Return to Transcripts main page


Extreme Heat in Western U.S. Causing Drought, Wildfires; Biden Tackles Spike in Gun Crimes After 125 Killed This Weekend; Mother Mourns Teen Daughter Who Was Kidnapped, Fatally Shot; Long-Standing Government Distrust Hurting U.S. Vaccination Push; Poll: American Optimism at 13-Year High; Biden Speaks After Meeting on Gun Violence; Biden Comments on Massive Anti-Communism Protests in Cuba; Biden "Closely Following" Haiti Assassination Case. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired July 12, 2021 - 13:30   ET




ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: More than 18 million people from Oregon to Utah are under extreme heat alerts. The brutal temperatures are also fueling wildfires. Right now, 59 are burning across the country.

CNN's Stephanie Elam joins us from Los Angeles.

Stephanie, I know the relentless heat is intensifying drought conditions where you are. Tell us about that.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And it's throughout the region, Ana. It is really concerning.

In fact, last week, I traveled up to Fresno County, and from there you can see through the mountains of Yosemite. The snowpack is gone. That's early in the summer for that. And that is part of the issue here.

Last winter was just so dry. And then you couple that with the fact that we have not been getting more rain and there wasn't enough snow, which we usually count on for water supply.

But that also affects the ground. Because the ground water is not getting replenished. That means the ground water is pumped up for more agriculture. We're seeing it in the state.

All of that persists the drought conditions.

And now, because the humidity is low, they're concerned about the wildfires.

We saw a new wildfire popping up near Yosemite, the River Fire in California. You also have another, Beckwourth, the Beckwourth Complex Fire, which is burning in the Plumas National Forest up north.

These are very concerning because the kindling is so dry. I'm calling it kindling. They're plants but, because they're dry, it's concerning.

And what we have learned from experts is this extreme heat that we're seeing, the long passes of days of these extreme temperatures is leading to more of the drought and because it's so dry, it's leading to more of the heat, and that all sets us up for fires.

That's why you can see there's eight states that have said they have some sort of drought emergency because conditions are so dry.

I know normally, Ana, we think about just California being in this situation, but that is just not the case.

At this point -- as our screen is falling on my head.


ELAM: But really, it's just not the case.

Even in Colorado, where you're from, I can tell you that they're very concerned about drought in half of the state.

So seriously, very much a western problem here.

CABRERA: Way to roll with that, with the falling objects in your live shot.



ELAM: This is part of the problem, too.


CABRERA: Oh, no. You're right. That just fuels the flames.

Stephanie Elam, it's good to have you there.

ELAM: Right.

CABRERA: Thank you. Thank you for bringing that to us.

Right now, President Biden is meeting with law enforcement leaders to discuss the uptick in violent crime in America, specifically gun violence.

In just the last 72 hours, at least 125 people were shot and killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

But instead of just focusing on the latest statistics, we want to bring you the real-life impact this is having on people across our nation.

CNN's Lacey Russell has one mother's tragic story.


UNIDENTIFIED NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The body of 15-year-old Sanaa Amenhotep was found.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS CORRESPONDENT: She disappeared on April 5th. And Sheriff Lot says that she was murdered shortly after her kidnapping.


They told me she had been shot a minimum of 11 times. I'm just like, really? Why?

LACEY RUSSELL, CNN PRODUCER (voice-over): In 2019, Saleemah Graham Fleming moved her family to South Carolina hoping for a better life for her three young daughters.

FLEMING: My family had already suffered so much loss. I believed it was safer than the streets that I was in in New Jersey. I was thinking that this would be a better life, like any other northerner.

RUSSELL: Two years after making the move, Saleemah's 15-year-old daughter, Sanaa Amenhotep, was kidnapped, shot, and killed. Three teens are charged with her murder.

FLEMING: This is the first day she ever went to a day care. I cried my eyes out this day.


RUSSELL: Saleemah is familiar with the trauma that comes with losing a loved one to gun violence. But she says that didn't prepare her for the grief she's experiencing from the loss of her first-born child.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS CORRESPONDENT: A bullet ended the life of a 14-year- old girl.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Eleven-year-old shot to death while she was at a friend's house.

UNIDENTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: It's a sad day that we have to be here today to talk about another death.

RUSSELL: South Carolina is logging its highest annual murder rate in more than 60 years.

In Richland County, where Saleemah lives, more than 60 people have been victims of gun violence this year. Eighteen people died, and most of them were young adults and teens.

LEON LOTT, SHERIFF, RICHLAND COUNTY, SC, SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: This tragic -- it's tragic to see so many young people getting killed and shot. So many young people going to prison.

Being around as long as I have, I've seen the difference. This is different.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gun violence is something I'm forced to think about every time I walk outside, which would be every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know people who got shot. It is bad. But you just can't put your mind on it. You have to stay focused on what you're doing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is what the world is. Does it have to stay like this forever?

LOTT: It is a crisis. It's a crisis nationwide. And it's a crisis here in Richland County. We're seeing it.

Young people with guns, with total disrespect for life are out here shooting almost every day. They just don't care.

In my profession, probably one of the hardest things to do is to tell someone their loved one has been killed, especially when it's a child, especially when it's a young person whose life has just been taken needlessly.

FLEMING: I didn't want to think about my beautiful daughter being shot in her pretty face. And I'm just blessed that, from what they told me, she was not.

And then I thought about my daughter's personality and I thought about everything.

To shoot her 11 times? It still doesn't make sense to me. And it probably will never make sense to me.

LOTT: Sanaa's case is typical to what we see with the shootings. These young people with guns just don't shoot just one time. It's more like spray and pray. Just shoot a bunch of bullets and hope you hit your targets.

These are kids with guns. They're not trained how to shoot a gun. They just know to pull the trigger and keep pulling the trigger until they run out of bullets.

Saleemah says her Sanaa's death has been especially hard on her 13- year-old daughter, Shaday (ph).

FLEMING: Imagine coming to the world and everything you know about being a child, about being a girl you learn from this person. And now that person is just gone.

From experience, we're losing my brother, that's a pain. My brother was killed five days before Christmas in 2017. Right before midnight, somebody shot him.

We had that common now, right? Our very closest best friend, sibling, is gone. Ironically, they're in the same grave.

And the only consolation I can give her is we're together, just like they're together.

And it's really hard to even say, because I wish it wasn't neither one of our reality, but that's all I got.


CABRERA: Oh, just so heart breaking. I don't need to tell you. It's been a tough and emotional year.

But we are seeing some new signs, things are looking up for Americans. Stay with us.



CABRERA: The White House is in the middle of a full-court press to get more people vaccinated. But we have a trust problem, not just in the vaccine but in the government.

Harry Enten is here to lay it out for us.

Harry, explain how views on the federal government are correlating with the vaccination rates.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR WRITER & ANALYST: Sure. You know, look, we've had declining trust in the federal government for a long time. And I think that's really playing a role here in sort of trust with concern with the federal government and the vaccines.

And if you see it here, this gives you a really good understanding. How much do you trust the government to provide COVID vaccine -- COVID-19 information?

Look at that. Just 18 percent have a great deal of trust. That's less than the 20 percent who have not at all trust.

And why is this so important? Because take a look here. Look at the vaccination rates by trusts in the federal government.

If you have a great deal of trust, 91 percent of those adults are vaccinated. But just 35 percent of those with no trust at all are vaccinated.

It's a really big deal when the government is trying to push forward and trying to get folks to take the vaccines. If they don't trust the government, they're not taking the vaccine.

And this is especially true among unvaccinated Republicans. Look at this. Among unvaccinated Republicans, just 3 percent of them have a great deal of trust in the federal government for COVID-19 information. And 51 percent of them have no trust at all.

So when the government is going out and trying to say, you should get the vaccine, they'll save your life, the fact is, these unvaccinated Republicans just don't believe them. CABRERA: That is fascinating.

Let's talk about another enlightening new poll. And some actual good news for a change. American optimism is at a 13-year high.

