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Don Lemon Tonight
President Biden Touts House Is Passing His Budget Blueprint And Announcing He Will Stick With August 31 Afghanistan Withdrawal; Coronavirus Pandemic: New COVID Cases In United States Spiking To 150,000 Per Day; Schools Become Battleground In Fight Over Mask Mandates; Weeks Away From California's Recall Election; Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts Dies At 80. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired August 24, 2021 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: John Harwood, senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Gentlemen, I'm so happy to have you. Good evening --
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Don.
LEMON: -- to both of you. It's top of the hour now. We're glad that you're here. So, John, two big wins for the Biden administration today. The House is voting to move forward on this massive $3.5 trillion budget and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The president also is talking about the economic plan before the Afghanistan announcement. Does this show you where he thinks Americans are focusing?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's not only where he thinks Americans are focused, will be focused, it is also what he thinks will be the best way he has to counter some of the political damage that he has sustained over Afghanistan.
Joe Biden has centered his presidency around trying to bring material changes to people's lives, trying to get the coronavirus pandemic under control, trying to deliver concrete benefits to people in the form of physical infrastructure, in the form of human benefits. Child tax credits, pre-K, expanded Medicare benefits, free community college, a whole range of things in the budget bill that was advanced today in the House of Representatives.
He is facing tremendous resistance from Republicans legislatively, on COVID in the states, on voting rights, and he thinks that going into 2022 and 2024, his best chance of surviving the democratic majority and also winning a second term is by acting, not talking about what you want to do for people, talking about what you have done for people. Today was a step on that path.
LEMON: Mr. Brownstein, the budget package, huge. It could transform American lives. But you are not convinced that it is going to actually help Biden or Democrats politically. Why? Why is that?
BROWNSTEIN: In the near term, yeah. Look, I think this is a split screen moment for the Biden presidency. On one screen is exactly what John is talking about. I mean they are moving toward the most significant legislative victories for Democrats since the great society in the 1960s.
If you look at everything that is included in this reconciliation bill, it probably is the big expansion in not only the safety net but government efforts to extend opportunity since that '65, 1966 Congress.
On the other screen, I think Biden is facing a reality that many growing number of Americans are uneasy about conditions in the here and now, about the direction of COVID, about what is happening in Afghanistan even though they are recovering it, about inflation, about the border, about crime. I think everything that he is passing will be a significant asset for him in 2024.
But if you look at history, Don, it is not clear to me that it is going to outweigh the verdict on the here and now if voters are still negative on it in 2022. After that great society Congress in 1965-66, the most productive arguably ever, except the new deal, Democrats lost 47 seats in the House. Ronald Reagan lost 26 seats in the House after he passed his tax cuts in 1981.
So I think in terms of the Democrats more immediate problem, getting COVID under control, having a more positive outcome in Afghanistan, rebutting the Republican claims on crime and the border, that is the immediate problem. But all of this definitely will be a positive for Democrats by 2024 if they can move it through.
LEMON: Such a Debbie Downer there, Ron Brownstein.
BROWNSTEIN: A little history there.
LEMON: But you bring it back, so we have to listen. Listen, just think about this. So just 24 hours ago, this deal seemed to be in trouble. Getting the 10 moderates on board was tricky. Do you think that Biden is going to have the same success with moderate senators like Manchin, Sinema, possibly?
BROWNSTEIN: Right. We talked about split screen. I mean, you know, anything that can be, I think, shoehorned into reconciliation, they will ultimately get done. You know, it may not be $3.5 trillion. You know, the pound of flesh that Manchin and Sinema and House moderates demand, they may require to be scaled back somewhat. It is still going to be, to use John's word, transformative.
I mean we are going from, you know, 13 to 17 years of publicly funded education, universal pre-K and free community college, expansion of Medicare, expansion of Medicaid to cover all of those in the states that refused to expand under the Affordable Care Act. This is an enormous piece of legislation. But beyond that, everything that can't be included in this does remain subject to the Republican filibuster in the Senate. And I think one thing that today made very clear, Don, no Republicans voted for the extension of the Voting Rights Act. That will have massive bipartisan support in its previous iterations. And that really puts the focus on Manchin and Sinema because they are arguing that the Senate should only act if 10 Republicans agree to undo what their Republican colleagues in the states are doing.
