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Don Lemon Tonight

Hours Away From High Stakes California Recall Election; Biden Rallies With CA Gov. Gavin Newsom Ahead Of Recall Vote; Police Preparing For Possibility That Sept. 18th Protesters Will Be Armed; Trump Attacks Bush After He Compared American Extremists to 9/11 Terrorists, Alluding To January 6 Riot; Florida Gov. DeSantis Threatens To Fine Counties And Cities In His State Over Vaccine Mandates; Hurricane Nicholas Is Moments Away From Texas Landfall. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired September 13, 2021 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST (on camera): Also tonight, a source telling CNN Capitol Hill police and other law enforcement agencies are bracing for a potential violence at Saturday's right-wing justice for January 6 rally and for the possibility that some of the attendees may be armed.

And Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is threatening to fine county and local governments in his state that mandate employees get vaccinated against COVID-19.

But, first, here is the president campaigning for Governor Newsom. So I want to turn now to CNN's John King at the magic wall and what to expect from tomorrow recall election.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Don, this time tomorrow night, we will be getting ready to see the first votes, getting ready to fill in the map and answer the question in California recall, is it yes or no? Yes, recall your governor and the Democrat's term in midstream. No, the Democrats believe that will be the answer. Keep Gavin Newsom and let him finish his term as governor. Let him keep in place his COVID and other policies.

Now, Democrats at the end, there is a reason the president is out there tonight, Democrats are confident. Here is one reason. The data tells us ballots are coming back with a two to one democratic advantage. This firm, Political Data, tracks the mail-in ballots, the early voting, and 52 percent of the ballots returned so far from Democrats, 25 percent from Republicans.

It does not mean all these Democrats voted no, but we know from public polling, most Democrats want to keep their governor, so Democrats think they are matching what they need to do and maybe even exceeding what they need to do to keep Newsom in power. That is the here and now. Let's look at the real reason Democrats are confident. Let's go back to 2018 when Newsom was elected. This is a blue state, a very, very blue state, 62 percent for Gavin Newsom when he won election, 38 percent for his Republican opponent back then, John Cox, one of those on the ballot on question too this time around.

So 62 percent then, fast forward to 2020, in the presidential election, Joe Biden wins California by even more. Yes, 13 years ago, Democratic governor was recalled. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced him. California is even more democratic then, as you can see, as evidence by the big Biden victory.

Now, remember where the red is here for the president. That's a republican vote. Look even more so where the red was in 2018, when Newsom was lopsidedly elected governor, right? These are the people who voted against him then. Look at where the recall largely came from. You have to sign signatures to get this on the ballot. The deeper the purple, that is the higher intensity, the higher percentage of people who signed petitions let's have a recall election.

The voters driving the recall now were the same voters who voted against Governor Newsom back in 2018. Back then, there were not enough of them. Can there be enough of them in the California recall now? It would take quite a perfect storm. Number one, in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, democratic turnout would have to be down. Democrats say that won't happen.

Remember, Newsom was the mayor of San Francisco. He feels very strong that his bay area, core base support will turnout. There's a reason the president is now in Southern California, Los Angeles County, the biggest of the counties. Can you get any Democrats who haven't voted yet? Stamp that ballots, send it back in or show up on Election Day. This is the democratic turnout or participation drive now.

For there to be a recall, Republicans would not only need democratic turnout to be way down in all these blue areas, they would need an overwhelming Election Day turnout in all these red areas. And they would need, Don, even more than that because of the map.

So, we will take a look tomorrow if it is close in Orange County. In Ronald Reagan days, this was a foundation of the California Republican Party. Those days are long gone. Although you do see, in 2018, it was competitive, 50 to 49, essentially a tie. What is the turnout here? How does Gavin Newsom do here in Orange County? What about down here? There is still some decent amount of Republicans in San Diego County.

So in Orange County and San Diego County -- can you get recall intensity for Republicans to match the fervor that we know exists up here in the north and through the Central Valley? The math, though, is overwhelmingly in favor of the Democrats.

So they believe, yes, we will look at the names tomorrow, we will count the votes tomorrow, but the fundamental question is, question one, yes or no? Don, the Democrats end this campaign much more confident than they were back when it began.

LEMON: All right. We will be paying close attention. Thank you, John King. I appreciate that.