ENTEN: God, you know, I love good news. This is great news.


Look at this. The percentage of Americans who say they are thriving, look at this, 59 percent of them in June of 2021.

That beats the previous high in the last 13 years since Gallop first started asking the question, which was 57 percent in September of 2017.

We're way up from the 46 percent that we were from the beginning of the pandemic in April of 2020.

You know what? There's a lot of bad news going on there in the world but this is good news. Americans, a lot higher percentage of them say they're thriving.

CABRERA: How does mental health factor into all of this?

ENTEN: Yes. One of the reasons I think people say they're thriving is their mental health is much better.

During the pandemic, what we saw week over week was a lot of Americans were saying their mental health has worsened over the last week.

Look at that. Back in March of 2020, when the pandemic was beginning, 35 percent said it had gotten worse. Now, we're just down to 9 percent who say their mental health has worsened over the last week.

In an era in which there's so much partisanship, what we see right now is, in fact, Republicans and Democrats, an equal percentage of them, say that their mental health has worsened. Just 8 percent in both of those categories.

So good news -- Ana?

CABRERA: Absolutely. We could all use a little positive information to --


CABRERA: -- help boost our moods.

So thank you for bringing that today.


ENTEN: My pleasure.

CABRERA: Jeff Bezos, you're up. The space tourism industry is officially taking off.



CABRERA: Welcome back. The president speaking just moments ago following his meeting with law enforcement leaders and other leaders around the country regarding the uptick in crime that's taking place, specifically gun violence.

He's also addressing what's happening in Cuba right now, the unprecedented protests happening there. As well as the ongoing investigation in Haiti into the assassination of their president.

Let's listen in.


Folks, I want to start by recognizing the remarkable protests that have been taking place in Cuba. The Cuban people demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime.

And I don't think we've seen anything like this protest in a long, long time. If, quite frankly, ever.

The United States stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights.

And we call on the government, the government of Cuba, to refrain from violence and their attempts to silence the voice of the people of Cuba.

We're also closely following the developments in Haiti in the wake of the horrific assassination of the president that recently took place.

The people of Haiti deserve peace and security. And Haiti's political leaders need to come together for the good of their country.

Over the weekend, I dispatched a high-level expert delegation to assess the situation and to determine where the United States can offer our support.

And finally, as a close neighbor and friend of the people of both Cuba and Haiti, the United States stands ready to continue to provide assistance.

And I'll have more for you as we move on.

But the purpose of the meeting today is we've convened a group of law enforcement and other community leaders, including mayors of our cities.

One, to thank them for their service, because we owe them big-time.

Second, hear directly from each of them about reducing violent crime and particularly gun violence in our communities. Last month, I met with a similar group to unveil my comprehensive

strategy to do just that.

And it's been -- it's been, you know, I guess I look at the attorney general.

We've been at this a long time. A long time. Seems like most of my career I've been dealing with this issue.

Well, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. We know there are some things that work. And the first of those that works is stemming the flow of firearms used to commit violent crimes.

And we've talked -- you and I have talked about this, Mayor, before.


BIDEN: And it includes cracking down on holding rogue gun dealers accountable for violating the federal law.

It includes the Justice Department creating five new strike forces to crack down on illegal gun trafficking and the corridors supplying weapons to cities of New York, from New York to the bay area.

Secondly, supporting local law enforcement with the federal support they need.

Our strategy provides funding for law enforcement through the American Rescue Plan, for states, cities, and to be able to hire police and pay them overtime in order to advance community policing.

Third, our plan invests in community violence and intervention.

What we want to do is -- we know we utilize trusted community members and encourage more community policing, we can intervene before the violence erupts. At least that's been the consensus in our experience.


And community violence intervention programs have shown to reduce crime in some cities by up to 60 percent.

Fourthly, our strategy to fund other vital services.

CABRERA: OK, the president at the White House moments ago. We'll continue to monitor and bring you any new developments as we get them.

Meantime, in eight days, Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, hopes to join the billionaire space club. His trip follows Richard Branson's successful mission to the edge of space and back.

