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Supreme Court Showdown; New Supreme Court Justice May Get To Rule On Obamacare Case; Trump, Biden To Square Off In First Debate Tuesday; Cal State Long Beach Halts In-Person Classes And Locks Down Campus After Positive COVID-19 Tests; How One Supreme Court Justice Can Impact U.S. For Generations; Heat Wave, Dry Winds Elevate Fire Risk Across West. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired September 27, 2020 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[14:00:17]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

The battle lines are being drawn. One day after President Trump announced his new pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, his 2020 rival Joe Biden and top Democratic lawmakers began making their case against the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

Earlier today in a speech from his home town of Wilmington Delaware, Biden insisted that support for Barrett was equivalent to destroying the Affordable Car Act. The nation's highest court is set to hear arguments in the case that could decide the fate of Obamacare one week after the election.

And today Biden appealing to the conscience of Republican senators to pump the brakes on a rapid confirmation, pleading with them to wait until the voters have picked a president in November and let the winning candidate choose a nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I urge every senator to take a step back from the brink, take off the blinders of politics for just one critical moment and stand up for the constitution you swore to uphold. This is a time to deescalate, to put an end to the shattering of precedence that's thrown our nation into chaos under this president.

Just because you have the power to do something doesn't absolve you of your responsibility to do right by the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All of this coming just two days now before President Trump and Joe Biden square off in the first presidential debate of 2020 and with just over a month to go before voters head to the polls, the fight over a new Supreme Court nominee appears headed for a quick and fierce showdown. The high stakes battle for control of the White House, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court is set to intensify.

We have a team of correspondents covering these developments.

Let's begin with Biden's strong rebuke of President Trump's Supreme Court nomination. CNN's M.J. Lee is on the ground for us in Wilmington.

So M.J., you know, Biden did not mince words. He focused on the demise of the Affordable Health Care Act riding on this Supreme Court nomination and confirmation.

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred.

And we just got a very stark demonstration of how much the issue of the Supreme Court has emerged front and center in the 2020 election. The Biden campaign only announced in the morning that Biden would be making remarks on this issue a little after noon on a day when he doesn't have any other campaign events planned.

And just to give you some historical context here, remember it was Biden who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1993. He actually oversaw the confirmation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and has at times even taken credit for her eventual confirmation and now here we are, 27 years later, the vacancy that has been left on the court in light of her death that has loomed so large over the 2020 campaign.

And what was really striking in the speech that we heard earlier is that Biden only actually said the name Amy Coney Barrett one time. He largely talked about the issue of health care, saying this is a part of the ongoing efforts by the Republican Party to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and he said this is particularly concerning given that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and a public health crisis.

And also when he talked about sort of the process and the timing of all of this, he really implored Senate Republicans who are going to be going through with this confirmation process to wait until election day, essentially, when we know who the next president is going to be.

Here's a little bit of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: Never before in our nation's history has a Supreme Court justice been nominated and installed while a presidential election is already under way. It defies every precedent, every expectation of a nation where the people -- the people are sovereign and the rule of law reigns.

There's no mystery about what's happening here. President Trump is trying to throw out the Affordable Care Act and he's been trying to do it for the last four years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Now I should note that a reporter that was in the room asked Biden after his remarks whether he would consider packing the courts. This is the idea, of course, of adding extra justices to the Supreme Court. He said he basically sees this as a distraction of a topic right now. He is not going to comment on it.

[14:04:58]

LEE: But Fred, you can bet if he does win in November this is going to be a hugely important issue in a potential Biden presidency, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. M.J. Lee in Wilmington, Delaware. Thank you so much.

All right. And now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is accusing the president of rushing the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett so that she will be in a position to rule on the Affordable Care Act.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider with more on this. So elaborate on what Pelosi is saying and adding to this.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, really Democrats sounding alarm bells here about the immediate effects of any confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, specifically a speedy confirmation and what this would mean for the future of health care in this country.

And that's because the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Affordable Care Act one week after the election. That's November 10th. The issue before the court at that time will be whether or not the individual mandate now that it's been brought down to zero dollars -- zero dollar penalty if you don't have insurance, whether or not that's constitutional and if it's not constitutional whether the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down.

