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Don Lemon Tonight

White House: Biden's COVID Speech Will Include Announcements On Vaccine Mandates And Testing; Don Lemon Interviews Historian And Presidential Biographer Jon Meacham; Secretary Granholm On What It Will Take To Get The President's Agenda Across The Finish Line; COVID Vaccine Skepticism High In Resistant Ozarks Community; California Panel Recommends Parole For Robert F. Kennedy's Assassin. Aired 11p- 12a ET

Aired September 08, 2021 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: President Biden set to unveil a six-point plan tomorrow for his administration. He is going to try to end the COVID pandemic. How they're going to try to do it? White House officials saying it involves a mix of encouraging and even mandating Americans to get vaccinated, expanding access to testing and protecting children in classrooms.

Along with tackling the COVID crisis, the president is facing crucial weeks ahead in pushing his massive infrastructure and spending plans through Congress. Can he keep Democrats united, including Senator Joe Manchin?

And disagreement within the family of Robert F. Kennedy's widow after a California panel recommends parole for Sirhan Sirhan. He is her husband's assassin.

So joining me now are CNN White House correspondent John Harwood and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon. Thank you very much. I appreciate both of you, gentlemen, joining. Good evening. John Harwood, you're first. President Biden is set to give his major speech on the pandemic tomorrow. What do we expect to hear from him?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Don, as you indicated a moment ago, September is a critical month for Joe Biden on multiple fronts. One of them is managing the aftermath of Afghanistan. Another is trying to push this legislative program through Congress by keeping his Democratic Party together. Not an easy task on such a large bill.

But what we're going to see tomorrow is an attempt to reset his effort on the absolute number one priority for his administration, the key to everything, and that is getting on top of the COVID pandemic. He had a lot of success in the early part of the year but the delta variant had scrambled that.

So what we expect the president to do is lay out some detail about how he is going to act on six different goals or objectives in his plan. One of them is to beef up vaccinations. Some sort of vaccination mandates, employers, that sort of thing. Second is a plan for booster shots for people who are already vaccinated. Third is ways to keep schools open. That is critical to parents and to children around the country. School disruption last year was one of the worst consequences of the pandemic.

He is going to talk about how to improve masking and testing, mask compliance, testing regimes to help people implement some of the mandates, keep the economic recovery going. And finally, improve health care for people who already have COVID-19.

It's a massive undertaking. We've gone backwards in the last few weeks. Biden is going to try to get his team on top of it beginning tomorrow.

LEMON: Mr. Avalon, with so much resistance to vaccines and masks, how can the president turn this crisis around?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he has got to lean into the idea that if you refuse to get vaccinated that you're going to give up certain freedoms. You know, that there are -- there are mandates that are going to be in place, not only expecting the federal government but companies need to step up, private businesses, and require it for their employees who want to come into the office.

There's an open question about airlines, for example, but he has got to have some more sticks in addition to the carrots. And the reason is, of course, we still got 26 percent of the country refusing to get vaccinated. These are the folks who are disproportionately getting hospitalized and dying. It is still the pandemic of the unvaccinated.

But he needs to restore his administration's reputation for competence, which was compromised in the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, by refocusing on COVID and calming folks who are afraid that we are seeing a second wave that will increase the disruptions to their life that we just came out of not so long ago. Schools are a key part of this.

So he has got a big task on his hands, but he is going to have to lean into the fact that folks who are refusing to get vaccinated are the ones driving this. They're hurting the rest of us.

LEMON: Yeah. John Harwood, there is a new reporting tonight from "The Wall Street Journal" that the Biden administration is preparing to sue Texas over the state's new abortion bill. What do you know?

HARWOOD: Simply that they're going to try to attempt a challenge.


HARWOOD: You know, the president hinted at that a couple of days ago, when he said he was exploring legal avenues for doing something about this law. We don't know exactly how the administration is going to go about it, what the arguments are going to be. But given the heat that has arisen from abortion rights forces, critical element of the Democratic Party, the democratic coalition, he has got to do something.

