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Heat Forces Schools to Cancel Classes; Franklin Foer is Interviewed about his Book on Biden; Americans Blaze Trail at U.S. Open. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 06, 2023 - 06:30   ET



JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But he's applying it to something to which it's largely unrelated. And he is risking America's readiness, military readiness. The Pentagon could not be more clear. If a Democrat was doing this, Republicans would be screaming bloody murder on the same grounds. Again, apply the same standards. This is outrageous.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Your latter point, absolutely no argument and probably underappreciated. The former (ph) point, that Tuberville says he's had closed-door briefings with the Pentagon, and they say he's not convinced that the national security issue is as tangible as they claim publicly.

AVLON: I don't think Senator Tuberville has more credibility than the Pentagon on this issue.

MATTINGLY: All right.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Final thought, Jess?

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SENIOR REPORTER, "THE ROOT": Yes, I'd have to agree. I mean it is - it is -- obviously they are saying this is a national security threat. Not only that, it just - it's - it's hurting moral. I mean that's something they've been talking about. It clearly seems like an issue that he is going to stand just strong on until someone makes him stop, until potentially his party makes him stop.

HARLOW: Yes. Also -- we've got to go -- but a big impact on families as they're trying to move wives that are -

AVLON: Of course.


HARLOW: Military spouses who are trying to, wives and husbands, get a job, et cetera, plan for kids' school, all of it.

Guys, thank you very much, Jessica and John.

MATTINGLY: Well, it's official, 2023, the warmest summer on record. We're going to take a look at how the heat is now impacting classes and students as the new economic year begins.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it was super hot. It's not fair for people to be in the sun while they're in school.



HARLOW: So, we all felt it, right? The summer, officially though, was the hottest on record for the planet. That is a new report from the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service. It's not over yet. More heat on tap for today, from Minnesota, to Texas, to New York. Record-setting heat has already busted through the old records. Now scorching temps are also upending the start of the new school year, forcing some schools to close down after just a few days of classes in several states.

Gabe Cohen is live outside of a school in Washington, D.C.

If it's hot here, I can't imagine what it's like there.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, it's very hot. And it feels like these heat days are becoming the new snow days, with thousands of schools now impacted by these extreme temperatures right at the start of the school year.

And, look, a big part of the problem is that a huge percentage of schools, especially in the northern U.S., just don't have air conditioning. And so some are telling students to head home early. Others saying it's really not safe to come in at all.




COHEN (voice over): As scorching heat bakes Baltimore, these kindergarteners and first graders are heading home from school hours early.

FAISON: Because it's too hot.

COHEN: The rest of the students are staying home entirely, taking virtual classes all week because the school has no central air conditioning.

COHEN (on camera): Is it hot in there?

FAISON: Yes, it was super hot.

COHEN (voice over): Seven-year-old Delano and his mother, Patricia, are frustrated.

FAISON: It's not fair for people to be in the sun while they're in school.

COHEN (on camera): Do you worry about your son's safety when it's this hot out and there's no air conditioning in the school?

BURTON: Yes. Yes, I do, because he has asthma.

COHEN (voice over): Fifteen Baltimore schools are on similar heat schedule this week because they lack air conditioning. In some cases, delivering cooling units to classrooms.

COHEN (on camera): I can already feel this place heating up.

ANDRE RILEY, SPOKESMAN, BALTIMORE CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Yes, imagine trying to learn in that environment where it's this warm.

COHEN (voice over): Andre Riley, a district spokesperson, took us inside these empty classrooms.

RILEY: It's better to shift (ph) them to an environment where we can have the focus again be on teaching and learning as opposed to it's hot.

COHEN: This widespread heat wave is closing classrooms from Connecticut to Wisconsin. In Pittsburgh, dozens of schools are going virtual. In Philadelphia, 74 schools dismissed early on the first day.

Near Detroit, an entire district shut down Tuesday because of the heat. Parents at this D.C. school are upset that kids are in class despite a broken cooling system.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know how hot it's going to be every summer. So, the fact that they aren't really prepared for these kinds of incidents is a little ridiculous.

