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The Lead with Jake Tapper

CDC: More Than 99.9 Percent Of Fully Vaccinated People Have Not Had A Severe Breakthrough Of COVID-19; NY Speaker: Cuomo Impeachment Probe Could Wrap In "Weeks"; Senate Moves Toward Final Vote On $1.2T Infrastructure Bill; Interview With Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA); California's Dixie Fire Now Second Largest In State History; Some College Vaccine Mandates Met With Lawsuits And Flood Of Exemption Requests. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 09, 2021 - 16:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Some politicians giving a master class in misinformation.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Kids are heading back to school in the middle of a surge and COVID cases. And it's prompting more anti-scientific attacks on masks and vaccines.

Then, the stage is set for the first private and public hearings as the New York state assembly inches toward the potential impeachment of Governor Cuomo in a matter of weeks.

Plus, code red. Fires burning out of control, lakes dried up, a shocking new warning that is likely to impact nearly everyone on Planet Earth.


BROWN: Hello, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper on this Monday.

And we begin this hour with our health lead. CDC data now shows more than 99.99 percent of fully vaccinated people have avoided a severe breakthrough case of COVID. But nearly a third of those eligible still haven't gotten the shot. Testing lines stretch for hours in Orlando.

Dr. Anthony Fauci warning the unvaccinated are seeing a smoldering level of infection. One Miami doctor says, quote, our children's hospitals are completely overwhelmed. Vaccination rates are increasing, we should note, but not fast enough to slow the spread of the delta variant.

One virologist in Texas telling "The Washington Post," it's like Jurassic Park, the moment you realize the dinosaurs have all got loose again. And, yet, lies and misinformation are also running wild. A handful of Republican governors fighting against public health measures, and some extremist lawmakers still spreading dangerous conspiracy theories about the vaccine.

As CNN's Lucy Kafanov reports, those lies couldn't come at a worse time.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's back to school anxiety with a pandemic twist, COVID-19 cases are surging across the nation. Hospitalizations and deaths have nearly doubled over the past two weeks, the U.S. is now averaging more than 109,000 new COVID-19 cases each day, and more than 500 deaths per day. The impact of the delta variant on children is a growing concern.

The head physician of a New Orleans children's hospital concerned about the surge in young patients.

DR. MARK KLINE, PHYSICIAN-IN-CHIEF, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL NEW ORLEANS: We are hospitalizing record numbers of children, half of the children in our hospital today are under 2 years of age, and most of the others are between 5 and 10 years of age so they're too young to be vaccinated just yet.

KAFANOV: With new CDC data showing almost 100 percent of fully vaccinated Americans have not had a severe breakthrough case of COVID, the fight about how to protect the unvaccinated playing out in schools across the U.S.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: I can't think of a business right now that would put 30 unvaccinated people in a confined space without masks and keep them there for the whole day. No business would do that responsibly, and yet that's what we're going to be doing medicine schools.

KAFANOV: Florida front and center in the political feud. The governor wants parents to have the freedom to choose. Dozens of Florida school districts go back to class in the next few weeks, including Broward County, the sixth largest in the nation. The school board is set to discuss masks this week amid a battle with a governor.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: All across our community --

KAFANOV: Republican Ron DeSantis now facing two lawsuits over his executive order, even as 50 Florida children were admitted to the hospital on Friday alone.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We don't really need to be polarized about a virus that's killing people.

KAFANOV: But the rise in COVID-19 cases among children not slowing down the spread of misinformation from some lawmakers who are politicizing masks and vaccines.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It's time for us to resist. No one should follow the CDC's anti-science mask mandates.

REP. MADISON CAWTHORN (R-NC): You have muzzled their voices just like you have muzzled our children.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I heard Alabama might be one of the most unvaccinated states in the nation.

KAFANOV: Health officials trying to drown out the misinformation with warnings, saying if Americans think delta is bad, worse could be on the way.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Few give the virus a chance to continue to change, you're leading to a vulnerability that we might get a worse variant, and then that will impact not only the unvaccinated. That will impact the vaccinated.


