Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Tony Perez is Interviewed about Idalia's Aftermath; HHS Calls for Reclassifying of Marijuana; Amazon Return to Office. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 31, 2023 - 08:30   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: We are waiting for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who will give another Idalia update around 9:15 this morning as Florida continues to recover. And Idalia is a tropical storm, still moving through parts of the country. We will bring that to you as soon as he takes the podium.

That update will come as that destructive storm continues to move offshore through the Carolinas. Idalia hitting the Carolinas overnight leaving hundreds of thousands of residents in the dark across the region. The powerful category three hurricane hit Florida and left historic storm surges up and down Florida's west coast.

In Pasco County, officials say 6,000 people were inundated with water. And some homes burned, including this one, in flames amidst the floodwaters. Pasco Fire Rescue carried out 85 rescues, saving at least 150 people ranging in age from just nine days old all the way to 90 years old.

And joining us now is the chief of the Pasco County Fire Rescue, Chief Tony Perez.

Chief, thanks so much for taking the time. I assume you are quite busy right now still as the recovery continues. What's the situation on the ground right now? What have you guys seen now that the storm has moved away?

CHIEF TONY PEREZ, PASCO COUNTY FIRE RESCUE: Well, good morning and thank you for having us here on CNN.

So, right now as we - we start to transition into the second phase of this operation, we're going to have crews out there, we're going to do another assessment and -- just to see if there's anything we can do on our end.

Yesterday afternoon, roughly about 3:00, we demobilized all of our assets and we handed the operation over to the sheriff's department and they worked in conjunction with the local electric company to start getting the power back on. And they were doing their routine exterior inspections of the homes that were damaged to ensure that it was going to be off safe to be able to, you know, be able to turn the power back on. So, right now we would do our second phase this morning and we'll have a much better understanding of where we need to go as far as from the fire and rescue aspect of it.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Chief, can you give us a sense - Chief Perez, give us a sense of what it was like being there. I know that you and your staff have to be there. You are the emergency responders. The first ones often out the door. Can you give us an idea of what you went through as this storm passed over?

PEREZ: Yes. So, first, I will always give credit to the men and women of Pasco County Fire Rescue. They worked throughout the night, throughout the day and they would not stop working until everyone was accounted for.

So, this operation started roughly about 1:00 Wednesday morning. There were two areas that we were really focusing on due to flooding. So, we had units staged with boats ready to respond in case of emergency.

About 3:30 we received -- started to receive some calls of some people starting to receive the floodwaters and were calling for help. We had the units dispatch into those areas to start doing rescue missions.

But right around 6:00 a.m. is when it really started to intensify. We received multiple, multiple 911 calls of people asking for help and to be rescued. And that's when the operation really started to evolve and get more intense. So, our command staffed here at headquarters transitioned up to those two locations and we were able to establish a unified command with Pasco County Sheriff's Office to help facilitate these rescues.


There were a total of 85 rescue missions, as you stated, but we ended up recovering 150 -- or helping remove 150 families out of that location. So, we were truly, truly there to provide a service, but it was, you know, the flooding, all the water, it was - it was - it was disappointing and sad to see some of the people's belongings, the homes were destroyed due to this storm. And it wasn't even a category four. We didn't - we did not receive a direct hit. We received a lot of flooding. And it could have been a lot worse, but thank God we were able to do our job and help the citizens and the community of Pasco County.

MATTINGLY: You know, Chief, I understand you're still in the early stages. Do you have a sense of how long it's going to take for kind of full recovery normalcy in the community?

PEREZ: We don't know. Not until we get out there today and we do a good, thorough assessment, now that we're not doing - not - now - now that we're not in a rescue operation. We'll be able to kind of really, really get detailed and really get in depth to what needs to be done. And I'll have a much better idea, along with the staff, after this morning.

SIDNER: Chief Perez, thank you and thank you to all the men and women there of the Pasco County Fire Rescue. I am sure all those 150 families, their family members, are really, really thankful that you were there and that you took care of them. Even after everybody was told to evacuate, you know, you have to do your job and you did it.