Now, you'll remember, it was in 2012 that the Chief Justice John Roberts was the crucial vote siding with the liberals to save the Affordable Care Act when it came to the individual mandate. He declared it a tax.

Well, in 2017 Amy Coney Barrett right before she got into the Seventh Circuit, she wrote in a "Law Review" article this. She said "Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its the plausible meaning to save the statute." And it's that line right there that is really ringing alarm bells for Democrats because they worry that Amy Coney Barrett would be a decisive vote to strike down the health care law.

And Speaker Pelosi today talked about the practical effect that that would have on this country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It doesn't matter what the process is here, what matters is what it means personally to the American people.

If you have a preexisting medical condition, that benefit will be gone. If you're a woman, we'll be back to a time when being a woman is a preexisting medical condition. If your children are on your policy -- your adult children on your policy, no longer will they be and that in a time of a pandemic. And if you have seniors in your family who are having long-term care paid for by Medicaid they're going to be pretty soon moving back home and living with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: And it is the Trump administration who is advocating for the Affordable Care Act to be struck down. They are counting on Amy Coney Barrett, if she is confirmed to be that decisive vote. And Fredricka, the president was tweeting about it this morning. He said it would be a big win if ACA was struck down. He said that it would be replaced by something better.

Now, the president did put into effect an executive order September 24th saying that preexisting conditions would still be covered but he left no details about how exactly that would happen.

And Fred, it is important to note that even though the arguments will be held one week after the election on November 10th, there would not be any decision likely about the Affordable Care Act until probably the spring or the early summer of 2021. So it's effect will be a little bit delayed but, of course, Democrats very concerned about the role that Amy Coney Barrett could play here, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

So as Republicans rush to wrap up a confirmation on the justice nominee before the election, Democrats are scrambling to find ways to slow or perhaps even stop the process. One option being considered includes not meeting at all with Barrett when she visits Capitol Hill this week.

For more on this, let's bring in Jeremy Diamond at the White House.

So Jeremy, you know, we heard Joe Biden plead with Republican senators to hold off on a vote but overall what are Democrats able to do to slow down plans?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well listen, this coming week we're going to see Judge Amy Coney Barrett hit the halls of Congress to meet with those senators who will ultimately decide whether or not she is confirmed as the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

And as she does so, a handful of Democrats are already warning that they will not be meeting with Amy Coney Barret and I expect that that list will continue to grow.

A notable name on that list of people Senate Democrats who will not be meeting with her is the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Listen to his explanation for why he won't meet with her. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: No. Because I believe first, that the whole process has been illegitimate. And second, because she's already stated that she is for overturning the ACA. I will not meet with her.

We will use every tool in the toolkit to slow things down but Mitch McConnell so commandeered the Senate, has so defiled the Senate, there are fewer tools and they're less sharp.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[14:09:52]

DIAMOND: Now, there's no question that Democrats actually do have the public support on their side. Nearly six in ten Americans, according to several polls including one conducted by CNN earlier this week, say that it is the president who is elected on November 3rd who should pick this -- who should fill this vacancy in the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg but there's no question that the Democrats, there's very little that they can actually do.

Senator Dick Durbin saying this morning that perhaps Democrats can delay this ultimate vote by a matter of hours, perhaps a matter of days but Senate Republicans and the White House are definitely in lockstep here as it pertains to proceeding with this nomination and trying to get it done before the November 3rd election.

Very little that Democrats can do here and there's no doubt that Republicans, they see this as vitally important to the direction of the court over the next several years and President Trump views this as a key part of his legacy moving that court to a decidedly 6-3 conservative majority, Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right. Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much at the White House. So amid all of this, remember, ballots are already being cast. Election day is just 37 days away. The first debate is even closer, just two days away, and Democrats are clearly trying to center the discussion around health care coverage.

Let's bring in assistant editor for "The Washington Post" David Swerdlick and senior editor for "The Atlantic" Ron Brownstein. Good to see both of you.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey, Fred.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hey, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Ok.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: Yes, hello to everybody.

