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Don Lemon Tonight

President Joe Biden Announces New Vaccine Mandates; Justice Department Sues Texas Over Six-Week Abortion Ban; COVID Cases are Surging in Kentucky; Governor Newsom is Facing Uphill Battle in One of State's Reddest Counties. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Tonight, President Biden adopting a get-tough approach as his administration tries to bring the surging COVID pandemic under control. Mandating federal workers be vaccinated and requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week and expressing frustration with the nearly 80 million Americans who are eligible for the vaccine but haven't yet rolled up their sleeves, saying, quote, "Our patience is wearing thin."

Also, tonight, the Justice Department is suing the state of Texas over its new law banning all abortions after six weeks. And with less than a week to go before California's recall election, we'll visit a republican county where Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is having a hard time finding support.

I want to start now with CNN's White House correspondent John Harwood and political commentator Amanda Carpenter. Good evening to both of you. Good to see you.

John, President Biden is announcing new vaccine mandates that could impact 100 million Americans. What are you hearing from the White House about how this will -- this is all going to work and why -- I don't know -- why didn't they go even further?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, in terms of why they didn't go further, the biggest proposal that I've heard from people like our colleague, Jonathan Reiner, who you have on your show a lot, the doctor who has said he should have mandated air travellers be vaccinated, the White House says they didn't do that because they think it would jam up airports, impede the economic recovery without doing all that much to improve vaccinations because a high proportion of air travellers are already vaccinated and all that much COVID is not spread because of good air filtration systems on planes.

In terms of how it is going to work, what Joe Biden is counting on here is the threat of fines on businesses applied through OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to impose vaccine mandates on large businesses affecting tens of millions of workers.

They're also counting on the fact that business itself wants to have the cover to impose some of these mandates. Business Roundtable came out tonight and said, we support what the administration is doing and we've got to get aggressive in order to get on top of this.

And finally, they're counting on mobilizing the social political pressure of the three-quarters of American adults who have gotten vaccinated against the hold outs who haven't, who are extending the pandemic, costing everyone money and generating a significant amount of suffering and overload in our health care system.

LEMON: So --


LEMON: I had to ask you, I don't understand the economic recovery part of it because, remember, we were taking our shoes off? And after 9/11, the economy took a nosedive, after 9/11. I should say the air travel took a nosedive. And people had to take their shoes off and they were, you know, worried about that. So, if someone has to show a vaccination card in order to get on a plane, I don't understand -- I don't understand that thinking at all.

HARWOOD: Well, I'm just relating what the White House has said. They believe that this would generate enormous TSA lines and make air travel more difficult. Again, on a cost-benefit analysis, they say the cost would significantly outweigh the benefits.

LEMON: All right. Okay. Lines are long, still. You know, maybe -- I'm more TSA workers. Give more people back to work, but I digress. Amanda, the president was clearly frustrated today. His speech felt like he was reprimanding the unvaccinated, saying that our patience is wearing thin. A lot of us feel that way.

But is it the right strategy to convince people who have held out this long to ultimately get their shot because we already see the bad responses from the right already? I mean, you know.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. I don't think the speech was for them. I actually agree with that strategy. At this point in time, given all the COVID fatigue among the people who are working so hard, the hospitals, and really just even looking at every sector and try to find people doing the right thing, they're frustrated.

And so Biden said, we're going to give you some help here. And I think the message was pretty clear. He vented that frustration and that's, I think, where the majority of people are. I mean, 70 percent of adults have at least one dose. I mean, he is on the side of popular opinion here. That said, there are going to be arguments over this.

I don't think it's bad to have a discussion about the constitutionality of mandates on private business. That is a reasonable discussion that people can have in the courtroom. I mean, you know, Henry McMaster is saying, we will fight you in the gates of hell. No, really, you can file a legal brief and we can have an adult legal conversation about this.