KAFANOV (on camera): And, Pam, this just in. Vaccine advisers for the CDC will meet on Friday to discuss third booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for the general population as well as immuno-compromised people. But this as experts continue to try to urge more Americans to get their first shot -- Pam.

BROWN: Lucy Kafanov, thank you so much for bringing us the latest there.

And joining me now live is Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.


Great to see you as always, Dr. Jha.

So, there's a church pastor in Jacksonville, Florida, that says six members of his congregation have died from COVID just within the last week or so. None of them vaccinated, four of them under the age of 35. What does that tell you?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yeah, Pam -- Pamela, thank you for having me back. It's tragic, and it's obviously completely preventable, and it tells me that the misinformation that has been spreading and targeting people is unfortunately too often worked. So we've got to get good information out to people, including the fact that these are very safe and effective vaccines. And if you're fully vaccinated, your chances of getting really sick or dying are infinitely small and that's why people need to get their shot.

BROWN: But you have all this good information that you're trying to put out there and other doctors against bad information coming from politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene.

You just saw Congresswoman Greene congratulating an Alabama crowd on its low vaccination rate.

From a medical perspective, how dangerous is it to be sending that message about a vaccine that could end this pandemic? JHA: Yeah. It's puzzling on some level because for any other disease,

you would not turn to your political leader for medical advice. If you had cancer or if you had a heart attack, you wouldn't call up your congressman or woman and say what's the right therapy I should get? You should be talking to your doctor. You should be talking to your healthcare provider. I wish we could do that for this pandemic as well.

It's a medical and public health challenge, and politicians should really let the public health and physician leaders move forward on how to get this thing under control.

BROWN: So then what is your message to lawmakers who say these things?

JHA: I'd ask them to just stop talking about things they don't know much about. And that's a bipartisan comment, right? It's to say to political leaders, don't get into this, it's really outside of their area of expertise. Highlight the science and highlight the public health voices and let's get this pandemic behind us.

It's really not clear what the political gain is of extending this pandemic further. I think all of us just want this to come to an end. And we know how to do it if we get people vaccinated.

BROWN: There you go, full FDA approval for Pfizer's vaccine could happen within weeks. Listen to what Dr. Fauci told NBC that could happen next.


FAUCI: You're going to see the empowerment of local enterprises giving mandates that could be colleges, universities, places of business, a whole variety. And I strongly support that.


BROWN: So how much of a difference could that make, in your view?

JHA: Yeah. You know, Pamela, I felt for months that FDA full approval would make an enormous difference. For some people it would just help them feel more comfortable getting vaccinated, which is great. I think for a lot of businesses, as Dr. Fauci said, a lot of businesses are going to feel a lot more comfortable mandating vaccines once that full approval is in.

So I think we're going to see this across the country that businesses, colleges, others are going to realize. We just can't get back to normal until more people are vaccinated.

BROWN: We heard the doctor's piece that talked about how half the children at the children's hospital are under the age of 2. Is the delta variant more harmful to children?

JHA: Yeah, this is a really good question. And so far, all the evidence says that the delta variant may be more virulent overall causing more severe illness in adults. Again, that's not nailed down, but that's where the evidence seems to be pointing.

And if that's true for adults, it may very well be true for kids as well. I don't want to overstate where the evidence is on this, we don't know for sure, but there is at least some preliminary evidence that the delta variant may be a more severe form of the disease.

BROWN: And that's important because many parents are now -- have already sent their kids to school who were unvaccinated in many cases or they're about to. The head of a key teachers union has changed her position and now is calling for vaccine mandates for teachers. Many schools, though, don't have vaccine mandates or mask mandates for that matter.

What can parents do to make sure their children are safe if their teachers and peers aren't vaccinated?

