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The Lead with Jake Tapper

President Biden Tours Hurricane Damage in Louisiana; Source: White House May Have to Scale Back Ambitious Booster Plan; U.S. Adds 235,000 Jobs in August, Far Fewer Expected; Evolution of Wisconsin's GOP Senator into a Conspiracy Promoter; Biden Speaks After Touring Hurricane Ida Damage in Louisiana. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 03, 2021 - 16:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Out of a political storm and into a real one.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Biden is touring the Louisiana coast right now and is expected to speak any minute after Hurricane Ida leveled parts of the state and left a million people in the dark. And the death toll continues to rise a thousand miles away.

Breaking today, new CNN reporting on the battle over booster shots. Dr. Fauci says they'll get you follow covered, but the FDA is now saying pump the brakes.

Plus, bigoted statement and bogging down the process. What one senior Trump adviser said about Afghan refugees that that stunned the entire room.


COLLINS: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Kaitlan Collins in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin this hour in Louisiana where President Biden is expected to speak any moment after touring communities ravaged by Hurricane Ida and meeting with state and local leaders. Those hardest hit towns including Laplace where many neighborhoods are still swamped with water. More than 800,000 hopes and businesses across the state still have no power five days after the storm.

As victims deal with their destroyed homes, temperatures continue to swelter. Right now in Baton Rouge, for example, the heat index is 105 degrees.

We're covering the aftermath of Ida all over the country. Miguel Marquez in Passaic, New Jersey, Ed Lavandera in Louisiana, and Arlette Saenz is live at the White House.

Arlette, I want to start with you. What has been President Biden's message while he's been on the ground today for several hours? ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORREPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, President

Biden has had a message of support, both when it comes to the federal resources that the administration is leveraging in response to Hurricane Ida, as well as on that personal level as so many thousands and millions of people in the region have been affected. The president said that in his conversations with leaders on the ground, it has been clear that this is not a political trip. It is one focus on saving lives and getting communities back up and running.

Now the president has been in a briefing with state and local officials for about the last hour, sharing what the federal government is trying to do and also hearing what needs they have on the ground at this moment. The president any moment now is also expected to tour one of the neighborhoods that has been impacted by Hurricane Ida as well as deliver remarks a little bit later in the afternoon. He's going to take an aerial tour to survey damage, spending -- he's expected to spend a total of about six hours on the ground there in Louisiana.

And the president has talked about the administration's efforts in discussions with power companies as well as cell phone companies and gas and trying to release more gas to the area as those shortages are affecting so many people in the area. But in a short while we are expecting the president to speak more towards that support that the government is trying to offer -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: OK, Arlette, we'll get back to you when President Biden is expected to speak.

For now, I want to bring in CNN's Ed Lavandera who is in Laplace, Louisiana.

Ed, we know that hundreds of thousands of people there are still without power, without food, without gas. Are the conditions on the ground improving at all? Are people still not able to get access to these basic necessities?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think right now, many residents are still kind of scrambling day to day to get what they need as those storm supplies that many people stocked up on before the storm are quickly running out. You see food and water distribution sites being kind of brought up in many parts of this region because people desperately need that water. Water systems are hampered. Power lines are still down.

And in a place like Laplace, parish officials here are really urging residents to understand that this is going to take a considerable amount of time. The parish president here says that virtually every piece of infrastructure connected to the electrical system has been damaged and severely impacted so they're having to rebuild all of that. And that is going to take some time.

So we're looking at a process that will take weeks not days, especially in hard-hit area here like Laplace where the president is visiting not too far from where we're standing here this afternoon. Gas lines still remain a big issue as well. We see that all over town here as people are depending on that gasoline to run small generators in their driveways, to power up whatever they can in their homes. So, that is the kind of struggle that tens of thousands of people are still facing here in southeast Louisiana.

COLLINS: Yeah, weeks not days is not what you want to hear when you don't have a house in the middle of the heat that is getting to 105 degrees.

Ed, I also want to ask you about some disturbing details we've learned today, that four nursing home residents are dead and hundreds more had to be evacuated after they were sent to a warehouse to ride out hurricane Ida.


And, of course, this is all raising questions about whether that was safe, whether it was sanitary.

What are you hearing about what the conditions inside that warehouse looked like?

LAVANDERA: Well, these nursing home residents were taken to a warehouse kind of facility the way it was described as a precaution ahead of the storm. And according to state officials, that facility was checked out, and apparently was up to standards.

