vaccine mandate back in February.

Following suit in July were Turkmenistan and Micronesia, each of which have reported no locally transmitted cases and want to keep it that way.

Some of India's top epidemiologists and health officials are urging authorities to reopen all schools. Very few children in rural areas have resumed their studies, even online. But some of India's school children are thrilled to be back in the classroom right now.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aiden, what are you drawing?

AIDEN, STUDENT: I'm drawing the T-shirt with a message.

SUD: What's the message?

AIDEN: The message is no COVID-19. So it means to stop COVID so everybody can be free.

SUD (voice-over): The pandemic kept 8-year-old Aiden away from school for months but now he is back in his classroom, masked and socially distanced from his peers. The usual chatter is back in corridors. Amidst strict COVID-19 measures almost a third of the school students have returned to classrooms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was nervous at first because the pandemic was still going on because there is always a chance we can also get it. But the safety protocols are getting confident by each minute.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom is a bit nervous but she knows the data during schools.

SUD (voice-over): Many schools that have reopened in the national capital region have adopted a hybrid model, with students speaking in person or remote instruction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's take an example.

SUD (voice-over): Many parents are nervous about their kids going back. And school management is sensitive to their fears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The second wave affected a lot of our families and affected a lot of our staff members and their families. So understandably, there was a lot of apprehension. But then we also had to consider that, while virtual learning has been effective to a certain extent, you can't really replace face-to-face learning.

SUD (voice-over): Caught between the brutal blow of the second wave and fears of a third, parents know vaccinations are still at least weeks away.

ASTHA MEHRA, PARENT: I would definitely be very comfortable if my daughter and her peers are vaccinated. But I don't see that happening, at least in the near future. But I feel she's responsible enough and she will have her duds on and I think she's prepared.

SUD (voice-over): According to India's health ministry, a vaccine for children 12 years and above could be rolled out in October. But for children as young as Aiden, it could be a long wait.

SUD: Are you happy to be back at school?

AIDEN: Very happy.

SUD (voice-over): Vedika Sud, CNN, New Delhi. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: California's governor is making his final pitches to voters ahead of Tuesday's recall election. His latest argument, something is dubious about the timing of the recall effort. That's coming up.

Plus, a heroic firefighter gave his life on 9/11 and now his brother is paying tribute in a very special way. We'll have details after the break.






BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Bagpipes accompanied the American flag as it was carried through Lower Manhattan on Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Ceremonies were also held in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.

President Biden and the first lady paid their respects to the victims who died in each place. Now we've been seeing heartfelt tributes to those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. But one man's tribute to his firefighter brother is a journey of several hundred miles that ended Saturday in Lower Manhattan. Jason Carroll has that story.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One might say that with every step Frank Siller takes, he comes one step closer to honoring the memory of his brother, Stephen.

FRANK SILLER, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, TUNNEL TO TOWERS: Everyone thought he was their best friend. You want to know why? Because he treated everybody that way.

CARROLL (on camera): He sounds like a wonderful man.

CARROLL (voice-over): Stephen Siller was a New York City firefighter who, on the morning of 9/11, had just finished his shift with Brooklyn Squad One.

He went back to work after learning a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower. Siller grabbed his gear and drove toward Manhattan. When he saw the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was closed, he got out and ran through the tunnel with 60 pounds of gear on his back toward the Twin Towers.

Stephen was one of more than 300 New York City firefighters killed that day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Frank, way to go!

CARROLL (voice-over): Now his brother, Frank, is paying tribute to him --


CARROLL (voice-over): -- by trekking more than 500 miles through six states in six weeks to honor not only his brother but all the heroic first responders from that day.

CARROLL: How did you get the idea to do something like this?

SILLER: Well, I was -- I know I was going to do something with walking because --


CARROLL: Why -- why walking?

SILLER: Because walking is very therapeutic. And I like only doing things if it -- if it has meaning. It just has to be the right thing.

And once I thought of that, I said, oh, my God, that's it. I didn't know how many miles it was and I didn't care but I knew it was the right thing to do.

CARROLL (voice-over): On August 1st, Siller began his journey at the Pentagon.

SILLER: Our first mission is to make sure we never forget what happened 20 years ago.