BROWNSTEIN: And I think what today made very clear in the House is that it is not even a fig leaf, it is not even a pipe dream. There is no there are 10 Republicans in the Senate that are going to act. And so the only question is whether Democrats, you know, unilaterally disarmed in the face of what Republicans are doing in the states or whether they act to create a nationwide voter rights on their own.
LEMON: Ah, wow. Well, we will definitely see what is going to happen. John, I want to turn to Afghanistan now because President Biden is standing by the decision to withdraw U.S. troops in one week's time, August 31st. What are you hearing from the White House? Do they really think that they will be able to get everyone out by then?
HARWOOD: Well, it depends on how you define everyone. I think they're pretty confident that they can get pretty much every American who they can find in Afghanistan who wants to get out. That is the minimum that they want to do.
Beyond that, the question is, how many of the Afghan allies, people who worked alongside American forces during this 20-year war, can they get out? And they are acknowledging that they cannot get all those people out. The evacuation has reached a tremendous volume now, 21,000 people yesterday and 70,000 people in the last 10 days.
Remember, President Biden defined the universe of Afghan allies he wanted to get as 50 to 65,000. However, a lot of the people within the tens of thousands that have gotten out are people who were aligned with coalition forces. They are allies of European forces, not necessarily all of ours.
I talked to a senior administration official tonight who said that there are a lot of deserving people who are not going to get out. That would have happened whenever we left, whenever the Taliban took over. And so I think they are beginning to brace the American people for that possibility.
I think the chance for the deadline getting extended beyond August 31st, President Biden said he wanted to adhere to that deadline, the chances of that rest on whether or not they find pockets of Americans who, after that deadline, they think they've got to go get.
I think in that circumstance, President Biden would extend the deadline. Otherwise, I think they are going to say we have done the best we could and then pack up American forces and try to sustain what they have achieved so far, which is zero American casualties on the way out.
LEMON: And we will know by the 31st. Thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate it.
I want to turn now to the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. He is now a CNN national security analyst. Director, it has been a minute (ph). It is good to see you. I hope that you're doing well and thank you for joining us.
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: Thank you. President Biden says that his decision to leave Afghanistan by August 31st was driven by the security risks. Was this the right call?
CLAPPER: Well, it may well have been the only call that he could make. I drew from the trip that the CIA director, Bill Burns, took, which apparently was intended to get a direct read from the Taliban leadership about the potential for extending the deadline. And I don't know, but I infer that there was no such extension granted or even conceded.
So I think that the president is still going to have more tough decisions to make as the 31st approaches. And I think John Harwood laid out about what the rank order probabilities are of getting everyone out that we might like to get out and who deserves to get out. We probably will not be able to do that by the 31st.
LEMON: Well, you know, the White House is saying that this August 31st deadline depends on the Taliban cooperating. You're saying you don't think they are going to be able to do that by the 31st. But today, the Taliban is saying no longer -- they are no longer going to let Afghans leave the country or even reach the airport. Does that mean that the situation on the ground has already shifted?
CLAPPER: I think so. That is actually very disturbing. And to me, it is a breach in faith by the Taliban, which is certainly consistent with their pattern. So that's a very worrisome development.
There are, I would surmise, many other ways or some other ways, covert probably, of getting people out or going out and getting them. But that is going to be increasingly dicey and risky both for the people that are attempting to be rescued as well as the rescuers.
CLAPPER: So this is -- it's a tough situation.
LEMON: The president specifically acknowledging the threat from ISIS-K today. Tell us about that and about them.
CLAPPER: Well, this is one of the franchises of ISIS. They have at least six or seven around the world. And reportedly, the ISIS-K does not get along with the Taliban. I am not completely convinced of that. I'm more concerned about al-Qaeda and its reconstitution and resurgence because there has been a long and intimate relationship, historical relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. So, I worry more about them at this point than ISIS.