COHEN: A 2020 government report estimated 41 percent of public school districts need to update or replace HVAC systems in at least half their schools, 36,000 in all. Many of them spent Covid relief dollars on HVAC improvements. But districts not known for sweltering September temps are now struggling with what could be a new climate-fueled norm, with recent heat days in major districts like Kansas City, Denver and Milwaukee.

COHEN (on camera): How big of a setback can this be for students to have several heat days in a row with the start of school?

RILEY: It's definitely not preferable. You don't want to send students home early or transition them to a virtual environment for a long period of time.

COHEN: At a time when kids are still recovering from pandemic learning loss, many, like Delano, are headed right back home.

BURTON: What are we going to do? We can't just keep letting them go without the air.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COHEN: Now, Baltimore City Schools is one of the districts that's really invested in HVAC. A few years ago they had 75 schools without air conditioning. That number is down to 10.

But like many districts, they have found, Poppy, Phil, that it is expensive and it is inefficient putting those new systems into very, very old school buildings. And I should also mention, it's not just classrooms that are being closed by this extreme heat. We're also seeing cancellations of extracurricular sports. Obviously, there's a lot of concern about the safety of students heading out to a football field when the temperature is this hot.

HARLOW: Yes, of course.

Gabe, really important reporting. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well, up next, the first behind the scenes account of President Biden's first two years at the White House, including what's being said about an issue top of mind for voters, his age.


HARLOW: Also, these stunning images out of Greece, where torrential rain and flood waters have destroyed homes and businesses, turning some roads into rivers, like you're looking at. One person has died. You can see the incalculable damage in the city of Volos. The city has sunk from the sheer enormous weight of that rain that has fallen. Greece's prime minister is calling it a totally extreme weather phenomenon. He's urging the public to follow instructions from authorities.



NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think there should be mental competency tests. And I don't care if they're for everybody 50 and older.

We can't worry about Mitch McConnell being frozen at a podium. We can't have Joe Biden forget where he is. Our enemies are watching all of this. And every time they have an instance like that, America is less safe.


MATTINGLY: That was Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley advocating again for mental competency tests for politicians over 75, say that, quote, "they need to be - they need to let young -- a younger generation take over."


That group over 75, of course, includes President Biden and the Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump. A "Wall Street Journal" poll out this week found that voters

overwhelmingly think Biden is too old to run for re-election. And a new book on Biden's presidency addresses questions about his age.

Franklin Foer, who's a staff writer at "The Atlantic," writes, quote, "it was striking that he took so few morning meetings or presided over public events before 10:00 a.m. His public persona reflected physical decline and time's dulling of mental faculties that no pill or exercise regimen can resist. In private, he would occasionally admit to his friends that he felt tired."

Now, this book is a behind the scenes account of Biden's first two years in office and it draws on more than 300 interviews with Biden's inner circle, his cabinet, his oldest friends and members of Congress.

Franklin Foer joins us now. The book, of course, is called "The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future."

Thank you. Congratulations on the publication date.

The 300 interviews was something that has always stood out to me. This is a tough team to crack in terms of the senior -


MATTINGLY: They don't talk out of turn.

FOER: Yes.

MATTINGLY: They don't like to talk a lot. And your ability to get inside is very different. And it presents a very nuanced view, as somebody who's fairly familiar with this - this current administration.

That point, though, on the age, the paragraph I read is from the very end of your book. And what I find so striking, and I think really gets at the crux of this, is the very next paragraph down, it says, quote, "but with Ukraine," specific - obviously we're talking about Secretary Blinken being there right now, "the advantages of having an older president were on display. He wasn't just the leader of the coalition, he was the west's father figure whom foreign leaders could call for advice and look to for assurance. It was his calming presence and strategic clarity that helped lead the alliance to such an aggressive stance, which stymied authoritarianism on its front lines. He was a man for his age."

FOER: Right.

MATTINGLY: That dynamic -

FOER: Yes.

MATTINGLY: Of everything you laid out about his age and how he is physically, 100 percent accurate. Everything you laid out in the next paragraph is the view inside the White House and with the former - or with the current president of why he's done well in their minds in the first two years and why he can run for re-election.