I welcome that. That moves the conversation at least, even among the people who are so opposed into it into a better, more productive realm. But really, one of the things I'm most excited about that isn't really being covered is the fact that testing is coming back.


LEMON: If you have kids under 12 in a household, you need access to those rapid tests. Giving help so schools can that testing on a weekly or somehow more regular basis is going to give a lot of parents more confidence sending their kids to school and just a peace of mind until those vaccines can be approved for children.

LEMON: John, there is a recent Gallup poll that finds that only 40 percent of Americans said President Biden has communicated a clear plan to combat COVID. Do you think that he effectively reset things today?

HARWOOD: I don't think results like that, Don, are functions of the clarity of Biden's plan. He has been pretty clear all year long. Get vaccinated. He said that over and over almost every single day of his presidency.

I think what that result reflects is the fact that the pandemic is back. And so if it looks like you're not on top of the pandemic, then there are various criticisms people will make of your leadership and what the president was doing today was an expression of his frustration.

You know, Amanda talked about the frustration of the vaccinated against the unvaccinated that make things harder for everyone else. It certainly a source of huge frustration for the president because he has been saying over and over get vaccinated.

They started in the beginning of the administration where there was more demand for vaccines than there was ability to give them out, and then it was easy low hanging fruit once the supply was ample. People rushed to get the vaccines. Now, it's a situation where there's very ample supply and there's a whole lot of resistance.

And so what he's trying to do is ratcheting up his level of aggression on that continuum from encouragement to requirement, move closer to requirement, try to get people to come along. And if he can do that, if the delta variant peaks and cases go down, then you'll start seeing his approval rating on COVID and people's assessment of his clarity improve to his benefit.

LEMON (on camera): Amanda, you're the perfect person for this next question. The Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, spoke at the Reagan Library. This is part of what he had to say about the GOP.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: We need to face the realities of the 2020 election and learn, not hide from them. We need to renounce the conspiracy theorists and the truth deniers, the ones who know better and the ones who are just plain nuts.

(APPLAUSE) CHRISTIE: We need to give our supporters facts that will help them put all those fantasies to rest so everyone can focus with clear minds on the issues that really matter. We need to quit wasting our time, our energy, and our credibility on claims that won't ever convince anyone of anything.


LEMON (on camera): So clearly, he's thinking about 2024. But how significant is it that he's coming out and saying the GOP has to renounce conspiracy theorists?

CARPENTER: Yeah. I mean, listen, those remarks in a vacuum, I would be standing up and cheering if I didn't know the person saying that. The reality is Chris Christie was a strong backer of Donald Trump. You know, I believe he's backing him in a 2020 election after Lafayette Square, after all the COVID hoaxes. And so -- I mean, it falls a little flat.

LEMON: And at the Reagan Library. I mean, it's not like he is going to a Trump rally saying that. He's at the Reagan Library.

CARPENTER: The message isn't the problem. The messenger is.

LEMON (on camera): Very clear and concise there. Thank you very much, Amanda. Thank you, John. I appreciate it.

I want to bring in now Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Art Caplan, the head of Medical Ethics at New York University Grossman School of Medicine. Good to see both of you.

So, Dr. Schaffner, a lot of the Americans the president has been trying to reach are just haven't been hearing his message. And Biden, you know, he is showing frustration today. Listen and then we'll talk about it.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The vaccine has FDA approval. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We've been patient. Our patience is wearing thin. Your refusal has cost all of us. So please, do the right thing. But just don't take it from me. Listen to the voices of unvaccinated Americans who are lying in hospital beds, taking their final breath saying, if only I've gotten vaccinated, if only. It's a tragedy.


LEMON (on camera): So, doctor, when you look at where we are in this pandemic, should this have happened sooner?


WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, Don, you know, politics, public policy is the art of the possible. This may be the best time to have done it. Think of it as a war against the virus.