LEMON: I've got to get your reaction to the CIA director, William Burns, meeting face-to-face in Kabul yesterday with the Taliban co- founder. What would the upside of that before -- for the U.S. right now?
CLAPPER: The upside of having that meeting? Is that what you meant?
LEMON: What is the upside for the U.S. meeting with the head of the Taliban?
CLAPPER: Well, in a sense, of course, this continuous the recognition, if you will --
LEMON: The question is really, why do it, right? Why would he meet with them?
CLAPPER: I think - well, I think that the feeling must have been that there had to have been an attempt by the U.S. government in the form of senior personage, to attempt to have a direct face-to-face meeting, in person, with the Taliban leadership to determine for sure whether there was any latitude here on our departure.
I gather that most of the contacts with the Taliban have been low level, tactical-type with military commanders, our military commanders at Kabul, with lower level tactical operators of the Taliban. So this is an attempt to have a more strategic dialogue and it apparently didn't go so well.
LEMON: Yeah. CNN has been reporting that the U.S. is scrambling to fill the intelligence vacuum created by Afghanistan's sudden collapse. How big of a problem is that? Is that a big deal?
CLAPPER: It is a big deal. There is simply no substitute for the on the ground presence that our intelligence services have had and built up over some 20 years. And that is going -- It cannot be -- I will just say this. You can't replicate that from afar. There is a lot we can do to observe from over the horizon and others have pointed this out. We are going to take a hit here as far as our on the ground intelligence capability.
I'm sure we will have some contacts, some assets and some other technical means perhaps for trying to monitor what is going on in the country but it is not going to be the same and as robust as what we have had.
LEMON: Director Clapper, always a pleasure. Thank you, sir. I really appreciate it.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Don, for having me.
LEMON (on camera): What happened to that normal summer that we thought that we were going to have? Well, yeah, COVID happened. Can we get enough people vaccinated to turn this around?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We are not throwing in any towels now. We got to try to get this safe and effective vaccine in all the places where it needs to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Dr. Fauci is predicting that COVID-19 pandemic could be under control here in the U.S. by next spring if the majority of Americans get vaccinated. But tens of millions are still refusing the shot.
The daily count of new cases is rising to more than 150,000, the highest since January. Florida and Mississippi are setting records for COVID-related deaths, Arkansas is running out of ICU beds, and thousands of students and teachers quarantined in Florida's largest school districts.
A lot to discuss now. Ed Yong is here. He is the science writer for "The Atlantic." Ed, I'm so glad that you are here. Thank you for joining us. I really appreciate it. We -- you know, we were all planning for a normal summer, normal fall, but clearly the delta variant has other plans.
Dr. Fauci is now saying spring 2022 if all eligible people get vaccinated. The timeline is keep getting pushed back. What do you think of his estimate? Is this magical thinking or do you agree with it?
ED YONG, SCIENCE WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: I think it is very hard to predict as we have already seen the path of the pandemic. I think a lot of experts were looking to a fairly normal summer and were concerned about the fall. Obviously the fall is yet to befall us and the summer looks pretty terrible.
Whether this is going to be the final surge of the pandemic or whether there will be more to come, I think, is really hard to say.
YONG: But one thing to me is very clear. Delta is so transmissible that it can't be controlled through vaccination alone, which means we are always going to need some of the other measures that the U.S. seems to have been so quick to abandon.
I don't -- I'm not just talking about things like masking and distancing. Other measures that never have been fully implemented like widespread rapid testing, better ventilation, better social support for people who might need to isolate or who -- things beyond just getting vaccinated.
I think the dilemma of the pandemic right now is that for individuals, for everyone watching this, your best option for protecting yourself is still to get vaccinated.
YONG: But society, America as a whole, cannot rely on vaccination as a sole line of defense against the delta variant.
LEMON: Well, since you said that, a quarter of eligible people in this country are still not vaccinated. I mean, look at these people. You know, some of these people have not gotten the shot because of access or time or job and money worries.
But the fact is there's a group of people in this country who are not doing what they need to do to protect themselves and their community like getting vaccinated, like wearing masks. So, how do we deal with people who just won't get on board with these public health guidelines?
