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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

California Voters Decide Gov. Newsom's Fate Today; Nicholas Slams Texas Coast, Poses Major Flooding Threat; The Last Pilots Out of Afghanistan. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's Tuesday, September 14th.

Thanks so much for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.


Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It's 5:00 a.m. in New York, 2:00 a.m. in California.

And today, California voters decide whether to keep Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom in office. But today's vote is also about the viability and sanctity of elections, after the big lie of the 2020 election, California Republicans, get this, they're laying the groundwork for a sequel.

JARRETT: The leading GOP candidate right-wing talk show host Larry Elder has a link on his campaign website, making baseless claims of fraud, calling the results, quote, twisted, even though they haven't even been announced yet.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: Does this surprise, though, any of you, that we have someone on the other side of this that's to the right of Donald Trump. We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism. Trumpism is still on the ballot in California.

LARRY ELDER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: So, I can't think of any level, any front, any policy this man has engaged in that has made life better for here, for us in California. He shut down churches, while keeping open strip clubs and marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores.


JARRETT: All of this in California as police in Washington, D.C. plan to fence off the U.S. capitol once again. This time ahead of a right- wing rally planned for Saturday, preparing for some of those protesters on Saturday to be armed.

ROMANS: Former President Bush warned about home-grown extremists in his speech commemorating the 9/11 attacks. Just yesterday, authorities arrested a California man near the DNC headquarters after they found a bayonet and a machete in his truck. That truck, which was covered with white supremacist symbols. So the ground swell of anger, very pronounced before the final recall vote is even in.

CNN's Dan Simon is live in Sacramento outside the state capital for us this morning.

Good morning, Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Laura.

That is the state Capitol behind me. That is the seat of power here in the state of California, and we should know by tonight, whether or not Governor Newsom will retain his office inside that building. It is worth repeating that this recall really began to pick up steam during the heart of the pandemic, when there was widespread criticism over Governor Newsom's policies. Well, that led the Republicans to get the 1.5 million signatures necessary to force this recall on the ballot.

But in the wave of the -- in the wave of the delta variant and everything that has gone along with that, Republicans -- or Democrats are optimistic that Governor Newsom will be able to stay in power and President Biden making the closing argument yesterday. Take a look.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The decision you're about to make, is this going to happen? Is this going to have a huge impact on California? It's going to reverberate around the nation, and quite frankly, not a joke, around the world.

The choice should be absolutely clear. Gavin Newsom, you have a governor who has the courage to lead.


And a governor that shares the state's values. In Gavin, you have a governor to make sure Donald Trump's dark, destructive, divisive politics never finds a place in California. California.


SIMON: Well, all of the polls suggest that Newsom will absolutely cruise to victory, but of course we won't know until the ballots are open.

But right now, it looks like a disproportionate share of the ballots that have come in thus far have been from Democrats, about 52 percent versus about a quarter for Republicans. We shall see if Republicans are able to make up the -- able to get people to the polls when people will be able to vote in person today.

Of course, there are 46 people vying to replace Newsom, but it is all a moot point, unless the recall itself is successful.

Christie and Laura, we'll send it back to you.

ROMANS: Yeah, thank you so much for that. You have a nationalizing, you know, some national Democratic figures really wanted to energize the Democrats there, just try to get that turnout. They knew that turnout was really important. We'll see what happens.

Dan, thank you so much for that.

JARRETT: And on the East Coast, a new threat by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who says the state will start issuing $5,000 fines to cities and counties that try to require COVID vaccinations for their employees. It's the Republican governor's latest salvo targeting officials who are trying to keep people safe and slow the spread of this virus.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: We are not going to let people be fired because of a vaccine mandate. And so you don't just cast aside people who've been serving faithfully over this issue.


Over what's basically a personal choice on their individual health.


ROMANS: All right. Still, some local governments are standing by their decisions despite the threats from the governor. The city of Gainesville along with Orange and Leon Counties are bucking a new state law barring businesses and governments from acquiring proof of vaccination from employees and customers.

It's interesting, because it seems as though the governor is out of step with what the public nationwide is -- we've seen support for vaccine mandates actually rising here, and we know that the mandates seem to be working. We've heard from different government agencies, federal government agencies, also some different companies, that as they're putting in these mandates or even disincentives for not being vaccinated --

JARRETT: Penalties, really.

ROMANS: Penalties, that you're seeing the vaccination rates rise. When you look at some of these -- between now and April, all of the acquiring vaccination support numbers have been rising.