Whether or not he can prevail in a federal lawsuit, we don't know, but they're going to give it a shot. I don't know if that is going to be filed tomorrow or on Friday, but we will see the legal reasoning and the particular arguments they make when they do that.

LEMON: John Harwood, another question for you. The Biden administration has removed 11 officials appointed to military service academy advisory boards by former President Trump. The officials asked to resign include prominent former Trump officials like former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, former senior counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, and former National Security adviser H.R. McMaster. What is the White House saying?

HARWOOD: The White House is saying that this is within the prerogative of the president of the United States, to put people he wants on those boards and take people he doesn't want off of them.

Let's just keep in mind some perspective here. Donald Trump ran a very bad administration that culminated in an armed insurrection against the will of the American people on January 6th. Many people he stocked the administration with were, like him, unfit to serve. Not all of them, but many of them were.

And so what you had is the administration today saying, we're going to remove a bunch of people from these boards, and Jen Psaki cited two of the most high-profile people that you mentioned in explaining the president's decision.

AVLON: Yeah.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I will let others evaluate whether they think Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and others were qualified or not political to serve on these boards. But the president's qualification requirements are not your party registration. They are whether you're qualified to serve and whether you're aligned with the values of this administration.


HARWOOD (on camera): And Don, Sean Spicer angrily denounced the decision on a television show tonight, saying that it had insulted his service as a naval officer because he was on the Board of Visitors at the naval academy.

But keep in mind, Sean Spicer began his job on the very first day in the White House telling a gigantic lie about the president's inauguration. Kellyanne Conway followed that up by saying they were going to offer alternative facts. President Biden decided those weren't the kind of people he wanted on these boards.

AVLON: Yeah.

LEMON: Is it -- okay. So listen, John, I'm going to let you respond, the other John, because Sean Spicer said on his show, then you have Kellyanne Conway who is trying to glorify herself with a letter to President Biden saying, I'm not resigning but you should. These people lost all credibility in the -- you know, the last time I checked, right? In the last White House, they trampled all over the truth.

I'm sure that's in part why the administration took this move. But isn't it in the purview of the president to say, these are the folks who I wanted on the board, and didn't Trump do something similar --

AVLON: He did --

LEMON: -- with people before?

AVLON: He packed a lot of these boards and fired folks. But look, Jen Psaki set out a clear and common sense standard as it applies to qualifications. You can make a strong case that Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway are not qualified, that these were partisan hacks who were put into this position to perpetuate the Trump agenda.

When Kellyanne Conway says that, you know, it's political to take her out of this office, well, you know, she should look in the mirror with regard to her own service in the Trump administration.

That said, there is a big mistake by the Biden administration's own standard in taking out someone like H.R. McMaster, someone who has a long distinguished record in the military, who is not seen as overtly political.

Yes, he served as national security advisor, was fired by Trump in fact for not telling the party line when it came to Russia, but that is a big mistake, to lump in someone like H.R. McMaster, who does have the qualifications to serve in any capacity beyond partisanship with the Sean Spicers and Kellyanne Conways of the world. (INAUDIBLE) should be retracted in the interest of integrity and applying consistent standards as Jen Psaki set up from the (INAUDIBLE).

LEMON: John and John, from these two Johns to another John, except he spells it differently, thank you very much. See you later.

I want to bring in presidential historian Jon Meacham. He occasionally advises President Biden and is the author of "His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope," which is out in paperback this week. Thank you, Jon Meacham. Good to see you. Good evening to you.


LEMON: So, in the next two and a half weeks, President Biden needs to get his infrastructure and budget bills over the finish line, while dealing with growing COVID crisis, the recovery from multiple deadly storms, and the fallout from Afghanistan. Give us some context here on the significance of this month to the Biden presidency.