Joining me now is the Democratic mayor of Long Beach, California, Robert Garcia. He is at the Newsom rally with President Joe Biden tonight. Thank you, mayor. I appreciate you joining us. Man, it is a busy -- you can say exciting time out in California. President Biden is in your city tonight making the case for Governor Newsom to keep his job.

Are you feeling confident? You just heard what our John King said at the magic wall. Are you feeling confident about his chances tomorrow?

MAYOR ROBERT GARCIA, LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA: Yeah, we are, actually. We actually think all of the numbers are going the right direction. The governor did a great job of consolidating Democrats. We've had a lot more Latinos coming out in the last few days.

So we are confident it is going to be a big win tomorrow and it is also going to be really a great playbook for 2022, for Democrats all across the country to follow. So, it is going to be a no for everybody.

LEMON: Mayor Garcia, the former president is pushing baseless claims about this recall election being rigged.


LEMON: Well, those are just obviously just lies and mistruths. It is the same exact republican Trump playbook happening everywhere across the country. It is really a shame. The truth is the elections here are going very, very well.

So, I'm not concerned. I mean, they are going to claim what they want to claim. Larry Elder is already saying there has been all this fraud. It is just not true. It is something Democrats are prepared for. Democrats got to know this is going to be the standard line going into 2022 and beyond.

It is going to be a decisive, big win and they will know that the elections were fine. The governor will continue to be -- the governor of the state will lead us and focus on the pandemic, which is what we need to focus on right now.

LEMON: Yeah, but it is not just the lies, right, because he is not just following Trump's cues and already saying that -- he is already saying, mayor, that he is going to follow a lawsuit over the results. Are you expecting this sort of long, drawn out battle if Newsom holds on tomorrow, this protracted sort of election that we dealt with from November 2020 up until January, basically?

GARCIA: No, we are not. At the end of the day, the wind here at the recall is going to be a big win. Not just that but our California election system is strong, it is organized, clerks up and down the state, county clerks. This is a county clerk process and it is not the county level. It goes up to the state for the final count. And so we are going to have this thing, I think, wrapped up pretty quickly. They can put whatever lawsuits they want if they like. But the truth is it is not going to be a close election. The people of California know how to vote by mail. We've been doing that now for the last few cycles. This is a vote by mail election for the most part. So, we will know the winner very quickly and we are going to move on and get back to governing and supporting the governor on what he has got to do to end the pandemic.

LEMON: Listen, coronavirus is a huge issue in this race. Governor Newsom has been gaining some ground based on his handling of the delta variant. COVID is also one of the reasons that his job is in jeopardy in the first place. How would you rate the governor's handling of the pandemic? I know this is very personal to you since you tragically lost your mother and stepfather to the virus.

GARCIA: I think the governor has actually done a great job during this pandemic. The truth is he has focused on science. California was one of the first states to put in these mask mandates for health care workers. We reopen schools safely. Kids are able to wear masks. We have vaccine mandates that are working in California, in Long Beach, in our community.

When the mask mandates were put in place and when the vaccine mandates were put in place, we saw more people coming out to get vaccinated. Our numbers here in California are now over 80 percent. They are nearing that here as well in our city, in L.A. County.

So, the governor has been a good leader and it's not just been on the pandemic and the health side but also on the economic recovery. He has focused on helping small businesses, helping the committee, and getting support to hospitals.

So we are united behind the governor and California is a model. If you look at what's going on right now in places like Florida, which is a mess, we are happy to be out here in California.

LEMON: Thank you, mayor. Thank you for putting that (INAUDIBLE) in my ear. Now, I want to be hearing that music --


LEMON: -- for quite some time. The music is playing behind you in the background. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. I want to bring in --

GARCIA: Thank you so much.

LEMON: Yes. I want to bring in now CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Ron, you don't have that music. But you -- I mean --


LEMON: You wrote the book, "Rock Me on The Water," right, about -- what is it about --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. That has music in it.

LEMON: It has music in it.


LEMON: Ron, thank you for joining us. We appreciate you. You've been keeping us up-to-date on what is happening out there. Top operative with the Newsom campaign telling reporters, quote, "There is no scenario where we lose tomorrow." They are confident.