CARROLL (voice-over): Twenty days later, he made it to Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The week after that, Hershey, Pennsylvania --

SILLER: Thank you. God bless you.

CARROLL (voice-over): -- where word of his journey had started to spread.

CARROLL: Emotionally, I'm just wondering how this walk has affected you.

SILLER: Look, every day was very emotional. And many times, I've broken down and cried privately. You know, I just can't help myself because -- and I don't know what moment it's going to be. And I don't know what little thing was going to trigger it.

CARROLL (voice-over): Last week, Morristown, New Jersey.


CARROLL (voice-over): This week, it's New York City.

SILLER: I like that. Let's be happy. Let's be happy.

CARROLL (voice-over): Throughout it all, never missing a step, walking a little every day, sometimes with a group or alone.

And when the weather was not so great, at times talking to his brother, Stephen.

SILLER: Yes, I laugh at the rain. I laughed at the heat. Whatever my brother wanted to throw my way because he was a big buster.

CARROLL: Really?

SILLER: Oh, he was a -- he liked to bust chops. And so whatever he threw my way, I laughed. I said, Stephen, I know what you're doing. I know what you're doing.

CARROLL (voice-over): The final and most challenging leg comes this Saturday, September 11th.

CARROLL: What do you think you'll be thinking about when you walk through the tunnel, the tunnel that your brother walked through on that day?

SILLER: I've been -- I've been looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time because I know how much I'll be overcome with emotion.

CARROLL (voice-over): But he says he's ready to complete his walk and carry the memories of his brother and the other men and women who lost their lives that day.


BRUNHUBER: Now one stunning detail about 9/11, the U.S. president was on camera when he learned about the attacks. George W. Bush was visiting a school in Florida at the time.

His then chief of staff, Andy Card, whispered in his ear that the U.S. was under attack. Former ABC News correspondent Ann Compton was in that classroom and she also was on Air Force One as Bush flew out of Florida. Compton recalled one of the terrible decisions he had to make while on that Flight.


ANN COMPTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: That limited communication made worse when Air Force One felt it needed to go to a much higher altitude. And that further destroyed his ability to talk to people on the ground.

And he wanted to go back, and he was asked at one point by Vice President Cheney, who technically is not in the chain of command, should U.S. military jets shoot down any other plane, civilian jetliner being suspected of being hijacked?

The whole idea of, you lose lives in the air, you don't lose them on the ground.



ACOSTA: Those were the choices that were being contemplated.

COMPTON: But what president enters office saying, I may have to do this.

It's unclear whether the president gave his thumbs up before Cheney passed it on or whether it was after. The president agreed either way.

That flight was already nose down into Shanksville and they did not know it. We did not know it.


BRUNHUBER: George W. Bush used his remarks at the site of one of the 9/11 attacks to call out violent homegrown extremists.


GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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, in 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.


BRUNHUBER: Coincidentally more guilty pleas are rolling in from those accused of taking part in another attack, this one by insurrectionists on January 6th.

Among them is a man who threatened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Authorities say he had texted a relative that he was thinking about shooting Pelosi in the head on live TV in an event she would be attending.

Some U.S. Capitol Police officers could face disciplinary action in connection to the January 6th attack on the Capitol. On Saturday, the department released details of the internal investigation.


BRUNHUBER: Officials found six cases where officers broke the rules but said there's been no evidence any officers committed a crime. So far, it's not clear if each case involved a different officer. Officials say the seventh case is still pending.

California's governor is fighting for his political life ahead of Tuesday's recall election in a state where Democrats far outnumber Republicans.

Why do some Democratic voters believe the race will be close?

We'll explain coming up. Stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: California governor Gavin Newsom is in the final stretch of a fight to keep his job. He's facing a recall election on Tuesday, pushed by state Republicans, who want to see him out.

But the majority of Californians want Newsom to stay. The governor is facing 46 opponents on the ballot, including radio talk show host Larry Elder, the Republican frontrunner. In a speech Saturday, Newsom says Republican are trying to pull a fast one on voters.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): The idea that we're even debating our democracy is something I never thought would occur in my lifetime. This recall is about getting us in an off year and an off month while no one else is paying attention.