SIDNER: Thank you so much, sir. I appreciate it.

PEREZ: Yes, ma'am. Thank you. And thank you for having us. Thank you.

SIDNER: Now just ahead, it is a big shift coming in federal drug policy when it comes to marijuana potentially. What an official with the Department of Health and Human Services is recommending when it comes to how marijuana is classified. Dr. Sanjay Gupta back again to explain, next.



MATTINGLY: And this is new overnight. A devastating fire in South Africa. At least 73 people were killed after that fire ripped through a building in Johannesburg. The fire is now out and emergency services are conducting recovery operations. Officials say it took place in a, quote, hijacked building. That is what they call a building overtaken by hundreds of people who are homeless.

SIDNER: A senior U.S. health official is calling on the Drug Enforcement Administration to ease restrictions on marijuana. A Health and Human Services official sent a letter to the DEA asking the agency to reclassify the drug as a lower risk substance, according to a person familiar with the matter. Right now marijuana is considered a schedule one controlled substance, a classification used only for the most dangerous substances.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joining us again this morning.

Sanjay, what else do you know about this request to the DEA?

Well, so, first of all, you know, any drug that has a potential for abuse can be scheduled and it's into one of five categories. So, schedule one, all the way through schedule five. And let me just show you here what schedule one means. This is where cannabis is placed. Basically no current accepted medicinal use and high potential for abuse. Other examples would be heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

What we know is that in October of last year the White House basically asked HHS to review cannabis and see, look, where does this fit in? Are there accepted medical uses? Should it be rescheduled? HHS has now basically sent a letter to the DEA, as you pointed out, Rachel Levine, who's the assistant secretary at HHS sent a letter to Anne Milgram at the DEA saying, hey, look into rescheduling this to specifically schedule three.

Now, let me just show you what that means. Schedule three basically saying, there is currently accepted medical use and there is less potential for abuse in substances in schedules one or two. The examples, they want it to be more scheduled along the lines of Tylenol with Codeine, buprenorphine, ketamine and anabolic steroids. That is the -- that's basically what the letter says.

This is has been something that's gone back and forth for a long time. A lot of people say, hey, look, how do you place cannabis, something that has, you know, increased evidence of medicinal use into the same category as LSD. And I think that's - that's kind of what's driving this.

MATTINGLY: You know, Sanjay, first off, this is a very kind of tried and true bureaucratic process that we're seeing that's both politically and policy intentional. But what happens if the DEA actually does this?

GUPTA: Well, you know, there's - there's several things. As a schedule one substance it is - that's not a legal thing necessarily, but it does make it very difficult for people who are trying to use cannabis for medicine -- as a medicine to get a hold of it. There is still this very uneven legal evolution. Several states have allowed it medicinally, but it's still schedule one at the federal level so it's very confusing.

I think one of the biggest things, frankly, is that you want more evidence of its medicinal benefit, but at the same time, because it is schedule one, it is tough to get the cannabis and actually study it in a way that that's beneficial and provides that evidence. One of the only farms for a long time in the United States was actually in the middle of Ole Miss, the college campus. It was the federally funded sort of source of cannabis for all research for a long time in this country. It's challenging to get the data you want if you only have one source. There's more sources now, but that's - that's the biggest thing, I think, medically. You want to be able to do the research to provide the evidence. You need the evidence to reschedule. You can see the challenges there.

SIDNER: You know, my colleague here, Phil, likes to -- I know you're wondering, where am I going with this, I know.

MATTINGLY: Where is this going? Yes.

SIDNER: I know. I know you are.

MATTINGLY: This is -

SIDNER: It's good. Trying to keep you on your toes.


SIDNER: He likes to get into the weeds when it comes to these things.


SIDNER: I'm so sorry. I'm sorry, I couldn't help it.

MATTINGLY: That's all right. That's good.