(LAUGHTER) MEACHAM: It's the busiest agenda you can imagine. You know, August is almost always a terrible month in history. World War I started -- we dropped the atomic bombs, Saddam invaded Kuwait, Katrina hurricane, there is something about August. And Lord willing, September and October and November going forward will be better.

You know, it was 90 years ago this weekend that Franklin Roosevelt gave a statement to "The New York Times" magazine, September 11th, 1932, in which he defined the presidency.

He said that the presidency is not pre-eminently an engineering job, which was a shot at Herbert Hoover, who had been an engineer and had been a great person to make infrastructure work in Europe. But it is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership. And moral in that sense didn't necessarily mean ethical behavior but it meant custom, it meant how we are with each other.

And I've always thought that actually FDR was wrong to take the shot at Hoover because it is about engineering, it is about running things, and it is about setting a tone and an ethos in which we see each other not as adversaries, not as opponents reflexively, but as neighbors. That's how democracies work.

And we've had a very good run in this country, 2 1/2 centuries or so, of having a constitutional republic that has endured through storm and strife. It's an inflection point. It would be ahistorical and intellectually dishonest to say that the country is not facing, I believe, the most significant crisis in terms of the durability of our democracy since the 1850s.

I've been optimistic for the number of years about this, but as Charlie Peters, my old boss, used to say, intellectual honesty is about saying something good about the bad guys and bad about the good guys --


MEACHEAM: -- and so you have to recognize when facts change.

LEMON: Yeah.

MEACHAM: And on January 6th, the facts changed. And the unvaccinated masses that are making the pandemic so much worse is a changed fact. I think the president, of all the people I can imagine, of all the people who are on that stage in the democratic primary and surely the people who were on the stage in the general election debate, I would want Joe Biden confronting these problems.

LEMON: Tomorrow, Jon, the president is expected to unveil a path forward out of the pandemic. Biden ran as a candidate that would end the COVID crisis. But you have this combination of the delta variant and you people refusing to get vaccinated, as you call them, the unvaccinated masses. I mean, that is changing everything. What do Americans need to hear from him?

MEACHAM: I think they need to hear that your responsibility as an American patriot is to care about other Americans. I would frame it, I've been part of this, but what I would do is I would frame this as a patriotic act.

You know, people didn't opt out of hitting Omaha Beach. They didn't opt out of responding to the moral call of Dr. King. America is about sacrificing some bit for a common good. Not that we're all perfect and we're all saintly. Thank God, it doesn't take saints, because the relative proportion of sinners to saints in the population means that those of us who are sinners have a much bigger plurality.

But I think that is what he has to say, is that it is a patriotic to get the vaccine in the way you get a driver's license, in the way your kids are vaccinated anyway and have been for generations, and it is about caring about the other person.

LEMON: Yeah.

MEACHAM: You should care about yourself, too, and so it has the benefit of being both self-interested and about your neighbor. But that is -- and I'm not playing Mr. Rogers here. I'm really not. It's a fundamental --

LEMON: I don't see a red sweater, but go on.

MEACHAM: I've got some tennis shoes. It's the currency of democracy to see everybody else as a neighbor and not as a reflexive adversary.

LEMON: Yeah.

MEACHAM: And I think if anybody can make that case, it's President Biden. I think he believes it. I think it is part of his DNA. In a way, with all respect to your good question, he's not on trial. The country is.

LEMON: Right.

MEACHAM: The citizenry is.

LEMON: Right.


MEACHAM: We were founded on this idea that we, the people, could be entrusted with government. We are not exactly proving that we're very good at that right now.

LEMON: You're right. Listen, heroes and patriots did not opt out of going to war, and some paying the ultimate price. It was just -- some of the folks who refused to go and some who claimed bone spurs who -- were the ones who were opting out. So, we have to keep that in mind. That's where that type of group, that's where the misinformation is coming from on this very subject that we're talking about.

Thank you, Jon Meacham. Appreciate it. I'll see you soon.