So Ron, you know, I wonder can the former vice president effectively make this election a referendum on the Affordable Health Care Act?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think this will raise that issue front and center. You know, if you go back to 2018, the promise to protect people with preexisting conditions that is embodied in the Affordable Care Act was the principle -- the most effective weapon that Democrats had in that election, particularly with blue collar white women who moved back toward the Democrats and could be critical in 2020 in some of the Rust Belt states where Biden is running much better than Hillary Clinton did.

With this nominee, this nominee has an unusually explicit paper trail opposing the Affordable Care Act. I mean the last few years, we've had nominees who've had kind of, you know, very thin paper trails on controversial issues. This is one who has pretty unequivocally said that it was wrongly decided by the Supreme Court to maintain it.

And so what I think Mitch McConnell has done is ensure that every vulnerable Republican senator is going to spend the month of October talking about the likelihood that this court will repeal the Affordable Care Act -- the possibility at least, if not the likelihood they will repeal the Affordable Care Act and what that will mean for Americans with preexisting conditions.

And real quick, The Commonwealth Fund polled this week in all ten of the major swing states and in all of them but one Biden held a substantial lead over Trump on who do you trust to protect patients with preexisting conditions. This is not terrain I think that most of those Republican incumbents want to spend October fighting on.

WHITFIELD: That paper trail for Barrett and the Affordable Care Act, David, I mean all the more reason why you would think most Democrats say they do want to press her on it, interview. I mean that Schumer and Blumenthal have said they don't even want to interview her this week when she makes her way to the Hill. Might that backfire?

SWERDLICK: Well, I think it will backfire if they try to stall and try to continue to make the case that this is sort of unfair from the way Republicans handled President Obama's nominee in 2016. Vice president Biden today started off his remarks by talking about Justice Ginsburg's dying wish.

All of those things are true. Republicans have been hypocrites. I think they've been liars about this. But that's not going to win the day because Republicans in the Senate have the votes and the White House wants to press forward.

If as Ron says, they make this about a do or die mission on the Affordable Care Act and go into the debate and go into the election saying essentially look, this is it. Republicans now have the votes on the court to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, they've got the president right now who wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act yet somehow try to claim that he is protecting preexisting conditions even though that's part of the Affordable Care Act.

That I think is going to be the winning message for Biden. He was statesman-like in his speech today. Measured. Went step by step. I think he's going to find a way in that debate Tuesday, Fred, to make those points quicker and show that he can both throw a punch and take a punch and really emphasize that to the viewing audience.

WHITFIELD: And Ron, the president says it's really important to have a ninth justice in place because something might happen on election day and all justices would need to weigh in. We've heard him already where he's undermining the potential legitimacy of this election. Why does this bode well for him?

BROWNSTEIN: Well look, he is putting a cloud over his nominee basically saying I want this nominee there to protect my interest if issued comes to the Supreme Court after the election. The Supreme Court getting involved in the election is not the common note in American history. The 2000 election really is the only time --

WHITFIELD: Right. It's not supposed to happen.

(CROSSTALK)

[14:14:58]

BROWNSTEIN: It is not supposed to happen. And in fact I think, you know, the only way that it could happen is if the president tries to use the Supreme Court to stop the counting of ballots after the election. I mean the fact is that even if you take this to the furthest extreme of Republican legislators trying to undermine the vote in their states by sending their own slates of electors which people kind of describe as a nightmare nuclear scenario. It is the Congress who ultimately decides on that -- which slate to accept.

And as long as Democrats hold the House they have more leverage in this process than many Democrats, rank and file Democrats, fear. But I would say that it is remarkable that the president and folks like Lindsey Graham are explicitly saying they want this justice there to rule on issues relating to the election, basically, you know, signaling as clearly as they can we want to put somebody on there who is, if it comes down to it, going to put their thumb on the scale in our favor.

WHITFIELD: Right. And so, of course, the argument has also been, you know, it would be up to the other justices to either have her recuse or perhaps she would have to recuse herself if indeed it came to that. And as a justice, confirmed justice, she would have to weigh in on this election given that she was nominated by this president.