LEMON: Where does this stand right now?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that the late polling and the early returns on the mail ballot both point to Newsom being in a commanding position. And as we talked about before, as the mayor, as you kind of alluded to, your question with the mayor, I mean, the arc of the impact of COVID on this race is really striking, because as John King noted, the recall got on the ballot in the first place because of the backlash against the stringent COVID measures that Governor Newsom took last year in the most conservative parts of the state.

But, over this summer, as he has imposed a statewide mask mandate in schools, the mandate for health care workers, for educators, for state employees and the issue has gone to the broader electorate, not just the narrow slice that was necessary to get it on the ballot, he is taking command on the race by emphasizing his support for those mandates and painting the Republicans as a risk to them.

That was the first point out of the president's mouth tonight when he came here. So in many ways, I think you're going to see this contrast echo beyond California.

LEMON: Yeah. Is there -- there isn't a case -- I don't know. Is there a scenario where Democrats are overconfident and don't show up tomorrow --


LEMON: -- and then, you know, could lose it?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think there is a case where it can get closer than it appears in the final polling because of that.


BROWNSTEIN: I mean the Republican hope of winning this thing always dependent on a low turnout. I mean, once you start getting up to 11 or 12 million voters, you literally run out of Republicans. I mean Donald Trump only got six million votes in an election where 18 million people voted in 2020.

So, Democrats feel like they have an advantage of about two million banked and the return ballots so far. It would require a massive Election Day turnout to overcome that, but it is possible that it could get narrower than the final polling suggested although right now -- one last point, Don -- the in-person turnout, which Republicans are counting on, was not super high over the weekend.

So while Democrats may be projecting overconfidence, it is also possible that all of these claims of fraud are discouraging some Republicans from voting.

LEMON: Ah, interesting. Let's put up some of the polling because there is a -- recent poll found that 58 percent of California likely voters said that they would vote no on the recall. Thirty-nine percent say that they would vote yes. Compare that to the poll from the first half of August when the no on the recall was only ahead by four points.

So, you know, you said -- you talked about the arc of this, right, what started this recall. The idea of conservative talk radio host like Larry Elder --


LEMON: -- potentially run in California get Democrats to wake up. Is that what we are seeing?

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And yes, but, also, that Newsom, you know, on many issues, Larry Elder is to the right of California. Governor Newsom has talked about several of them. But he has really centered his campaign over the final weeks. He has really turned around this race by stressing the opposition of Elder and the other leading Republicans to mask and vaccine mandates.

I think what he has shown is clearly that that is a motivating message for the democratic base, which was tuned out earlier this summer. By and large did not believe this could happen but had become much more engaged in the weeks since.

Obviously, they spend an incredible amount of money. They have a lot of big name Democrats in television: Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and former President Obama. But, above all, what they found was that a message of kind of defending the steps they've taken to control COVID and linking the Republicans not only to Donald Trump but to the Republican governors in places like Texas and Florida, as you just heard from the mayor, was a very powerful message not only with the base but also with a lot of independent voters.

And in both that poll that you cited and the most recent poll from the University of California at Berkeley, Newsom is winning two-thirds of all vaccinated voters in the state. And it does suggest that there is a silent majority of the vaccinated who are exasperated with the unvaccinated and ready for tougher steps to increase those vaccination rates if that is what it takes to regain any kind of semblance of normal life.

LEMON: So, I'm doing the late coverage for this recall. Are you telling me I'm going to be in bed -- I won't have much to do? I will be sitting here?

(LAUGHTER) BROWNSTEIN: It's funny. Look, historically, the very late returners in the mail tend to be Democratic in California. So, the margin may get bigger in the days after and it might look a little tighter tomorrow. But it would be a surprise if we are biting our nails at 2 a.m. Eastern tomorrow night.

LEMON: Okay. Well, thank you very much. That is when I go on.


LEMON: Ron Brownstein.

BROWNSTEIN: That's why I'm going on with you, I think. Yes.

LEMON: Okay. So, Larry Elder -- go on.

BROWNSTEIN: I'm just saying, John King's point is important, too. You know, watching how this unfolds is going to be important because the biggest problem that the president party faces in midterm elections historically is that their voters are less motivated to vote than the other side.

