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CNN NEWSROOM

Florida Braces as Elsa Gains Strength; Washington Post Reports GOP Candidates Embrace Big Lie for 2022 Midterm Elections; Central Command Says U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan 90 Percent Complete; ESPN's Nichols Replaced for NBA Finals Sideline Reporting. Aired 3:30- 4p ET

Aired July 6, 2021 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

TOM SEDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: In the Tampa area they're just on the edge now of seeing the rain move into the area.

Now hurricane hunters into the aircraft just a little while ago, of course, giving us our indication that yes, we're on the verge of having ourselves a hurricane. So the hurricane warning has replaced the hurricane watch. We knew it was possible just before landfall. This is lightly early. But no one is going to know the difference between a strong tropical storm and a minimal category one hurricane. The risks are all the same.

The feeder bands are the big issue. And as you look off into areas of the coast where Miami is as we get in closer. This is probably going to be the worst of it for the crews working in the operation of Surfside. You can see these feeder bands sliding right in. Let's get in a little bit closer. And they extend for a while. Eventually this line of severe weather will lift northward. And I think that will the worst for them.

For the rest of the state and mainly, that Gulf coastal area, it is going to be through the day and into the night until we have the landfall tomorrow morning. It downgrades to a tropical depression and then remerges off the coast of Norfolk and develops again to a tropical storm. Many states involved in this one.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: It looks like it. Tom Seder, thank you for tracking all that for us.

OK, let's go back to Clearwater Beach. That's where CNN national correspondent, Randi Kaye is standing by. So Randi, what is the situation there now?

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's actually worsened, Alisyn, just in the last few minutes. We lost the sunshine here. The wind has certainly picked up. I am looking at a very dark ominous sky behind the camera. But people are clearing off the beach. I was just saying a few minutes ago when I was talking to the two of you that people were enjoying the day. Now there's a little bit of rain and some dust blowing around. So people are clearing off the beach.

But the storm right now is about 180 miles south of us moving slowly up the west coast. There are hurricane warnings for here in this area, Tampa, Clearwater, also for the west coast of Florida. Rain is the big concern here. They are expecting about four to six inches. And we're also going to be on the eastern side of the storm. So that is the worst side to be on. We'll get some heavy winds here as well.

The governor announced that he has about 6,000 utility personnel in place. Just in case there are some widespread power outages. And the hurricane hunters I should mention did finally get up in that -- into the hurricane itself. So they measured the winds at 70. We're expecting them here this evening about 60, 65 miles per hour. The worst of it anywhere from 8:00 p.m. on.

But I did run into a hurricane hunter or storm chaser I should say here. Mark Zakowsky (ph), you moved here to chase storms, are you concerned at all with people that you see just sort of enjoying the day and they don't seem real concerned about the storm?

UNKNOWN MALE, STORM CHASER, FLORIDA: Well, they are definitely leaving the beach now.

KAYE: Yes. You have your family -- you going to stay inside tonight even though you like to chase them?

UNKNOWN MALE: Yes, we've battened down the hatches. I got five little ones and my wife is just over the bridge. So they are home safe. We got all of our supplies and everything like that.

KAYE: I talked to a lot of people here who said that they went shopping earlier, they got water, snacks, dinner even. You do the same?

UNKNOWN MALE: Absolutely. Yes, yes. Our neighbors are calling us like at 6:00 in the morning. Did you get your stuff? So.

KAYE: We're going to be here tonight on Clearwater Beach. This is where you said is the place to be if you want to chase the storm?

UNKNOWN MALE: If want to chase the storm, yes, right here.

KAYE: All right, all right, Mark, appreciate it. Stay safe tonight. As you can see, once again the winds are certainly picking up. We're going to get some shelter as well. Victor, Alisyn, back to you.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Yes, Randi, we can see the people on the beach behind you packing up, running in as the winds pick up. Randi Kaye for us there, Clearwater Beach.

CAMEROTA: It really has gotten worse in just a few minutes.

BLACKWELL: Yes, in just a couple of minutes. Thanks, Randi. So as the former president's big lie lives on, we're going to talk

about just how many Republicans are fueling their campaigns with it in the run to the 2022 midterms.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:35:00]

CAMEROTA: As the 2022 midterms get closer, a new "Washington Post" report finds that many Republican candidates are embracing the big lie and focusing their own campaign pitches on Trump's false election claims. The report finds that of the nearly 700 Republican who have filed initial paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run next year for either the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives, at least a third have embraced Trump's false claims about his defeat.

BLACKWELL: Now the report says, if the GOP strategy playing out at the local and state levels as well, pointing out that Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano, who is contemplating a run for governor, recently told Trump that he could engineer a post-election audit in his state like one underway in Arizona.

