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Shortage Of School Bus And Truck Drivers Across America; Student Flips Off Anti-Mask Protesters At Her School; Arnold Schwarzenegger On California Recall Race. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 08, 2021 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, can a party that now backs voter restrictions and the most restrictive abortion bill in recent memory really say it's still the party of government leaving you alone?

John Avlon with a reality check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: In the shifting landscape of American politics there seemed to be at least one constant, the Republican Party stood for small government.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): I believe today, as I believed 25 years ago, in small government.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I want to restore to America the values of economic freedom and opportunity, and small government.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fiscal discipline in a smaller government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Small government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's small government.

REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're definitely a pro-balanced budget and pro-smaller government party.


AVLON: This was the default argument that connected libertarians with evangelicals and the business community. They all said they wanted less top-down bureaucracy and more local control.

But that was then and this is now because this summer we saw governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, and Greg Abbott of Texas trying to ban local mask mandates, threatening to withhold school salaries if local school boards bucked their state's bureaucratic dictates. Not only that, these Republican governors signed executive orders banning businesses from requiring proof of vaccination for customers during a pandemic. And in return for their efforts, Florida and Texas saw the most COVID

deaths and cases in this country this summer, by far. That's a steep price to pay for presidential ambitions.

Now, we've seen some anti-vax protesters claim they're just pursuing a pro-choice position when it comes to public health. And that might play in the California recall but, of course, that logic has its political limits. Like when the Texas legislature produced the most draconian anti-abortion law since Roe V. Wade.

Now, Republicans being anti-choice when it comes to abortion is no surprise. It's been standard operating procedure for a generation. The surprise comes when you tell people it wasn't always this way. After all, a Republican Supreme Court justice penned the opinion in Roe v. Wade while the wife of libertarian icon and 1964 Barry Goldwater co- founded Planned Parenthood in Arizona.

Speaking of, you know what's the opposite of a libertarian, having the government encourage people to turn in their neighbors? But that's essentially what the Texas law's so-called bounty hunter provision does.

It actually incentivizes citizens to sue any person who helps a woman longer than six weeks pregnant seek an abortion -- from doctors and nurses to neighbors and even drivers -- and get a minimum of $10,000 in return. That seems more East German Stasi than "WALKER, TEXAS RANGER," while also making Republicans the party of lawsuits, at least where women are concerned.

But these eye-popping hypocrisies are part of a post-Trump trend where claims of fighting for free speech turn into speech codes, banning teachers from talking about structural racism in classrooms. Claims of fighting for individual freedom turn into anti-trans laws. Claims supporting free markets lead to threats against private companies for not towing their partisan line. And claims for fighting for election integrity lead to the kneecapping of local election officials who make election administrations more susceptible to partisan pressure.

They're in favor of government mandating morality, just not when it comes to civil rights. They're in favor of telling local businesses what to do if it'll benefit them with the base during a public health crisis -- death toll be damned. In their hands, with apologies to Janis Joplin, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

And given that fiscal conservatism was often the fig leaf for a lot of this small government talk, with another debt ceiling fight looming this fall, don't forget that when Donald Trump raised the debt by nearly $8 trillion, or some 36 percent, Republicans didn't say boo, but they did vote to raise the debt ceiling three times.

So don't be fooled. Are Republicans still under the sway of Donald Trump? It's not about small government principles, it's about the pursuit of power, pure and simple.

And that's your reality check. BERMAN: Well look, if you're looking for intellectual consistency here, that's an exhausting search, a). And b), Kris Kristofferson is on line two for you right now, John Avlon.

AVLON: Fair point, fair point.

BERMAN: Thank you very much for that.

Coming up, why the shortage of school bus and truck drivers across the nation is impacting your everyday life.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And we will speak live with the teenager whose middle finger here at the middle of this now-viral photo during an anti-mask protest has become famous.



KEILAR: COVID is driving Americans away from driving jobs, and that means it's been impacting everything from ridesharing and deliveries to even schoolchildren and them getting to school. The number of people driving for a living has plunged and that started at the beginning of the pandemic.

So let's bring in CNN's Pete Muntean. And, Pete, these numbers -- I mean, they're actually slowing rebounding, but it's really not enough.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, driver shortage is an issue across industries but it is especially acute for schools. School transportation officials across the country were just surveyed about this and two-thirds of them say it's their number-one issue.



MUNTEAN (voice-over): School bus driver Nick Rocha understands why more of his friends are retiring from the routes they've run for years. The return to in-person learning shifted pandemic fears into high gear and a changing economy is providing other options.