So what is it going to take to get President Biden's agenda across the finish line? We're going to ask Secretary Jennifer Granholm what he'll give up and what he won't.


LEMON: Senator Joe Manchin laying out a long list of demands as Senate Democrats push for his vote on President Biden's $3.5 trillion budget plan.


LEMON: Sources are telling CNN that Manchin is making it clear that he won't cave on aggressive climate provisions, throwing a wrench into his party's plans to deal with the climate crisis.

I want to get right to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Secretary, thank you so much. It's tough not to call you governor, but it is good to see you. Thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it.

So, like it or not, Senator Manchin -- he is the key to passing the Biden agenda. What is the president willing to compromise on here and what is completely off the table, secretary?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, ENERGY SECRETARY: Well, let me just say, from my column of responsibility, which is of course energy and in particular clean energy, you know, West Virginia is a state that would benefit enormously from the president's strategy because there would be investments flowing into West Virginia to help transition that economy, particularly in West Virginia because they have a whole array of resources that could be used to help put people to work but also power their grid with clean energy.

You can provide incentives for the utilities to be able to decarbonize the fossil industry, add technology that allows that industry to have zero carbon emissions, and then expand clean energy. It's a big asset.

So, you know, I'm not going to negotiate, obviously, for Chuck Schumer or anything like that, but I can tell you that there is a huge amount in these series of bills that will be extremely beneficial to West Virginia, some of which on the infrastructure side Joe Manchin has negotiated himself.

LEMON: Yeah. Well, as I mentioned, CNN is learning that Manchin is telling Senate chairs that he won't cave on climate provisions. I mean, it is important. So what is the administration's next move? Can you tell us?

GRANHOLM: Well, I don't believe that this is a done deal. I think that we are -- our teams are all negotiating very closely on what this could look like. I think that, you know, for example, West Virginia University just came out with a study that showed that there will be almost 20,000 jobs created in clean energy in West Virginia if these bills are passed, if the "build back better" agenda is passed. That's huge for West Virginia.

LEMON: Look, the last week or so, I've been on pins and needles worried about my family in Louisiana. All of a sudden, they're calling me, worried about me, with the storm making -- the damage it did to New York City and the metro area here.

In my home state of Louisiana, the death toll from Hurricane Ida is now up to 26, secretary. At least 52 more people in the northeast, they were killed from flooding days later. Many of those same areas are now under another storm watch tonight. There are also wildfires still raging in the west.

With so much evidence of this climate and infrastructure crises all across the country right now, why is the president have to beg his own party to actually do something about it?

GRANHOLM: Well, I mean, honestly, people are seeing it everywhere. It is a code red for humanity. And the cost in human lives, the cost even in financial cost of cleaning up is enormous. When you think about -- we spent $160 billion cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina. Just in Texas this year, remember that freeze that happened, that weird freeze --

LEMON: Of course.

GRANHOLM: -- in Texas earlier this year? That cost $130 billion to clean up after. So what are we going to do? Continue to escalate these costs? We used to pay about $13 billion a year to clean up after extreme weather events in the '80s. Every year, it has exponentially increased.

So the point is, we do it now and we pay what we have to do to make sure that these places are resilient and we prevent the extreme impacts from climate change. By doing our part, we can lead the world to also do their part. But we can't just sit back and do nothing. It will continue to escalate.

And people will miss the economic opportunity of addressing climate change, too. It's a $23 trillion global market by the end of this decade, $23 trillion from countries that want to buy products that will reduce their CO2 footprint. Are we just going to stand by and let our economic competitors like China grab that market?

LEMON: Okay.

GRANHOLM: We've got to get in the game. And for states like West Virginia, it's an opportunity.

LEMON: Okay. Let us talk -- you talked about West Virginia and what they could do. But let's talk the specifics here. You said it was $23 trillion industry that we would be missing out on, meaning America?


