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Tom Steyer is Interviewed about Wildfires; Absentee Ballots on Hold in Pennsylvania; Coronavirus Pandemic Update from Around the World; Champions for Change Carla Gautier Castro. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 08:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Career for years before that.

Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

You call what we're seeing right now out west, which you're living through, climate fires. Why?

TOM STEYER (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AND CO-CHAIR, CALIFORNIA TASK FORCE ON BUSINESS AND JOBS RECOVERY: Because there's no doubt, John, about the connection between climate change and these fires. In California we've had record breaking heat this entire summer and at levels that are, for people in California who know what it means, really shocking. I mean we've got the highest temperature recorded in human history in Death Valley, but we also got 120 degrees last week in San Luis Obispo, which is a coastal college town, which you would never expect to be anything close to that.

So to have the worst fires by our history by far followed the greatest heat in our history by far, it's inescapable that there is a link between the two. And it's inescapable that this is an urgent crisis that has to dealt with immediately and forcefully and continuously.

BERMAN: We're hearing from firefighters, and you're reading in some of the articles, that those who are fighting the blaze -- see, there's something actually qualitatively different about these fires give the atmosphere now and how it's changed that just make it harder to battle.

STEYER: I don't think there's any question about that, John. It's also the number of fires. You know, we've got three of the four biggest fires in California history going on right now. So that the firefighters who have done a fantastic job are stretched incredibly thin. You know, these are intense, huge blazes. I think people across the United States know that this year, just in California, we've burned up more acreage than exists in the state of Connecticut. This is a huge, immediate, urgent problem.

BERMAN: What is -- it's an immediate -- there's no question it's an immediate and urgent problem. And you do wonder -- I wonder what if this were happening in states that mattered in the Electoral College? What if this wasn't California, Oregon, Washington state, which are deemed blue states? What if this was happening in Wisconsin? What if this was happening in Florida? We see hurricanes and all of a sudden every politician in the country descends on the hurricanes. So what if this were happening in an electorally college -- a state important in the Electoral College?

STEYER: Look, I think we all know that this is a global issue of climate. Right now we're having this horrific fires in -- on the West Coast, in Washington, Oregon and California. But we've seen floods, we've seen hurricanes, you know, in the Midwest and in Florida, in every one of those states.

So, yes, we are suffering here real-time in California. But, in fact, this is a global problem.

Look, this is crying out for national and international leadership.

BERMAN: What's the reality --

STEYER: The number one thing we can do is elect a different president whose going to recognize the problem, deal with it forcefully at home, deal with it forcefully overseas. That's actually the only solution we have to this problem is honest to God, Joe Biden.

BERMAN: And Donald Trump, who will be in California today, has not acknowledged the role that climate change has played in the blazes. Instead blames forest management. And some of that blame may be misplaced with the specifics of it, but what role does forest management have in trying to mitigate these blazes?

STEYER: Look, John, there's no question that when you talk about climate, there are two things you have to do. One is to try and prevent it from changing and the problems, and the second is to deal with the problems that exist. Mr. Trump is playing politics by denying the issue and then saying, we're not dealing with the problems, we're not adapting to this. In fact, the federal government, run by Donald John Trump, owns half of California. So if there's somebody who's not sweeping the floor in California, it's Donald John Trump. He's playing politics with the pain and suffering of American citizens. It's reprehensible. It should end. It's got to end on November 3rd.

BERMAN: Is there a through line or what is the possible through line between what we're seeing with the fires and issues surrounding climate change and the coronavirus pandemic?

STEYER: There's absolutely a through line, John. We have a president who will not act on scientific data and believes that he can make up the truth himself. And that has caused the deaths of Americans, thousands or tens of thousands, additional Americans who didn't have to die as a result of his failures in coronavirus.

What we're seeing in his four years of actually intentionally exacerbating climate change is a president who can't deal with the facts and doesn't realize a basic point, which is that if we deal with climate change, we can create millions of good paying, union, middle class jobs, we can make ourselves healthier, particularly in underserved black and brown communities where the air stinks and the water is undrinkable.


And we can also deal with a huge issue confronting the health and safety of every single American.

BERMAN: Tom Steyer --

STEYER: This is a signal failure of leadership -- signal failure of leadership by the president of the United States.

BERMAN: Tom Steyer, we appreciate you -- having you on the show. Nice to see you again. Glad to see the tie, at least, hasn't changed, even -- even if the candidacy is no more.

STEYER: We're still coming, John.

BERMAN: I appreciate it.

And, again, just so people know, we're not saying that climate change starts the fires. Fires start for a number of different causes. But climate change clearly contributes to the way that they burn and the frequency with which they're burning and the intensity to be sure.

We're now just 50 days away until the election. Every vote crucial in Pennsylvania.


VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Do you feel like your vote could be a deciding vote in this election?