So David, you know, President Trump so far has refused to guarantee peaceful transition of power. Here's what Senator Tom Cotton a Republican and Senator Joe Manchin a Democrat said about all of this today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR TOM COTTON (R-AK): What the president was saying is that he's not going to concede in advance, especially when you have so many states changing the rules at the very last minute for mail-in balloting. He has since said that if there's a clear winner, if this court settle a contested election then of course, he will.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): His words do have meaning especially to his ardent followers to where they think hey, they're trying to steal the election. We're not trying to steal the election, we're trying to count the votes. We're trying to figure out who is the winner. And under the pandemic that we have right now, they should understand. But he is making everyone believe that, hey, don't worry. There's going to be -- if we lose this election it will be stolen from him.

No. If you lose the election it's because the people wanted change. They want civility. They want decency back in our lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And then just hours after announcing his nominee for the Supreme Court, this was the president last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're going to try and steal the election. Look at this crap. The only way they can win Pennsylvania, frankly, is to cheat on the ballots.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, David, you know, this sowing of distrust, is it working? He does have the bully pulpit.

SWERDLICK: It sounds like projection to me, Fred. I'll just note here quickly that if Judge Barrett is confirmed by election day, a third of the Supreme Court will be President Trump's nominees -- Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barret. But to the point about the president, he has tried over the years really even before he took office to chum the waters to make as many people as possible think that the fix was in from anyone other than himself.

So he has had folks working for him work to, you know, throw gum in the works at the U.S. Postal Service. He has criticized mail-in ballots. He's saying he's leaving his options open on not having a peaceful transfer of power across the board.

What President Trump has stoked over the last four if not five years, is this idea that there's no way you can get a fair result. And that will leave him the option if he loses, I'm not making any prediction here, if he loses to claim that there was some fraud at play.

He claimed all of this in 2016, Fred, and then he won and yet has continued to sow doubt in the system.

WHITFIELD: And all that even though earlier in the week Republicans in the Senate signed a resolution that there will indeed be a peaceful transfer of power but the president still says that last night.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Fred. WHITFIELD: Yes, Ron. Go ahead.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick. It was significant that while doing that almost no Republicans criticized him by name and I think it's still an open question of how much should they would resist him if after the election he resorts to extraordinary measures to try to discount or discredit the result.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

SWERDLICK: I agree with Ron. All of the Republicans in Congress with the possible exception of Senator Romney are to one degree or another cowed by President Trump, they operate as his functionaries at this point, not really an independent branch of government.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Even though not saying, as you underscore that point, not saying his name.

All right. David Swerdlick, Ron Brownstein -- we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Fred.

SWERDLICK: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right.

Straight ahead, the stage is set for the first presidential debates of this year. Joe Biden, President Trump squaring off Tuesday night. We are live with the preparations as Biden picks up a new Republican endorsement.

[14:19:42]

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WHITFIELD: All right. We are just 37 days away from election day and in just over 48 hours we'll see President Trump and Joe Biden square off when the first presidential debate kicks off in Cleveland Tuesday night.

And that's where we find CNN's Arlette Saenz. Arlette, so how is Biden preparing for this showdown?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred, as Joe Biden and President Trump are preparing to face-off one on one for the first time in just two days, each of the candidates preparing for this debate in their own ways.

Joe Biden has spent most of the past few days in Wilmington, Delaware. And he's been diving a bit more deeply into his debate prep. We're told that early on he had been reading briefing books and also holding these smaller preparation sessions with his aides. But now he is really getting into that intense debate prep where he says he is preparing for those possible attacks from the president. Biden, in a recent interview, said that he expects the president to be very personal in his attacks. That the attacks may not necessarily be based in facts.

[14:24:51]

SAENZ: Now, one thing the Biden campaign has said is that they don't expect the former vice president to be acting as a fact checker to the president through this whole debate. They believe that's something that the moderator should be doing.

Now President Trump on his part, he has been studying up on some of the possible lines of attack that could come from Biden. We are told that he has no cards that he reviews as he is preparing for this debate.