LEMON: So, President Biden's infrastructure and spending bills are both packed with funds to fight the climate crisis. So tell me about your plans to rebuild in new ways to deal with this growing threat.

GRANHOLM: Well, what we have to -- so for example, today, the Department of Energy through our national renewable energy lab just released a report called the "Solar Futures Report." [23:24:59]

GRANHOLM: If we do this right and if we pass these policies, solar power can help which is of course totally clean, can be 40 percent of our energy mix by the year 2035 and create a million and a half jobs as we do it.

In fact, we know that the president's "build back better" agenda is going to create two million jobs per year. There is another study coming out showing how many millions of jobs will be created if we do this clean energy standard that the president wants.

The opportunity for building products, building solar panels, building the racks, building the inverters, building wind turbines, building the blades, building the nacelles, building the batteries for electric vehicles, building the guts to those vehicles including extraction that is responsible of the minerals that go into a building, the vehicles themselves, extracting heat from the ground using geothermal, I mean, the amount of jobs, the kinds of jobs in all parts of the country are huge.

The opportunity is huge. That's why we just cannot miss it. From an economic point of view, from a planetary point of view, from a health point of view, it's imperative that we act.

LEMON: Wow! Well, you sound like the energy secretary with that enthusiasm.


LEMON: Thank you, Secretary Granholm.

GRANHOLM: I'm enthusiastic and determined. All right, thanks, Don.

LEMON: Thank you. The Ozarks, a place where vaccination rates are low and vaccine skepticism is high. Is anything changing amid a resurgent pandemic across the country? We're going to take a look.




LEMON: President Biden set to unveil a six-point plan tomorrow aimed at ending the COVID pandemic. The White House saying he will use mandates to require more Americans to get vaccinated. But in many communities across the country, that is still a very tough sell.

Tonight, CNN's Elle Reeve revisits one Missouri town where there is a lot of fear, skepticism and resistance.


UNKNOWN: The spike is a little shocking. It is really raging here.

UNKNOWN: Everybody is scared. Everybody is coming down with it. It is almost like a plague.

UNKNOWN: I had both shots of the vaccine. People just acted like it doesn't help. It bothers me sometimes that people just act like COVID is a big joke. I said, why don't you just come right up to the cemetery and I'll show my husband's grave and I can show you it's no joke.

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Over the five days we spent in Carter County, Missouri, it felt like COVID was closing in around us. The positivity rate kept climbing and is now 32 percent. Some people we wanted to interview told us they had just been exposed or were too sick to talk.

UNKNOWN: This is a checking paper. Hold that in your hand.

REEVE: We first came to Van Buren in October 2020 when COVID was starting to surge in rural America. When we heard that one of the diners we've interviewed people in had closed for COVID, we wanted to come back and see what had changed. By the end of the spring, many thought COVID was over. But in the past few weeks, it's raged through town. The vaccination rate is very low, with only 27 percent fully vaccinated.

CHRISTOPHER COCHRAN, OZARKS HEALTCARE: The overwhelming majority of our patients that are admitted to the hospital with clinically severe COVID are unvaccinated. I didn't realize how unvaccinated we were. I guess that is my fault. I didn't continue to push as hard as I should have to get people vaccinated because I thought everybody was because the virus and disease was abating. But I was wrong. It came back like a brushfire.

REEVE (on camera): Are you vaccinated?

JIM RODEBUSH, WIFE DIED OF COVID: No. But I will be. I was pretty skeptical of it. Until I've kind of watched all this happen.

REEVE (voice-over): Jim's wife, Ruth, fought cancer for 12 years. But COVID killed her in eight days. He says the doctor told her not to take the vaccine because of her chemo.

REEVE (on camera): When did your wife die?

RODEBUSH: July the 20th. I talked to her up until Sunday, when she died. She said, this is bad. She said, you all need the shot. And I think she's right.

REEVE (voice-over): Last time we came here, the debate was over masks and it had gotten very political.