FOER: Yes, it's so hard to have a nuanced conversation about the president's age because, on the one hand, everybody can see the way that he walks. He's got a gate that suggests an elderly person. Sometimes I've seen him, in the course of telling a story, he'd forget somebody's name. Somebody who he knows decently well, or somebody -- a senator who is in the headlines. But then I've also seen this other part of Joe Biden where he draws on his wisdom and his experience to give very commanding, very nuanced, very detailed analysis of legislative dynamics or grand strategy that would pass any test that Nikki Haley would be able to throw at him. And we need to be able to hold both of these thoughts in our head at the same time, which is a challenge for a lot of people.

And it's a challenge I think the White House has compounded because there are these moments Joe Biden goes out, he does a press conference, and he'll say something that goes off script.

Now, anybody who knows Joe Biden for an extended period of time knows that the essence of Joe Biden is that he's going to go off script at some point.


FOER: He did that probably as a teenager too, right? And so they tend to kind of keep him in his box, and he focuses on the details of governing, which he also happens to really get -- love. He adores that part of his job.

But I think the public would benefit from having this view into the way that he thinks and talks about the world.

MATTINGLY: The extent to which the kind of - the perception is perpetuated to some degree by how they operate around him I think is in (ph) question. You do a lot on the legislative successes, failures, doldrums to some degree over a pretty extended period of time.

FOER: Yes.

MATTINGLY: And then eventual successes again in the middle of 2022.

It's striking to me, you also talk about the first press conference after the midterms, which was kind of a big moment for Biden - for President Biden where he could talk about, kind of, I told you so.

FOER: Yes.

MATTINGLY: I was right. You guys were all attacking me. I was right. We did better than you expected.

The most striking thing for me is that press conference is the first question he answered. He was asked what he would do differently in the next few years, and he said nothing, because people are just starting to find out what we did.

FOER: Yes. MATTINGLY: I think this gets at the issue of today, where White House officials say, look at the numbers. Inflation is down. Jobs are still up. Our agenda is being implemented. And yet I think the latest number was something - 63 percent of Americans in the latest CNN poll disapprove of the economy. That disconnect.

FOER: Yes. Well, inflation, I think, is a very specific type of economic pain. And embedded in a lot of the initial choices that the Biden administration made, they were willing to run the economy hot in order to keep people employed because one of Biden's fundamental precepts is that work is a source of dignity. So, he'd rather have more people employed, maybe their paychecks wouldn't go quite as much, but there would be stability and dignity that would come with keeping people in jobs.


But the problem that you're describing is that they have this raft of legislative accomplishments, whether it's, you know, the infrastructure bill, it's the Inflation Reduction Act, which hastens the transition to the green economy in ways that have already exceeded our expectations, the chips bill. All -- embedded in all of this is a lot of the populism that Donald Trump promised but never failed -- has always failed to deliver, that he's restoring American manufacturing. He's doing industrial policy. He's being tough on China and building an economy that is built to withstand whatever happens in China. And yet he's not able to take credit for it. Maybe in his Labor Day speech that he gave.


FOER: I think there are the makings of that case where he's -- one thing that Joe Biden that is interesting to me is, he's not an adversarial guy. He doesn't like to go out there and go on the attack. And so it's striking when he starts to talk about Trump and the Park Avenue view. That becomes the frame, I think, that they could build a re-election around.

MATTINGLY: Yes, definitely a contrast that they want.

Before we go, one of the things -- you have a great line in there where it says -- it's kind of a bigger picture line at the very start of the book where it says, "in the story of Joe Biden, a pattern keeps reasserting itself, that just after he is dismissed as past his time, written off because of his doddering detachment from the zeitgeist, he pulls off his greatest success and he shocks those who only think they know him."

There's a chip on the shoulder of their team.

FOER: Yes.

MATTINGLY: Like, the president has a large chip on his shoulder as well.

FOER: Yes. MATTINGLY: He's less subtle about it than maybe his team is sometimes.