But trust me, the other side has not only been paying attention, they have been organizing for the last 1.5 years.


BRUNHUBER: Norberto Santana Jr. is the founding publisher and editor- in-chief of "Voice of Orange County" and joins us now.

Thank you for being here with us. When the recall vote became official, I spoke with a political expert in California. And he pooh- poohed it and said basically, when pigs fly. So you know, the polls seem to have widened recently in Newsom's favor. And it wasn't always that way.

Are you surprised it has been this competitive.


BRUNHUBER: The first five times they tried to recall Newsom it didn't get this far.

NORBERTO SANTANA JR., EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "VOICE OF ORANGE COUNTY": In some ways it didn't surprise me. The recall essentially started with illegal immigration or focused on that.

And then when the shutdowns began, the recall really took off. And in that sense, I don't think -- it didn't surprise me or I think most analysts that I speak with said that the recall, that the shutdowns really drove a lot of the anger that's been out there, the frustration and just added a lot of fuel to that fire.

Once the reopening started in June combined with the very strong response by national and local Democrats, the tide started to shift a bit. We started to see some polling. And I think this thing was always going to depend on turnout.

If the turnout was low, Republicans had a decent chance at maybe flipping the governor's seat. But if the turnout went high, as is expected in the 2022 race, their chances were lower. So in some cases it was maybe a Hail Mary's pass for the GOP brand here in California.

BRUNHUBER: Specifically, you're in Orange County, traditionally one of the most conservative areas in the state.

Was a lot of the energy behind this driven sort of from there?

SANTANA: Oh, yes, most definitely. I think Orange County Republicans were strong over here in terms of the recall. The challenge that Republicans face in California is that there is just not that many of them anymore.

Here in Orange County, a place Ronald Reagan used to say good Republicans go to die, it is about a third now, third Republican, a third Democrat and a third independent.

So the numbers in a sense have gone down quite a bit. This is a place that voted for President Biden, voted for Hillary Clinton.

It is one of the things about California, though; remember that California is kind of a wild place politically. And the recall process is a unique, compressed time period of a race, from almost a century ago. That might be one of the telling tales coming out of this is that they may look at what it takes to qualify a recall moving forward.

BRUNHUBER: So we don't have time to go over the whole field of somewhat 46 candidates but there are three high-profile Republicans running. But crucially, compared to when Arnold Schwarzenegger, you know, was elected in the recall, there isn't a high profile centrist that voters from both sides can coalesce around.

Is that ultimately why Newsom is likely to win?

SANTANA: I don't know if it is the key reason but it's an important one. Larry Elder is a very electric talk show host and really shot to the top. And a lot of the Republican establishment candidates petered out a little bit.

That is due to a compressed election. And some Republicans thought that might help them for next year. They're starting to organize a lot earlier. Some of their candidates may come out of this a bit damaged as a brand in the sense that they didn't come out as the number one choice of most Republicans.

BRUNHUBER: Finally, are there lessons here that both parties can learn from this recall election that might help them in the run-up to the midterms? SANTANA: I think that in California the big thing you have to look at here is the independents. Statewide, Democrats are about half that electorate. Republicans and independents each make up about 25 percent. I think that independent bloc of voters, given the way California is moving and again especially here we see in Orange County, those are the people a lot of parties are going after in the general elections.

And the polling has shown that with many things like the restrictions, vaccine mandates and things, that some of that opinion is moving in that direction, which, again, could be challenging for some GOP candidates moving forward.

BRUNHUBER: All right, well, listen, we'll have to see how it goes. But thank you so much for your expertise, Norberto Santana Jr. Really appreciate it.

SANTANA: Thanks, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Ahead on CNN, the victor and the vanquished. The two teenagers who aced their way into the U.S. Open women's tennis final. Stay with us.





BRUNHUBER: At just 18 years of age, Emma Raducanu of Great Britain has just become a superstar in tennis. She's the first British woman in over 40 years to win a grand slam title. She defeated another rising star, the 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez at the U.S. Open yesterday.



BRUNHUBER: That wraps up this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. For our viewers in the U.S., "NEW DAY" is next. For everyone else, "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is coming up.