What Newsom has done is awoken Democrats here with a two-prong strategy. One is to focus not only on so much what he's done as what Republicans would do, if given power, and he has centered that contrast on the pandemic itself and the vaccine requirements and so forth. And that really is a template that has broad application for Democrats in 2022 potentially.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

BROWNSTEIN: So watching what kind of turnout he gets in a poor democratic counties, I think, is going to be really important in terms of some of the signals that this might send for the broader elections coming both in November in Virginia and New Jersey governors' races and, of course, the midterm battle for Congress.

LEMON: Let me just say this. I've been watching what's happening in Florida and watching what's happening in Texas and in other republican- led states. And then to get the argument of the rationale for why they are trying to recall Gavin Newsom --


LEMON: -- is because he went to -- one reason is because he went to a restaurant and he wasn't wearing a mask and it was expensive. Their arguments and their strategies just seemed to fall flat when you consider going along with someone who wants to bleach or light inside the body --


LEMON: -- or hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin or people who are saying no masks and don't want to do vaccine mandates.

[23:14:06] LEMON: It just -- their arguments just fall apart. They seem hollow. Am I wrong?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, I think what is really important is, as you said, that Newsom has made ground -- has gained ground by linking the Republicans not only to Trump, which is kind of obvious in a state like California where he lost by five million votes, but also to Abbott in Texas and DeSantis in Florida, and by making the case that you don't want -- you know, you, the voters of California, do not want to go in that direction.

We saw in the CNN polling out today -- I mean California may be a uniquely favorable terrain for Democrats to have that argument, but we saw in the CNN polling out today that there was a national majority for a mandate on a vaccine for students, for office workers, for going to stadiums or outdoor concerts.

Again, I think one of the messages from California is going to be that there is a silent majority of the vaccinated that are kind of tired with all of these arguments about liberty and kind of personal autonomy when that in fact endangers the health of others.

Republicans are all in on defending the rights and choices of the one quarter of Americans who are unvaccinated. Kevin McCarthy tweeted in all caps, "no vaccine mandates" yesterday. They are kind of doubling down on defending that one quarter at a time when the 3/4 of Americans who are vaccinated, including a substantial portion, about 40 percent plus of the vaccinated Republicans, are ready for tougher measures against those who are holding back.

LEMON: Look, if you don't want to get vaccinated, stay at home. Home school your kids. Find another job or apply for -- whatever it is that you want to do. But let's be real about this.

Thank you, Ron. I'll see you tomorrow night/Monday.

BROWNSTEIN: I'll see you tomorrow.


LEMON: Have a good one until then.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

LEMON (on camera): A right-wing rally Saturday at the scene of the crime eight months after rioters stormed the Capitol, and the security threats are very real and very dangerous.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people. When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own.

Maligned force seemed at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear, and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.





LEMON: When I saw the story, I really couldn't believe it. Here we go again. CNN has learned that police are bracing for the potential of armed protesters at Saturday's far-right rally in Washington, D.C.

The Capitol police are also issuing an emergency declaration approving a plan to put up a temporary fence around the Capitol building. That as authorities arrested a man with a bayonet and machete in a truck with white supremacist symbols painted on it parked near DNC headquarters in Washington today.

Joining me now is former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the author of "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump."

Andrew, here we -- I know, I know, I know. You said earlier that -- good evening to you, by the way. You said earlier that that you hope Capitol police take this threat more seriously than they did on January 6. I mean, given these warnings and what officials are doing to prepare, are you confident that that's happening?

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: I am confident that they're taking it very differently than they did on January 5th. You know, you see things happening like high level briefings where the Capitol police chief now, Tom Manger, who is a terrific police chief, somebody who is well known in the community, sitting down with congressional leadership and letting them know exactly what intelligence they are seeing before the event and how that intelligence is driving their security preparations.

This is what competent professional security officials do on the eve of an event like this. They're also calling in those things that they think they just might need like the emergency fencing. So you don't wait until you do need those things. You call them in when you have intelligence that indicates that it might be the thing that prevents you from getting sacked twice.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

MCCABE: So, you know, I think from all public information, it seems that they are taking this very seriously. They are preparing themselves as much as they possibly can, which I think is the best course.

LEMON (on camera): Andrew, our Donie O'Sullivan, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan has been speaking with Trump supporters about the rally this weekend. This is what some of them have said. Listen.


DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER (on camera): This event that's supposed to be happening on the 18th, what's supposed to happen?