JAY NOTARTOMASO, BIDEN SUPPORTER: Oh, yes, I -- I -- I feel it could be very, very, very close.


BERMAN: We have reporting from one of the key swing counties, next.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, early absentee voting was supposed to start today in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, but a slew of lawsuits have stalled the process.


Not a single county is ready to send out ballots to voters just 50 days ahead of Election Day.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich has been talking to voters in Pennsylvania and she joins us now.

What have you learned, Vanessa?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, this is a significant hiccup for voters in Pennsylvania. Many eager to get to the polls, especially in Luzerne County. This is one of the three countries that backed President Obama and then flipped to President Trump. So both Democrats and Republicans there know that the margin that Trump won by in that county made a difference in his victory in Pennsylvania.


YURKEVICH (voice over): In pivotal Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, voters are publically staking their allegiance.

JIM BARCHESKI, TRUMP SUPPORTER: My neighbor always put up Biden signs. So I wanted to get back at him.

YURKEVICH: At Republican county headquarters, voters streamed in for their signs.



JUSTIN BEHRENS, LUZERNE COUNTY REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN: We say, hey, Trump signs are in. Come on in. And then the doors started flooding, you know, open.

YURKEVICH: Outside the Democratic county office, voters impatiently waiting for it to open.

KATHY BOZINSKI, LUZERNE COUNTY DEMOCRATIC CHAIRWOMAN: They say signs don't vote. In Luzerne County, they do.

YURKEVICH: Luzerne could be crucial to deciding Pennsylvania this year. It happened in 2016 when the county which Barack Obama carried twice backed President Trump by 26,000 votes. Overall, Trump won Pennsylvania by about 44,000, less than one point.

REP. MATT CARTWRIGHT (D-PA): If you're running for the Oval Office, you ignore northeastern Pennsylvania at your peril.

YURKEVICH: Before the pandemic, Luzerne's economy was stable. Trump promised to bring back manufacturing, the largest industry here. And in 2016, manufacturing jobs grew. In a recent poll, while Biden leads by 9 points among likely Pennsylvania votes, they gave Trump the edge on handling the economy.

GAETANO BUONSANTE, VOTED FOR TRUMP, UNDECIDED: I do think Trump will do a good job based on his -- the past few years with helping bring back the economy.

YURKEVICH: Gaetano Buonsante voted for Trump in 2016 on that very issue, something both Democrats and Republicans here still say is their number one concern. Buonsante's family owns several pizza shops in Luzerne.

BUONSANTE: (INAUDIBLE) counter with the ovens back there.

YURKEVICH: Two didn't survive the pandemic. But it's the issue of policing and race in America that has him questioning his vote.

BUONSANTE: A lot of African-Americans, I think, have been left behind on a lot of policies. I don't think Donald Trump has done -- he's done some things to help. I don't think he's done enough compared to the window of opportunity that we have right now.

YURKEVICH: Across the street, Jay Notartomaso's record shop also took a hit during the pandemic. He closed for two and a half months, collecting unemployment for the first time.

JAY NOTARTOMASO, BIDEN SUPPORTER: The effects of the pandemic could have been less if we took the right initiative and had leadership at the beginning of the pandemic, and we did not. And now we know that Trump actually knew but downplayed it. That is a disgrace.

YURKEVICH: With Pennsylvania's battleground status, voters in Luzerne say they're prepared for another close race.

YURKEVICH (on camera): Do you feel like your vote could be a deciding vote in this election?

NOTARTOMASO: Oh, yes. I -- I -- I feel it could be very, very, very close.


YURKEVICH: Now, the candidates know how critical Luzerne County is to Pennsylvania. Vice President Pence was just there visiting within the last month. And particularly for Democratic voters I spoke to, we know that Joe Biden will be in Scranton, Pennsylvania, that's in neighboring Lackawanna County, later this week. But Democratic voters are really hoping that Joe Biden makes an appearance in Luzerne County, something Hillary Clinton did not do and Democrats there felt like they were forgotten. They hope that Joe Biden doesn't make that same mistake.


CAMEROTA: Vanessa, really interesting to hear how those voters are feeling today. Thank you very much.

And join Anderson Cooper for a special CNN presidential town hall with Joe Biden, live from Pennsylvania, Thursday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

BERMAN: All right, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a strict, nationwide three week lockdown amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

CNN has reporters around the world covering the latest developments.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Jerusalem, the country is preparing for a second general lockdown after a surge in coronavirus cases over the course of the last week that looks like it's continuing to this week. Last week, the record was set at 4,217 new cases in a day and that marked three straight days of more than 4,000 cases. It because of those numbers that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a three-week closure set to start on Friday, right before the Jewish high holidays.