The one thing, based on the first two years, and I think their self- confidence about what they've done or the accomplishments is, why - why run again? Why run for re-election? I'm not asking you - he's in. There's no question about that. But did you get a sense of why he decided, I should go again, even at my age, even at kind of where I'm at.

FOER: Yes, I think he looks at the threat that Trump poses to the country and he says, I'm the safest bet in that battle against Trump, which is obviously an incredibly subjective analysis. But it is grounded on the fact that he actually is the Democrat who beat Trump in 2020. And also, if there was a primary, and if -- you just don't know what happens when you open up the doors to an alternative.

So, you know, I get why there are all these questions about it. I have a lot of those questions myself. But I can also see that there is a - it's a line of thinking behind the decision to run again that's more than just a vanity decision.

MATTINGLY: Right. Structurally in the book, I was wondering how you were going to attack two years of a ton of stuff. And the way it's structured, it's fast, it's quick paced, but it's also incredibly deep and nuanced reporting. The stuff about the Zelenskyy relationship, which I wanted to get to, but we're out of time, is also fascinating, particularly with Secretary Blinken in Kyiv right now.

Franklin Foer, congratulations on the book. Thanks so much for coming in.

FOER: Thank you.

HARLOW: Franklin, big congrats. Phil left me a copy on my desk. So, I'm going to get - get to it this weekend.

All right, this is what's ahead.

Two American men breaking barriers at this year's U.S. Open, but it's a 20-year-old who take it to the next level with an upset win. That's ahead.



HARLOW: All right, to sport this morning and a big upset last night at the U.S. Open. He's only 20 years old, but American Ben Shelton pulled off an incredible victory over Frances Tiafoe in the clutch to advance to the semifinals. It's also the first U.S. Open quarterfinal between two black American men.

Our Jason Carroll has more on the game and Shelton, who is now the youngest American man to reach the semifinals since 1992.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Center court at the U.S. Open, blistering. And we're not just talking about the heat. Five American players blazed a trail at the open in New York. Coco Gauff, Madison Keys, Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz and Ben Shelton, all crushing their way into the quarterfinals.

JOSEPH HAYES, U.S. OPEN FAN: Hometown heroes. Hometown heroes.


HAYES: Let's go USA.


SEAN HAYES, U.S. OPEN FAN: I definitely watched more of the U.S. Open this year than the last few years because I saw all the American flags on the board.

CARROLL: It's the first time three American men have made it this far since 2005. And no American male player has lifted the trophy since Andy Roddick won the title in 2003.

J. HAYES: I think the USA has had a great tournament and it's going to continue right through Fritz.

CARROLL: Fritz's fans will have to wait for their big win. Number two seed Novak Djokovic beat him in straight sets Tuesday.

But fans say there's still plenty to celebrate after Shelton advanced to the semis after his win against fellow American Tiafoe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a huge Tiafoe fan.


JACOB AVRAM, U.S. OPEN FAN: I hope - you know, I mean I love - I love -- I also love Ben Shelton. He brings so much energy, so much pop to the court.

CARROLL: Also advancing to the semis, 19-year-old Coco Gauff. She's the first American teenager to reach the semifinals since Serena Williams in 2001.

GRACIE WACHIRA, NINE-YEAR-OLD U.S. OPEN FAN: And I'm really happy for her cause when I was younger I was - I would always look up -

CARROLL (on camera): Wait, wait, when you were younger? How old are you now?


CARROLL: Nine. OK. But, go ahead. Go ahead.

GRACIE WACHIRA: And when I was younger I would always look up to her and I would always watch her on the TV.

GLADYS WACHIRA, U.S. OPEN FAN: I think she's inspiring to the young generation. I watched Serena, so that's my generation.


GLADYS WACHIRA: They are watching Coco.

CARROLL (voice over): Tennis fans say much of the excitement surrounding American players today is thanks to what Serena and her sister Venus Williams have done for the sport for more than two decades.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they also encouraged a whole generation of youth to start playing the game more. And that it's not just women, but also men.


CARROLL: Not lost on fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium, named for the only black man to win singles titles at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open.