To date, we have had a volunteer army. Those are the people who have come forward to be vaccinated. But the enemies have just been reinforced with delta. Now, a volunteer army won't do. We have to have a draft. We're saying you've got to serve not only yourself but your country, your neighbors, your community by coming forward and being vaccinated.

I think it is a strong step, a bold step, and I think it's a necessary step. I think it will be an effective step, if we can implement these mandates. I think it's very important.

LEMON: That's the question. Can we implement it? Because Biden said that the new rules will apply to 100 million Americans. His plan includes paid time off to get vaccinated. Companies could face fines if they don't comply. Do you think that this can be effectively put into practice?

SCHAFFNER: Well, I think so.

LEMON: This is for Art.



LEMON: Go ahead, Art. Start over, please.

CAPLAN: Sorry. I think we're late in getting these mandates through. I've never been a big fan of voluntarism. There are too many selfish people out there putting the rest of us at risk. It's unethical, it's immoral. The country has every right to say stop this pandemic, get our economy going, get us back to school, get us back to some tolerable level of misery from this virus and mandates are the key.

You know, the strongest proponent was the vaccines. Donald Trump, it's his sort of little dwarf imitators out there, the DeSantises, the Ron Johnsons and the Rand Pauls, who seem to forgot that Donald Trump told us last year, vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate, and went out and did it.

So, can we implement it? Yeah, but we got to go further than President Biden has done. We need a vaccine passport or authorization card. That'll do us a lot of good. Say to do this, if we can't prove that you did it. And I think to make mandates stick you basically say it's not just a question of being able to go to work. You can't get into a restaurant, a gym, a bar, a sports stadium, a theater without proof of vaccination.

I mean, I don't want to be talking about this a year from now. We don't really get tough as we roll into the winter with schools open and a lot of kids unable to vaccinate. I worry that the implementation won't get us where we need to be.

LEMON: And a lot of people going back and say we have more vaccinated people but people will be in close confines going into the winter. Art, what about the ethics of allocating care and resources like ICU beds? Should someone who needs a life-saving cancer surgery have to postpone it because someone else refused to get vaccinated for COVID? I mean, how are these decisions being made?

CAPLAN: Well, look, my friend, Dr. Schaffner, will know this, too. We always teach in medical ethics, don't sort out sinners and don't punish people who wind up sick. You're never quite sure did they not get a vaccine because one wasn't available to them or they had a family situation where they were just overwhelmed. It's tough sometimes for doctors to make the assessment of who is virtuous and who isn't.

I don't want rationing in the ER, in the ICU by vaccination status. What I would accept is if you are not vaccinated and that is leading you to die with less chance of rescue because you have other complicating conditions and someone else might do better, then I think vaccination status might be taken into account, if it's predictive of outcome.

LEMON: Listen, I don't think anyone expects someone to show up at the hospital and the doctor refuses to vaccinate them. What I have been saying is if you don't believe in it, perhaps you should not, yourself, go to a hospital or expect treatment when you have not done what is right. The onus should be on you. If you think it's your freedom not to get a vaccine, then if you get sick, then -- you know, hey.

CAPLAN: Yeah. I'm going to kind of remind you, I have said and I said it here and I've said it before, if you want the courage of your convictions and you don't want to vaccinate, then give your slot, give your position --

LEMON: Yeah.

CAPLAN: -- to somebody else. They are the consequences of what you do. Don't ask the doctors to do it. You do it.

LEMON: That's exactly what I've been saying.


LEMON: And then, you know, the critics try to do the Jedi mind trick, oh, doctors -- it is not doctors refusing. Stand by your word and your convictions and what you believe in. And if you don't believe that COVID is real, then don't show up at the hospital when you get sick with COVID. Dr. Schaffner, I will let you respond to that. Respond to what --


LEMON: -- what Art said.