Now for the debate itself, it's going to be very different from what we've seen in the past due to the coronavirus pandemic. The audience will be much more limited. They're expecting about 60 to 80 people. Everyone in that room will be tested before entering. The candidates themselves, they will be socially distanced during their exchanges. So a very different debate as everyone is adapting to the COVID-19.

WHITFIELD: And Arlette, Joe Biden has now picked up a key endorsement ahead of this debate from another Republican. What more can you tell us about the circumstances? How did it come about?

SAENZ: Yes, that's right. Tom Ridge, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and also a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania wrote an op-ed this morning saying that he will back Joe Biden despite having many policy differences with him.

And he issued a scathing critique of President Trump saying that he lacks the empathy to lead the country in this moment of crisis and also criticizing him for casting doubt about the election. Questioning things like mail-in voting so this is just yet another Republican that Biden has picked up as he's running for president.

You'll remember just a few days ago Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Senator John McCain threw her support behind Joe Biden and another endorsement that the Biden campaign is having today Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He issued his first presidential endorsement backing in the former vice president. Just a few of the supporters the Biden campaign is promoting heading into this debate.

WHITFIELD: All right. Lots of heavy hitters.

All right. Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

And of course, you can watch the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden right here on CNN. Special live coverage begins Tuesday night 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

And we'll be right back. [14:27:00]

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[14:30:00]

WHITFIELD: California State University Long Beach is now quarantining all on-campus residents and pausing in-person classes for two weeks. The school forced to make the move after several students ignored the school's guidance and gathered for an off-campus social gathering. Five of those students then tested positive for coronavirus.

Joining me right now to discuss is California's Surgeon General, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris.

Doctor, good to see you.

DR. NADINE BURKE HARRIS, CALIFORNIA SURGEON GENERAL: Good to be with you.

WHITFIELD: So, your state's health department is predicting that there will be an 89 percent increase in coronavirus hospitalizations over the next month and several school districts across the nation will continue to open for in-person learning in the coming weeks. So based on the data you have seen from K-12 schools that have already opened for in-person learning, should parents feel comfortable sending their kids back to the classroom in-person learning?

HARRIS: Well, the schools that are opening are really going to be based on public health guidance. And so the key thing is to make sure that kids have the resources that they need to be safe if they're going back to in-person learning. So we still got to do all of those the things in terms of social distancing, good hand washing, minimizing mixing and, of course, wearing masks.

WHITFIELD: And, of course, there's the sanitizing of the schools. I mean, that's going to be very difficult too, especially so many districts are looking at budget cuts. So, you know, there's a lot riding on that formula. How worried or concerned should anyone be?

HARRIS: Well, I will say that for myself as a mom of four kids, right, I think that we really are following the public health guidance around how we can get back to reopening as much as possible but as safely as possible. And this is really based on guidelines to ensure that we can be as safe as possible in getting our kids back to school.

WHITFIELD: Something else that is a big concern, family welfare experts have been telling CNN that the U.S. education department is not doing enough to help teachers identify signs of child abuse in virtual teaching. This after several states reported alarming drops in reports of child abuse and neglect in the early months of this pandemic.

So how should the Department of Education help teachers identify children or families in trouble? HARRIS: Yes. Well, this is certainly a big concern. We have seen a drop in reports of child maltreatment and we know that child maltreatment isn't going away, it's just not being reported. And I think there are a number of trainings to help educators learn about how to recognize the signs of child maltreatment when they're seeing it.

And it is tough for educators because they're not in person in the same way but there are signs that educators can look for, and that's really important.

WHITFIELD: Right. And it's tough for educators and so many teachers because they're already taxed as it is. I mean, they're having to do a lot more than they were accustomed to making all kinds of adjustments and it's been hard for a lot of our educators and families, of course.

So, California's fight against coronavirus is being exacerbated also by these wildfires. Thousands of firefighters are battling 25 major wildfires across California right now, so over 3.6 million acres have already burned.

[14:35:01]

How does the stress associated with the constant threat of wildfires now contribute to the secondary impacts of this pandemic?