JHA: Yeah. So, the goodness is we know how to get kids back into school safely full-time. We know how to do it safely for teachers, for parents, for staff, and it includes many of the things you mentioned, Pamela. It means vaccinations for everybody. It means good ventilation. It means testing. We have lots of testing capability now.

And it does include especially in high-transmission areas mask wearing. And what I would say to parents is first of all if you're in a high transmission area, certainly make sure your kids are masked up. But push for those policies. They're readily available, we have the resources and they can make schools really quite exquisitely safe.

BROWN: What is your message to those who have been previously infected and still haven't gotten the vaccine because they feel like they still have protection from their previous COVID infection?

JHA: Yeah, this has come up a lot. It's a really important point. A previous infection does infer some degree of immunity certainly. The big question is, is it as good as having been vaccinated and is it as durable? And I think almost all the evidence at this point is very clear that having been previously infected is not going to give you the same level of protection as being fully vaccinated.


So, my advice to everybody who's been previously infected is that you need to get vaccinated because you're going to see a lot more breakthrough infections. The evidence on this is pretty clear. You're going to get a lot more infections if you're not vaccinated than if you are.

BROWN: All right. Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you as always.

JHA: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, college kids who don't want to take the shot, we're going to look at the extreme way some students are trying to get around vaccine mandates.

Plus, fighting mode. What sources are telling CNN about the meetings Governor Andrew Cuomo had with his closest confidants over the weekend. Those breaking details are next.


BROWN: Turning to our politics lead. We are weeks away from finding out if New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will be impeached. That's according to the state's assembly speaker who, this afternoon, laid out a timeline which includes public hearings this month.

If Cuomo shows up, he will face questions on all his scandals, sexual harassment, the book deal, nursing homes and COVID testing access.

All of this happening in the shadow of his top aide Melissa DeRosa stepping down over the weekend. And one of his executive assistants Brittany Commisso telling CBS News how the governor allegedly groped and sexually harassed her.

CNN's Brynn Gingras reports this could be a critical month for the maligned governor.



CARL HEASTIE, SPEAKER, NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: We had a historic moment in our state's modern history.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York Governor Andrew Cuomo possibly facing an impeachment trial. The state's judiciary committee met this morning to discuss a timeline following the explosive report from the state attorney general's office alleging sexual misconduct by the governor.

HEASTIE: Our goal is now to bring this matter to a conclusion with all due haste.

GINGRAS: The meeting comes just hours after this.

BRITTANY COMMISSO, CUOMO ACCUSER: What he did to me was a crime. He broke the law.

GINGRAS: The woman identified as executive assistant number one in the A.G.'s report revealing her identity.

COMMISSO: I know the truth, he knows the truth.

GINGRAS: Thirty-two-year-old Brittany Commisso who still works in the administration spoke to CBS News and "The Albany Times Union" about the sexual misconduct she said she endured by the governor on multiple occasions.

COMMISSO: That's when he put his hand up my blouse and cupped my breast over my bra. I exactly remember looking down seeing his hand, which is a large hand, thinking to myself, oh, my God, this is happening?

GINGRAS: Commisso is one of at least 11 women who the A.G.'s report found Cuomo sexually harassed over the last seven years. The report also stated the governor violated state and federal laws but stopped short of recommending criminal prosecution.

The Albany County sheriff's department is now investigating Commisso's accusations after she filed a criminal complaint last week.

COMMISSO: To me and the other women that he did this to, it was not normal. It was not welcomed, and it was certainly not consensual.

GINGRAS: Cuomo's team did not comment on the interview, but his personal attorney spoke about the accusations on CNN this weekend.

RITA GLAVIN, GOV. CUOMO'S ATTORNEY: I will be quite clear. The executive assistant number one, he did not grope her.

GINGRAS: And the governor denied the allegations laid out in the A.G.'s report in a video statement Tuesday. The interview with Commisso airing just hours after the governor's top aide Melissa DeRosa resigned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like an atom bomb dropping in the governor's inner circle.