But in the days since the storm hit this region of southeast Louisiana, conditions inside that warehouse deteriorated. Generators that they had weren't able to keep up with the electrical demand that was needed inside of that warehouse. Three of the four deaths are believed to be storm-related. And the governor here in Louisiana says it will be investigated and legal action will be taken if it's deemed that that is necessary.

So, there is still a great number of unanswered questions as to exactly how all of this transpired. Initially local officials there in the town of Independence, Louisiana, just north of the New Orleans area, said that it was about 350 patients that were moved to this warehouse. But by the time the storm rolled through that, number had grown to about 800. So, a very dangerous situation there.

COLLINS: So disturbing. Ed Lavandera, we'll check back in with you. Thanks so much for joining us.

The news, unfortunately, doesn't get much better up the east coast where at least 50 people are now confirmed dead after Hurricane Ida's remnants pummeled the region earlier this week. Desperate searches are still underway for at least six people who are missing.

And as CNN's Miguel Marquez reports, there are new warnings that this historic could get even worse over the holiday weekend.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Damage from a tornado just outside Philadelphia. No one prepared for a tornado here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unimaginable.

MARQUEZ: The twister, winds up to 130 miles an hour ripped through Fort Washington, damaging homes, businesses, and bringing down power lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The landscape of our community is completely different.

MARQUEZ: Power poles strewn across streets. Huge trees uprooted in neighborhoods. And even roads and overpasses left in disarray.

Today, 4 million people in the northeast remain under a flood advisory due to swelling waters. At one apartment complex in Philadelphia, the National Guard rescued almost a dozen people and their pets, one of several in the area.

JAKE BLANK, RESIDENT: We really appreciate it. We were waiting for quite some time. And you don't really expect these types of things to happen when you're in a big building like this.

SAMANTHA BERMAN, RESIDENT: You can't walk anywhere out of the building. They told us we might lose our electricity and our appliances. So we were, like, we better get out of here.

MARQUEZ: Today, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy getting a first-hand look at the devastation in his state. That's where at least six people remain missing and more than two dozen reported deaths.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D), NEW JERSEY: It's quite clear our state and our nation does not have the infrastructure to meet this moment and to meet the future as it relates to these storms, which are more frequent and more intense.

MARQUEZ: In Mullica Hill, families are trying to recover after a tornado ripped through their homes.

PAULA MENZON, RESIDENT: Our house is gone, like, what do you mean? He said, the tornado.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were all huddled. Everything was falling on our backs. And luckily our house has a walk-up basement or we would have never gotten out.

MARQUEZ: New York saw some of the worst flash flooding in the region. At least 16 people died across the state with nearly a dozen victims in Queens alone.

AMRITA BHAGWANDI, FLOOD VICTIM: There was only sadness. And it's just overwhelming.

MARQUEZ: At least eight of the victims in New York City died in basements.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D), NEW YORK: Those who lost a loved one, someone swept away in a car, people trapped in their basements not able to escape. Those are the images that haunt me in the aftermath of this storm.


MARQUEZ (on camera): Now, what you're looking at here is a really disturbing scene. This is a drainage ditch in Passaic, New Jersey, on the night of the big flood. Two young people, 21 and 18 years old, they were last seen clinging to their car for their life near that drainage ditch. They were swept. The searchers believe they were swept into this drainage ditch.

The family hopes they are still alive maybe in a hospital somewhere, just haven't been identified. They are holding out hope.

Back to you.

COLLINS: And we are hoping that of course that hope does come through. We know New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has said, Miguel, that he expects the death toll, unfortunately, just to climb even further. Thank you for joining us with that reporting.

MARQUEZ: Indeed.

COLLINS: Any moment, President Biden is set to speak in Louisiana after touring the hurricane damage there. We'll bring that to you live.

Plus, from America's longest war to a long strand of red tape.


Why it could take years to process all the Afghans who are now seeking a new life in the U.S.

And slow your rollout? New CNN reporting on the confusion over booster shots in the Biden administration, next.


COLLINS: In our health lead, not so fast. White House sources tell me that the Biden administration may have to scale back their ambitious booster plan, which was slated to begin in less than three weeks potentially to include only the Pfizer vaccine for now. These details were first reported by "The New York Times" today.