HARRIS: Yes. Well, what we are seeing is that -- it's a rough time. Folks are dealing with the wildfires, the pandemic, and we know that some of the things that we do to relieve stress, things like exercise and being out in nature are made more difficult when we have smoke from wildfires.

One of the things that's important -- really important to realize is that the climate change isn't just an environmental issue, it's also a health issue that something that a lot of Californians are feeling right now as we're dealing with issues of air quality. It really impacts kind of our day-to-day quality of life.

And so as we are looking at the combined effects of not only the pandemic and the wildfires but also all of the issues of racial justice that are happening right now, it is a time of heightened stress. I think everyone is feeling that. And some of the things that we can do are things like good exercise, nutrition and connecting with folks that we trust.

WHITFIELD: At a distance. I mean, there's that, right? And you talk about exercise. Okay, but then you have got to be careful about going outside. I mean, it's just -- everyone is challenged on so many different levels and you have to make critical decisions for survival.

Let's talk about this recent study as well done by researchers at Stanford University showing that smoke from the wildfires may have already caused over 1,000 deaths. Is it possible that this many deaths could be tracked to this back to this kind of smoke inhalation or perhaps even the stresses that come with in these wildfires? HARRIS: Well, what we see is that smoke is for -- of greater risk for individuals who already have underlying health conditions, like cardiovascular disease or asthma or chronic lung disease and it can certainly worsen those conditions.

Interestingly, stress can also worsen all of those conditions, right, cardiovascular disease. And so the combination certainly is impacting lives. And it's important to recognize that we all take those preventive measures to ensure that we can be as healthy as possible, even during this time.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, I love your optimism. Thank you so much, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. Good to see you. Thank you.

HARRIS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, President Trump's Supreme Court pick could impact millions of Americans for decades to come. So what does it mean for the future of women's rights? I'll talk live with Lilly Ledbetter, who brought her fight for equal pay to the nation's highest court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:40:00]

WHITFIELD: All right. We are now on the cusp of the confirmation process for a brand new Supreme Court justice. Today, we're going to have several conversations about landmark rulings that affect millions of Americans and how a single nominee could impact lives for generations.

You have come to know the name, Lilly Ledbetter, by now. She, long ago, had been a manager of a Goodyear plant in Alabama. She file a sex discrimination lawsuit after receiving a note from an anonymous colleague indicating she was being paid less than her male counterparts.

Her case went to the Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007, where she actually lost that case in a 5-4 decision with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg not only writing the dissenting opinion, but in a rare move, Ginsburg read the opinion out loud in court. And in it, Ginsburg told Congress, quoting now, the ball is in your court, and so it went.

And then in 2009, then President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Congress passed the act with bipartisan support 18 months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Ledbetter's case.

And here she is, Lilly Ledbetter, joining us right now. Lilly, so good to see you.

You know personally, you know, the impact of the stacking of the U.S. Supreme Court. So, tell me how defeating it felt at the time that the Supreme Court, as a whole, that decision would mean that they didn't see it your way that you were deserving of equal pay. LILLY LEDBETTER, CONGRESS PASSED FAIR PAY ACT AFTER SUPREME COURT RULED AGAINST HER: It was a terrible feeling, just devastating. But, you know, it wasn't so much after I thought about it an hour or so, this was no longer about me but it was about all of the other women and minorities across this nation, because we could not let that verdict stand even though changing the law.

And having the Lilly Ledbetter bill, it never gained me not one penny but I can tell you it has helped thousands of other people. And this was not right to leave that verdict standing.

And that's what Justice Ginsburg said. She said, this is not right and you never know if you're being paid and compensated equally and fairly under the law and also people don't stand around discussing it. So it was very critical that we get this bill passed and changed into law.

WHITFIELD: So, what are your thoughts about this nomination of Amy Coney Barrett when critics already have said she's no RBG?

LEDBETTER: Well, you're right. And, first of all, I thought it was very disrespectful to nominate someone this soon to Justice Ginsburg's passing. She had only been deceased a week when the nomination came.

[14:45:01]

And I thought that was very rude.

And the other thing Congress right now, they're working on so many other things. We have got a pandemic in this country. We have fires on one end of the country and we've got floods on another. We have so many challenges right now in this country.