GINGRAS: DeRosa who was seen as one of the governor's most loyal confidants, was mentioned in the A.G.'s report as participating in retaliation against at least one of Cuomo's accusers. She has not responded to those allegations. DeRosa calling the past two years, quote, emotionally and mentally trying, adding, I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such talented and committed colleagues on behalf of our state. Her statement notably did not mention the governor.


GINGRAS (on camera): And those left in his inner circle don't think that he can survive this. That's according to new reporting by my colleagues. Sources telling us that they actually spent the whole weekend trying to convince the governor to resign.

The governor, for his part, according to our sources, is that he is steadfast, he is in a, quote, fighting mood, and that he wants, quote, more time. Now, more time for what exactly, that's still unclear. But we know the next deadline is coming up this Friday. That's when his attorneys can submit evidence for their part in what they want the judiciary committee to consider in their ongoing investigation -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. CNN's Brynn Gingras in Albany, thank you, Brian.

Well, some big steps forward for Biden's big spending plans. Up next, I'm going to talk to a key senator involved in this push.

Stay with us.


[16:23:14] BROWN: In our politics lead, a two-headed monster is making its way through the U.S. Senate. On one track, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package poised for a final vote late tonight or early tomorrow morning. And then on the other, a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which was just released today.

Now, as CNN's Phil Mattingly reports, questions are mounting about what will happen when the infrastructure package lands at the feet of the House of Representatives.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: We have managed to steer two trains at the same time.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A legislative high-wire act with no shortage of doubters, President Biden's sweeping $4 trillion agenda on the verge of two huge steps forward. Within hours, the U.S. Senate set to pass a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure proposal.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): The amendment as amended is agreed to.

MATTINGLY: Clearing the last major hurdle last night with ease. Eighteen Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talking about moving the bill forward.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Republicans and Democrats have radically different visions these days, but both those visions include physical infrastructure that works for all of our citizens.

MATTINGLY: The bill, the lynchpin of Biden's dual-track effort, equal parts bipartisan victory and a critical vehicle to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into deteriorating roads, bridges, transit, and transitions into a more energy-efficient U.S. system. Yet officials acknowledge the hardest steps are still to come.

The Senate also set in the coming days to pass the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint unlocks the ability to pass the second piece, packed with progressive priorities through the Senate on a simple majority vote.


SCHUMER: The most significant legislation for American families since the era of the new deal and the great society.

MATTINGLY: Setting up weeks of closed-door negotiations over a package set to include home and childcare, free community college, universal pre-K, paid leave, and even a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants.

But with the barest majority in both chambers, no easy path ahead -- as tension ramps up in the House where moderates wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi are pressing leaders to pass the infrastructure vote now, saying, quote, the country cannot afford unnecessary delays -- immediately drawing sharp rebuttals from progressive who's refuse to support that bill until the second measure is ready for passage. Pelosi making clear the bipartisan bill will go nowhere until that second bill is complete.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Whatever you can achieve in a bipartisan way, bravo, we salute it, we applaud it, we hope that it will pass soon. But, at the same time, we're not going forward with leaving people behind.

MATTINGLY: It's a plan the White House is quietly behind, officials say, even as they make clear they're leaving the legislative maneuvering up to congressional leaders.

PSAKI: We certainly trust the leadership of Speaker Pelosi and leader Schumer.


MATTINGLY: And, Pamela, while the president's legislative agenda, up to this point, is on track. There is one issue looming that could cause a major fight and potential catastrophe in the month of September. There will be the need to raise the debt ceiling once again.

And Republicans have made clear they will not negotiate, they will not give any votes to increase it despite the fact there was increase on a bipartisan basis three times during President Trump's administration. They said Democrats should include it in that reconciliation package. Democrats choose not to. That means, Pam, by the end of September, we're talking about a debt ceiling fight, also a spending fight. Feels a lot like 2011 and also very, very high stakes in the weeks ahead -- Pamela.