NICK ROCHA, SCHOOL BUS DRIVER: We have more people leaving than we do people coming in.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): It is a problem also plaguing Uber and Lyft, which say shortages are hiking rates and wait times. D.C.'s Metrobus system says it is having a more difficult time recruiting candidates. But the issue is especially acute for kids going back to class.

The Fairfax County, Virginia school system, just outside Washington, is trying to fill three times its normal driver openings.

FRANCINE FURBY, TRANSPORTATION DIRECTOR, FAIRFAX COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: It's always been something that we battle with, but this is the worst that we've seen it.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Those with commercial driver's licenses are so in demand that here in Fairfax County new school bus drivers are being offered a $3,000 sign-on bonus. The district is also raising their hourly pay.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): In nearby Stafford County, Virginia parents say kids are arriving hours late due to driver shortages.

NICHOLE DULIN, PARENT IN STAFFORD, VIRGINIA: I think the answer is probably more money. Like, if you -- if you pay them more you'll get better people. You'll get more people.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Poor pay and poor working conditions are why trucking trade associations say many are turning their backs on the profession.

Todd Spencer, who represents independent truck drivers, says the pandemic has forced a year's long problem to come to a head and not enough is being done to keep drivers from quitting.

TODD SPENCER, PRESIDENT, OOIDA: Good people can find -- can find better jobs, better places, and lots of places that have the -- that don't have many of the drawbacks that trucking does. So they look around and they take advantage of those opportunities.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): For school bus drivers, the incentives are increasing across the country. Fairfax County has even won a few retirees back.

The nation's 10th largest school district wants this to be just a bump in the road to getting students back in school.

ROCHA: We're definitely looking forward to having more kids come in. And with that, we need more drivers coming in.


MUNTEAN: Driving groups, regardless of industry, say this issue really comes down to pay. Here in Fairfax County, Virginia they have upped the sign-on bonus for new drivers. They've also raised their hourly pay. We'll see if other districts and other industries take note -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, $3,000 -- that is quite the incentive.

Pete Muntean live for us from Springfield, Virginia -- thanks.

BERMAN: So as you can see behind Pete there, kids are back in school around the country. And when we discuss the issue of masks in school it's important to make clear that it's a minority -- a minority of people who are opposed to masks in schools. But this minority is vocal -- in some cases, threatening, aggressive, even violent.

Now, the flip side of this, the majority who support masks -- parents and, yes, students -- some of whom are just fed up with the aggressive minority.

Case in point here. In this photo, which has gone viral, you can see a 14-year-old student giving a one-fingered salute to anti-mask protesters outside her school. And that saluter there, as we should say, Fiona, joins me now along with her finger and her mother, Meagan Downey. Thank you both so much for being with us this morning.

Fiona, why don't you just walk us through what happened on the bus on the way to school that day.

FIONA DOWNEY, FLIPPED OFF ANTI-MASK PROTESTERS FROM SCHOOL BUS (via Webex by Cisco): OK. So, the protesters are there every single day and they come over and they just hold up their signs. And for me, I was just fed up and I was felt with anger. And I just decided to give them the finger because I thought it was the best thing I could do, but yes.

BERMAN: So when you drive past them to get into your school -- I mean, what do the signs say, and how does it make you feel?

F. DOWNEY: They say, like, stuff like masks aren't the cure. I can't remember the rest. But it makes me just really angry and, I don't know, it makes everyone else angry. And we're all just annoyed with it.

BERMAN: You know -- and for you, what do you want in terms of being at school?

F. DOWNEY: I want everyone just to be safe. And it's hard because I was on hybrid learning for so long. It's very stressful and very hard. But I hope that we can stay in school.

BERMAN: You delivered a clear message to them. Do you think they saw the message you delivered?

F. DOWNEY: No, because they came to school yesterday. But I hope that things will change.

BERMAN: So, Meagan, you got a text from Fiona basically saying -- well, what did the text say?


MEAGAN DOWNEY, MOTHER OF FIONA DOWNEY (via Webex by Cisco): Yes. She said mom, I flipped off the anti-maskers and they flipped me off back. And honestly, I understood her frustration and her anger. It's been 18 months of this pandemic, which has been hard on all of us in different ways but especially, I think on adolescents. And we all just want to get back to normal and we're not going to be able to do that unless we can put public health first.