YONG: Yeah, it's -- it's hard, and I don't think there's an easy solution to that. I do think, as you have said is, that there are groups of people who still are struggling with access issues.
I think it's right that we -- I think it's right that we do not lump all unvaccinated people in the same bucket and there's still huge gains to be made in persuading people who are holding up for whatever reason. But, you are right, there's going to be this intractable proportion of people.
Now, regardless of whether that existed or not, my point is still that the U.S. has been foolish in going -- in putting all its eggs (ph) on a vaccine only strategy. That seems to what has been done for the last several months. I think that was ill-advised in an era before delta and it is simply unworkable in an era with delta.
LEMON: The vaccine only or what you say is vaccine heavy because they are asking people to wear masks, especially when indoors. But you are right. It's mostly focused on vaccinating -- vaccinations.
YONG: They are doing that now, but, you know, the CDC obviously famously and controversially changed its mask guidance for fully vaccinated people several months ago in a way that led to the lifting of mask mandates across the country, and the imposition of certain laws had prevented local governments from issuing mask mandates which adds to the confusion and tricky situation that we are now in.
I think America really did go all in against -- on vaccines and almost traded them off against other layers of defense. And the rhetoric that we got from the CDC and the White House was almost as if taking off your masks and dispensing with other precautions was a reward for getting vaccinated. They can't be treated in that way. They have to work together.
And we still need to remind the country, we have done a very bad job of this so far, but I think we still need to remind the country that we are all in this together. It is an infectious disease and our choices influence each other. Even fully vaccinated people can't tap out of the pandemic problem yet because of the complications of the delta variant and how transmissible it is proving to be.
LEMON: Yeah, and it seems like a cycle that we are going to see over keep repeating and repeating and repeating. Ed Yong, appreciate your perspective. We love having you. Thank you so much.
YONG: Thanks for having me.
LEMON: Schools reopening and with that comes anger. Tensions are turning to violence over what should be a simple public health measure, masks.
LEMON: The mask wars are refusing to go away even as COVID cases and deaths surge in places where the rhetoric is most heated and where it is hottest, right, including Florida. But it's something that we have seen across the country: shouting at school boards, confrontations in parking lots, and in one case, an elementary teacher ending up with stitches. Here's CNN's Rosa Flores.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When it comes to masks in schools, it's some parents who are behaving badly, having face-to-face confrontations, and even burning masks. The tension and division mostly fueled by misinformation.
CROWD: Let them breathe! Let them breath!
FLORES (voice-over): In Texas, a parent ripping off a teacher's face mask at school last week, according to the school district's superintendent.
TOM LEONARD, SUPERINTENDENT, EANES INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, TX: I don't want these mask wars being fought in our schools. I don't care right now what you believe.
FLORES (voice-over): In Northern California, an elementary school teacher had to get stitches for cuts and lacerations to his face when an argument with a parent over masks turned physical.
TONIE GIBSON, SUPERINTENDENT, AMADOR COUNTY AND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, CA: The female principal intervened to say, hey, it's time to go, like you stop.
FLORES (voice-over): Now, the parent is facing multiple charges, including battery on a school employee, according to the district attorney. The rage spilling into school board meetings for months now like this one in Utah.
UNKNOWN: So, I taught junior high school, and you don't scare me.
FLORES (voice-over): In Pennsylvania --
UNKNOWN: Stop, stop, please --
FLORES (voice-over): Tennessee and Wisconsin, too.
UNKNOWN: Enough. This is inappropriate. These folks are your neighbors.
FLORES (voice-over): With some meetings abruptly ending in a midst of screaming protests.
CROWD: No more masks! No more masks! No more masks!
UNKNOWN: I move that we adjourn this meeting.
FLORES (voice-over): And public officials openly threatened.
UNKNOWN: We know who you are. No more masks.
FLORES (voice-over): How to combat this war over masks? This dad who says his 5-year-old understands the concept of wearing face coverings --
UNKNOWN: And it's disappointing that more adults around here can't seem to grasp it.
FLORES (voice-over): -- is pleading for civility in the national conversation.