BROWN: We're going to be very busy covering all of that then.

All right. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

And here to discuss, Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. He's chairman of the Intelligence Committee and is a member of the Budget Committee.

Nice to see you, Senator.

So you helped create the bipartisan infrastructure bill. But how Speaker Pelosi has said she won't bring it to a vote until the Senate completes work on the budget resolution. Do you agree with moderate House Democrats who are urging Pelosi to put this up for a vote now?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): Pamela, let's, first of all, at least take a moment and realize what the Senate will either later tonight or first thing tomorrow do. For 30 years, presidents of both parties have talked about making record investments in infrastructure. We all see that in bridges that are decaying, roads that have got potholes, airports that are third world. We know post-COVID, we need broadband in every community. We know

we've got aging water systems. We know we need to move to a greener energy grid.

You know, this bipartisan -- and I believe we'll get close to 20 Republicans -- after 30 years is going to get done tomorrow. And it's enormously popular.

Over 70 percent of Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents, have all said, let's get this done.

Now, I can't predict what's going to take place in the House. But I think this is a good bill. I think it's got great merits. I think the American people want it.

And I think as we build back better to use the president's term, building back a 21st century infrastructure is core to making sure the economy comes back strong.

BROWN: OK. So back to my original question, should the House take it up now? Do you agree with those House Democrats, moderate Democrats?

WARNER: Listen, trying to predict what happens in the House is way above my pay grade.

BROWN: I know. But what do you think should happen?

WARNER: And I also know that Speaker Pelosi's been doing this stuff for a lot longer than I've ever even been senator.

So they will play that out. But I do think this broadly bipartisan infrastructure bill needs to get done. And the sooner, the better.

But I will leave the internal machinations of house politics to my house colleagues. They have not interfered in the long slog it's taken us to get to this point in the Senate. We're hopefully going to complete our business on infrastructure tomorrow. And then we do move to the first step of what's called the budget reconciliation.

And for viewers all that means is there's going to be a blueprint, but all of the details about what we'll do for childcare, what we can do in terms of providing a tax cut for working families, what we can do in terms of making community college more affordable or free, what we're going to do to lower prescription drug prices, that will definitely be the subject of a great deal of back and forth in negotiations over the next two to three months.


BROWN: So, as you point out, the budget resolution was released today, and it would greenlight a slew of priorities for Democrats, some controversial, including providing permanent status for qualified immigrants.

How do you justify including immigration in a budget bill? WARNER: Well, you justify it because of the fact that for the last 15

to 20 years, we have left people in the shadows, because we've not dealt with immigration. I tell you in my state, in Virginia, about 40 percent of all the new tech companies that have been started, are started by first generation Americans.

I think, we need to give that kind of clarity, starting with the DACA kids who were brought here by their parents, with no say of their own, and, frankly, in a broader way to be undocumented, give them a path to a legal status.

We've not been able to do that in the past. I don't think we can wait forever. I think, frankly, as you see an economy that needs more workers, we need to bring folks who have paid their taxes and have -- do the hard work that is needed.

We hear business after business say they need more workers. I think in giving these undocumented a path to legal status will help provide that workforce as well as move our country forward.

BROWN: I want to ask you about another topic that's on a lot of minds of lawmakers. I imagine like yourself. The F.B.I. and Homeland Security, they have issued warnings that the big lie narratives will contribute to additional violence by domestic extremists. And sources tell us that some lawmakers are worried about security before they head home for August recess.

As the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, what are you hearing?

WARNER: Well, Pamela, it is shocking to me that -- and unfortunate for all of us, no matter where you fall in the political spectrum that what the Intelligence Community and the F.B.I. has called domestic violent extremists. The F.B.I. ranks that as a threat level that's virtually as serious as the kind of Islamic terrorists that people have been talking about for some time.