SIDNER: But I do - he likes to get into the weeds of issues.


But I do want to ask you about de-scheduling versus rescheduling. What exactly does that mean because health officials could have asked the DEA to say, hey, de-schedule this, correct?

GUPTA: They could have. Absolutely. And this is a common debate as well. As you know, I've been reporting on this for more than a decade. I think, here's the thing, in order to de-schedule it, you basically have to say there is no potential for abuse here. And I think that's going to be a high bar. I mean I don't - I think most people would agree who study this that it shouldn't be a schedule one, but the idea that it has no potential for abuse is probably a pretty high bar.

You know, one thing I find very interesting is that if you look at alcohol and tobacco, and you - and, again, go back to schedule one, no accepted medicinal benefit, high potential for abuse, those are substances you could see being on there even more so than cannabis.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I don't - you can count on one hand the number of reporters who have done as much reporting on this issue as Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

SIDNER: That's right.

MATTINGLY: Is still doing reporting, still putting out docs on the issue. We appreciate your expertise. I apologize for the bad puns, but you can feel there is a palpable sense of pride emanating from Sara Sidner right now for that pun.

SIDNER: I feel really good about this.

MATTINGLY: Sanjay, I'm very sorry.

SIDNER: Thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: My pleasure, guys. You got it.

MATTINGLY: Well, Amazon's CEO warning workers to get onboard with the company's return to office plan or their days may be numbered. Harry Enten is here, hopefully not dancing yet, with this morning's number.

SIDNER: No, he is. You started it. All right, this -- we were dancing because of this. The sky a little bit brighter last night because of a blue super moon. Look at that. That's real! It doesn't look real. Check out this time lapse video of what it looked like over Jerusalem. A super moon is a moon that appears to be much bigger and brighter than a regular full moon because its orbital path much closer to earth. And when there are two full moons in a calendar month, it is known as a blue moon. Not because of the color. It's rare, hence the phrase, once in a blue moon. I didn't know that. I didn't, actually. Thank you, Carolyn (ph) and writers, for sharing that knowledge with me. If you missed it last night, don't you worry, you can see the super moon again right here on TV, or tonight into tomorrow morning.

We'll be right back.

MATTINGLY: Oh, I appreciate you, Sara Sidner.



SIDNER: Amazon's CEO delivering a warning to employees. The warning, get on board with the company's return to office plan or, quote, it's probably not going to work out for you. CNN has confirmed Andy Jassy made those remarks after "Insider" first reported it. The company is pressuring U.S. office staff to return to the office at least three days a week.

That brings us to CNN's senior data reporter, who comes to work every single day.

MATTINGLY: He it literally always in the office.


SIDNER: Literally seven - oh, I thought it was seven. But anyway.

ENTEN: Six. It may be seven.


SIDNER: Harry Enten's here.

What is this morning's number?

ENTEN: All right, this morning's number is, minus 0.2 percent, because that's the average quarterly growth and labor productivity since the beginning of 2021. It's actually down. We've actually seen a decrease in productivity. That is tied for the lowest in the last 75 years.

And what's so fascinating about this, though, is, if you ask workers whether or not remote work affects their productivity, in fact the plurality say it helps. It helps.

And then you see this 42 percent who say no impact. Just 9 percent say it hurts. But I think the head of Amazon is looking at, hey, labor productivity is down. We've got to get people back into the office. But the people who are actually working saying, no, it helps or it has no impact at all. So we sort of have these cross currents that are going on there.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I'm firmly in the 9 percent category, but I also have four young children at home. How many people - this was - there were so many columns written, they're like, this is the new thing. This will be forever. How many people are actually still doing remote work right now?

ENTEN: Yes, in terms of remote work only, so this does not include hybrid, but look at -- very few people are actually remote work early -- only. Look at that, in 2019 it was just 4 percent.


ENTEN: It jumped up to a majority 54 percent. But we've seen this decrease, decrease, decrease. Now it's just 15 percent who are remote work only. And I'll note that the majority of people are actually at work full-time. Near 60 percent of workers are at work full-time.