And as CNN's Athena Jones reports now, with some Americans already having gotten that third shot, the need for direct and clear guidance from the White House couldn't be more urgent.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Confusion and possible scaling back of the White House's COVID-19 booster plan for September. Less than a day after Dr. Anthony Fauci said --

[16:15:00] DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I would not at all be surprised that the adequate, full regimen for vaccination will likely be three doses.

JONES: As the delta variant drives new COVID cases in the United States to nearly 170,000 a day on average, new data shows a third so- called booster dose of the COVID mRNA vaccine provides more protection against the virus.

FAUCI: There's no doubt from the dramatic data from the Israeli study that the boosts that are being now done there and contemplated here support very strongly the rationale for such an approach.

JONES: In making the case for boosters, Fauci explaining Israeli data shows they reduce the risk of infection by 11-fold and of severe illness by tenfold in more than a million people over the age of 60. Another study showed the risk of infection fell up to 68 percent, seven to 13 days after a third dose, and by as much as 84 percent after 14 to 20 days. President Joe Biden announced in late August --

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This booster program is going to start here on September the 20th, pending approval of the FDA and then the CDC committee, outside experts.

JONES: But federal health officials now warning the White House they may not have enough data on the Moderna vaccine by then to recommend boosters for anyone other than Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine recipients.

DR. PAUL OFFIT, FDA VACCINE ADVISORY COMMITTEE: You can't make an announcement and then say we'll wait to see what the FDA and CDC says. That's just really not the right way to do it.

JONES: The acting FDA commissioner explaining why the booster announcement was made before all the data came in.

DR. JANET WOODCOCK, FDA ACTING COMMISSIONER: When it happens, we don't want to have a couple more months where we have to get ready and make a plan and then execute against the plan.


JONES (on camera): And Moderna just announced it has finished submitting its data on booster vaccine doses to the FDA. Still, it's unclear if that data will be sufficient for the decision to be made by September 20th.

COLLINS: Yeah, Athena, we'll see if that actually puts all this back on track to the White House's plan. But, of course, we'll stay tune for that.

Let's discuss all of this with Dr. Megan Ranney. She's a professor of emergency medicine at Brown University.

And, Dr. Ranney, what do you make of these health officials now advising the White House that they might have to scale this back and just have the Pfizer vaccine getting booster shots in a few weeks from now?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, BROWN UNIVERSITY: So, I wish the White House had not announced a date for when we were going to need boosters. The science is certainly accumulating, pointing to the fact that many, if not all of us, are going to need a third shot if we got Moderna or Pfizer or a second shot if we got J&J. This isn't surprising. It's how vaccines work, and certainly the data from Israel and the U.K. points to the fact that this is going to be needed for many of us.

But setting a date before the FDA had had a chance to review the data was a little bit ahead of their skis. I want to reassure all of us across the country that it's not a change in the science, it's not a concern about the safety, it's just this is the way the FDA works. And when they have had a chance to review the data, I have no doubt that they're going to be approving vaccine boosters for most of us. Because that's what we do with most vaccines is give an additional dose to boost our immunity months after those first series of doses.

COLLINS: Yeah. And we know the FDA had actually appealed to the White House not to put a date on all of this because they were worried it could change the trajectory, maybe confuse people. And after they announced this in August, a lot of people went out and got one, maybe even off the books before it had actually been put in stone by the FDA and the CDC. Should the people who got a third dose of the Moderna vaccine have anything to worry about right now, or what would you say to those people?

RANNEY: I certainly know a lot of folks in and outside of the healthcare field who have gone out and gotten their third shot, whether or not they're immunocompromised. They're saying that they are. They're not having any adverse effects or safety effects.

The one thing that I will say to people that are thinking about getting a third dose before FDA approval is please wait at least six months after you finished your primary series of immunization. There is preliminary data suggesting that that six-month period is essential for the booster to have full effect in terms of increasing your body's natural ability to fight off this virus.

So if you can hold off a little more, please do. And in the meantime, remember, masks and outdoor distancing or ventilation also work probably just as well as a booster to help protect you from getting a breakthrough infection.

COLLINS: And, Dr. Ranney, there are tens of millions of vaccinated Americans who are getting are really close to that eight-month mark since their second dose. And they're waiting to hear what the FDA and CDC are going to do.

But if they're hitting that eight-month period now, what should they do while they are waiting on the FDA to make this decision, make this recommendation and then have the CDC act after that?