And I know for a fact the places that I get to travel now, even with the pandemic, I know that people are hurting and there are so many, many families that do not have a job. They're not getting anything but a few dollars of unemployment. And the Congress has not passed another stimulus package. There are so many things that Congress should be working on.

Plus, the country is in a big debate at this present time about voting for a president, whether we are voting for Biden or whether we're voting for our current president. That's a big debate. That's a huge accomplishment right there to make that decision to go forward in this country. And this is hurting. This is hurting the American families everywhere. So it is critical.

This could have been held off just a few weeks because when you decide on a Supreme Court justice, that person is in that office until death or they want to retire or their health reasons will disallow them to continue. And Justice Ginsburg worked all the way up.

WHITFIELD: All the way during her 87 years. A lot on the plate, you know, of the consciousness and the plate of the American public. And you just underscored Justice Ginsburg hasn't even been laid to rest. She will be laid to rest next week at Arlington National Cemetery. But tell me about your moment to meet her in 2010. I understand you had quite the conversation with her, found out that you had a lot in common and that you would see the copy of the Lilly Ledbetter Act hanging on her wall. I mean, that must have been an amazingly emotional meeting with her.

LEDBETTER: It was. And I have, never forgotten not one second of that visit. And after we started to talk, we shared first about each of us lost our husbands. She had just lost hers and I lost mine in '08. And we talked about that.

And then she told me. She shared with me that the first three jobs she got as a lawyer paid her less than they paid their male lawyers and they told her so. It was because she had a husband or it was because she was a woman. She was told right up front that they would pay her less, not the same as they pay their male lawyers.

And she knew how it felt and she knows what it's like with a family working but that was such a joyous meeting and she shared with me about President Obama bringing her a copy of the bill and a pen framed beautifully and it was hanging on her office wall.

WHITFIELD: Really poignant. Lilly Ledbetter, thank you so much for your time, your reflections and so many are grateful for your fight.

LEDBETTER: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Absolutely. Glad to have you.

And we'll be right back.

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[14:50:00]

WHITFIELD: A dangerous and dry heat wave descended on much of the west again this weekend. The Glass fire in Napa County has now burned approximately 100 acres and is 0 percent contained. More evacuations were issued this morning.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is joining us now. So, Paul, you have been covering these fires for months now. Is there a place where there isn't a hotspot?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they just keep cropping up. And, Fred, the latest, as you pointed out, in Napa County, it's not 1,000 acres burned, by the way, 660 homes evacuated. That's 2,000 people, as well as the Saint Helena Hospital. We understand they're getting a great level of cooperation because as this fire raged, it broke out just before 4:00 A.M., they heard what's called the high/low siren.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Warning, fire evacuation in progress. Warning, fire evacuation in progress. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VERCAMMEN: And as they tried to get a handle on that fire in Napa County here in Southern California, some tough news. They are looking for a missing hotshot firefighter, Carlos Alexander Baltazar, 35. His car was found collided with what looked like a guardrail. He's been missing since Thursday. This is the same hotshot crew, by the way, that recently lost its supervisor.

Back to you now, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh, that is so sad. Okay, we are hoping for the best possible outcome. Paul Vercammen, thanks so much.

All right, tonight on CNN, go inside the incredible story of the boy from Troy turned civil rights icon. Here is a preview of the CNN film, John Lewis, Good Trouble.

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REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO CORTEZ (D-NY): If John Lewis wasn't doing what he did, I would not be here today.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): Congressman Lewis gave us the blueprint. It is to organize, it is to mobilize and it is to legislate.

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): This was a country that had a hard time loving people like John Lewis.

[14:55:03]

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): John Lewis beat back numerous attempts over his career of people trying to alter voting rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to mention the representative, John Lewis.

FMR. REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): We came here to do our job. We came here to work.

We must say wake up, America. Wake up.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His voice and his example are needed now as much as they've ever been.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): He's probably the most courageous person I've ever met. I don't think I would have taken what he took.

LEWIS: You only pass this way once. You have to give it all you have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Lewis, Good Trouble, tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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