SCHAFFNER: Well, Don and Art, I don't think that'll work in the real life. When people get sick, they'll seek medical care. But I think you heard a cheer go up today from many of the overworked people in intensive care units around the country. Over 90 percent of the people who are being admitted to hospitals today are unvaccinated. These people who are dedicating themselves to the care of those folks are just both frustrated and profoundly saddened that so many of these illnesses could have been prevented.

And frankly, they ask the question, why didn't you get vaccinated? Because here you are sick with COVID and exposing me, the health care worker, to care for you, when none of this was necessary.

So I think the caring will continue but the hope will be that these mandates will start reducing those unnecessary admissions in the hospital.

LEMON: Yeah. And, listen --


LEMON: All right. Listen, I want you to answer this. This is not comparable because people get sick. That is why there are hospitals, right? That's why there are doctors. But when you're in the middle of a pandemic, it becomes different. You're overwhelming the hospital system.

If someone is obese or if someone has a heart attack or if someone has some other disease and they go to the hospital, or some other illness, it is not comparable to people going to overwhelming hospitals in a pandemic, in emergency situations where there aren't beds, when it is preventable.

So, the stupid comparison about, well, what do you say to the smokers or whatever? It's not the same thing and it is not even comparable. It is apples and oranges. Go ahead, Art.

CAPLAN: Yeah, we're in the middle of a plague. I was going to point out today I got two stories given to me. One, we had a kidney transplant postponed, lifesaving in the city -- in the United States today, no bed for the person. You remember, Don, Amy Klobuchar said she put off going in for a breast exam because she was worried about COVID.

There are plenty of facilities around the United States that can't handle a heart attack, can't handle a colonoscopy because they're full of COVID patients. So let us at least call out. It is not just you're overwhelming the medical staff with COVID, you're killing your neighbor, your imperilling your friend's child, you're making life miserable for everybody else.

I guess I would be with Dr. Schaffner. In the real world, we are not going to sort of say, oh, stand aside, or hope that they're going to volunteer to stand aside. We better turn up the moral rhetoric a lot more on those who are selfish and burdening the community because they won't do the right thing.

LEMON: Yeah. Listen, just because I think selfish people won't do it, and I agree with you, they're not going to do that, but it doesn't mean that they shouldn't hear it or at least think about it. Maybe it'll, you know, convince them to actually go get a shot somewhere.

Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it. I'll speak to you soon.

CAPLAN: Thank you.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

LEMON: The DOJ taking action where the Supreme Court wouldn't, suing Texas over its six-week abortion ban, but can they make the case?




LEMON: The Justice Department is suing the state of Texas over its six-week abortion ban. Attorney General Merrick Garland is calling the state law unprecedented and unconstitutional. Since the law went into effect, clinics across Texas have stopped offering abortions after six weeks and some have closed down altogether.

Let us discuss now with CNN political commentators Ana Navarro and Scott Jennings. Good evening to both of you. It is so good to see you. So let us just get into this.

Ana, this DOJ suit against the abortion ban is coming days after Governor Greg Abbott signed voting restrictions into law. Tonight, Abbott is saying that he will fight back against Biden's vaccine mandate. Texas has always been conservative but these actions moved the state clearly more to the right. Is this a head-to-head showdown with the Biden administration, you think?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, I think so. It's obvious that it is a head-to-head. There's now a lawsuit. So you can't get more confrontational and tangible ways than that. And, look, I think the Biden administration had no choice but to do this because the Supreme Court didn't take it up when it could have taken it up.

So there's a decision coming up on this. I think, you know, there was also a need for the Biden administration to do this because, really, so many people in Texas and across the nation watching these are in distress.

Look, the approval ratings on abortion have changed not to the same level that marriage equality had. But right now, it's almost 60 percent of people who think abortions should be legal in most cases with some exceptions. And this law does not allow exceptions. It does not allow for a rape exemption. It does not allow for incest exemption despite the fact that Texas is the state with the most number of rapes in the nation.