[16:20:09] RANNEY: So, listen, I'm among them. I finished, I got Pfizer, I finished my second dose in early January. I am fully eight months out at this point. I am waiting for FDA approval.

In the meantime, I am masking when I'm in public locations. I am eating outdoors if I go to a restaurant. And I am being careful about who I spend time with, making sure that they are fully vaccinated. If you do those things, you are going to remain protected. Again, if you're immunocompromised, go out and get that third shot because it's already been approved for you.

But, remember, even the current doses of vaccines still protect you so well from hospitalization and death. We are not back in early 2020 or even early 2021 for those of us that have not received boosters yet, we are still protected against the worst effects of this virus.

COLLINS: I think that next meeting is September 17th. So we'll wait to see what they say about that.

Dr. Ranney, thank you for joining us and answering our questions on this today.

RANNEY: Thank you.

COLLINS: Any moment, president Biden is set to speak in Louisiana after touring the hurricane damage there. We are going to bring you those remarks live.

A sluggish jobs report and a sinking approval is capping off a really tough month for the president. How the White House is looking to recover, next.



COLLINS: President Biden just arrived to tour a hard-hit neighborhood in Laplace, Louisiana. The president is expected to survey the hurricane damage before giving remarks shortly on what he's seen today and what the federal government's response for all of this is. We will bring you his remarks live when the president starts speaking.

We are going to turn to our money lead though, because there are some disappointing jobs numbers for the month of August showing just how much the delta variant is weighing down the economic recovery, 235,000 jobs were added back to the economy last month, a lot fewer than the predicted 728,000.

Still, President Biden struck an optimistic tone today while also seeming to blame the unvaccinated for the job loss.


BIDEN: Too many have not gotten vaccinated. And it's creating a lot of unease in our economy and around our kitchen table. Some wanted to see a larger number today, and so did I. What we've seen this year is continued growth month after month.


COLLINS: Mix in a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, natural disasters happening in Louisiana and of course in the Northeast, and an infrastructure agenda that is now hanging in the balance, President Biden's tumultuous august seems to be bleeding into September.

Here to discuss it with us is CNN's Chris Cillizza and "The New York Times'" Astead Herndon.

Chris, today in his remarks about the job numbers, the president said, quote, the Biden plan is working. He says we're seeing an economy that can weather the ups and downs. But is that how most economists are seeing it after these jobs numbers today?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: No, I mean, I think there's worry because uncertainty means worry when we talk about the economy, Kaitlan. And I think there's uncertainty.

I don't think Joe Biden's wrong in that clip that you played. I do think the unvaccinated have helped fuel this delta variant spread and that's led to people feeling like we were getting to near maybe out of the woods earlier this summer, and now it feels like a place where, well, I got vaccinated and I wore the masks and I socially distanced and now what?

And I think that is a difficult place for Joe Biden to be on two fronts. He's going to be judged on how he handles COVID-19, period. He's also going to be judged on the state of the economy. And if I'm a Democrat in a swing district in 2022, I'm worried at this point. Now, it's September 2021, not September 2022, granted.

But the signs there are not great on the two issues I think he winds up being judged on and his party winds up being judged on.

COLLINS: Yeah, and he knows coronavirus is top of mind for most Americans. In this new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll that came out today, it actually showed that the president's approval rating is lower than his disapproval rating for the first time since he has taken office, 44 percent approve. 51 percent disapprove.

What stood out to you in this poll besides seeing a lot of this erosion with independent voters?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Uh-huh. I think it's how this poll fits into a number we have seen recently, which has given us a pretty good sense that Joe Biden's approval rating has gone down slightly since he took office.

Now, some of that is expected. We expect people who felt optimistic about a new administration to kind of return to form. But also, as you mentioned, it is the real challenges that this administration is facing. A renewed pandemic due to the delta variant, the chaos in Afghanistan, climate change crisis, stalled voting rights, and infrastructure bills. And this White House thought that when it was going to focus on the

coronavirus relief package first, it would get the vaccinations out first and then it would move onto its top agenda, that's running up against the Senate filibuster left and right. But as you said, that delta variant and the unvaccinated problem is ruining fronts on a lot of levels. So, the challenges they expected to see still remain and the challenges they hope to overcome are still with us.