BERMAN: You know, it's an odd parenting moment, right? Because when your child tells you hey, I -- you know, I think I might have just been photographed flipping the bird to a bunch of protesters here -- you know, what was your reaction? M. DOWNEY: Yes. Well, we should add that Fiona had no idea there were cameras there and I had no idea either. So we did not know this was in the news until the next day or that it was even captured until the next day. But my initial reaction was they think they're protecting you. And then she went to class and the day was really uneventful until the next morning when it started to go viral.

BERMAN: Do you have any issue with Fiona's chosen means of expression?

M. DOWNEY: You know, what else was she supposed to do in that moment? She was pretty fed up. She -- you know, this was not a situation where she could engage in constructive dialogue. She's forced to ride the bus every day to school and see these people and she was done and she expressed herself. So I'm proud of my daughter and I'm fine with that.

BERMAN: No, I'm just smiling because it's one of those challenging parenting moments when you know you're supposed to say that's not something you're supposed to do but, sort of, you're whispering to yourself right on. It's sort of -- you've got to be careful with that.

So, Fiona, where does this go from here do you think in the coming days? Are these people going to be outside your -- you're in Vermont, I should note. I mean, they can't be out there all winter. It's going to get cold.

F. DOWNEY: I mean, I have no idea. I hope that the school can do something about it. I mean, they're right outside of school property so there's nothing that I can really do just besides spreading the message to everyone else to wear their masks.

BERMAN: Well, you spread a message and I think they saw it, and I think a lot of people are seeing it. And I understand your frustration because it is a minority -- this vocal, aggressive minority who are protesting masks. And sometimes you have to deliver a certain message back.

Fiona, Meagan, I appreciate you both being with us this morning. Thank you.

M. DOWNEY: Thank you.

F. DOWNEY: Of course. Thank you.

KEILAR: Fiona and her finger.


KEILAR: I know she clearly did not expect to be in this situation but here she is.

BERMAN: Yes, I know. And I just -- again, I just love the parenting --

KEILAR: Of course, yes. BERMAN: -- choice here. Mom, I flipped off the protesters. And, you know, if you're -- if your mom is like, look, what else is she supposed to do. At a certain point, what else are you supposed to do? The bus drives past them every single day. And Fiona and her friends, they want to be healthy. They want to stay -- they want to have the school stay open.

KEILAR: Look, none of us want our kids flipping people off, but on occasion maybe there's an exception to the rule.

BERMAN: Be selective. Choose the right -- make good choices -- is what I always say to my kids -- about when you flip people off.

KEILAR: That's what you tell them, huh?

BERMAN: So if they're not watching -- thank God they're not watching now.

So, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defended his state's new abortion law, prompting a harsh response from one member of Congress.

KEILAR: And just days left in California's recall election -- almost 20 years since the last one. Hear how Arnold Schwarzenegger compares politics in the Golden State then to now.



KEILAR: Less than a week to go in California's recall election that will decide the fate of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. The election marking Republicans' best shot in a decade to seize back some control of Sacramento after being shut out of the state office when Arnold Schwarzenegger's term ended in 2011.

Now, ahead of the election, CNN's Dana Bash spoke with the former governor to get his take on where things stand on her new podcast, "Total Recall."


DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, HOST, "TOTAL RECALL: CALIFORNIA'S POLITICAL CIRCUS" PODCAST: (on camera): It's very personal. The politics and the problems right now are very personal, kind of like it was back when you ran.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), FORMER CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: It is exactly the same. The atmosphere is exactly the same when I ran. It's the same kind of things that people talk about -- blackouts. Where people are unhappy with education. With people that are unhappy with what's going on with the inequality in the state.

It's out of control -- the situation -- and this is why there's anger. So it's the same thing --

BASH (on camera): And there's no Arnold Schwarzenegger on the other side of the ballot.

SCHWARZENEGGER: There's no Arnold Schwarzenegger. So, Newsom can hope and think quickly some -- you know, figure out how to be Arnold Schwarzenegger for a second, even as a Democrat -- I don't know.

But, I mean, it's like -- there are people in the -- in the race that have some really good answers and they have some good solutions to things, and they maybe don't have the personality and all that stuff. So it's like -- but they will figure it out.

BASH (on camera): Yes.

SCHWARZENEGGER: The day is going to come very soon that the election will be. Then the chips will fall also in that particular case, the way they (INAUDIBLE), and so be it.


KEILAR: Dana with us now for more on this discussion. I guess Gavin Newsom could start by being more like Arnold Schwarzenegger by wearing the Arnold t-shirt that Arnold Schwarzenegger is wearing in this interview.

But this is really interesting to get his take on something he's been through.