LEMON: Scott, you said that you think there should be exceptions when, you know, incest or rape are involved. This new law doesn't allow for that. When you look at what this law does to woman, when you look at how the new voting restrictions will impact people of color, does this just narrow Republicans even further than the general public? Is that the point that the base is, you know, all that matters here?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that there's two issues here. Number one, there's the issue of what was the standard republican position on this been for, you know, going on 40 years now and it's to be pro-life with the exceptions of rape, incest, and life of the mother.


JENNINGS: As you point out, this seems to go a little farther than that. But then the other issue is that conservatives over the last several years have felt rather stymied because many state legislatures and state governments have passed laws that they think are pro-life in nature that would restrict abortions only to see them struck down, only to see them, you know, rolled back in federal court.

So what Texas goes out and does is they come up with a rather ingenious way around the nullification of pro-life laws that we've seen around the country.

So, there's really the, you know, sort of the political question of what is the correct political, you know, disposition for Republican to have. I think pro-life with three exceptions is a pretty reasonable political position, but there's the whole legal question of how do we eventually get to a place where state governments can do what they want to do and do what their constituents want them to do on protecting life.

So, ultimately, Don, I think this is the short term question. This was a procedural matter which most conservative lawyers I know think was decided correctly. The real issue will probably come next year, maybe, if the Supreme Court decides to go ahead and overturn Roe v. Wade which will then return the question of abortion regulations --

NAVARRO: But I think making this a question of -- you know, talking about this law (INAUDIBLE), rape or incest exemption is not honest, right? Let's talk about the law that is in front of us in Texas. It has no exception for rape or incest. It's got a deadline of six weeks.

It deputizes anybody, anybody in any state with no connection to the people involved, directly involved to become bounty hunters and get the $10,000 bounty for snitching on somebody.

So, you know, a deer hunter in Alaska could call up the hotline in Texas and snitch on some Uber driver and try to collect the $10,000. It makes no sense. It is absolutely insane. You could be for abortion. You could be against abortion. That doesn't mean that you don't agree that this law is egregious and it is an overreach. It is crazy. I mean, it is downright crazy.

LEMON: Mm-hmm. Scott, I was going to say, the question was, does this narrow the republican support even further in the general public? Is that the point of appealing just directly to the base? Because it doesn't gain the Republicans any support in general.

JENNINGS: Well, I think it's a question of what state you're in. Ultimately, if Roe were overturned and this question went back to the states, what voters can do is elect people that match their views on this issue.

I think in Texas, I guess this law actually probably has pretty wide support. I think you would find support for more restrictive abortion laws in the more conservative states and in the bluer states that were more liberal. You will find support for more abortion-friendly laws.

I think that is ultimately sort of a question -- it is not a national question at that point, Don. I think for the Republican at large, we are the pro-life party. That's not a surprise to anybody. And the position of most Republicans is what we discussed, pro-life with the three exceptions.

But there is something to be said for local jurisdiction and for the political questions to be resolved by voters. And so if you're in Texas and you don't like this law, you can go out and elect a new legislature and a new governor that will change that law.

What Democrats wanted over the years is for courts to essentially own this question and take it out of the hands of the voters. In Texas, they have come up with a way to get around that. It's really --

LEMON: Yeah.

JENNINGS: -- a rather interesting and creative thing they've done. My personal view is that I'm pro-life. I want to see pro-life laws. But I also believe in state governments and I believe in voters electing state governments that reflect their views. I'm pretty sure, in Texas, there's broad support for what they've done.

LEMON: And Ana, I've got to get to the break here, but when you think about what Scott said -- let's just say, you know, I'm just hypothetical here. You know, Texas, the legislature says no. Louisiana, it says yes. I know Louisiana is red. I'm just being hypothetical. What prevents someone just from going over Louisiana/Texas state line and getting it? What good does any of that do?

NAVARRO: I'll tell you what is to prevent people. Money, resource, and access to medical care. Look, if you are a person who doesn't have the money to travel from Texas to Mexico or New Mexico or Louisiana, then you're in a disadvantage.

