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Final Day of Voting in High-Stakes California Recall; Top U.S. Diplomat Defends American Withdrawal; Hurricane Nicholas Makes Landfall Along Texas Coast; Florida Governor Threatens Fines Over Vaccine Mandates; More Than 5,000 Untested Rape Kits Across the State of Texas. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM --


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Trumpism has no place here and Trumpism will be defeated.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: California, the eyes of the nation are on you. Keep Gavin as governor. The rest of America is counting on you.


CHURCH: President Biden making a final pitch for Gavin Newsom. We are just hours away from polls opening in California's recall eclection.

Hurricane Nicholas makes landfall in Texas, bringing fierce winds, heavy rain and possible flooding.

And the United Nations steps in to help war-torn Afghanistan warning millions of people could face hunger and poverty.

Good to have you with us. We are just hours away from the polls closing, or opening I should say, in California where Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is fighting to survive the attempt to remove him from office. Early polling suggests the recall effort will fail but Newsom is taking nothing for granted, campaigning until the very end. At a rally Monday he made a last-minute pitch urging voters to head to the polls. Comparing his Republican challenger Larry Elder to Donald Trump.


NEWSOM: You saw what happened on election night, the big lie. You saw what happened a few months later, January 6, the insurrection. You've seen what has happened across this country and voter suppression all across the United States of America. You saw what happened in Texas and the fact that we have other Republican governors that hope to model that Texas legislation as it relates to denying women's right to choice. We may have defeated Donald Trump but we have not defeated Trumpism. Trumpism is still on the ballot in California.


CHURCH: President Joe Biden traveled to California to campaign for Newsom and had a similar message.


BIDEN: All of you know the last year I got to run against the real Donald Trump. Well, this year -- this year the leading Republican running for governor is the closest thing to a Trump clone that I've ever seen in your state.


CHURCH: Underscoring the Democrats' concerns, Larry Elder and other national Republican figures are already laying the grounds work to cast doubt on the election results. And Elder has a history of past controversial comments.


LARRY ELDER, CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I've always felt that minorities and women complain too much about racism and sexism. Like it or not, slavery was legal and so their property, their legal property was taken away from them after the Civil War. So, you can make an argument that the people that are owed reparations are not just black people but it is also the people whose property was taken away after the end of the Civil War.

ELDER: I think that I'd rather have a George Erdman living in my neighborhood ... this is why people profile. Instead of being angry at George Erdman, be angry at the minority who's a thugs committing these kinds of crimes.

ELDER: OK. So, there's all sorts of reasons why the 2020 election in my opinion was full of shenanigans and my fear is that they're going to try that in this election right here in recall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where or not you win or lose, will you accept the results of the election tomorrow?

ELDER: I think we all ought to be looking at election integrity.


CHURCH: A CBS news poll conducted last month found that most voters did not want to recall governor Newsom, the same poll also found a majority of voters were divided on who should replace him. Roughly one quarter chose Elder Is the Best Candidate, about the same amount were unsure or undecided.

America's top diplomat will testify today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the operation to a House committee Monday calling the largest airlift in U.S. history an extraordinary effort. He said the choice was between ending the war or escalating it.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining.


If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment and training did not suffice, why would another year, another five, another ten.


CHURCH: Republicans called the pullout a debacle and betrayal of the Afghan people who helped the U.S. during two decades of war. Some even demanded that Blinken resign.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): This was an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. I never thought in my lifetime that I would see an unconditional surrender to the Taliban.


CHURCH: Blinken laid blame squarely with the Trump administration which struck a deal with the Taliban and excluded the Afghan government. He said the U.S. was locked into a deadline for the withdrawal without a plan to make it happen.


BLINKEN: When President Biden took office in January, he inherited an agreement that his predecessor had reached with the Taliban to remove all remaining forces from Afghanistan by May 1 of this year. As part of that agreement, the previous administration pressed the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, including some top war commanders. Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remain. As General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said, nothing I or anyone else saw indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.


CHURCH: The Biden administration is also under pressure to get the remaining Americans out of Afghanistan. CNN's Ryan Nobles has more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, was on Capitol Hill on Monday taking tough questions from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In fact, Republicans really went after Blinken on a number of issues related to that Afghanistan withdrawal. The policy itself, how the Biden administration handled it, and what the long-term plan is by the American government. Blinken also questioned as to how many American citizens are still in the country that want to get out and this is how he responded.