And this will look much like the first closure back in April. Citizens will be required to stay within 500 meters, or about a quarter mile of their home. Schools and restaurants will be closed, except for takeout and delivery. Entertainment venues, leisure venues, all of these will be closed as Israel tries to get these numbers under control.


Here a new worrying record set on Saturday, the number of new cases above 10,000. The French prime minister spoke to the nation on Friday night saying that the figure he was really worried about was the rise in the number of hospitalizations. There is no suggestion, though, that France is heading to a second general lockdown with the French prime minister announcing that on a country he was handing to local authorities now, the responsibility of fresh measures to try and contain the latest rises with Baldo (ph) and Massay (ph), two of the big hot spots at the moment, expected to give him today their plans for their measures to help bring the figures back under control.


BERMAN: All right, our thanks to our reports all around the world.

So a bold architect is challenging the way homes are built in hurricane prone Puerto Rico. She's one of CNN's Champions for Change, next.



BERMAN: So all this week CNN is highlighting changemakers who are redefining what is possible. We call them our "Champions for Change".

And this morning we tell you about a bold architect in Puerto Rico. We went there before the pandemic to see how she is revolutionizing life in disaster-prone areas with stormproof homes built from shipping containers.


CARLA GAUTIER CASTRO, KONTI DESIGN BUILD STUDIO: Hurricane Maria changed everything for everyone here in Puerto Rico. There were about 70,000 homes destroyed. Some had no roof and some only just had a toilet left standing.

We don't have to live this way.

My mission is to build homes that are earthquake proof and hurricane proof.

My company is challenging the way we look at construction. We're using shipping containers as a base structure.

I'm a third generation architect. My grandfather and my father are both architects. They've always taught me that being part of a community and helping out that community is actually really important.

Some days after Hurricane Maria I joined FEMA to work as a construction inspector. I remember this one case this lady came into us and we couldn't find the house. And we realized that we couldn't find the house because there was absolutely nothing left.

The desperation in that woman's face was just -- I'm just never going to forget it.

The name of my company is called KONTI Design Build Studio. In Spanish it actually combines into many phrases. For example, the word (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE), which means "with you," as in, you can take your home with you.

These actually look really good. And then we go inside.

So there's no holes in the roof. There's no holes in the walls. This is a really beautiful container. It's a really beautiful future home.

Our first KONTI home was built in Vieques, which is an island off the coast of Puerto Rico and was one of the worst off communities after Hurricane Maria.


When I come visit Mildred and Amador, who are the owners of this hours, it just makes me feel so happy to see that this couple was actually able to get their dream because it was more cost effective and faster. It's probably one of my proudest moments.

LUIS AMADOR, HOMEOWNER (through translator): I opened those doors and I'm in paradise. It was her dream to have something that is ours, and we achieved it. At first we didn't have a lot of faith, but she fought for us to build.

MILDRED DIAZ, HOMEOWNER (through translator): (INAUDIBLE) lives with her hair standing on end waiting to see if we will get hit by another hurricane. This is the best option.

CASTRO: Almost three years after Hurricane Maria, the island is experiencing a string of earthquakes. In the south part of the island, this has left some homes and businesses uninhabitable.

The non-profit Americans for Conservation and the Arts, is using one of our homes as a heath command center in order to be able to distribute supplies and aid to the people that have been affected by the earthquakes.

Communities have gathered together and built camps where they're sleeping in tents in open spaces.

LUZ MARIA MORALES VARGAS, EARTHQUAKE VICTIM: This is the back (ph). I'll show you to the back (ph).


VARGAS: I (INAUDIBLE). I lost everything. But that's OK, I'm going to get up again, with the help of God.

CASTRO: The median income in Puerto Rico is about $20,000, when the average home costs about $100,000. The math just doesn't add up. Our KONTI M1 model goes for about half the price of the average home in Puerto Rico. So we can also make our homes completely off grid. So the ultimate goal is to be able to produce a hundred units a month. We can really use these houses for disaster relief and we can use it for refugee camps. But the best part is, we want to produce them here in Puerto Rico and ship them all around the world.



BERMAN: I've got to say, talk about innovation, right?

CAMEROTA: I know. I was just thinking that.

I mean Puerto Rico's been hit so hard and you need creative -- you know, creative minds like that to help.


We will continue to share these inspirational stories all week long. Be sure to watch our "Champions for Change" one-hour special this Saturday at 10:00 p.m.

CAMEROTA: Hosted by who?

BERMAN: Hosted by, you can see it in very small print. I argued for bigger print there. It's hosted by Alisyn Camerota and John Berman. Saturday night.

CAMEROTA: That's going to be great. That alone is going to be great.

BERMAN: All right, we are waiting to hear a statement from former Vice President Job Biden on the fires out west. Our coverage continues, next.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


This morning, if you don't live on the West Coast, watch these pictures, listen to these stories. Just devastating wildfires scorching multiple states. [09:00:03]