But I think this becomes -- this gets similar to how the marriage equality case was decided, right? You could do it in some states and in some states you couldn't. The Supreme Court made the law.

LEMON: That was my point, Ana.

NAVARRO: Roe v. Wade --

LEMON: That was my point. I understand what you're saying. What is the point if it is legal in some places and not legal in other places? Yeah.

NAVARRO: Look, I think it has got some similarity to marriage equality. I will tell you why. Because if we are honest with each other, great. The great motivator in people's beliefs on abortion and choice and life, a lot of it has to do from the religious foundation, right?


NAVARRO: And this is a country where there's a separation of church and state. And so, look, I believe in marriage equality, but I don't believe I can impose marriage equality on the church and to force the church to marry LGBTQ people. In the same way, I don't think I should be imposing my religious beliefs on other Americans because this is not the Vatican.

LEMON: Okay.

NAVARRO: It's the United States of America. We have a separation --

LEMON: I got to run.

NAVARRO: -- of church and state.

LEMON: Thank you. Fascinating conversation. I'll have you both back. Of course, I'll see you soon.

No ICU beds available, not enough staffing, COVID ravaging the state of Kentucky. One nurse says it's destroying the city where she lives.




LEMON: COVID-19 surge striking especially hard in Kentucky where the vaccination rate is just under 50 percent and vaccine refusal is high. Govenor Andy Beshear is saying the state had 30,000 cases last week, the highest number ever in one week. Hospitals across Kentucky are overwhelmed and the majority don't have enough staff to meet rising demand. Beshear is calling the situation dire.

Here is CNN's Miguel Marquez.


BILLY COUCH, COVID-19 PATIENT: It is more than cold. Believe that.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Billy Couch didn't think much about COVID until he got it.

COUCH: Don't mess around. It's not a joke. It's not fun and games. I've been here so long. I want to go home but I can't go home because I can't breathe. This is not a game at all. You feel like you're going to die.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): In the hospital, 19 days now, the unvaccinated 42-year-old isn't sure how he picked up the virus. He toughed it out at home for eight days before being admitted.

How serious is COVID?

COUCH: It's bad to the bone. I recommend everybody wash their hands and do what they got to do. Stay home. Stay social distanced. It's bad. Trust me. It's bad.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Until you had it, did you think it was bad?


MARQUEZ (voice-over): What did you think it was?

COUCH: I didn't pay attention, to be honest. I do now. Get your shots.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Wanda Combs manages the nursing staff in the COVID ICU at Appalachian Regional Healthcare's largest facility in Hazard, Kentucky. A nurse for 30 years, the job is never tougher.

AMANDA COMBS, NURSE MANAGE ICU AND CVU, APPALACHIAN REGIONAL HEALTHCARE: It has been very, very hard. I get emotional because it is our community. I see nurses who work very hard. They work very hard every day. But you can usually see a difference. So you work hard and you see a difference. That's okay. You don't care that you're tired. You've made a difference. So with this, they still work just as hard, if not harder, it really hurts when you don't see a difference.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Just when they thought they were through the worst of the pandemic, it has come roaring back. Patients are younger, sicker and harder to treat.

COMBS: The family, you know, it's hard for them to realize, oh, you mean, this is the end? Are you really meaning this is the end? It's our community. It is the people that we know. We know people they're related to. So, it is -- what is really hard on the nurses is the emotional part, too.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): In the COVID ICU here in Hazard, every bed taken by those suffering from severe cases of COVID-19. Every patient intubated except for one.

What is this virus doing to places like Hazard, Kentucky?

CAROLYN EDDINGTON, REGISTERED NURSE IN COVID-19 UNIT: It's destroying us. I mean, everybody is getting it. Everybody is getting sick. Everybody is -- we're just seeing a lot right now.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Appalachian Regional Healthcare has 13 facilities across Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Its entire system now overwhelmed by COVID.