BLINKEN: So, as of the end of last week, we had about 100 American citizens in Afghanistan who had told us that they wish to leave the country. And I want to emphasize that this is a snapshot in time. It's a more accurately a moving picture. As you know, stepping back for a minute to know precisely at any given moment in time exactly how many American citizens are in any country.

NOBLES: That number of about 100 American citizens still on the ground in Afghanistan looking to get out of the country, that's been a number that's been pretty consistent across all facets of the Biden administration. That's what the Pentagon will tell you, that's what the White House has said as well. The question is how will they get those folks out? And that is obviously a much more difficult prospect when you take into account that there is no American military presence in the country anymore. That means relying on military contractors, that means relying on other countries and it also means on relying at least in part in the Taliban to help facilitate that on some level.

And that is something that Republicans are very uncomfortable with. They don't believe the administration should be trusting the Taliban. And to be clear, Blinken made it clear that the administration really doesn't. But they are in a situation where they have to deal with them at this point.

Now what Blinken did make abundantly clear in his remarks, and he did a pretty good job of sticking to the administration's talking points, is that there are no regrets from the Biden administration. They believe that this was the appropriate policy decision to follow through on a campaign promise and get the American military out of Afghanistan and end this 20-year war. They believe that history will look kindly upon this decision even though in this early going to has been a very difficult process.

Ryan Nobles, CNN, on Capitol Hill.


CHURCH: House Republicans had plenty more to say about the Biden administration's Afghanistan policy after the hearing. And a lot of it centered on the prospect of U.S. relations with the Taliban.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I asked the secretary specifically, there's discussion about recognizing the Taliban now and I said tell me at what point did the Taliban in essence become the governing group of Afghanistan or was this an armed coup. And he just said, well, you know, by default they are now in charge. That's us acquiescing to a coup d'etat.

MCCAUL: This intelligence capability that went down with Bagram Air Base, you know with the embassy, has left us dark in the region. We can't have eyes and ears in country but also Russia, China, Iran.


This is the first important question I asked the secretary, what are you doing to restore that in a nearby country and there have also been allegations that Mr. Putin talked to President Biden and basically threatening him that he could not build intelligence capability in the region.


CHURCH: Right now, hurricane Nicholas is battering the Texas coast after making landfall in the past couple hours. More than 130,000 customers are without power as the state braces for fierce winds and heavy rain. The governor has signed an emergency declaration and local officials are urging residents to seek shelter and remain off the roads.

So, let's turn to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. He's tracking the storm for us. So Pedram, tell us what you are seeing now.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Rosemary, still a category 1 hurricane. I do expect to weaken over the next several hours, but you know, we have seen this kind of meander right along the coast and interact with land and as well as keep part of the storm still over open waters. So, we're tapping into quite a bit of tropical moisture. Or friends in Houston getting some lightning strikes and certainly quite a bit of rainfall. Just looking to the lightning strike counter across this region and nearly 5,000 strikes in the past two hours. So, you would imagine it is a loud night across coastal regions of Texas and approaching areas of Houston here over the next several hours.

But hurricane warnings in place across Port Lavaca, out towards Freeport, while tropical storm warnings widespread from Port Arthur on into Houston for this current hour. But rainfall amounts, you kind of can see the previous 24 hours, much of the heavy rainfall remains just offshore. We're now going to gradually begin to see that heavy rain encroach on to some of the major metro areas and Houston is going to be one of the first ones here to see first rounds of heavy rains as you kind of see the outer bands of the storm try to push in towards the Houston metroplex. And certainly, could see as much as 4 may be 6 inches across Houston before it's all said and done.

Notice upwards of 12 plus million Americans underneath flooding alerts. And so, flood warnings, meaning flooding is eminent or occurring across the region where the system just made landfall in the last couple of hours. And we'll watch the progression of this because we do expect this to be a high-risk day. And this is the Weather Prediction Center's forecast. That magenta color is something you see on 4 percent of all weather days. And any time you see a high-risk of four out of four, historically speaking, that's responsible for about 40 percent of fatalities.

And we know that this sort of a setup was in place across portions of the Northeast where we had remnants of Ida move across the area and bringing with it tremendous rainfall. And the concern is of course, Houston another major metro area quite a bit of assault, quite a bit of concrete and a lot of these structures certainly are not going to be able to take on the amount of water the system has to offer.

And notice it kind of meanders here for a couple days and gradually shifts on into portions of Louisiana, which is just another area, Rosemary, that we don't need to see additional rainfall.