UNKNOWN: We sit in the coffee shop and watch people walk in the door. We look at a mask and we all look at each other and we go, Democrat.

REEVE (voice-over): Later that fall, there was a COVID surge in the area. But the health center says this wave is much worse. In Van Buren, after just two days of school this August, about 20 kids tested positive. Five days later, almost a quarter of students were under quarantine. The preschool had to close for two weeks.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE).

REEVE (voice-over): People in town were gossiping about who had it and where they got it. They'd all seen the last story.

RODEBUSH: The last thing we did?

REEVE (on camera): Mm-hmm.

RODEBUSH: Well, I kind of thought it was all bullshit myself.

REEVE (on camera): Tell me more. Tell me why.

RODEBUSH: I think people here try to take care of each other. They need to walk through the COVID ward. That will change your mind.

REEVE (voice-over): Jim admits some people are pretty set in their views.

RODEBUSH: A good friend of mine, he hasn't had a shot. But everywhere he goes, if he goes in any place, he wears a mask. He's probably one of the best guys I know. You're not going to change anything about him. Maybe you ought to interview him.

REEVE (on camera): Would he talk to us?

RODEBUSH: Yes, but you probably wouldn't like what he says.

REEVE (on camera): That's okay.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): That's okay.

RODEBUSH: Let me get my phone.



RODEBUSH: Hey, I'm surrounded. I mean, you come down. I'm serious.


BLAND (voice-over): Who are you surrounded by?

RODEBUSH: A bunch of women.

BLAND (voice-over): Okay, I'll be right there.

RODEBUSH: All right. They're going to interview you.

BLAND (voice-over): Oh, no, they ain't.

RODEBUSH: Oh, yeah. Come on.

BLAND: Can I sit down there by you?

REEVE (on camera): Why do you not want the vaccine?

BLAND: I ain't taking it. I don't like people trying to push a shot on me or something else because (INAUDIBLE).

REEVE (voice-over): Last fall, COVID put Wayland in the hospital for seven days.

BLAND: I was on everything they had. Steroids, full drip, plasma from people that had COVID. Drugs that they gave my president, Trump, and they finally burned it out of me.

REEVE (on camera): What's the difference between the vaccine and the drugs? You did take Regeneron.

BLAND: Yeah. I would take anything. It wouldn't matter what it was.

REEVE (on camera): Why would you trust Regeneron and not the vaccine?



BLAND: I don't know. You know, well -- the one thing is, they shafted my president. They would have had the vaccine, already had it, already had it, but they wouldn't give to him because they knew damn good well he would be re-elected. They got nothing. Nobody could do. So they had to swim around and skate around and keep it from him just until the election was over.

We got it. You shafted me out of my president. I am not taking your medicine. Not from -- I'll take what they give him, but I'm not taking yours.


REEVE (on camera): He took the vaccine, though.


BLAND: He might have. I don't know that.

RODEBUSH: I think they gave him the Regeneron.

REEVE (on camera): They did give him that. But he did take the vaccine.

BLAND: Yeah, I'm not saying he didn't. I don't know that. But that's what pissed me off. I'm not taking it because I'm not bull-headed.

REEVE (voice-over): There is no evidence for Wayland's theory, but he wasn't alone in his skepticism.

(On camera): Have you thought about getting the vaccine?

UNKNOWN: No way. REEVE (on camera): Oh, really? How come?

UNKNOWN: Because I don't want to get sick.

REEVE (on camera): And you think the vaccine would make you more sick?

UNKNOWN: Probably. It made my mom sick.

REEVE (on camera): Okay. You mean when she got the --

UNKNOWN: Well, she got the vaccine in February.

REEVE (on camera): And she got sick with COVID.


REEVE (on camera): Maybe COVID. Is she going to get tested?

UNKNOWN: Probably not. She's just staying home.

REEVE (on camera): Okay.

UNKNOWN: And I'm bringing her groceries and doing whatever I can away from her.