FLORES (voice-over): Rosa Flores, CNN, Houston.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LEMON (on camera): Rosa, thank you very much. I want to bring in now CNN political commentators Ana Navarro and Scott Jennings. They never have much to say about anything. So, you know, I don't know. That was sarcasm because they are always feisty and opinionated, which is why we have you here. We love you, guys. Good evening to both of you.
Ana, it is crazy, these battles over masks in schools. They are not letting up even as cases and deaths are rising. Why is it so hard for people to realize this is the best way to keep our kids safe now?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Don, because, you know, there in this zone where they think it is a crusade for personal freedom and they just can't get themselves away from that. And so instead of looking at the numbers, instead of looking at the statistics, instead of looking at the rising cases, the rise and hospitalizations and the rise and deaths, they are doing things like listening to politicians, to craven politicians who are exploiting this subject matter for political gain, which is I frankly think immoral. We are seeing more and more of the cruise lines like Disney today, are saying no, regardless of what you are telling us, politicians, we are going to require vaccinations and masks. And airlines are extending. The FAA extended the mask mandate. And the biggest school districts in places like Florida, my state, are imposing mask mandates for their schools.
And I say, let us allow the experts. Let's allow the educators, the scientists to set the standards, not some governor or not some politician running for reelection or for the republican nomination.
LEMON: Well, you mentioned that because there is a new Quinnipiac poll, Scott, showing 60 percent of Florida residents support requiring masks for students, teachers, and staff in schools. So, you know, when DeSantis said that Florida parents want to choose for themselves, he's wrong. Most of them support mask mandates.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDNET TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think, you know, if you are a Republican politician right now, one of the clearest sort of battle lines that we have in this country where you are trying to show the most committed conservative activists that you are one of them is on this mask issue.
I think as it relates to the parents who are upset though, I think it is far more complicated than just simple politics. I was reading this article in New York magazine this weekend about the CDC data that came out. I mean, you know, this article is called the science of masking remains uncertain at school, and it makes a pretty compelling case that there are real questions about whether this is as effective as people have been led to believe.
You have this group of parents who are repeatedly saying, I have questions, and they are being told to sit down and shut up. And so that's no way to bring anybody along. And so I think violence is wrong. These stories where people are hitting each other and having altercations, ripping off -- I mean, that is crazy and it shouldn't be occurring.
But at the same time, I don't think schools and people who are in charge in these areas should be telling parents whose kids are in the schools, sit down and shut up, you aren't allowed to express an opinion or ask a question. There has to be some kind of middle ground here where questions can be asked that, by the way, in this case, are based on CDC data, without parents feeling like they're being told your opinion isn't valid here.
LEMON: Well, I don't know what data you are talking about in New York magazine, but every data from every expert shows that masks are effective in cutting down the transmission of the virus, especially if two people are wearing it. If one person is wearing it, not so much, because the other person obviously can spread it. But if both people are wearing it or everyone is wearing it, it shows that it's actually quite effective. I'm not sure what your -- I just don't want to give people fake information.
JENNINGS: I would encourage you to read it. I mean, it says -- I mean --
LEMON: I have a subscription of New York magazine. I will read it. But I have seen the studies from not just magazine articles, but from experts who actually -- it's their job to study that. And the people who actually work in hospitals, they wear masks for a reason. It's because they work. Surgeons wear masks. Frontline workers wear masks.
NAVARRO: Don, I have spoken to doctors who work in children's hospitals. I can tell you that in the first variant, there wasn't the level of children affected that there is right now.
You know my best friend, (INAUDIBLE). His husband works at Miami Children's Hospital. They are full with COVID cases right now in a way that they weren't before. We all know this. We hear it from places like Arkansas. We hear it from all over the country that this is happening. These are not fake cases.
LEMON: But even if you say -- Scott, if you say, as effective, let's just say it has some percentage of effectiveness, then what's the point? Even if it has 20 percent or 30 percent or 40 percent, it still helps. So why wouldn't you want to protect the least of these, especially children who are vulnerable, who can't get a vaccine? I don't understand that. I don't even understand why the whole questioning of it, especially in the fact science is science.