BASH: Really interesting. And the fact that he was so passionate about the atmospherics. He -- and nobody is saying that Gov. Gavin Newsom, the current Democratic governor, is anything like Gray Davis --


BASH: -- who was Democratic governor when Arnold Schwarzenegger won in that recall.

The people are different. The circumstances of their own personal politics are quite different. Gavin Newsom's approval ratings are way higher than Gray Davis' were back then. As I said, there's no mega movie star on the other side of the -- of the recall ballot.

But when it comes to how Californians are feeling -- back then -- you're a California girl. You remember -- blackouts, the car tax, a recession. Now -- and it caused anger, as he was talking about. Now, it's COVID, it's homelessness, it's the high price of housing, inflation, and people are angry.


And what do they do? What do voters across the country, especially in California, do? They tend to blame the guy in charge. Nobody's saying that that's going to happen right now but the sort of tempest is so similar.

KEILAR: And so, we're just a week away --

BASH: Yes.

KEILAR: -- from the recall, finally, right? We've been talking about this.

BASH: Yes.

KEILAR: It's finally upon us. How do you see this playing out?

BASH: Well, the Newsom folks -- the Democrats also in charge in California -- they are taking it seriously now. They weren't sure how seriously to take it earlier but that's obviously changed in the past month, month and a half.

And the challenge right now -- it's not as if there's a groundswell in very blue California for a Larry Elder, who is the leading Republican on the recall side, because he doesn't fit the state at all. I mean, he is a true conservative. And the Democrats out-register Republicans now like two to one in California.

The issue is enthusiasm. And as I said before, the passion right now is on the anger side. So the challenge, which is why you're seeing such a robust push by Gavin Newsom to get people -- like, Kamala Harris is going this week, and others -- is just to tell people -- to remind people -- hey, guys, there is a recall. You have to vote because if you don't vote no on the recall, then the passion will outweigh the kind of potential apathy among Democratic supporters.

KEILAR: I think that is really the story. As a Californian --

BASH: Yes.

KEILAR: -- I recall so many ballot initiatives -- or even more local elections than just state elections -- where you knew that actually, most people felt a certain way but they weren't enthusiastic. They didn't vote --

BASH: Right.

KEILAR: -- and so you kind of saw these upset results.

This vocal and energized minority can really have an impact and they must be pretty worried about that with all the big names you see coming in.

BASH: Yes, they are. And back in 2003, one of the things that Schwarzenegger told me, it was different. He was the challenger.

He didn't want any big names. I mean, he was a big enough name. He was the biggest movie star in the world at the time. But he didn't want big names because he wanted to be --

KEILAR: Like, help. He didn't want it.

BASH: He didn't want it. He wanted to be alone. And it's just a very different dynamic for lots of reasons. But one of the other things that I learned in a big way, or at least sort of crystallized for me, is how much our politics today were kind of previewed in the 2003 recall. This podcast is mostly about the 2003 recall.

But the anger -- the people who pushed the recall were kind of people who led up to -- that kind of sentiment led up to the Tea Party and celebrity politics. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump -- very different people, very different politicians, but big, big household names.

KEILAR: Well, it's really fascinating. I can't wait to listen to this podcast, Dana.

BASH: Thanks, Bri.

KEILAR: You're going to be back with us in just a moment.

BASH: Yes.

KEILAR: But just to tell our viewers, you can listen to this wonderful podcast "Total Recall: California's Political Circus" wherever you get your podcasts. There will be new episodes dropping weekly, so be sure to subscribe so that you get all the latest.

And NEW DAY continues right now.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman alongside Brianna Keilar.

On this new day, pediatric cases of COVID in the U.S. surpassing 250,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic. What this means as kids head back to school.

KEILAR: And Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slamming Texas Gov. Abbott's deep ignorance, as she puts it, on abortion. Hear his defense of the state's new controversial law.

BERMAN: Former Trump advisor Jason Miller detained and questioned for three hours by police in Brazil. What he's now saying happened.

KEILAR: And see the moment -- the very weird moment that an unruly passenger was caught on camera growling. Like, really growling and screaming, as well, "Joe Biden" on an American Airlines flight.

BERMAN: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, September eighth.

A big surge in COVID cases among children in the U.S. just as children are returning to school. The Academy of Pediatrics reports that more than 250,000 new cases involving children in the last week -- that there have been 250,000 cases in the last week. That's a 23 percent increase from the week before and a 250 percent increase from five weeks ago.

Nearly 27 percent of all new weekly cases are children. You can see the number of children hospitalized does continue to climb with nearly 2,400 kids in the hospital this morning. We should note --