REEVE (on camera): Yeah.

UNKNOWN: One of her friends tested positive and she had been with him, so more than likely.

UNKNOWN: I'm really behind right now because I was down for about a week and a half being sick and I don't care. I got it. I told everybody, hey, I had COVID. If you don't want to get around me, don't get around me. I did have it.

REEVE (on camera): Did you have the vaccine?


REEVE (on camera): Why not?

UNKNOWN: There's not enough research on it. I'm not totally against shot. I mean, if I have to take it and it's going to help me in the future and not hurt me, yeah, I'll take it.

REEVE (on camera): Are you vaccinated?

UNKNOWN: I'm not.

REEVE (on camera): And why not?


REEVE (on camera): Okay. WILDER: A lot of people around me have had it. I just never got vaccinated.

Around here, we're free country folk. It's kind of hard to get people to do something they don't understand completely or they don't feel the need to.

REEVE (on camera): But are you in that category?

WILDER: Well, I guess. I'll really get deep with you. I believe if the good Lord wants me right now, it doesn't matter if I take a vaccine or I don't. I know a lot of people will say, well, you ought to get the shot. But that's just the way I look at things.

COCHRAN: I don't want to ever give anybody an excuse for doing something like not getting vaccinated. But the reasons do hearken to someone who has, you know, been told that they're dumb hillbilly all their life by the rest of the country. That is not -- that is not an excuse but it is part of the reason.

I don't know that we are oppressed or disenfranchised. I don't know if we deserve to even feel that way here. But we are a flyover state. In a social situation where peer pressure is so hard, we've had a lot of trouble to try to get people vaccinated. The breakout of that peer group is very hard for people.

REEVE (on camera): Has anyone wanted to get vaccinated in secret?

COCHRAN: Well, yeah, absolutely.

REEVE (on camera): Tell me what they say.

COCHRAN: When they're in my office and they say, I don't want to get vaccinated and this is why and it is usually at the very best fallacious reason, we have set up things where we can sneak one in your arm wherever you need to do it because that is our goal.


REEVE (voice-over): It is hard but it is not impossible. The health center said more people in Van Buren got the vaccine after two local kids in their 20s were hospitalized with COVID earlier this summer.

Last year, we talked to Brian. He was pretty cavalier about COVID.

BRIAN KEATHLEY, CARTER CITY RESIDENT: I guess if I get it and it kills me, then it's slow walking inside, singing for the family.

REEVE (on camera): What would you put on your tombstone?

KEATHLEY: Didn't wear a mask.

REEVE (voice-over): It took some convincing, but he agreed to talk to us again and tell us what has happened since.

KEATHLEY: No one feels like they can trust our government. It's not my fault no one is wearing a mask and it is not my fault no one is taking the vaccine. It's the government's fault.

REEVE (voice-over): Did you get the vaccine? Please, Brian. Did you get the vaccine?

KEATHLEY: It doesn't matter whether I got the vaccine or not, whether I did or didn't. Coronavirus doesn't care who you are.

REEVE (voice-over): I know.

KEATHLEY: Whether you think you're a big, tough guy or whether -- anything. It doesn't matter. If you get it, it can kill you. End of story. I don't want my wife to have to wonder when they put you in a medically-induced coma or stick a tube down your throat, is he going to come out of that? That's why I got a vaccine.

REEVE (voice-over): Elle Reeve, CNN, Van Buren, Missouri.


LEMON (on camera): Elle, thank you.

I want to bring in now CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner. Doctor, good to see you. Thank you so much. So, you hear there, Brian, at the end of Elle's speech, reluctantly admit to getting the vaccine. He is saying that no one feels like they can trust the government. And then there is Wayland who thinks that Trump was shafted because officials kept the vaccine from him, knowing that he would be re- elected. Is there any surprise where this vaccine hesitancy comes from?

JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST, DIRECTOR OF CARDIAC CATHETERIZATION PROGRAM AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: No. And I think that we've missed the mark in so many ways in terms of educating the public and allowing our vaccination program to be so politicized.

From the very outset, we should have had a bipartisan, nonpartisan program where leaders from both sides of the aisle on the federal level, on the state and local levels, vigorously promote vaccines in their communities so that folks weren't just hearing it starting at the end of January from democrats, that they are hearing it from people on both sides of the spectrum.

A coordinated program to do this and we didn't do that. So vaccines became a Democrat program even though it was developed by the republican administration of Donald Trump.

So -- and that just seeded mistrust amongst the people who already had mistrust of vaccines. So we have a big challenge. We have to get 25 percent more of the adult population to get vaccinated. These are the most resistant folks. But I haven't given up.

LEMON: Dr. Reiner, always a pleasure. Thank you.

REINER: My pleasure, Don. LEMON: Robert F. Kennedy's assassin could soon be out on parole and there's a big divide within the Kennedy family over whether it should be granted.




LEMON: Robert Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, has been recommended for parole. And the late Democratic senator's widow, Ethel Kennedy, is speaking out against it, saying that he shouldn't have the opportunity to terrorize again. But others in the Kennedy dynasty support Sirhan's release.

CNN's Tom Foreman has all the details.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He should not have the opportunity to terrorize again, those words in a written statement from 93-year-old Ethel Kennedy, who scrolled in her own hand at the bottom, he should not be paroled. Who is she talking about? Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated her husband, Senator Robert Kennedy, more than a half century ago.

SIRHAN SIRHAN, CONVICTED MURDERER OF ROBERT F. KENNEDY: Obviously I was there. But I don't remember the exact moment. I don't remember pulling my gun out of my body or wherever it was located. And I don't remember aiming at any human being. I don't remember any of that.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The Palestinian-born gunman, who has long said he remembers almost nothing of the attack, been denied release more than a dozen times. But now, the two-person California Parole Board wants him out from behind bars, creating a firestorm.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, FORMER UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: My thanks to all of you. Now it's on to Chicago and let's win there.


FOREMAN (voice-over): In 1968, Kennedy had just won California in his quest to become the Democratic nominee for president. He was celebrating at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when he passed through the kitchen and shots rang out.

UNKNOWN: His condition, I don't know. His wife Ethel is with him.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Kennedy was mortally wounded. The gunman was grabbed.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): His name appears to be Sirhan Sirhan.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Sirhan was convicted and sentenced to die.

SIRHAN: The reality of this whole thing hit me when I was on death row.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): How many months later was that?

SIRHAN: Oh, I would say maybe a year, two years.

FOREMAN (voice-over): In the 1970s, his sentence was commuted to life behind bars and six of the Kennedy children issued a statement in late August saying he should stay there, noting this wasn't just a personal tragedy.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Sirhan Sirhan committed a crime against our nation and its people. Yet two of Kennedy's surviving sons support parole, including Robert Kennedy, Jr. who has previously questioned Sirhan's guilt, saying he believes his father would also favor release because of Sirhan's impressive record of rehabilitation.

Governor Gavin Newsom will have the final word. He won't say how he is leaning but --

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): The only photograph you will see on my office is a picture of Bobby Kennedy and my father just days before Bobby Kennedy was murdered.

FOREMAN (on camera): No word on when that decision will come and this is a tricky spot for Gavin Newsom. Not only is the governor facing a recall election but he's presented himself as a criminal justice reformer who has commuted other sentences. And Sirhan Sirhan has been behind bars since Gavin Newsom was a toddler. Don?


LEMON (on camera): Thank you, Tom. I appreciate that. We'll be right back.




LEMON: If you enjoy the conversations that I have with Chris Cuomo at the top of my show, well, be sure to check out season two of our podcast called "The Handoff." The first episode drops tomorrow. You can find it wherever you listen to your podcasts or on So make sure you tune in.

And thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.