MARQUEZ (voice-over): Across 13 facilities?

BRAMAN: Across 13 facilities. We have zero ICU beds available. We have 35 parents waiting in our ERs for beds.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Today, Appalachian Regional Healthcare has three, three regular beds available across its entire system. They've cleared space and made room for 200 beds that sit empty, unable to staff them.

BRAMAN: We have applied for FEMA disaster medical teams at multiple of our hospitals. Our understanding is right now that Louisiana is in dire need and so most of their teams are there. So we are on the list. Once they have availability, we hope that we will be able to get support.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The hospital system needs 170 nurses today to open up extra beds. Nurses are now working longer hours and doubling up on patients just to keep up.

RIKKI CORNETT, DIRECTOR OF RESPIRATORY THERAPY, APPALACHIAN MEDICAL HEALTHCARE: One respiratory therapist should comfortably have four ventilator patients, you know, because we work with the nurses as well. But right now, I have about seven to eight ventilators per respiratory therapist.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Here in Hazard, patients are coming in younger and sicker than nurses have ever seen.

JASON HIGGS, REGISTERED NURSE IN COVID-19 UNIT: We're seeing much younger patients now than we did before. We're seeing patients from 20 years old today up to 75 years old. So it attacks everyone. It's not just like the one of each group.

JD JONES, REGISTERED NURSE IN COVID-19 UNIT: This year, it doesn't matter. I've had several patients under 20 years old.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): How sick?

JONES: Very sick, actually, for their age.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Where we are standing right now is Perry County. To date, right now, this place has one of the highest rates of transmission for COVID cases in the entire country.


MARQUEZ (on camera): The hospital system thinks that those cases and hospitalizations for them will continue to rise through late September, maybe into October, and then hopefully, they'll begin to come down. And I know, I will sound like a broken record here, but more than 95 percent of the patients who are admitted to this hospital system with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Don?


LEMON (on camera): Thank you, Miguel. Appreciate that.

Just days away from the California recall election, I want to go to one county where Governor Gavin Newsom is facing an uphill battle to keep his job.



LEMON: Only five days left until the California recall election as Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom fights to hold on to his job. He is facing an uphill battle in one of the bluest state's reddest counties.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov has more.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In one of the country's bluest states, Kern County stands out as a rare bastion of red. It may be less than two hours north of Hollywood by car, but the city of Bakersfield is on the other side of the spectrum politically.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Newsom out, Elder in.

KAFANOV (voice-over): It is where you will find America's last Woolworth's luncheonette counter, serving up burgers, shakes, and a side of nostalgia.

DENNIS JEFFERS, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: California was once a really nice place. Governor Newsom says a lot of things but he does all bad things.

KAFANOV (voice-over): When it comes to Governor Gavin Newsome, some of the diners here have had their fill.

UNKNOWN: If there's not a change, my wife and I are out of here.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Really?

UNKNOWN: We are leaving the state.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Many Republicans here think their voices aren't heard.

JEFFERS: No, I don't think so.


KAFANOV (voice-over): To some degree, they're right.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Thank you, California.

KAFANOV (voice-over): In 2018, just 41 percent of Kern County voters went for Newsom.

NEWSOM: The best is yet to come.

KAFANOV (voice-over): But he won the state by a landslide. Now, Republicans are hoping to flip the governor's office, an uphill battle in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly two to one.

BEST: Sometimes, they wonder if it is worth voting because, you know, my voice may not be heard. Both of us often feel like is it really going to matter in California? It is always going to be Democrats.

KAFANOV (voice-over): At the Kern County GOP headquarters --

UNKNOWN: Did you get that in the mail?

KAFANOV (voice-over): They're trying to change that with phone calls.

UNKNOWN: Hello there.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Ballot drop box and yard signs.