So how long now until space tourism becomes reality, especially for people without deep pockets?

Let's bring in retired NASA astronaut, Leroy Chiao. He commanded the International Space Station during Expedition 10. So glad you're with us, Leroy.

What do you think, did Branson's flight change the landscape for space travel?

LEROY CHIAO, RETIRED NASA ASTRONAUT: It was a very symbolic flight in that he was obviously expressing high confidence in his vehicle and his team, which should build confidence for the public who are interested in buying a ticket.

It also heralded the opening of this part of commercial space that is tourism to the edge of space, the suborbital flights, which are much more affordable than the orbital flights that people, who are much wealthier have -- a handful who have actually paid for and gone with the Russians in the past.

Earlier, you heard -- about a few weeks ago, or a few months ago, you heard about a private SpaceX mission that's going to fly three billionaires and professional astronauts to the ISS.

And now this suborbital should be a lot less expensive or will be a lot less expensive.

And so it also raises a lot of awareness in the public about space flight and, hopefully, about space exploration as well.

CABRERA: So, realistically, what is the timeline, do you think, for everyday Americans, not just billionaires and multimillionaires, to be able to take a trip to space?

CHIAO: Yes, it's going to be a while, because, you know, although it's not -- it's not $50 million for a weeklong stay at the ISS. It's $250,000 for a few minutes in space. That's still beyond the reach of most of us, right?

And so, for that price to come down further, there really needs to be some kind of a breakthrough in propulsion technology.

That is, we need to be able to build inexpensive yet reliable and robust rocket engines to really bring the cost of space access down.

And so, you know, even the Virgin Galactic spacecraft, which gets up to about 3,000 miles per hour as opposed to 17,500 miles per hour to get into orbit, that's still expensive.

It still takes money to get that spacecraft ready and fly it up to the edge of space like that.

So I don't see the price coming down very much at all until we have that breakthrough.

CABRERA: Virgin's Space Port America was paid for by $200 million in taxpayer dollars. Would Americans have seen more return on that investment if the money had gone to NASA?

CHIAO: Hard to say, right? The investment -- obviously, there were expectation that these flights were going to happen a lot sooner.

I believe the original projections were somewhere around 2007 for the first paying customers to go. Finally, we're on the cusp of that here in 2021.

NASA, of course, has a history of delays in their program. So hard to say that if you had taken that money and put it into NASA, you'd be -- you know, you'd get a return on it necessarily for the taxpayers, unfortunately.

As far as, you know - hopefully, space, you know, Virgin Galactic will begin operations soon. And hopefully, they will be successful and profitable.

And hopefully, the citizens who paid the money in, particularly the local people there, I think they will begin to see a little bit of a return on their tax investments.

CABRERA: I want you to listen to what Branson said after the flight about his future plans.


RICHARD BRANSON, CEO & FOUNDER, VIRGIN GALACTIC: I mean, I will now spend, and I promise, I will now spend the next -- I'm an optimistic -- the next 30 years of my life, you know, doing everything I can to protect the species on this beautiful earth.

To, you know, work on climate change issues, to work on trying to stop the degradation of our rain forests.

Just all the things that are going the wrong way, just to do everything we can to make them go the right way.


CABRERA: Leroy, what do you think motivates these billionaires to promote space travel?

CHIAO: I think they have a personal interest, number one. I mean, that's certainly true of Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk.

They all have a personal interest in space exploration and space travel so they were able to get the resources to create these companies and do these things.

And so once they get up there, I think they're motivated to kind of, you know, share that experience, or they want to share that experience with more people.

And that's how you do it, through the suborbital space program because it's much more affordable than an orbital one.

But I think it's motivated -- they're motivated by ego, of course. They want to go up there and see it.

But they're also, I think, they're motivated by, you know, including more of humanity in this endeavor.


CABRERA: Well, we can hope that. I just think, money, money, money. It's always about the bottom line so often down here on earth.

Leroy Chiao, great to have you. Thank you so much for being with us.

CHIAO: My pleasure. Thanks.