And that's a fairly stunning commentary on our country in 2021, and I think, perpetrated in many ways, by the kind of big lie about the election that Donald Trump put out, some of the anti-vaxxers rhetoric that has allowed our country to go back into this frankly, delta variant at a much higher level than if we'd all done what was driven by science and got vaccinated.

I think we have to be on guard. I hope members' safety, and people will be responsible. But as we saw on January 6th, there are people that think they can take the law into their own hands, and it is incumbent upon our law enforcement professionals, the F.B.I. and the Intelligence Community to treat this threat seriously.

And what's unfortunate is, we are seeing similar type activities, not so much simply focused around elections, but particularly around white supremacist groups, also pop up in countries like Norway, the U.K., and Germany. There is some international collaboration going on.

BROWN: Wow. All right, Senator Mark Warner, thank you.

WARNER: Thank you.

BROWN: Coming up, this used to be a lake. A look at the effects of climate change right before our eyes as the U.N. issues a dire new warning.



BROWN: In our "Earth Matter" series, the world's leading climate scientists today warning the climate crisis is accelerating at an alarming pace, with the Earth warning more than previously thought.

Those details in a landmark U.N. report which the Secretary General calls a quote, "Code red for humanity." And we are seeing the effects right now with fires burning around the globe.

In California, the Dixie fire has burned close to half a million acres of land more than twice the size of New York City. And in Europe, the second largest island in Greece is on fire, thousands of residents forced to evacuate as homes and buildings are destroyed.

And in Iran, the largest lake in the Middle East has shrunk to half its size dried up from years of severe drought. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is there with a look at how the once popular beach resort is now a desert.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): From a lush natural paradise to a dry, salty desert. Global warming is literally evaporating what once was the largest lake in the entire Middle East, Lake Urmia in Iran, the sixth largest salt lake in the world.

PLEITGEN (on camera): All around Lake Urmia, you can see the impact of the global climate emergency on the communities here, on the people, their livelihoods, and of course also their future.

The authorities tell us today, Lake Urmia is less than half the size of what it used to be.

PLEITGEN (voice over): The shrinkage is due in part to dam projects around here, but mostly due to years of severe drought as our planet gets hotter.

Ahad Ahmadi (ph) was a tourist photographer on the boardwalk in what used to be the beach resort, Sharaf Hane (ph). Believe it or not, this photo was only taken in 1995 when tourists still flocked here he says.

"People would come here for swimming and would use the mud for therapeutic purposes. They would stay here for several days," he says.

The ferryboats many used to cross the lake, now lay stranded on the salty crust slowly rusting away.


PLEITGEN (voice over): This Google Maps animation shows just how fast Lake Urmia has shrunk, going from 5,400 square kilometers in size to just 2,500 and about 30 years. Lack of rain and water shortages are a problem all across Iran. Precipitation in Iran is down by more than 50 percent this year, according to the country's Center for Drought and Crisis Management.

Severe lack of water recently led to protests, some violent in the southwest of the country. Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini saying he understands the protesters and that their issues must be addressed.

Iran's new President saying he has understood the message. "The matters have been detected, and I assure the people that the solutions have been delineated, and we have benefited from the views of experts and scholars, and this will urgently be dealt with," he said.

At Lake Urmia, water shortage is not the only problem. The dusty salty ground left behind when the lake receded led to salt storms, causing eye infections and respiratory problems for people around here. The local environmental protection agency planted these bushes which they say mostly succeeded in stopping the worst effects.

"As the bushes grow here, they have more leaves and the moving sand gets trapped inside," he says, "So it acts as a trap which keeps the sand underneath it."

Iranian authorities say they've made saving Lake Urmia a priority and that a halt to new dam projects and diverting other water sources towards the lake have at least slowed its decline. But farmer Kumar's Purjebeli (ph) shows me his main concern. The water he is able to get from as well is very salty, killing off many of the buds on his tomato vines and slowly causing his walnut trees to wither.

"The day the soil will become unfarmable is not far away," he says, "When you water the earth to a depth of 110 centimeters, it infiltrates the soil and the salt will stay there and its level increases every year."