JERRY FITZGERALD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Really, I don't know too much about it, to be honest with you.

SULLIVAN (on camera): I've seen maybe a lot of folks like yourselves might not show up because, you know, it's being said that maybe it's a setup or a trap.

FITZGERALD: I'm really not sure because I know on January 6, it was huge and there was so much chatter on social media about it with all the groups that me and her are in. I haven't heard much too much about this, very little.

CASSANDRA FITZGERALD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Everybody is saying it's a setup, don't go.


LEMON (on camera): So a lot of Trump supporters showing skepticism about the rally claiming it is some kind of false flag to entrap them. We should note that many others could have already decided to show up.


LEMON: But is drawing attention to the dangers of this rally an effective way to deter bad actors from showing up?

MCCABE: It's a good question. I think that kind of cuts in both directions, Don. I think some folks are actually drawn to the prospect that there might be, you know, action or violence or that sort of thing. Others are repulsed by it and don't want to get caught up in the sort of investigations that we see coming out of January 6.

We've seen, you know, statements by high ranking members of the Proud Boys actively discouraging some of their followers from going because they think it's some sort of a trap or setup. Then there are other Proud Boy leaders doing the exact opposite.

It's really hard to say. I think the best thing that our intelligence and law enforcement folks can do is watch the intelligence, listen to the chatter, and take it seriously.

LEMON: What about deplatforming many of these people? Is that helping?

MCCABE: The deplatforming, I think, is good in that it limits the impact of these statements and of the kind of inspirational value that some of these guys have, but it also makes them harder to follow, right? So, as an intelligence professional, you're always worried about losing access and you take that chance when you kick them off the places where you can watch them pretty easily. LEMON: I always learn a lot from you. Thank you, Andrew McCabe. We'll be watching. We will see you soon.

MCCABE: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Former President George W. Bush calling out domestic extremism during a speech on September 11th. Now, he is drawing the ire of another former guy.




LEMON (on camera): So, one former president taking aim at another without naming names. Former President George W. Bush is calling on Americans to confront domestic violent extremists, comparing them to extremists abroad, and alluding to the January 6th insurrectionists.


BUSH: There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad, and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them.


LEMON (on camera): Boy, it upset some folks. I know one it did.

Joining me now is CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley and former advisor to George W. Bush and John McCain, Mr. Mark McKinnon. His show, "The Circus," will be back this Sunday. Back and better than ever, baby. I hope you have some material for it. I'm kidding. Good evening.



LEMON: Good evening, gents. Good to see both of you. Mark, the former president, Bush, is drawing the line between the terrorism of 9/11 and the threat from domestic extremism. Today, he is just comparing both, saying that they are similar. President Bush has made a point to stay out of politics since he left office. What do you think when you heard his speech?

MCKINNON: Well, I was really proud of him, and I thought it was a really important -- not only what he said but when he said it. Coming out now, as you said, he has been staying pretty much off the radar, so he picked his timing and at a really important time in our history, in our current era of incivility and insurrection, right? I mean, the fact is that we can debate the last 20 years in the loss of lives and money, but the fact is we haven't had foreign domestic attacks since 9/11, in 20 years, but we have had a domestic terrorist attack and we need to call it what it is.

But the problem is Donald Trump and his supporters have made martyrs out of these people. In the rally this weekend, they're calling the people who are being prosecuted prisoners -- political prisoners and patriots. It's one thing for a gas fly like me to call it out or for you. By the way, it is a great job reporting on this in the last hour.

I do think that this is the most important event in our history as it concerns the vulnerability of our democracy since the Civil War. So, I think we need to be vigilant. We needed a respected voice like a former Republican president to come out and call it what it is and say, these people aren't patriots, they're terrorists.

LEMON: Mark, am I wrong? I wanted him to name names and just call people out.

MCKINNON: I don't think he had to. I think it was so absolutely clear who and what he was talking about. I think, in many ways, it is more effective to do it that way, Don.

LEMON: All right.

MCKINNON: I think by calling his name, it's just what Trump wants.

LEMON: He wants the attention. I get it. All right. The most recent former president, Douglas, has issued a statement attacking Bush over those extremism remarks, saying Bush, I quote, "shouldn't be lecturing us about anything." So, let me get this straight. He is attacking President Bush, not domestic extremists?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yeah. I mean, talk about hitting the low road, Donald Trump has done it yet again. George W. Bush, what he did was heroic. To add to what Mark said, it is also where he said it. Shanksville, Pennsylvania on the 20th anniversary, that is, as Kamala Harris called it, a hallowed ground.