JENNINGS: Yeah. I think, first of all, as you know, we've discussed, I've been a rule follower the entire time. I sort of believe that --
LEMON: Except you haven't been doing what all of us have been doing and that is gaining weight. So I don't trust you.
JENNINGS: That's right, that's right. I'm going the other way.
LEMON: You're going the other way, but go on.
NAVARRO: He's doing intermittent fasting, Don. We are doing interment eating.
LEMON: Yeah. Go on.
JENNINGS: Yeah. But I -- but there have been some medical professionals who have raised, and I think some parents have latched on to this, have raised the questions about what are the long-term impacts of sort of forced masking of these young children in schools, what is the impact on their learning, what is the impact on their language development, et cetera. I know there are a lot of opinions and some doctors say no, some doctors say yes.
But I think the point is some parents have looked at some of this and said, well, I am concerned about that. And if you layer on top of that maybe some of their political views and you layer on top of that some school administrator telling them to sit down and shut up at a PTA a meeting, you can see how this is a recipe for all this stuff boiling over.
I agree that I don't think we need violent interactions. I do think we need more dialogue on this. I do think we need more collaboration. I think part of the issue here is people feeling like their voices are not being heard and that leads to an escalation --
LEMON: I feel you. I understand.
NAVARRO: I don't know how you say that the voices aren't being heard when we see meeting after meeting where both sides of this issue are carrying out their opinions. Look, you and I grew up in a Republican Party that where local control was a central bastion of being Republican, and allowing businesses to make their own decisions was also a bastion of being a Republican.
And today, we have governors, Republican governors, who act as if they are in Mount Olympus and they are telling everybody else how to act. For them to be using the governorship as a platform to bully local school boards is simply wrong. And it is against the Republican tenants that you and I grew up with of local control.
LEMON: I've got to go, Scott. I know you probably want to respond. Here's what I have to say before you respond, if you can do it quickly. I understand the whole thing about, yes, all those points you mentioned, should be able to discuss those, whatever. If the child is no longer there, you can't correct that in the future. They are gone. You understand what I'm saying?
So there are issues that you can deal with. Is my child behind in reading? Well, there's a way to correct that. There is tutoring and we can catch them up in the summer. We can do all of these other things if your child is with you. But if your child is no longer with you because someone didn't want to wear a mask to protect them, there's no amount of correcting. There's nothing you can do beyond that point.
JENNINGS: I totally agree with you, that for the most part, people who want to do the masks and schools are doing it because they think it's the right thing to do by public health and I'm not disputing anyone's motives. I do think more collaboration with these parents and less making them feel like they're being talked down too might help de- escalate some of these situations. That's my only point.
LEMON: All right. Thank you both. I appreciate it. Weeks away from California's recall election and mail-in ballots are already showing up at voters' doors. This story is crazy. The lieutenant governor joins me next. Plus, Rolling Stones' drummer, Charlie Watts, passing away at the age of 80.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Countdown is on in California where voters will cast ballots in a special election on September 14th to decide if they want to recall their Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom. The leading Republican candidate who wants to replace Newsom is Larry Elder, a conservative radio talk show host who is a big supporter of the former president.
Let's discuss now with California's lieutenant governor, Eleni Kounalakis, who is a Democrat. Governor, we had you on during the pandemic. I remember having you on and we discussed that. It's good to have you on right now.
This is crazy. I mean, the more I read about this, the more I'm like whoa, whatever. We are less than a month away from the recall election. California is already starting to receive their mail-in ballots for those who aren't familiar. Please, what's at the root of this? What is this process?
ELENI KOUNALAKIS (D), CALIFORNIA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Well, Don, first of all, it's great to be back. That's right, I was on at the very beginning of the pandemic, and I remember we were talking about the test kits and Donald Trump was sending California test kits that didn't have the right material in it to actually conduct the tests.
KOUNALAKIS: We've come a long way in California, and we are very proud of the governor's leadership in our state in combatting COVID-19 and the economic crisis that's followed.
So, you are right, here we are in what is kind of the land of absurdity with a recall effort. And here's what I think is important for your viewers across the country outside of California to know.