JARRETT: And legally, the employers that want to do this, the schools that want to do this are on solid ground. All the courts that have looked at this have said it's perfectly legitimate. It's perfectly legal for employers to mandate vaccines. We've done this for other vaccines. We've done this back to 1905 for smallpox. We know how to do this.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: We'll see where this ends up in court because that's clearly where it's going.

ROMANS: Personal choice and public health, those things should be more compatible, quite frankly.

All right. Several school districts in Florida have publicly defied Governor DeSantis' ban on mandates, prompting state officials to withhold funds from at least two school districts. And now, in Iowa, a federal judge is allowing schools to require masks after Governor Kim Reynolds tried to ban school districts from issuing mandates.

JARRETT: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee already had their bans on mask mandates struck down, and Texas paused its school mask mandate ban after several court rulings struck down local bans. The courts are weighing in here. Mask mandate bans remain in effect in Montana, South Carolina, Utah, Arizona, along with Florida, where an appeals court reversed a lower court's decision, finding that DeSantis had overstepped his authority.

ROMANS: Hospitalizations in the U.S. are finally leveling off after peaking at over 100,000, though many hospitals are still at or over capacity. One Kentucky hospital official says a Federal Disaster Medical Assistance team is scheduled to leave this week.


DR. WILL MELAHN, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE: Not so much about the physical space, although that's becoming a big problem. It's our lack of staff. Right now, the only reason we're holding this lifeboat together is, I have a Federal Disaster Medical Assistance team here, 14 people who have just been heroes to us. And unfortunately, their deployment is over on Friday, and I'm going to lose 14 health care professionals and I don't -- I literally have no idea what we're going to do on Friday.


JARRETT: Georgia's chapter of the American Association of University Professors says a week-long series of protests demanding mask mandates at all state schools kicked off yesterday and will take place at 17 college campuses across the state.

ROMANS: In Massachusetts, the National Guard has been activated to help deal with a bus driver shortage as school begins. Districts are now considering signing bonuses and alternate routes and the pandemic has pushed more people away from the driving profession, signaling a bumpy road ahead for key industries.

JARRETT: All of this as the once epicenter of the pandemic is trying to get back to a sense of normalcy. The annual Met Gala made its return. It was canceled last week because of the pandemic. The theme was celebrating American fashion. Some celebrities wore thoughtful or creative ensembles with deep symbolism, at least for some people. Some people made political statements, as they often do.

One dress in particular that's getting attention this morning, look at that one. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's white dress with the words "tax the rich" written in red on the back. You can say nothing, but always on message.

ROMANS: On the one hand, you have a "Wall Street Journal" editorial slamming the Biden tax plan and then you have her dress, which has the opposite, "tax the rich."

All right. Breaking overnight, Nicholas is now a hurricane making landfall in Texas. Power outages are growing with big flooding concerns in the days ahead.



JARRETT: Just moments ago, Hurricane Nicholas weakening now to a tropical storm, threatening the Texas coast with heavy rain and storm surge, more than 220,000 customers already without power. Houston's schools and public transportation shut down. Officials in Louisiana also warn recovery efforts from Hurricane Ida could be interrupted.

Pedram Javaheri is live for us this morning.

Pedram, even though this is now weakening to a tropical storm, it still sounds like a ton of rain for an area that's already seen a lot of rain.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's going to be the problem. When you look at these urban environments, 7 million people across the Houston Metroplex. You put a storm system like this, whether it's a category 1 or category 5, the concern is going to remain an incredible amount of rainfall associated with it, because the category really doesn't dictate how much rainfall comes down.

Just based on the track and how it's meandered along the coast of Texas, for so many hours here, we're still pumping in quite a bit of tropical moisture. So sustained winds where the system is, about 70 miles per hour, gusting close to 80 miles per hour. But you'll notice widespread coverage of tropical storm warnings that are in place, including areas around Houston.

And with the system, again, kind of hugging the coastline, we've seen upwards of 7 to 10 inches of rainfall, radar-estimated, just offshore.


The concern is, this is going to gradually shift inland over the next few hours, and we know at least 12 million people across this region underneath flood alerts.

Heavy rainfall, already beginning to shift in towards places such as Houston, Lake Charles, and areas eastward on into Louisiana, that's the area of concern here. We know how much rainfall has come down across these areas in recent weeks.

So any additional heavy rains here could lead to some urban flooding. And again, you take a look at the concern level here moving forward. There is a level 4 issue that crosses portions of southern Louisiana. That's a high risk, a 4 out of 4. This happens about 4 percent of the calendar year and about 40 percent of all weather-related fatalities happen on these days, when you have this magenta color, which is that high risk, that has been issued, just south of Lake Charles. Again, on the border there of Louisiana, on into east Texas.