Latest model run here does bring in the heaviest rains north of that region where landfall is made with Ida, but we do expect Alexandria and one of those areas across central and northern Louisiana really see the brunt of what the system has to offer when it comes to possibly as much as 10 or more inches of rainfall -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Many thanks to our Pedram Javaheri keeping a very close eye on all of that, appreciate it.

Well, hurricane Nicholas is also threatening to derail recovery efforts in Louisiana where people are still picking up the pieces after hurricane Ida slammed ashore two weeks ago. On Monday, officials confirmed two additional storm-related deaths bringing the death toll to at least 28. More than 94,000 customers across the state are still without power. And now Nicholas is likely to bring heavy rain and flash flooding to areas still full of debris from the last storm.


GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D-LA): One of the things that could exacerbate the threat of flooding are all the ditches and catch basins and storm drains and so forth. All these drainage systems that have debris from previous storms that hasn't yet been cleaned up.


CHURCH: In Florida CNN has just obtained photos from Surfside police investigating the alleged identity theft of victims of the Surfside Condo collapse. These are some of the items investigators discovered while conducting a search warrant. Police say there are seven victims in this case, five of whom are deceased. Four people have been arrested so far and are accused of using the victims' identities to steal money, credit cards and other items. The Miami-Dade state attorney says the suspects moved very quickly after the collapse to grab what they could from the victims.

U.S. Capitol Police are preparing for possible unrest during a right wing rally this Saturday. They are reinstalling temporary fencing around the building and lawmakers are being briefed on security arrangements.


Meantime a California man is under arrest in Washington. Police say that he was spotted near the Democratic National Committee Headquarters with a bayonet, a machete and multiple knives in his truck. The truck had a swastika and other white supremacist symbols painted on it.

Well, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has launched a public campaign voicing his concerns over the hefty price tag for President Biden's massive spending bill. On Monday Manchin told reporters a number of his Democratic colleagues share at least some of his concerns about the scope and cost of the $3.5 trillion plan. Manchin of course is the key swing vote Democrats need to get the bill passed underscoring the challenge party leaders face in the narrowly divided Congress

And still to come, the U.S. is looking to Israel for guidance on COVID booster shots. More on what's expected to be discussed at a key meeting, that's next.

And this morning celebrates as fashion's biggest night makes a comeback, the Met Gala. That's ahead.



CHURCH: The so-called Oscars of the East Coast are back. The star- studded Met Gala is an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute. It was postponed last year because of the pandemic. This year's theme is, in America, a lexicon of fashion. 19- year-old singer Billie Eilish traded in her baggy clothes for a Oscar de la Renta gown. She said was inspired by Marilyn Monroe. Social issues were also on the beige carpet. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a gown that had tax the rich written on the back. But perhaps the biggest surprise of the night came from Kim Kardashian who hid her legendary physique and face against a stark black Balenciaga gown with matching mask and train.

Well, Broadway is back with its heaviest hitters set to reopen on Tuesday. Wicked, the Lion King, Chicago and Hamilton are all set to raise their curtains for the first time since shutting down in 2020. Three of the shows are part of Broadway's top five longest running productions. And theaters are not taking any chances, all 41 Broadway venues will require ticket holders to be fully vaccinated and wear masks.

Also reopening this week are New York schools, classrooms welcomed students back on Monday, a pivotal day according to Mayor Bill de Blasio as new COVID measures went into effect. The U.S. Education Secretary praised New York officials saying they did it right by waiting to reopen until they were fully ready to keep students safe.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set for an important meeting with vaccine experts on Friday to discuss COVID-19 booster shots. But so far there've been late sending data to the experts for review with participants receiving their first documents only on Monday. A team of Israeli scientists will also be at the meeting to share data on their own booster program. Now nearly one-third of Israel have received their third shot. But even though the country has a head start, one doctor says the U.S. shouldn't rush into approving booster shots.


DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MED. BROWN UNIVERSITY: We don't need to rush out and get a booster. The full course of the two Moderna or Pfizer shots or he even that single J&J still protects us so well against severe disease, hospitalization and death which has been the goal all along. We can use those doses more effectively to get the folks that haven't gotten shots yet protected. Because you want to know what know us all. It's getting us all vaccinated, not a booster shot.


CHURCH: Meantime the state of Colorado begins its booster campaign next week with officials saying they are ready to give 2.5 million shots every month.

Well, new COVID-19 data shows an exponential growth in cases among children in the U.S. The American Academy of Pediatrics says infections among children skyrocketed 240 percent since July with nearly 500,000 cases in the past two weeks. Children with COVID-19 account for nearly 30 percent of all cases in the country with no date yet on when they may be eligible for vaccines.