CILLIZZA: And, Kaitlan, just to add to Astead's point, remember that the core argument that Joe Biden made for his candidacy was effectively in, in a word, competence, right? I'm a guy who's been in politics for a really long time. I know how this stuff works. I've met foreign leaders, they all know me. I've seen domestic problems. I know how to solve them because I've seen it at the highest levels.


When you have Afghanistan, the economy, COVID-19, the border, it starts to erode out that sense that this guy is the competent guy. Now, of course, it's not black and white. Joe Biden is not solely responsible for COVID-19 in this country. But we know that presidents get more blame than they should and more credit than they should.

He's in the blame cycle right now. And I think it's based on that belief that we thought we elected the guy who is competent after four years of the guy who is incompetent. And yet, to Astead's point, we've got all these things bubbling up and the competent guy isn't fixing them.

COLLINS: Yeah, and I think one of the biggest parts of concern here is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the delta variant because I think even the jobs report today, people thought that we were going to be kids going back to schools, businesses are re-opening, people going back to the offices at a full scale and we're not seeing that exactly because of the delta variant. It's disrupting a lot of that.

And so, Chris, I'm wondering what you think of, given what's the news with this booster shot plan and how it could potentially just be Pfizer vaccinated people that are getting booster shots in a few weeks, could that potentially disrupt this even further, you think?

CILLIZZA: Well, to the doctor's point the last segment, I do think Joe Biden himself got a little bit over his skis and said by September 20th we're going to start doing this.

I think what's hard, Kaitlan, is there's no specific plan to get us to the end of the tunnel. I think when we all a year ago, let's say, it was once we all get vaccinated or, you know, we reach herd immunity via vaccination and people who have had the virus, then things are going to be normal.

Well, you know, obviously, not everyone's vaccinated, but you have hundreds of millions of Americans who are. And yet we're still kind of in this place where, should I wear a mask, should I not wear a mask?

COLLINS: Yeah. CILLIZZA: And I think that's the fundamental challenge for Joe Biden. What certainty can he give people that this will be a return to normal? And I don't think one exists. And that's a political problem for him.

COLLINS: Well, Astead, and another political problem that's facing the president is Senator Joe Manchin who is now calling for a pause on the $3.5 trillion spending package. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is the budget committee chairman, is also pushing back.

But how big of a threat is this new op-ed from Senator Joe Manchin to the president's carefully crafted economic agenda here?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it is a warning shot from the real president Joe, right, Joe Manchin, of the Senate, who has control of that budget in his hands. And obviously with the 50/50 Senate, any senator can have that power. But he has been the one that's most willing to use that leverage partly because of his unique electoral position back in West Virginia. We have also seen Senator Sinema from Arizona express some concerns about that.

And this is core to Joe Biden's promise. Even if they get that bipartisan infrastructure bill passed with the help of Republicans, this is the priority for the base. These are the set of things that they want. It's also a smaller package from even than what many in the base want.

So, for Joe Biden, this is going to come down to can he keep the party together, number one, to pass this? But, at the same time, can he keep those factions feeling optimistic?

The core macro problem for Democrats right now is that they are -- the Republicans are favored when we look back into midterms. Usually we see a backlash against the president's party. We know that the Republican House maps are favorable to them.

So Democrats are already on the uphill climb. But if they cannot provide for the base, if they cannot energize the base in a unique way, that hill gets higher and higher, and there might be a small -- this Democratic window of a trifecta of controlling the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, that might be just a two- year window with real challenges to get back into that place.

So the stakes are very high. We know that. But we also know the Democratic Party has such ideological diversity that the president cannot rest assured that he'll get everyone on board.

COLLINS: Well, just add that to the president's already full plate.

Astead and Chris, thank you both for joining us today.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Kaitlan.

HERNDON: Thank you.

COLLINS: One senator's dangerous course into conspiracy theories and lies. That sounds nothing like his early days in politics.



COLLINS: If Republican Senator Ron Johnson stays true to his word, he should be counting down to his final days in office. The Wisconsin senator once said two terms would be his max. And while some of his supporters are riled up about his conspiracy-laden and baseless rhetoric, which often sounds a lot like the former president's, others are now turning their backs on him.

CNN's Sara Murray went to the senator's home state of Wisconsin.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Senator Ron Johnson toys with running for a third term, it seems there is no controversy the Wisconsin Republican won't wade into.

Whether it's fueling misinformation on vaccines --

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Neurological problems, clotting, strokes. It's a cornucopia of problems that people certainly believe are associated with the vaccine.

MURRAY: Dismissing the climate crisis as BS.

JOHNSON: I think climate change is -- as Lord Monckton said --

MURRAY: Or suggesting the FBI had inside knowledge of the January 6th insurrection but didn't thwart it.

JOHNSON: So you think the FBI had fully infiltrated the militias in Michigan, but they don't know squat about what was happening on January 6?


MURRAY: His apparent willingness to deny facts and spread conspiracies has left some in the state wondering what happened to Ron Johnson.


MURRAY: Mark Becker, former head of the Brown County GOP, went from rallying behind Johnson to campaigning against him in a few short years.

BECKER: Everything that he's done since Donald Trump, it's been so devoid of reality.

MURRAY: Still, Becker called up Johnson to air his frustration over Republicans peddling unfounded claims of election fraud. When Johnson surprisingly returned his call -- BECKER: I said, Ron, Joe Biden won the election. And he said, yes, but

1.5 million people voted for Donald Trump. I'm not stupid. I'm not going to piss those people off.

MURRAY: Becker wrote a column about their exchange and press Johnson to voice his faith in the election results.

Did you hear from him at all after you wrote an editorial about that call?

BECKER: I sure did. You know I did. So -- so, yeah, crazy. So I got a text on January 7th. This was a day after the insurrection.

Mark, it is my sincere hope to never have to see or speak to a low- life weasel such as yourself again. Please stop trying to contact me. So they're still picking up glass on the floor of the Capitol and that's what he's concerned about.

MURRAY: Johnson declined an interview. Johnson expected the call to remain private. According to Johnson, months later he went public with what he claims the conversation was about and what I had said. Anyone who would do that is a low-life weasel and nothing, the say should be given any credence.

This week, Johnson was recorded by a liberal activist again admitting Trump lost Wisconsin.

JOHNSON: The only reason Trump lost Wisconsin is that 51,000 Republican voters didn't vote for him. There's noting obviously skewed about the results. There isn't.

MURRAY: In a statement, Johnson says those remarks are consistent with what I've been saying publicly on the 2020 election, and pointed to interviews where he admits Biden won. But he also continued to raise unfounded claims of election irregularities.

To Michelle Litjens, Johnson is the same guy she first brought to a Tea Party event back in 2009.

MICHELLE LITJENS, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: He's always been a frank talker. He doesn't skirt around issues. He is not looking to make friends necessarily all the time.

MURRAY: She says he won over the crowd with a personal story about his daughter's heart defect and his concerns about government-run healthcare.

LITJENS: When Ron spoke, you could have heard a pin drop.

MURRAY: But she was skeptical when he wanted to challenge Democrat incumbent Russ Feingold in 2010 Senate race.

LITJENS: I said, yeah, I don't think you really want to do that. He wasn't from politics, he ran a business. I'm like a campaign is county fairs and dairy breakfasts and shaking hands seven days a week 24 hours a day. MURRAY: But she helped him make in roads with conservative operatives

and radio talk show hosts, coupled with his manufacturing and accounting background. Johnson build a Washington outsider campaign, dedicated to shrinking government, and he won, ousting Feingold in a GOP wave election.

JOHNSON: We need to restore fiscal sanity to this nation.

MURRAY: Democrats were so convinced Johnson's victory was a fluke, they ran Feingold again in 2016.

JOHNSON: Thank you!

MURRAY: And Johnson notched another victory, this time alongside Donald Trump.

What do you say when people are, like, what happened to Johnson?

CRAIG GILBERT, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: Well, I get two kinds of questions. One is what happened to Ron Johnson, and the other is, like, why is he saying and doing all this stuff.

MURRAY: Craig Gilbert has been covering politics since the 1980s and following Johnson since he was elected in 2010.

GILBERT: It's unusual to have a member of the Senate from a 50/50 state as conservative as Ron Johnson is. It's not necessarily great general election politics to be kin of -- to be where Ron Johnson has been on some of these issues.

MURRAY: Those issues include questioning safe and effective vaccines.

JOHNSON: Should you be exposing yourself, or should a parent expose their child to a vaccine that we don't know the long-term safety effect of these?

MURRAY: While touting COVID-19 treatments that health officials have found ineffective, or as the FDA warned, dangerous.

JOHNSON: It's not just hydroxychloroquine. There's ivermectin. There's other things that we just completely ignored.

MURRAY: Johnson's spokesman says he's opposed the vaccine mandate, but like everyone, he wants the pandemic to end and hopes the vaccine will play a key role in ending it. She says Johnson is also an advocate for early COVID treatment. He's agnostic regarding which drugs might be effective. He wants them all researched.

While Johnson's critics see him as a power-hungry politician trying to keep a grip on the Trumpy base of the party, this allies see a guy who has stayed true to the grassroots and remains eager to question the establishment.

BRIAN SCHIMMING, WISCONSIN CONSERVATIVE TALK RADIO HOST: Ron Johnson for him, there's a lot of truth out there. Let's put it that way with the vaccine thing, it's not about being a contrarian.


I think just Ron likes to listen to different sides of things.

MURRAY: GOP strategist Brian Schimming insists Johnson's frankness appeals to voters.

SCHIMMING: He's telling it as he sees it. And there's a lot of voters who say that's what they want.

MURRAY: As the senator grapples with whether to backtrack on his 2016 campaign pledge to seek only two terms.

JOHNSON: I'm going to serve one more term. That's it. Two terms, more than enough time, 12 years. Feingold was there for 18 years.

MURRAY: Controversial comments like saying Black Lives Matters protesters are threatening while Capitol insurrectionists are not are already reemerging.

JOHNSON: I know those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break a law. Had the tables been turned and president Trump won the election, and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might've been a little concerned.

MURRAY: Johnson's spokeswoman says he condemns the violence that day but respects those who protested legally.

Meantime, Johnson's remarks are invigorating a crowded field of Democratic Senate hopefuls in this politically divided state.

MANDELA BARNES (D), WISCONSIN SENATE CANDIDATE: He's a person who has morphed into the guy who's going to say the racist part out loud. We're talking real Archie Bunker here now on top of the conspiracy theories.

MURRAY: With candidates like Mandela Barnes already using Johnson's words against him.

BARNES: He speaks his truth, and unfortunately he's delusional.


MURRAY: Ron Johnson's office says he has plenty of time to decide if he is going to run for a third term. That indecision has not stopped former President Donald Trump from already endorsing Johnson for re- election months ago -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Sara Murray, those texts were something else. That was some fascinating reporting from Wisconsin.

Right now, President Biden is meeting with people whose homes were damaged by hurricane Ida, seeing the debris up close, he's expected to address what he's seen today at any moment now. We will bring you those remarks live.

Next, what sources are telling CNN about closed-door conversations in a slow-walked paperwork process under the last administration that might've prevented these chaotic scenes in Kabul.



COLLINS: Let's listen.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Folks, look, I'm grateful for he governor asking me to come on down to visit and to see what -- and I want to thank him for his leadership as well.

You know, we just came from emergency operations --


BIDEN: -- finish walking that way as well, but the fact is that we -- you know, there's a lot we just -- to see just exactly what's happened on the ground. See what's going on in people's homes. A lot of people fear, for example, because they don't have cell connections are unaware of what available help there is right now to get them.

The FEMA director and I were just talking. We're going to make sure we have someone coming through here going door to door letting people know what's available to them right now because they can't connect online.

And with the governor and mayors and members of Congress, community leaders, all the folks that are here, we've been working together to deliver millions of meals and liters of water. And I know -- I know you all are frustrated about how long it takes to restore power. It's dangerous work, it 25,000 linemen from around the country have come here to Louisiana to help crews from 32 different states are helping. And two of them lost their lives in the process of trying to get power back up.

And we're working 24/7 with the energy companies who we met with the heads of today, and we're deploying more federal resources including hundreds of generators, and there's more to come to restore power as fast as we possibly can, faster than a that happened during hurricane Katrina. And we're also working with the cell phone companies so you can call your loved ones and make sure the people you know and you love you haven't been able to talk to lately, be able to know whether they're okay.

We're moving quickly to keep gas flowing to the pumps including I've gone into the strategic petroleum reserve. That's what's been set aside. The crude oil providing flexibility and providing flexibility for how many hours truckers are able to drive and transport gas and fuel because there's a law in America. You can't drive for safety reasons beyond so many hours a day. But we need more movement of this fuel. And we're expanding the supply of gasoline that can be sold in the state of Louisiana. And there's much to be done. We're working around the clock with the

governor and the elected officials here until we can meet every need you all have. In fact, reports suggest that some insurance companies may deny coverage for living assistance unless the homeowner was under a mandatory evacuation order. And so you paid your insurance premiums, you're supposed to get payments for additional living expenses, in the case of an emergency. Well, but the insurance companies are saying, no, no, we won't pay you what we owe.

Well, we're putting as much pressure as we can. We know all the parishes that issued strong voluntary evacuation orders first. And many didn't have enough time to make that order mandatory as the storm moved so fast. But, you know, even with voluntary evacuations ordered, folks felt safest leaving their homes in many cases.

No one fled this killer storm because they were looking for a vacation or a road trip. So, folks, they left their home because they felt they had to flee the risk of death.


There's nothing voluntary about that.

And so, I'm calling on private insurance companies, don't hide behind the fine print and technicality. Pay what you owe your customers. Cover temporary housing costs in natural disasters and help those in need. That's what we should all be doing now. That's what we are doing.

So far we have provided with the governor's help as well, $100 million in critical assistance directly to people in Louisiana by putting $500 in their bank accounts once they've contacted us. That's what we're going to come back and let all you people know exactly how to do that. That'll happen.

And secondly, as the governor's request, FEMA's helping with what fancy phrase transitional sheltering assistance, meaning a place for you to be able to safely sleep at night and covering your hotel bill you racked up because you couldn't stay at home during a hurricane or because your home is not livable now. Or making sure this kind of relief is equitable for those hardest hit, the resources they need have to be given to them.

And so, no matter who you are, if you live in an affected area, please visit, once you're able to use your cell phone. Or call 1-800-621-FEMA. That's 1-800-621-3662.

Folks, hurricane Ida's another reminder that we need to be prepared for the next hurricane. And superstorms are going to come and they're going to come more frequently and more ferociously. I've been working closely with the governor and our colleagues in Congress on both parties on my Build Back Better plan that will modernize our roads, our bridges, sewers and drainage systems and power grids and transmission lines to make sure they're more resilient.

I walked through the backyards here. So many telephone lines are down. So many telephone poles are down. So many of the way in which we transmit energy is lost. Because all (ph) telephone pole, we know for a fact if they're underground they're secure, cost more money.

We got to not just build back to what it was, put the same poles up, we got to build back better. We got to build back more resiliently. And we got to make sure we do the same thing across the board.

Think about how that 760 million west shore project here in southern Louisiana will build miles of new levees, pumping stations and drainage structures to provide protection for 60,000 folks in the area. It will change their lives in future storms.

I told the governor that he has my full support, and I mean it sincerely, he had my full support to get this project done. And, folks, I know you're hurting. I know you're hurting. I know the folks in Lake Charles who I visited earlier this year are still hurting from hurricane Laura. I want you to know we're going to be here for you.

And with regard to Lake Charles, I've put in a request in the budget to provide for help for recovery for Lake Charles as a consequence of Laura and Delta, two storms that they still haven't been gotten that the needs that they -- meet that they have.

This isn't about being a Democrat or Republican. We're Americans and we'll get through this together. We just got to remember, we not only have to build back, we have to build back better than it was before, better than it was before. So when another super storm comes, it's not the damage done.

So thank you all very much. I'm going to see the rest of the folks in the neighborhood here. But every time I'd walk out of my grand pop's house out in Scranton, Pennsylvania, he'd yell, Joey, keep the faith. My grandmother would yell, no, Joey, let's spread the faith.

Let's spread the faith, OK? Let's get this done together. Thank you. Thank you.


COLLINS: That's President Biden speaking there after he's been on the ground in Louisiana for hours. He has even gone into some people's homes to tour the damage that has been done by this storm. Of course, the storm turned into a hurricane that hit unexpectedly in the New Orleans and Laplace and several of these areas where a lot of people are still going without basic necessities right now as they are just trying to get the power turned back on for thousands of people.

Of course, this is compounded all by the fact that it is incredibly hot right now in Louisiana. We've seen the heat index get up to 105 in some points. And there, President Biden was calling out insurance companies, saying that they need to step up to the plate and not cover people just because they have voluntarily, in his words, left their homes because of this storm.

Thanks for joining us today. I'm Kaitlan Collins in for Jake Tapper here on THE LEAD. Our coverage continues right now though with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."