BRINKLEY: If you go, Don, to Pennsylvania, you have George Washington and Valley Forge. And we visit at -- or go to Gettysburg, where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address. George W. Bush giving this claim of maligned force in our country is Trumpism and reminding us that it was not Al-Qaeda who hit the U.S. Capitol, it was the January 6 insurrectionists of Donald Trump.

So when George W. Bush said those remarks, it was bound to get the ire of Donald Trump and get angry tweets. But in the annals of history, this speech of Bush will be viewed very favourably while Trump's response to it is just another self-aggrandizing bit of nothing.

LEMON: Yeah. Douglas, meanwhile, we have this -- talking about the big lie. The de facto leader of the Republican Party has continued to push the big lie that inspired the January 6th attack. Now, he is pushing lies over the California recall election. I mean, it is a broken record, right? But I mean, is it --


LEMON: And you know what, people don't even use records anymore. So, maybe he should stop using that broken one.

BRINKLEY: He never understood Donald Trump, what American democracy is. He doesn't understand our foundational texts, the Constitution or the Bill of Rights or the emancipation or Gettysburg address, on and on.

He is just operating as a conman, making money on September 11th, doing the fight, and as commentator raking in millions, now attacking elections in California, a recall effort, before votes are even cast. It constantly shocks me, Don, that we have this sort of poison veil of Donald Trump still with us in the land. It is toxic and it is poisonous, but I think we will, at some point, get it out of our system. It is a populist moment but it has gone on far too long.

LEMON: Let me just correct myself. As a lover of vinyl, I still use records, which you guys knew what I was talking about, right, Mark?

MCKINNON: I know what you did.


MCKINNON: By the way, I think it is helpful, Don, that they are calling fraud on the election before it even happens in California again because it is just so obvious with the playbook, is here. They think they're going to lose, so they say it's rigged. That's what happened last and that is what is going to happen this time.

LEMON: And it's embarrassing. It is so embarrassing.

MCKINNON: It's so obvious.

LEMON: Thank you, gents. See you soon.

BRINKLEY: Bye, guys. Bye, Mark.

LEMON: Tonight, here in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held its annual Met Gala. Now, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez attended the event in a gown featuring the message, tax the rich. Sure, she didn't know that was going to get any attention, did she?


LEMON: My CNN colleague Kate Bennett tweeted the gown was created by a socially-conscious Black-owned New York label Brother Vellies. The Met Gala raises money for the museum's costume institute. So there you go. Look, mission accomplished, right? We are talking about it.

Republican governors are digging in against President Biden's rules to vaccinate federal workers and large employers. Now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is threatening to fine state counties and cities for requiring their employees to get vaccinated at $5,000 a pop.




LEMON: Tonight, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis threatening to fine county and local governments in his state that require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

I want to bring in now Vincent Long, the administrator of Leon County, Florida. Thank you so much, administrator, for joining us. We really appreciate it. Good evening to you.

You are defying DeSantis. Leon County is going to keep its employee vaccine mandate in place. You say you don't think DeSantis's interpretation of the law applies here. Why not?

VINCENT LONG, LEON COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR: Well, Don, thank you for having me. As a front line governmental agency, our first obligation is to ensure readiness to respond to the needs of our community. Again, we believe that requiring our employees as a condition of employment to become vaccinated is legal. It is permissible. The EEOC agrees with us. The DOJ agrees with us. The federal district courts agree with us. And we also believe it is not inconsistent with Florida law.

LEMON: You know this -- that he says -- he claims that this could result in millions of dollars in fines. How much will this cost Leon County if you were fined for every person you got vaccinated?

LONG: Well, it would be millions. As much as I care about the responsibilities and believe that the responsibilities that we have to ensure our community safety during COVID, I similarly take our fiduciary responsibility seriously as well. And so I wouldn't put this community or this county at risk if I didn't believe that we were on firm legal ground.


LEMON (on camera): At today's event, all city employees stood right next to DeSantis and spread lies about the vaccine. Listen.