CATHY ABERNATHY, KERN COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: The outcome is anyone's guess. It's an odd time of year to have an election, September 14th. But we've had people pouring in for the last two weeks.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Kern County GOP member Cathy Abernathy says Republican voters are energized.

UNKNOWN: You got some ballots for me?


KARADSHEH: She's hoping for a boost from independents and some Democrats.

ABERNATHY: These extremes produce a switch in parties. I don't believe all the Democrats in California are of the same philosophy as the Democrats in the upstate Capitol building.


KAFANOV (voice-over): With just a few days left to convince California to change track, Larry Elder is banking on Bakersfield.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Bakersfield, California.


LEMON (on camera): Lucy, thank you so much.

Now, I want to bring in CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Ron, good evening to you. Break this down for us. You heard one Republican woman tell Lucy that she wonders if it's even worth voting, asking if here vote matters in a big blue state like California. Republicans may be outnumbered there, but this is not a typical election. What are you watching for?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, the one Republican hope in pulling this off was that turnout would be very low.

But, in fact, Newsom has regained the upper hand in this race and energized Democrats over the summer partly because he spent a lot of money and partly because he's had a lot of help from big-name national Democrats from Barack Obama to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But mostly because of something that has enormous residence beyond the borders of California.

He has turned around this race by leaning into his support for masks and vaccine mandates and portraying and attacking Republicans for promising to repeal those mandates on day one.

6.8 million people have already voted. If you get much above 10 million or 11 million, you simply run out of Republicans in the state. And the fact that Newsome has been able to energize Democrats by leaning into and not being defensive about mandates, I think it's very instructive. I think you perhaps saw one of the ripples in the very strong, much stronger stance that President Biden took today not only in his proposals but in his language about the unvaccinated.

The vaccinated, as I said a few weeks ago, have kind of had it across party lines with the unvaccinated. And I think you're seeing it play out in practice in California.

LEMON: Mm-hmm. Ron, Larry Elder is now baselessly raising the possibility of election shenanigans. Any surprise to you that he's going there? I mean --

BROWNSTEIN: And it's quite ominous because not only is he doing that -- you know, you have a case where one of the Republican possible Senate candidates in Nevada is already talking about preemptive lawsuit against fraud. I mean, we are moving into a period where essentially any election Republicans lose you're going to have substantial part of the party claiming fraud.

And that is why, look, I mean, Democrats face an existential decision about whether they'll use their power in Washington to create more safeguard and a federal floor of voting rights by passing some version of H.R. 1 through the Senate.


BROWNSTEIN: I mean there is no more consequential decision they face on whether Manchin and Sinema will agree to create some kind of carve out because this is only a small preview of what's ahead. I do think it is a preview also -- this recall is a preview also in the way that Newsom has talked about mandates. I mean this is a big change in terms of going on the offense around this. Last year, Republicans run against Democrats for closing things down and locking things down. But now, Newsom has been able to argue it's the republican position that threatens to close down schools or businesses because by undoing vaccine or mask mandates, you would allow the virus to get to that point.

He is leading, Don, two to one. Two-thirds of voters who are vaccinated in California said they are opposing the recall, including about one-fifth of vaccinated Republicans. You see Terry McAuliffe making arguments like this across the country. In Virginia, he is up 20 points among residents who are vaccinated.

Republicans right now are kind of boxing themselves into this corner of standing up for the quote "rights" and quote "choices" of the unvaccinated minority. And certainly, I think President Biden has drawn those lines in a way that is going to frame the debate in exactly the kind of way we are seeing play out in California. So far, very effectively for the Democrats.

LEMON: Ron Brownstein, pleasure as always. Thank you, sir. We'll be right back.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Don.




LEMON: So, if you enjoy the conversations I have with Chris Cuomo at the top of my show, be sure to check out season two of our podcast. It's called "The Handoff." Season two. Can you believe it, already? The first episode dropped today. It is out now. You can find it wherever you listen to your podcasts. Okay?

Thank you for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.