And the salt concentration in Lake Urmia is dramatically increasing as the water body shrinks. Microorganisms that flourish in salty water have died much of what's left of the lake in a reddish pink color. The deputy head of this province's environmental protection agency tells me he believes there are now about six billion tons of salt around the lake.

Still, he says he is confident they can stop the lake from drying up.

"Pausing all dam construction projects has been very effective," he says. "But some of the rivers that feed the lake were full of sediment, so the water didn't reach all the way to here. We've cleaned up the river beds to increase the water inflow."

Those measures are making a big difference the authorities say, but they are also under no illusion. What they urgently need here is more rain, to stop Lake Urmia, a natural treasure of this region from vanishing into thin and salty air.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Urmia, Iran.


BROWN: Well, forget fake IDs, some college kids are now using fake C.D.C. cards to skirt vaccine mandates. And that's not the only thing some students are doing, we are going to explain, up next.



BROWN: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is vowing to fight after a federal judge ruled that Norwegian Cruise Lines can require proof of COVID-19 vaccination in Florida. The cruise line has asked for a preliminary injunction to Florida's law that prohibits companies from acquiring customers and employees to provide proof of vaccination.

CNN's Pete Muntean joins me live.

So, this is a big victory for the cruise line. But what could this mean for travelers going forward?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's an interesting precedent and it's a pretty big blow to Governor Ron DeSantis. And the Florida rule that prohibits vaccine passport in the state there. It's so interesting here is that Norwegian took this to court and won just in the nick of time. Its first fully vaccinated cruise set sail from Miami this weekend.

In a statement, Norwegian says legislation was a tool of last resort that it had to do this to fight for what's right for its guests. Now passengers will have to show proof that they are fully vaccinated. Thanks to this court decision, first it says that Norwegian's brand trust would be severely harmed and could be destroyed, the court said, if there were an outbreak of COVID-19 on any of its cruise ships. It also equates this to the first amendment saying that free speech protects someone who wants to volunteer their vaccination record to the cruise line.

Governor Ron DeSantis is vowing an appeal. He says this is not protected by the first amendment. He actually calls this discriminatory.

But, you know, this all comes at a time when the travel industry is trying to figure out what's right when it comes to vaccination. You know, United Airlines just mandated that all of its workers will need to face proof of vaccination or face getting fired later on this fall. The airlines said if passengers have to prove that they're vaccinated, well, that will have to come from an order from the federal government and that hasn't happened yet.

BROWN: All right. Pete Muntean, thanks for bringing us the latest there. And we are waiting to hear from the Supreme Court on the first challenge to a vaccine mandate. Students at Indiana University asked the justices to block the shot requirement at their school. Meantime, other college students are finding more illicit ways to get around the mandates and get back on campus.


BROWN (voice-over): Move over, fake ID, there's a new counterfeit business on college campuses, fake vaccination cards.

SIMON PALMORE, UNC STUDENT: t is really disturbing the length that some students are willing to go to subvert the university requirements.

BROWN: Among those requirements at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, a copy of a vaccination card before coming back to campus or students must be tested regularly.

But at least one UNC professor has raised the alarm about students possibly trying to use counterfeit vaccine cards. Some students tell CNN affiliate WRAL, their peers are buying them for as much as $200.

J.D. BOYD, UNC DENTAL STUDENT: We're on an educated college campus in one of the most educated places in the world. And it's like how can you be faking a vaccine when we have people to care about?

BROWN: UNC isn't the only school where students are trying to skip both the shot and the tests. Some have actually gone so far as to sue their school over a vaccine mandate.

According to university spokesperson, 771 University of Connecticut students applied for a nonmedical vaccine exemption from the school's requirement.


ANIRUVH UNDRAKONDA, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT STUDENT: If that's what they choose, then that's their decision. I don't think forcing people to get the vaccine is appropriate. But people understanding the value of keeping others safe is also very important.