But, of course, this remote work only differs across industries. So, if you're a blue collar worker, you know, you're in manufacturing or hospitality, very few percentage are remote work only versus those in finance and biz services, you can see here, about a quarter are remote work only. So, it really does differ across industries.

SIDNER: It makes sense because you can use your computer at some of these jobs.


SIDNER: And other jobs need your manual labor to get it done.

I am firmly in the camp of, I'm not choosing because I'm going to upset whoever if I say one thing or the other.

MATTINGLY: But the pendulum is swinging back in tech is the most impressive by far.

SIDNER: Yes, that's big. It is. It is.

ENTEN: Absolutely.

MATTINGLY: Harry Enten, that's really fascinating.

As always, my friend, thank you so much.

ENTEN: Thank you, my friend.

MATTINGLY: But we do also want to show you this sea of red in Nebraska. That's not a football game. That's 90,000 people at the University of Nebraska there to see the school's women's volleyball team.


MATTINGLY: The record was broken last night. We'll have more, next.

SIDNER: Hey, did you know that I played volleyball for the Florida Gators?

Anyway, imagine calling shotgun and losing to this thing. This massive thing. A bull. How far this Nebraska driver got with a bill in his passenger seat. Yes, that's a real bull. I cannot wait to see this story, next.

MATTINGLY: Wait, you played football - you played volleyball for the Gators? SIDNER: I played volleyball for the Gators?

MATTINGLY: Way cooler than the bull.



MATTINGLY: This story is so cool. The University of Nebraska is wild about women's volleyball. And that was never more evident than Wednesday night. Look at the sea of red in Memorial Stadium, 92,003 fans to be exact all on hand to watch the cornhuskers take on in-state rival Omaha. That's a new world record for any women's sporting event.


JOHN COOK, NEBRASKA VOLLEYBALL HEAD COACH: And I was thinking this morning, there's only three things that shut down the University of Nebraska. One, snowstorms. Two, Covid. Three, Nebraska volleyball in the stadium!


SIDNER: That's amazing.

MATTINGLY: And the team didn't disappoint the home crowd. Five-time national champions. They are really good at this. Their fourth win in a row. Shout-out to Jeff Zeleny, our resident Nebraska alum.

SIDNER: Oh, I forgot about that. Yes, good for him. I do have to mention just, again, that I played volleyball for the Florida Gators in 1992.

MATTINGLY: You played volleyball for Florida. I just saw a picture. Yes, pretty cool.

SIDNER: You did see a picture. 1992, we were the first team to make it to the final four. Come on, bring it.

All right, now we can stop talking about me and we can move on.

MATTINGLY: No, let's -

SIDNER: You know that TLC "No Scrubs" lyric, hanging out the passenger side of his best friend's ride.

MATTINGLY: Why do you have to read the script for that lyric? You should just know that.

SIDNER: Why are you so - that -

MATTINGLY: So disappointed in you.

SIDNER: Wow. That was shade.

Anyway, that was kind of the case in Nebraska. MATTINGLY: A big day in Nebraska.

SIDNER: This video shows a real, authentic, live bull riding shotgun in a car on an interstate in Norfolk Wednesday. And this was no pick- up truck. It was just a regular old sedan. You know what, there's an ad for that sedan. That is one tough car. Surprisingly the bull actually fit in there.


I don't even know how that's possible. Police, though, did pull the driver over. He was given a warning and told, take that animal back home, sir. Oh, this is - oh, this is the end. Sorry.

MATTINGLY: Also shout out to Jeff Zeleny, our Nebraska resident. I love - I love that story.

SIDNER: It's so good.

MATTINGLY: It's not a stuffed animal. It's amazing. And I could talk about it all day, but we're going to toss it over to "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" because they have a lot of news.

SIDNER: They do.

MATTINGLY: See you tomorrow.

SIDNER: See you.