Officials in Orange County, Florida announced the county's first COVID death in a child less than a year old on Monday. Florida is in the midst of an end of summer surge of infections and you can see the seven-day average of new cases is still well over 100,000.

And yet during a press conference Monday, the state's governor stood by as a Gainesville city employee stated false information about vaccines. Governor Ron DeSantis did not correct the falsehoods and when asked for comment, his press secretary said the remarks belong to the speaker, not the governor.

Meanwhile DeSantis is ratcheting up his feud with the White House. The Republican governor says he plans to fight the Biden administration's new vaccine mandate calling it unconstitutional. He is also threatening to fine cities and counties requiring employees to get vaccinated.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): If a government agency in the state of Florida forces a vaccine as a condition to employment, that violates Florida law.


And you will face -- and you will face a $5,000 fine for every single violation.


CHURCH: The British Prime Minister will announce the plan for managing the coronavirus pandemic through autumn and winter in the coming hours. Downing Street says the plan focuses on vaccines as the first line of defense followed by testing, public health advice and monitoring for variants of the virus. The government is also expected to unveil its booster shot program with details of its rollout. The Prime Minister will also layout plans to repeal previous emergency powers that had been granted during the pandemic such as applying restrictions to events and gatherings.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We've got to do everything that's right to protect the country, but the way things are going at the moment, we're very confident in the steps that we've taken. I'll be sending out a lot more tomorrow, I'll be giving a full update on the plans for the autumn and the winter.


CHURCH: The U.K. will now be offering the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to young people age 12 to 15. Health officials say kids will primarily receive their vaccine in schools with invitations for appointments set to begin next week.

A judge in the largest county in Texas will present a resolution today opposing the state's ban on abortions after six weeks. Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed the restrictive law in May. It allows private citizens to bring civil suits against anyone who assists a pregnant woman seeking an abortion in violation of the law. Last week Abbott addressed the lack of exceptions in cases of rape or incest.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Rape is a crime. And Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets. So, goal number one in the state of Texas is to eliminate rape so that no woman, no person, will be a victim of rape.


CHURCH: Abbott's comments stunned many people at the time but they are even more shocking in light of the fact that Texas has more than 5,000 untested rape kits sitting on shelves around the state. CNN's Randi Kaye has our report.


LAVINIA MASTERS, RAPE SURVIVOR: That would be a beautiful thing to see, but it's not going to happen. It's not realistic.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lavinia Masters isn't buying it. She has little hope Texas Governor Greg Abbott can deliver on his recent promise to eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas. KAYE: How can the governor of Texas eliminate all rapists from the street when the governor in the state hasn't even been able to eliminate the backlog of rape kits?

MASTERS: Exactly. That's a really valid question. When you say things like that, it's like it's outlandish to say things in that manner.

ABBOTT: House Bill 8 is now law.

KAYE (voice-over): When Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law the Lavinia Masters Act in 2019. Lavinia a survivor of rape was there. The Act was designed to audit untested rape kits across the state and set strict testing requirements. The Texas Department of Public Safety tells CNN as of August, there are still 5,298 untested rape kits. But we've learned that number doesn't include the untested rape kits from 231 law enforcement agencies who did not report their numbers to the state. So, the number could be much higher, which means thousands of rapists could be on the run, possibly raping others.

KAYE: How frustrated are you that thousands of rape kits are still sitting on processed on the shelf?

MASTERS: I'm very frustrated.

KAYE (voice-over): Lavinia, who is a member of Governor Abbott's Sexual Assault Survivors Task Force was raped at knifepoint back in 1985. She was just 13. Her own rape kit with her attackers DNA set untested on a shelf for more than 20 years. By the time her attacker was identified. The statute of limitations had run out and the man was already in prison. He'd been caught after raping two other women while Lavinia's kit set on the shelf.

VICTORIA NEAVE, TEXAS STATE HOUSE DEMOCRAT: We still have a lot of work to do. It's not an easy task. It's a heavy lift.

KAYE (voice-over): Texas State Representative Victoria Neave has been working alongside Lavinia for years to clear the rape kit backlog. At one point she says there were about 19,000 untested kits.

NEAVE: Each box is not just a box sitting on a shelf, it represents the survivor story. It represents an individual, a family who has been impacted by this, it represents women who are waiting for justice. And so, we know that there's still more work to do.

KAYE (voice-over): Neave says the state is making it a priority and has approved $50 million to help test these kits.