KOUNALAKIS: We only have about 24 percent of registered voters in California who are registered Republicans. So, what the recall process really does is give an opportunity in the Republicans' mind of sort of gaming the system and trying to elect a Republican governor in a state that only has 24 percent registered Republicans.
So that's what they see in this process, which is kind of quirky at best, but many people think might actually even be undemocratic, because far more people can vote to keep Gov. Gavin Newsom in office than actually vote for any of the people on the ballot. But one of those people could very well win if we don't get 50 plus one of California's voters to reject the republican recall. So that's what we are trying to do.
LEMON: So there is a little known -- what is his name? Larry Elder. I think he has been on the show before -- leading Republican candidate in this recall election. He is vowing to repeal any mask and vaccine mandates. He has spent years promoting global warming as a myth though his campaign says that he evolved (ph) on that issue.
He talked about abolishing the minimum wage. He has been trolling on Twitter or whatever is -- very active on Twitter. When it comes to race and gender, he has always been controversial, what is on the line in this race?
KOUNALAKIS: You know, Don, I have read some of the things that this guy has said. I find them odious. But it isn't just me, a Democrat who is lieutenant governor of California who disagrees with him. Twenty- four percent of Californians are registered Republicans.
So how could this guy even have the possibility of a chance of beating Gavin Newsom who really has done an excellent job in our state in holding faithful to the values that so many Californians hold?
LEMON: Why is it so close then?
KOUNALAKIS: Because the process is so quirky. Because, if the governor loses by one vote, if 50 percent of voters minus one vote to recall him, then a guy like Elders who right now is polling at 18 percent could actually become the governor. It's a process that is illogical in many ways and might even be undemocratic. There's a lawsuit that is challenging this.
And one of the parts of this that makes it sort of quirky is that the governor under our statute, Gov. Newsom cannot put his name on the ballot as an alternative should he be recalled. So, for instance, if slightly less than 50 percent vote against the recall, the recall passes, if he could just put his name on the ballot, he would just win as the top vote getting alternative. But the way that the statute is written, he can't.
And so, any time you have a confusing thing like this and it is confusing to people, then the Republicans and this is why Newt Gingrich and others spent millions of dollars to collect signatures through paid signature gathers, they see an opportunity to create chaos.
And now it's costing taxpayers, by the way, $270 million to do a recall election a year before the governor will be back up on the ballot for re-election in a regular election that a Republican, by the way, could never win.
LEMON: Oh, my gosh. Okay, my head is going to pop off. Lieutenant governor, listen, we will have you back. Thank you for coming on and explaining this to our viewers. But it is a little whacky.
KOUNALAKIS: Don, can I just --
LEMON: Real quick because I'm out of time, but yes, go on, please.
KOUNALAKIS: Don, everything you have just been talking about about mask mandates, all these Republicans who are trying to take out Gov. Newsom, they are all going to repeal all their mask mandates and send us into a tailspin. And right now, we are doing a great job in keeping COVID rates down. Any of these people would be a disaster from a health standpoint. So we are going to beat the republican recall.
LEMON: Thank you, lieutenant governor. We appreciate it. We will see you. Thank you so much.
A rock legend dying today. We are going to take a look at Rolling Stones's Charlie Watts right after this.
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LEMON (on camera): Oh, boy, really sad news tonight. Charlie Watts, the iconic drummer for the Rolling Stones, has died. A spokesperson announcing he passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family. He is 80 years old.
Watts was part of the Stones's long-time foursome along with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood. Watts anchored the band's blues-rock sound from his drum kit for more than 50 years. Wow, what a career. Keith Richards offering his tribute to his former band mate, a closed drum set.
Musicians Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Elton John and more shared their memories of Watts on social media and expressed condolences to his family and bandmates. McCartney is saying this.
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PAUL MCCARTNEY, MUSICIAN: Condolences to the Stones.
MCCARTNEY: It is a huge blow to them because Charlie was a rock, a fantastic drummer, steady as a rock.
LEMON: It was Charlie Watts who kept the beat going on hits like "Start Me Up."
LEMON: With his help, the Rolling Stones would always bring the house down with "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Listen.
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