Amy Gardner is a national political reporter for "The Washington Post" and she broke that story. Amy, thanks for being with us. In many of these races, according to your reporting, great piece by the way, it's the central conflict --

AMY GARDNER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: -- of these races. It's not one element, it is what these candidates are running on.

GARDNER: That's right. And in fact, some of these candidates are challenging Republicans in primaries who they are saying didn't do enough to defend former President Trump. For instance, there are at least six Republican challengers to Liz Cheney. The Republican member of Congress who was kicked out of leadership in Congress because she voted to impeach Trump and has not embraced and in fact has repudiated his claims that the election was stolen.

[15:40:00]

And there are examples like that all around the country. President Trump has endorsed the challenger to Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State in Georgia who did not embrace President Trump's false claims. And so you see that everywhere around the country in hundreds of instances actually.

CAMEROTA: Amy, it's just the craziest, most Orwellian logic that they're using. They can't support a loser. They don't want to follow the playbook of a loser so they are changing reality to pretend that he won. I don't understand. I mean from your research and in talking to them, why?

GARDNER: Well, I think that President Trump remains incredibly popular with his base, with the Republican base. Remember that, you know, public polls, including one that we conducted earlier this year show that the majority of those who support President Trump and the majority of Republican voters believe that fraud affected the outcome in 2020.

And so the reason is that there's an electorate out there that believes what former President Trump told them. And now you have public officials, you know, elected officials, politicians who understand the power that Trump has over the Republican electorate. The fact they need those voters to support them in order to win public office and therefore they too are embracing the false claims.

I think that there are a couple of different categories of people out there. There are people who believe there was something that went wrong that needs to be investigated even though there have been multiple audits and recounts and even, you know, former Attorney General Bill Barr declared there was not fraud at a level that made a difference in the outcome of the presidential race last year.

But I think you have other categories too. You have people who don't believe that fraud affected the outcome but who are -- you could say cynically or opportunistically embracing this position because they recognize that this is one path to the Republican nomination for their races.

BLACKWELL: You know, back in December, January, I questioned do they really believe it? Now I wonder does it even matter. If they are going to run on it, if they're going to change policy based on this lie, does it matter if they believe it or not? I think the more important question here is, is it effective? Are they winning these primaries in the local and state races?

GARDNER: Well, we have a data point right now in Virginia which elects its House of Delegates, the state house in the year after presidential election and a young challenger to a House of Delegate's seat in the rural south side of Virginia defeated a longtime incumbent. And not a RINO, you know, somebody who had an A rating with the NRA and a top rating with Family Foundation. A real conservative with a track record but against whom this challenger named Wren Williams made this case that he wasn't strong enough on fraud.

This guy had volunteered to do legal work for Trump in Wisconsin and claimed on the campaign trail that he saw fraud in Wisconsin and that people like the incumbent he was running against weren't doing enough to strengthen election laws and to do audits and he won.

And it's not true that he saw election fraud in Wisconsin by the way. That was disproven by the post-election counts in the two largest counties in the state.

BLACKWELL: Yes, there was a recount in Wisconsin that confirmed that Biden won. There was a lawsuit that Wren Williams brought that was dismissed as well. There was no fraud across the country or in Wisconsin.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it's chilling, Amy, I mean it's just chilling how a lie has taken root and it appears to be working. Thank you very much for sharing your report for this.

GARDNER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, next, U.S. troops and gear are almost completely out of Afghanistan. CNN is on the ground to see what's next as the Taliban gains ground.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:45:00]

CAMEROTA: The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is nearly complete. More than 17,000 pieces of equipment have now been moved.

BLACKWELL: But there are also reports of looting at the Bagram Air Base -- U.S. troops recently left Bagram. A new video shows American made items from the base being sold at a local market. CNN's Anna Coren has the latest now from Kabul.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, U.S. Central Command has announced that more than 90 percent of the U.S. withdrawal is now complete. It comes days after U.S. and NATO forces flew out of Bagram Air Base once the nerve center of U.S. operations and America's 20- year war. The U.S. Department of Defense said it handed over seven facilities within the sprawling compound to Afghan forces who were only told once U.S. troops had left the country.

Since President Biden announced the withdrawal back in April, the equivalent of approximately 984 C-17 loads of equipment has been flown back to the United States. 650 U.S. Marines will remain in Afghanistan to protect the U.S. embassy while other U.S. troops will secure the international airport until a permanent arrangement is reached with Turkish forces.

[15:50:00]

But while this may signal the end of America's war, for Afghanistan, it is just another chapter. An emboldened Taliban is launching wide- scale offensives across the country, particularly in the north, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced as they flee the fighting.

Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are at a virtual standstill and the threat of civil war is looming. For the Afghans we speak to, they say there is no end in sight to the violence and have little confidence there will ever be peace in this country.

Anna Coren, CNN, Kabul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: Anna, thank you very much. Next, ESPN host Rachel Nichols is in a bit of controversy with her own

network after making some controversial comments about diversity at work. Hear how ESPN has decided to now take action.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:55:00]

CAMEROTA: ESPN has pulled Rachel Nichols from covering the NBA finals as a sideline reporter starting tonight after fallout from a controversial audio recording released in a "New York Times" report. In the conversation which took place last year, Nichols can be heard complaining that ESPN chose Maria Taylor, who's a black female employee, for NBA finals coverage instead of her. CNN has not independently obtained this recording and Nichols has not denied its authenticity.

BLACKWELL: Now in it, she reportedly says, in part, I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world. She covers football, she covers basketball. If you need to give her more things to do because you're feeling pressure about your crappy long-term record on diversity, which by the way, I know personally from the female side of it, like, go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You're not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.

Brian Stelter is CNN's chief media correspondent and anchor of "RELIABLE SOURCES." So who's going to replace Nichols and what is ESPN saying about this?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN'S CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Malika Andrews is going to be the sideline reporter when the NBA finals start on ABC tonight. So ESPN is kind of sidestepping this or trying to, but not having Rachel Nichols or Maria Taylor, instead it will be Malika Andrews filling in. She like Maria is black.

Now ESPN says: We believe this was the best decision for all concerned, in order to keep the focus on the NBA finals.

So really again, to sidestep this controversy. So Nichols will keep hosting her daytime show, but she won't be in prime-time for the time being. Nichols was right that ESPN was facing pressure about diversity last year and rightly so. Of course, ESPN should be under pressure to make the network look more like America.

But there's a key paragraph in this "New York Times" expose that sums it up. Multiple black ESPN employees said they told one another after hearing this leaked conversation that it confirmed their suspicions that outwardly supportive white people talk differently behind closed doors. I think that's at the heart of this controversy.

CAMEROTA: Everybody talks differently behind closed doors about everything. Not just about racial issues. People talk differently in the privacy of their own hotel room. And I just want to say --

STELTER: And that's part of the story too. CAMEROTA: -- this was a private phone conversation in her own hotel room, she didn't know that her camera was still on. And I just think that we need to say that.

STELTER: Yes, she called it a spy video. She thought she was having a private call with a friend, venting. And she says it was a spy video. But this video then circulated all around ESPN and created this internal controversy for a year that we are just learning about now.

And this notion that Nichols was suggesting that one of her colleagues was only getting a job because her colleague is black, that was really at the heart of this controversy. Meantime, Maria Taylor is not commenting, she's not saying anything about this. In fact, Rachel Nichols said she's reached out to Maria to apologize and Maria has not returned those phone calls or texts.

CAMEROTA: Rachel Nichols did apologize yesterday. So let's hear what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL NICHOLS, ESPN REPORTER, HOST "THE JUMP": So the first thing they teach you in journalism school is don't be the story. And I don't plan to break that rule today or distract from a fantastic finals.

But I also don't want to let this moment pass without saying how much I respect, how much I value our colleagues here at ESPN. How deeply, deeply sorry I am for disappointing those I hurt, particularly Maria Taylor. And how grateful I am to be part of this outstanding team.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: So she has received support from some of her colleagues, but you're saying that no response from Maria Taylor.

STELTER: Right, no response from Maria Taylor. And there's also a subtext to this about business. Maria Taylor is in the midst of a contract negotiation. She may leave ESPN in a couple of weeks. To have this come out now may have benefited her in that contract negotiation.

Now she says there's been experiences -- she told ESPN, Maria Taylor, that there were other times at ESPN last year where she experienced racial insensitivity. And you know, at the same time, you have Rachel Nichols pointing out, she's one of the women at ESPN, in an organization dominated by men, she knows what it's like to experience those diversity pains.

So I think this, you know, ultimately is about management at ESPN and ultimately about management at television networks, about representing, again, what America is on television and both Nichols and Maria Taylor, actually, can relate to that issue, that challenge.

BLACKWELL: Yes, a lot of people can. Brian Stelter, thanks so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for breaking all of that down for us, Brian.

Yes, it's complicated. I mean these are, obviously, complicated conversations. And it's particularly tough when, you know, as she says, she thought that she was having a private conversation and now it's gone global.

BLACKWELL: But also, to say something in front of the camera and then to say something you're caught, allegedly, saying something else. That's important.

CAMEROTA: All true.

BLACKWELL: The Lead starts right now.

END