BROWN: UConn has approved more than 500 of those requests, with the others still pending. And Indiana University, which has also been sued by a group of students over the mandate, Hoosiers are voicing their opposition.

JACKSON PAUWELS, INDIANA UNIVERSITY STUDENT: I think it's ridiculous that Indiana University requires a vaccine for me to come to school here.

BROWN: A federal judge ended up ruling in favor of IU. So far, more than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to get the COVID vaccine before returning to campus.

MICHAEL LOVELL, PRESIDENT OF MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY: When you're in college, it's a very social time, they live close in community. And we want to ensure that they can have the best experience possible when they are on campus while still being safe.

BROWN: It's a move many public health officials are applauding.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: And I'm personally glad to see that. It's so straightforward here to try to keep us from having outbreaks. With vaccines that are safe and effective, I can see why they'd want to avoid more trouble, more sickness, more deaths.

BROWN: Experts saying college students need to ditch the idea that they're invincible from the virus, because with the ever growing highly contagious delta variant, that mindset could be increasingly dangerous.

COLLINS: Look at the statistics now. An awful lot of the people in the hospital in the ICU and some of them in the morgue are well under 30 years old.

BROWN: UNC Chapel Hill is among the schools threatening disciplinary action for falsifying documents. And we should also note, creating fake vaccine cards is a federal offense, and a person found guilty could face prison time.

Well, coming up, one on one with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, the big move she's not ruling out.



BROWN: In our politics lead, a new CNN series is looking at the people affecting American policy, politics and culture. And in its first episode, you're going to hear progressive New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez giving her most personal on-camera interview to date.

Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash is the host.

This is truly, Dana, an incredible interview that you did. And let's listen to some of it.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I thought that you said once that you think a lot of people including my Democratic colleagues believe the Fox News version of me.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Yeah. I mean, my first term was very painful. It was very, very painful. And, you know, I came in, and I unseated an incumbent that while may not have been very resonant in our community, was very popular inside those smoke-filled rooms. And, so, I took away a friend. And I walked into a very cold environment, even within my own party.


BROWN: So were you surprised by her answer there?

BASH: She was very candid about it. I remember like it was yesterday, it was only three years ago, but really remember vividly when she beat Joe Crowley. He was a 20-year incumbent Democrat who represented the Bronx as she does. And nobody saw it coming.

She was really one of the first to take out an establishment figure within her own Democratic Party. And part of the reason why people were cold to her, and when I say people, I mean members of her own party, is, A, they thought, well, maybe this is happening to me next if they had been here for a long time. But, B, Joe Crowley was and still is quite popular inside the caucus.

And so to hear her talk about that experience now three years later and, frankly, the experience that she's still enduring because it's not like she's best friends with a lot of the more establishment Democrats, was very noteworthy and part of the reason why we wanted to do this series to really get a sense of what it's like to be these politicians and influential figures.

BROWN: I think a lot of people feel like they may know her more than others because of her social media presence. But your interview shows there is a lot more to learn about her and what she has gone through behind the scenes. And you also asked her if she would take on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for his seat as New York senator?

What did she tell you?

BASH: She wouldn't answer. She didn't say no. She didn't say yes.

But she gave kind of a lengthy answer about why she's not saying anything right now. And I'll sum it up by saying that she is very well aware of the position that she is in as a disrupter in the Democratic Party and in politics in general. She says that she likes to break glass in order to get attention to whatever issue it is that she's talking about. And it is very hard to do that and still be calculating for your own personal ambition.

So, that is why she can't say right now whether or not she's going to do it, although I did mention to her, you're going to have to decide pretty soon because Chuck Schumer's on the ballot in 2022. So she left that alone.

BROWN: Yeah. But she didn't rule it out.

BASH: She didn't rule it out.

BROWN: All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much.

BASH: Thanks, Pamela.

BROWN: And be sure to catch Dana's new series "Being AOC" tonight at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM".