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Don Lemon Tonight

Florida's Governor Threatens To Withhold Salaries Of Officials Who Enact School Mask Mandates; Governor Cuomo In A 'Fighting Mood' As Aides Urge Him To Resign; Ninety-Nine Percent Of Vaccinated People Haven't Had Severe Breakthrough Cases; Climate Crisis: Code Red for Humanity; Hours Away From Final Vote on $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Deal. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 09, 2021 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Andrew Cuomo said to be in a fighting mood as more allies call on him to resign and frightening new report on new climate from the United Nations. We are going to tell you why the secretary general is calling it a "code red for humanity."

I want to start in Florida. That is where Governor Ron DeSantis's office is really saying that the state could withhold salaries of any school official who enacts a mask mandate.

Joining me now is Anna Fusco. She is the president of the Broward Teachers Union. Anna Fusco, thank you so much for joining. I appreciate it.


LEMON: So the coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are really spiking in your state. Your district was planning to require masks, but now the governor is threatening to dock your pay. How are you going to respond to that?

FUSCO: Well, you know, we're having our school board meeting tomorrow, and I'm really confident that our school board is going to hold strong because they do know that our students' lives matters and our employees matter. We have 35,000 employees that are going to start school in two days and our students will be here next week.

And I -- you know, I don't think that threat is going to scare them. They're strong women and they care about their students. They were elected by us and they've heard from us, and the vast majority wants them to make sure that we're all protected.

LEMON: Do you think, Anna, that the governor is punishing teachers for political reasons?

FUSCO: I -- you know what, I can't answer what -- why the governor is doing this. You know, he just gave everybody a thousand dollars bonus, classroom teachers and principals, and now he wants to act like that our lives don't matter. It's just something that has got everybody confused and trying to figure out where is he coming from, why is he doing this for masks and keeping protocols in place that have kept the spread. You know, no spread happened in Broward county public schools for multiple protocols and one of them was the mask wearing.

LEMON: Hmm. Tonight, a spokesman for -- a spokesperson the governor said that mask mandates are okay if they allow parents to opt out of the requirement. I mean, what good is a mask mandate if you don't have to follow it?

FUSCO: Well, we want a mask mandate. And opt out portion? We had a little mask opt out portion back in -- last school year where it was for the -- you know, the most medically-needy and there were protocols that needed to take place in (INAUDIBLE) so forth.

So if there is going to be any discussion of any type of opt out, I would say that that would, you know, take the course of what we did last school year. If you're going to opt out, you hit the nail on the head, why have a mask mandate?

LEMON: Yeah. Anna, what are you hearing from teachers in your county? What are their concerns?

FUSCO: Their concerns are that they're going to be in a classroom anywhere from 20 students to, you know, 35 students, 60 students, depending on what class they're teaching, and they want to be protected, they want their students to be protected.

They're looking forward to having kids back face-to-face. They want to keep all the protocols in place and one of them is the masks. And they are, you know, asking -- basically, you know, saying that, you know, we want to come back, keep the masks there, keep our schools clean, make sure we're being taken care of with proper cleaning and sanitizing, let us continue what we did last year when we went back to school in October that kept the spread out of our schools.

LEMON: Anna, you think there should be mask -- a vaccine mandate, I should say, vaccine mandates for teachers?

FUSCO: Well, I would say, let's see what's happening when the FDA is going to come forward. And if it's passed, I think we can have more conversation on the mandate. I do know that the vast majority of our teachers from Broward County public schools, all of the employees, they couldn't wait for the vaccine to come out.

You know, if we were able to have a conversation of how many were vaccinated, I think we would be pleasantly surprised that it's not the teachers or the Broward County public school employees that are not vaccinated. You know, they have been encouraged. The lines were down the street when they opened up, you know, sites for our teachers and employees.

So I would say that we're on the road to making sure that we're going to continue to be safe. I strongly encourage vaccines. I do know myself on a personal level, if the mandate did happen, you know, I wouldn't stand in the way, but I think that, you know, there are many reasons why people might not be able to get vaccinated now.

But we're hoping that people, if they're able to, that they get in line and they get vaccinated. It will just, you know, be a stronger possibility that we can have the spread stop and we can get past this.

LEMON: Well, you know, Anna, school starts in just a matter of days. What's your message to Governor Ron DeSantis tonight?


FUSCO: Our message to Governor Ron DeSantis is that you are an elected governor and your position is, you know, to take care of our state. You know, you're a servant of us and we need you to stand up and be a strong positive governor and show that you care about our lives. You know, please stop attacking our school districts, threatening you're going to take away funding, threatening you're going to take away salaries of our superintendents and our elected board leaders.

You know, they have been chosen by the constituents as you have been. Let everybody stay in their lane and take care of what we need to do in our school districts. We have faith in our school board ladies and our new superintendent. So, please, you know, do what's right for our state and, you know, stop this type of action that you don't care about people's lives.

LEMON: Anna Fusco, sincere thanks. Thank you so much.

FUSCO: Thank you very much.

LEMON (on camera): So, I want to turn now to Texas. That's where the virus is also raging. But Governor Greg Abbott there is banning mask mandates in schools.

Breaking news tonight, a Dallas County judge is asking a Texas court for a temporary restraining order against the governor over his ban, while the state capital of Austin, a teacher pleads with her school board to defy the governor and the mask requirements.


CAROLINE SWEET, AUSTIN ISD TEACHER (voice-over): For many years, you've asked me to be brave. You've asked me to be brave as I practice getting 24 fourth graders into a bathroom. You've asked me to locate in our hiding spot anything with which I might fight off an active shooter. You've asked me to be brave as I think about what would happen if there was some sort of extreme danger and my class is on the playground.

I've discussed with kids how you would run into the woods and hide by the creek, all of us together, avoiding danger. You've asked me to be brave and come back to work during a pandemic after surgery and six months of chemotherapy for stage three cancer. And I've done it. And I will do it. And I will show up. And I will get in that closet. And I will look for the path to the woods.

Board members, you don't have to do these things. But just as I will be brave and think about how my body might shield children from danger, I ask that you be brave today. You know what you need to do to protect children. Do it. Implement a district-wide mask mandate and vaccine requirements for students and staff.


LEMON (on camera): And that is Caroline Sweet, a teacher in Austin -- in the Austin Independent School District. And there she is on your screen now live. Thank you. I appreciate you coming on and telling your story and for the really powerful message that you gave there. It's not just you. Parents and students were begging for a mask mandate tonight. Let's listen to them and then you and I will talk.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Please, stand up to Governor Abbott and his anti-science order and require masks for Austin students. My 9-year- old, Emmett (ph), has sacrificed 15 percent of his childhood to stay safe at home. I'm terrified that after all that he has given up, his brothers may bring COVID home to him.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): I'm a student. I encourage you to stand for the safety of our community. The leadership means protecting others and speaking up for them.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): It is our responsibility to protect our children. Returning to school without a mask mandate is risking the lives of our children. It teaches them that science is irrelevant, that education is unnecessary, that expertise is meaningless, and that critical thinking is not actually critical.


LEMON (on camera): Ah, interesting. Listen, I think I misspoke when I said that you were against them. You want the mask. You're against the governor banning the masks. So, you all want the school board of trustees to go against the governor and require masks. So, how do you see this playing out?

CAROLINE SWEET, TEACHER, AUSTIN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: Yeah, thanks, Don. Thanks for having me tonight. You know, I called into the school board meeting this morning, you know, thinking my audience was just whoever watches the school board meeting in Austin, Texas. And now, I'm on your show.

But I'm just one voice but there are many of us in Austin, in Texas asking schools to implement school-wide, district-wide mask mandates to keep our children safe. And so that's -- the community in Austin is coming together to demand that the school district in Austin defy Governor Abbott's mask -- ban on mask mandates and implement mask mandate to keep our kids safe.

LEMON: You battled cancer. You mentioned that you had a weakened immune system there is -- in the tape that we played. Is the governor putting your health at risk with this ban?

SWEET: Well, certainly, yeah. I mean, you know, I think I have a unique perspective on the pandemic because I spent the whole pandemic trying not to die from cancer, chemo and COVID. And really, I have within me a duty to serve children, to educate children, and that's where I need to be, too.

I need them first and foremost to be safe when they're with me. And I need to stay safe so that I can serve them and work with them and their families. So, yeah, my health is on the line as well, and I need to stay safe for them.

LEMON: Look, clearly -- I admire your passion on this.


LEMON: I know you're worried about your students. What are you hearing from parents in the community, Caroline?

SWEET: You know, I work in an area of Austin that is under-resourced. At the school I work at, everyone receives free breakfast and lunch. And that's the type of school I've always worked in. And it is an area of Austin that has been so hard hit by COVID. And the families that we work with have suffered immense tragedies.

And in a recent survey, the respondents from my school, 92 percent of parents said they would send their kids to school with a mask. So, in my community, that's what we need, that's what we want, and that's what we are going to do to keep our kids safe.

LEMON: Today, Governor Abbott sent a letter asking Texas hospitals to voluntarily postpone elected medical procedures in order to increase hospital capacity for COVID patients. So, clearly he understands the threat to your state. So, why do you think the governor is banning mask mandates? Why would he do this?

SWEET: Look, it's really hard for me to speak on Governor Abbott's motives. But I have theories about how certain politicians might prefer to create strife in public education, which opens up opportunities for charter and other privatization efforts. And so I think that might be an underlying factor. And, of course, in the broader political landscape, I understand that Governor Abbott might be trying to maintain certain allies.

But as a person who is about to walk into a classroom next week with kids, I don't even want to talk about politics anymore. I just want to keep the kids safe.

LEMON: Well, Caroline Sweet, thank you. You're here to spread your message and I hope folks listen. I appreciate you coming on. Thanks so much.

SWEET: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Be safe. Thanks.

So I'm going to bring in now CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He is the director of the Cardiac Catheterization Program at George Washington University Hospital. Also with us is Mr. Mark McKinnon. He is the former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain and the executive producer of "The Circus." Good evening, gents.

Dr. Reiner, you just heard those educators, facing threats and pushback from their governors for trying to keep students safe. There were parents there pleading with him to -- with this delta variant, they are angry and they are rightfully so at the so-called leaders playing games really with their children's lives.

JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST, DIRECTOR OF CARDIAC CATHETERIZATION PROGRAM AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Right. So, this variant is infecting kids at a very rapid rate now. About 220 children are being admitted to children's hospitals every day in the United States and in parts of the country. It's hard to find a room in an intensive care unit in a children's hospital because of the coronavirus. So the threat is real.

Over 4,000 kids in this country have had the multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a serious disease with unknown long-term consequences. So the consequences are real. And now, it's also important to understand that all of our kids under the age of 12 are vulnerable to be infected. We have vaccinated almost 200 million people in this country. None of them are under 12.

So, we need to link arms, we need to put the nonsense of the politics away, and we need to protect our kids as best as possible. Hopefully sometime in September or so, we'll be able to vaccinating children under the age of 12. But until then and even after then, we are going to need to protect them by masking up, to protect the kids and also to protect the vulnerable teachers like your last guest, who after having survived cancer, remains vulnerable to being infected with this virus.

LEMON: Yeah. You know, what I hear -- this is another thing. I hear parents and -- you know, getting excuses for their kids and saying, well, my kid has diabetes or my kid has, you know, some sort of underlying condition. Isn't that even more of an incentive for them to get the vaccine?

REINER: Absolutely.

LEMON: So then why are they using the excuse to opt out of it when it's the one that should be -- they should be using to get a vaccine?

REINER: It's -- you know, it's the entirely wrong philosophy. The more fragile your child is, the more desperate you should want to protect them with a mask and eventually with a vaccine.

Only about a third of kids between 12 and 18, only a third of those adolescents have been vaccinated. And they can be vaccinated now. We have to do a lot better.


REINER: This virus is infecting children. And I'm really worried about what happens when schools open over the next month, particularly in places where masks will not be universal.

LEMON: Yeah. Mark, let's talk about the political side of this, the political strategy. I mean, what kind of political strategy is it to potentially put children at risk and then double down on it?

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH AND JOHN MCCAIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF "THE CIRCUS": I think it's insane, Don. This has to be -- I've seen a lot in politics over the years but this is the most cruel, insensitive public policy, if you want to call it that. Really, it's just naked politics to the base of the current Republican Party.

This tells you a whole lot about the base of the Republican Party, that they would deny masks when they're the ones who are saying that they want the schools to be open.

Everybody wants the schools to be open. And Ron DeSantis said we're not going to do the mask mandate in Florida, we need our kids to breathe. Well, the masks are what are going to keep kids from going into a hospital, into an ICU unit that may not be available and put on a ventilator so they can breathe for the rest of their lives.

It's ridiculous and it's -- I believe it's going to have enormous consequences. I mean, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are playing Russian roulettes with children and kids' lives now because of their politics.

LEMON: Do you think they're going to regret it? Mark, do you think they're going to regret it?

MCKINNON: Oh, I think they're going to regret it for the rest of their lives. I really do. I think it's shameful, and I think that they will regret this for the rest of their lives.

LEMON (on camera): Hmm. This is Governor DeSantis, what he recently said about the pandemic that is ravaging his state. Listen to this.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I talk to people around the state, how are things going, and they say things are humming.

And so I think the question is, we can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state.

In terms of imposing any restrictions, you know, that's not happening in Florida. It's harmful. It's destructive. It does not work.

At the end of the day, we got to start putting our kids first. We got to look out for their education. Is it really comfortable? Is it really healthy for them to be muzzled and have their breathing obstructed all day long in school? I don't think it is.


LEMON (on camera): I mean, Mark, what --

MCKINNON: You think they're going to be more comfortable on a ventilator and ICU unit, Governor DeSantis? I don't think so. I really don't.

LEMON: You think that they have backed them because people are pushing back. Have they backed themselves into a corner?

MCKINNON: I think they have. And I think you're right, Don. I think they're just doubling down because they don't know -- they think they can't scramble out of it now because they've gone this deep. And I just think that consequences are going to be tragic.

LEMON: Yeah. Like someone said, I call my senator or my governor's office to make an appointment for some medical advice and they said call your doctor. And they said, yeah, exactly.


LEMON (on camera): That's the point. Dr. Reiner, I got to get your take on Rand Paul slamming CDC guidelines. Take a listen to this.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): No one should follow the CDC's anti-science mask mandates. Will we allow these people to use fear and propaganda to do further harm to our society, economy and children, or will we stand together and say, absolutely not, not this time, I choose freedom?


LEMON (on camera): How dangerous is this rhetoric coming from an elected official with a medical degree?

REINER: Well, that former ophthalmologist is always wrong about this pandemic. He has been wrong about everything he has spoken about. First of all, he should spend a little bit more time worrying about what's going on in Kentucky. Kentucky right now has a case average of 47 cases per 100,000 residents. It's like three times what it is in New York State. You know, the virus is out of control in his state.

And his constant anti-science rhetoric, he's the same senator who decided it was a great idea to go for a swim in the Senate swimming pool while he was waiting for his COVID test to come back. In January, during the worst of the winter surge, he was the only senator on the floor in the Senate refusing to wear a mask.

He has doubted vaccines in the past. At a hearing two years ago, he said he doesn't want to give up liberty for a false sense of security when it comes to wearing masks. He's a vax-denier, he is an anti- science promoter, and he's dangerous.

LEMON: Hmm. What is it? Give me liberty or give me death? Well --

REINER: Well, he might have that.

LEMON: Yeah. That's -- exactly. Thank you both. I appreciate it.


LEMON (on camera): The embattled governor of New York is in a fighting mood even though his aides are urging him to resign.



RITA GLAVIN, GOVERNOR CUOMO'S ATTORNEY: Everyone is pushing the governor to resign based on a report that has not been vetted and that people are taking to be 100 percent true.



LEMON: Sources are telling CNN that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's closest confidants spent the weekend trying to convince him to resign, even though the governor remains in a -- quote -- "fighting mood."

Just last week, a report from New York's attorney general found the governor sexually harassed 11 women, including a state trooper on his protective detail.

So, joining me now is CNN political commentator Errol Louis. Errol, good to see you again. Thank you so much.


LEMON: Absolutely. Just moments ago on CNN, Governor Cuomo's attorney, Rita Glavin, talking about the explosive allegations by the state trooper number one.


LEMON (on camera): Here's what she has to say on that.


GLAVIN: I know that the governor wants, with respect to trooper number one, he wants to apologize to her. He has tremendous respect for her. And he never in any way, shape or form meant to make her feel as though he was touching her in a sexual way or violated her as I think she testified to.

So I want to make that point. In any way that she felt that way, that he did something that, you know, was untoward, and that she felt disrespected, absolutely.


LEMON (on camera): So she says that Cuomo is going to speak out soon on that, soon. But it's now been a week. What do you think about this development? You saw the interview. I thought Erika (ph) did a great job on that interview.

LOUIS: Yeah, that was a great interview. Listen, the governor keeps going back to apologizing, which in many ways misses the point, Don. This is not an attempt to get to the bottom of how he was feeling or what he intended. That's not how sexual harassment in the workplace functions.

The way it works is if you've done something that is harmful or offensive or outside of the rules, then there's -- you have to be held accountable for it. And that's really what this overall procedure is about.

The governor keeps coming back to saying, I apologize, and I didn't mean it. I don't know if he intends to have 11 different apologizes to 11 different women, but it doesn't negate the action and the potential unlawfulness of the action if you're sorry about it or if you think there was some sort of misunderstanding.

I mean, every corporation that makes its workers sit through these horrible videos about what you are and are not supposed to do, it goes through this. And you do not have the excuse of, I was joking or she misinterpreted it or I didn't mean to. Those things don't really apply in this kind of situation.

LEMON: Does it show you, though, considering what happened over the last couple of days with the attorney coming out and things that -- they're coming on a case that there is an effort to litigate this case in the media rather than just doing it behind closed doors because the A.G.'s office is not really speaking out. They're saying our report speaks for itself.

But the Coumo -- as they should, the Cuomo side should be getting their story out, but it seems to be an effort to sort of win over public opinion. Do you get that -- do you feel that way or no?

LOUIS: I think they might believe that's what they're doing. I don't know that it's working. We've only seen two polls so far and they both show supermajorities of New Yorkers want the governor to resign.

The fine line between making your case and victim blaming is getting crossed on a regular basis. You know, if young women who have absolutely nothing to gain by coming forward in case after case after case are coming forward, you know, any way you want to put it, if you want to act as if, well, they're confused or they misunderstood me, in the end, you're getting near that line of saying, well, it's their fault, I was just being me, and they somehow misinterpreted it.

LEMON: One of Andrew Cuomo's closest aides, Melissa DeRosa, resigned overnight and the governor's attorney told my colleague, Erica Hill, that DeRosa has worked nonstop 24/7 for the last two years and that takes a toll. But Melissa DeRosa is all over the state attorney general report. Do you think she's jumping a sinking ship or what do you think of this?

LOUIS: I think she's looking out for her best interests and, you know, it's very telling that in her brief note announcing her resignation, she does not mention Andrew Cuomo. She doesn't mention the person who hired her, elevated her, gave her all of that power and worked side by side with her literally for years. That is telling. That's not an accident. It's not like she was too busy on a Sunday night to put in a word of thanks to him.

And what it strongly suggests, Don, is that she sees her own personal and perhaps legal interests as diverging from that of the governor and diverging that of the administration.

I read this as a sign that she sees the storm clouds gathering, she sees that the governor wants to fight, wants to fight with somebody, and she also sees that the state assembly and other sources, including now the sheriff of Albany County, are bringing what can be real legal heat that she's not going to escape if she stays in that administration.

So, I think this was, you know, one more sign that this administration is kind of coming apart and at this point is literally leaderless.


LOUIS: I mean the role that she filled is almost like a deputy governor. All agencies would report to her. She knew the mind of the governor and could speak for the governor on any given day.

LEMON: And the press person to boot.

LOUIS: We don't know who is going to fill in that role now.

LEMON: Hey, Errol, really quick answer, please, you're going to get me in trouble here. What did you make of Brittany Commisso's interview on "CBS This Morning?"

LOUIS: She was believable. I mean, it is the same thing that the attorney general's report found. I mean, you look at her motives, you look at her story, and it sounds plausible. She went out of her way to try and remain unanimous. She feels like she was now treated and she wants some measure of justice for it. It happens in a workplace every day. It sounded very familiar.

LEMON: Thank you, Errol Louis. I appreciate it. I will see you soon.

LOUIS: Thank you.

LEMON: Yes, there have been breakthrough cases, but the vaccine still protects people from getting seriously ill. And my next guest has the x-rays to show you exactly how much it is protecting people. We will show you next.




LEMON: Encouraging news tonight for the more than 50 percent of Americans who are fully vaccinated now. A new CNN analysis of CDC data suggests that 99.99 percent of fully vaccinated Americans have not had a breakthrough case severe enough to land them in the hospital or resulting in death. And it comes as we are learning even more about how the vaccine protects people from the worst of COVID.

Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Albert Hsiao. He is a radiologist at the University of California San Diego Health and has been analyzing x-rays of COVID patients since this pandemic began.

Good evening to you. I'm so excited to talk to you and I want people to be able to visually see what you're talking about. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dr. Hsiao.

So, look, I want you to look at some of these pictures that you've got to show us. Just how much protection these vaccines give people. So we're looking at two sets of lungs from COVID-19 positive patients. The person on the left is vaccinated. The person on the right is not. So tell us what the pictures show you or show us about how effective the vaccines are.

ALBERT HSIAO, RADIOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO HEALTH: Yeah, well, thanks for having me. I think the two images that you have are fairly representative of what we're seeing at U.C. San Diego and a number of other places around the country, I'm sure.

The image on the left, I assume, is the patient who was previously vaccinated and had a very mild case of COVID for which there was very little involvement of the lungs. And the picture on the right is a picture of a patient who was previously not vaccinated, didn't get around to having the vaccine, and has a lot of white spaces, cloudy areas of the lungs that are indicative of pneumonia.

LEMON: Wow! Can you explain, please, doctor, what the vaccine does to the body's immune system to create these results?

HSIAO: Well, so the vaccine gives your body a head start to see -- to react to a virus -- to a foreign invader well in advance of when that infection occurs. And so it's like having an army prepared before an attack.

And so in the vaccinated patient, that army is already ready, maybe has to adjust a little bit, and it can quickly respond. In the unvaccinated patient, that's not the case. The foreign invader is completely -- catches the body by surprises and allows it to grow unchecked.

LEMON: Like I said, you have been analyzing these x-rays since the beginning of the pandemic. Can you please tell us -- can you tell us if the different variants from -- can you see different variants in different images when you're looking at this?

HSIAO: Well, not directly. Honestly, once the vaccination rates hit the highs of -- locally, we've been able to get 70 percent of our local population vaccinated. We returned mostly to normal. And so what we're seeing now is a steep rise amongst mostly unvaccinated patients. A few vaccinated patients are getting COVID as well. But we're attributing that to the massive rise of delta variant cases that we're experiencing.

LEMON: With some of the breakthrough cases coming through, there's also been misinformation coming through as well. People are saying that the vaccines don't help against the delta variant. Do pictures like these need to get out to more people so that they can see that the point of all this is to prevent serious illness and death? I mean, that's really the bottom line here.

HSIAO: Right. I think over the coming years, this virus seems like it's going to be with us for a long time. We should be expecting that it will change and adapt to our immune responses and eventually more and more people will get the infection. But the key thing for most of these infections, like the flu and whatnot, is if your body is prepared, then you won't get so sick and require a breathing tube.

LEMON: Dr. Hsiao, thank you. I learned a lot. I really appreciate you being on tonight.

HSIAO: Thanks a lot for having me.

LEMON: So we're way past warning signs.


LEMON: Two hundred scientists now say global warming can't be stopped. And the consequences already being felt are only the beginning if we don't do something now. So stay with us.


LEMON: The United Nations is sounding the alarm on what the secretary general is calling a "code red for humanity," a frightening new U.N. report outlining the threat posed by the climate crisis with the world's leading climate scientists warning that the window to avoid catastrophic changes is rapidly closing.


LEMON: Some of the key takeaways thing from the report, all right, it is on the top of your screen now. Humans are unequivocally warming the planet at a pace faster than previously thought. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is the only way out of this. Every part of the planet is being affected with some irreversible changes. And the level of atmospheric methane is skyrocketing.

I want to bring in now Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center. Thank you. I'm scared, quite honestly. Good evening to you. I've been wondering recently. Have we gone past the point of return? It's because this U.N. report is a wakeup call.

It's happening as severe weather events sweep across the globe. The Dixie fire in California is forcing thousands of people to evacuate. In Europe, the second largest island in Greece burning. Homes and buildings are being destroyed. It's not just wildfires. It's floods, it's heat waves, and it's droughts like the one that's dried up Lake Urmia in Iran.

I mean, are people beginning to realize that the climate crisis isn't something down the road in the future, that it's right now, the future is now?

JENNIFER FRANCIS, SENIOR SCIENTIST, WOODWELL CLIMATE RESEARCH CENTER: Well, I sure hope so, Don, because I think all the evidence that you just listed just from 2021 is certainly getting people's attention, and I think people are starting to realize that, you know, this isn't the climate system that they grew up with.

Things are changing so fast and this report makes that very clear. As you know, this report is the sixth that the intergovernmental panel on climate change has put out since 1990. And every one of those six reports has come out with a clearer picture, stronger language, a louder ringing of the alarm bells about this climate crisis that we've created. This is our doing and there's no doubt about that.

LEMON: But the alarm bells have been going off for a long time now. You point out that this is the sixth report from the U.N. group since 1990. So, what's been the biggest barrier of progress on this?

FRANCIS: The biggest barrier to progress has been a very successful disinformation campaign that's really been fueled and financed by the fossil fuel industry. They've been spending millions and millions of dollars putting wrong information out there and people unfortunately believing it.

It's easy to believe. You want to believe it. You don't want to have to change. And they are using that desire to confuse people, to cast doubt, to make it seem like this is not a big problem. But it's becoming very clear now that Mother Nature has a very different plan in progress.

LEMON: Well, you say that we can control how much worse this crisis gets and we've got to pull out all the stops immediately. What are the stops and what would work?

FRANCIS: Well, we've got to do everything all the way from our individual behavior, all the way up to government behavior, so everything in between. There's a lot happening on the individual and community and even state level and many countries as well. But less progress has been happening really at our national level and that's where it really has to happen.

So, you know, literally, we need to stop spending money on more infrastructures that supports the fossil fuel industry. We need to stop subsidizing more fossil fuel exploration and building of infrastructure and instead spend that many millions of dollars that we have been using to subsidize the fossil fuel industry on things that are going to take us into the future, renewable energy, a better electric grid, more jobs to put in those solar panels, to build more wind turbines. That's the future.

LEMON: The bipartisan infrastructure plan doesn't go as far as hoped on climate change. But Democrats today unveiled the climate provisions in the $3.5 trillion dollar reconciliation bill. It would provide tax incentives for clean energy, manufacturing and transportation impose, polluter fees, create coastal and ocean resiliency programs, invest to fight droughts and wildfires. What impact would they have?

FRANCIS: Well, we'll see. So far, it's mostly just a lot of talk. And so we really need to see that rubber hitting the road and starting to see some of these incentive programs, fee programs, things that are going to actually change people's behavior and government's behavior, business behavior so that we are aiming more towards an economy based on a renewable clean energy system and not going back to the fossil fuels.


FRANCIS: Because burning fossil fuels literally puts these heat- trapping gasses into the atmosphere. Right now, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the highest it's been in at least 800,000 years.

And the last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the sea levels were about 20 feet higher. So, that's the trajectory that we're on right now and that's the one that we have to find a way to get ourselves off of.

LEMON: Well, Jennifer Francis, thank you for educating us. We appreciate you joining.

FRANCIS: Happy to do it any time. Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you. Just hours away from the big vote on President Biden's trillion-dollar infrastructure package. More on that next.




LEMON: This time, it really is infrastructure week. It really is because in just hours, the massive $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package is set for a final vote in the Senate after clearing the last procedural hurdle following months of furious negotiations.

That procedural vote is passing with a large bipartisan margin, with 18 Republicans voting with all the Senate Democrats. Officials say President Biden will be watching the final vote from the White House. The president is poised to deliver a speech to mark the bill's passage since it is such a key piece of his economic agenda.

CNN will have all the updates on the vote and the president's remarks live tomorrow. Make sure you stay tuned. But for now, that's it for me. I will see you tomorrow. Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.