So that's the area we're watching for some of the heaviest rainfall. And you'll notice the system here takes its time, moving over this region, over the next several days.

So, as it does, expecting those gusty winds, certainly the power outages could be in place, but the rainfall amounts could push maybe 7 to 12 inches in a few spots. I wouldn't be surprised if we get some isolated totals even above that value. These are incredible amounts of rainfall for any place, but put it down on top of an area that was recently saturated from Ida's rains, it's going to be problematic -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right. Pedram, thank you so much for that update and staying on top of this for us.

ROMANS: All right. To business now. Scammers posed as Walmart, sent sending a cryptocurrency up 25 percent. A falsified news release said Walmart would accept light coin as online payment.

Several major news organizations even picked up this fake news. A successful pump and dump scheme. But that's when people drive up an asset price, only to sell it once it starts soaring. Typically happens in less-regulated markets like crypto, where there's less oversight.

There's one reason why there's increased regulatory concern about these digital currencies. In fact, the Senate included provisions in last month's infrastructure bill that would bring more Fed oversight to crypto, and could expand the number of cryptocurrency users that would have to file with the IRS. But this bright, shiny, unregulated part of the market, crypto, needs a good old-fashioned pump and dump scheme.

JARRETT: But it seems like it can still have big effects, even if it's not being really well-regulated right now.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

JARRETT: All right. Still ahead, the secretary of state staunchly defending the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. We introduce you to the final pilots out of Afghanistan, next.




ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan. There's no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government anymore 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?


ROMANS: That's Secretary of State Antony Blinken, strongly defending the withdrawal from Afghanistan in that testimony before Congress. Much has been made of the chaos on the way out.

Our Alex Marquardt has more on the last pilots who made it out of Afghanistan.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): They're among the most highly trained Afghan forces, pilots, and crew members of the Afghan air force. For the past month, they've been stranded after fleeing the Taliban advance with their valuable planes and helicopters across the border into neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They feared they would be sent back, where the Taliban is hunting for them.

PILOT, MAJOR IN AFGHAN AIR FORCE: There were so many rumors that the Uzbekistan government will send us back to Afghanistan. That's why everyone was afraid and everyone was worried about that.

MARQUARDT: We've spoken with Afghan pilots, themselves, and American veterans, working to get them to the United States. Including retired General David Hicks, who led the training of Afghan pilots in the U.S. and has criticized the State Department for moving too slowly.

RET. GEN. DAVID HICKS, OPERATION SACRED PROMISE: The problem was, there started to become members that wanted to go back to Afghanistan, because they were worried about their wives or their families, and so, you know, they were headed back or were going to go back for that reason.

MARQUARDT: We brought you their story last week. Then, over the weekend, word came that they were finally on the move, after four weeks. More than 460 pilots, maintainers, and family members loaded on to buses and charter planes, flying Uzbekistan airways to Abu Dhabi for further processing. One step closer to making it to the U.S., where many want to end up, but fears remain.

How worried are you that the remaining Afghan air force personnel, family members, are targets of the Taliban now and won't be able to get out of the country?

HICKS: We know air force members or family members have been either detained or killed by the Taliban, so, it's not like it's something that may happen, it is something that is happening right now. So time is of the essence.

MARQUARDT: Those concerns weighing on the pilots.

PILOT, MAJOR IN AFGHAN AIR FORCE: If Taliban understand that our families' parents are in Afghanistan, they will catch them until we show up. MARQUARDT: Since many have already been to the U.S. for training and

fought so closely with American forces, the visa process is expected to go smoothly, which would be a huge relief for the men who are forced to dramatically flee their native country and start life in a new one.

PILOT, MAJOR IN AFGHAN AIR FORCE: I can't explain how happy I am. And it's a big pleasure not only for me, but all those that were in Uzbekistan.


MARQUARDT (on camera): On top of those Afghan air force personnel who have now gotten out of Uzbekistan, there are still around 140 more in neighboring Tajikistan.


General Hicks, who spoke with there with the piece, has been tracking their case as well and has told us that processing on them has started.

Between those two countries, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, around 60 planes and helicopters were flown out of Afghanistan. What will happen to them remain unclear, but thanks to those pilots, the Taliban will not get their hands on them.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: It's such an incredible story. And for every one of those pilots, it's just thrilling that they were able to get out of the country and you wonder about their families and the choices they had to make to leave the country and leave their families behind.

All right. To California now, the Governor Gavin Newsom trying to hold on to his job, but will a recall election push him out? We have analysis from Los Angeles next.

And CNN's special coverage starts tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.