DARRIS FRIEND, GAINSVILLE CITY EMPLOYEE: The vaccine changes your RNA. So, for me, that is a problem. So I'm here with you folks. We don't want to have the vaccine. It is about our freedom and liberty. It is not about the vaccine. They're taking away our freedom and liberty little by little. They're using the vaccine for cover. Last year, they took away our religious rights. They're not defending our freedom of speech. And this is just one way to take us to the next step. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): Okay, look, none that is true. The vaccine does not alter RNA. DeSantis did nothing to correct it. How do you fight these lies about the virus when your own governor lets these conspiracy theories flourish?

LONG: What I would like to say, Don, that we're all focused on doing the best we can to protect our citizens from a largely preventable virus. And there's certainly lots of mitigation. And vaccines, of course, remain our most important weapon. Leaders, I believe, have the responsibility to lead and to promote trust in government and promote trust in public health officials. We need that more than we ever have.

LEMON: When the president announced vaccine mandates for some employers, we heard pushback like this from Republicans like Kevin McCarthy saying forcing people to vaccinate or pay a fine is un- American. Why is it okay when DeSantis wants to issue fines but not when Biden wants to issue fines?

LONG: Yeah, it's a little hard to wrap your brain around, Don. We have to be -- again, cities and counties all across this country, we're the first to respond in times like this. We've been activated 544 days today in Leon County, in this emergency response. And it's just critically important that we maintain our readiness to respond not only to COVID, not only to the delta variant, but hurricane season.

And my thoughts tonight are with the people of Louisiana. I know where you're from, Don. And I know that the cities and counties there had to be ready to respond to Ida. And that's what we do. It's our foremost responsibility. And again, it's something that we owe to our citizens. And, you know, to take a conservative argument, it's why they pay taxes. So, it's something to think about.

LEMON: I'm glad you mentioned that because they've got another one coming down in Louisiana and Texas as well. They'll be dealing with it for a little bit. It just seems to me that if Florida really wanted to get its economy back, you know, and bustling and going, that they would encourage as many people to get vaccinated as possible.

Thank you very much, administrator. We appreciate it.

LONG: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you. See you soon.

So here's breaking news, talking about Ida. Nicholas is now turning into a hurricane along the Texas coast, threatening to bring heavy rain, strong wind and a big storm surge. Live weather report in just a moment.




LEMON: Breaking news tonight. Hurricane Nicholas is strengthening to a Category 1 storm along the Texas coast. The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, issuing a state disaster declaration in Galveston County and 16 others as the hurricane threatens millions.

The storm is expected to sit along the coast of Texas, dumping up to 20 inches of rain before moving east where it could threaten Louisiana as they are still recovering from Hurricane Ida.

Let's get the latest now from -- on this storm from meteorologist Pedram Javaheri in the CNN Center. So, good evening to you, Pedram. Hurricane Nicholas just strengthened to a Category 1 in Texas. That is not good news.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Don, you know, what an incredible storm. You know, one that was a tropical storm for so many hours could have made landfall as many as seven or eight hours ago, say, 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. It has kind of remained pesky, remained just offshore, meandering along the coastline battering these coastal communities, now reaching Category 1 strength literally at the 11th hour here before we think landfall within the next couple of hours.

Our 14th named storm of the season. Climatologically, Don, it takes the 18th of November for us to get this far into the list of hurricane names. So kind of speaks to how active a scene it's been. But the weather predictions are already ramping this up, sending this to a level four. This is a rare situation here, to see a high-risk severe flooding event potentially in place.

We saw this issue in advance of Ida's remnants arriving in the northeast a couple of weeks ago. Only four percent of storms get this sort of a designation of these high-risk days. And about 40 percent of weather-related fatalities happen on these days. So this is something really important to note with the storm system.

And notice storm surge potential in High Island, southward into Port O'Connor. That area is three to five feet with a system that has been battering these coastal communities. But, so far, in the past 24 hours, as it has sat there just offshore, it has brought down about 10-plus inches of rainfall.

The concern is that amount or more, as you noted, Don, maybe up to 20 inches, could be seen over the next few hours as this pushes over land and potentially kind of meanders here through at least the next 24 to 36 hours.


JAVAHERI: About 12 million people here are going to be underneath flood alerts stretching through really the entirety of Southern Louisiana into most, if not all, of the coastal region of Texas. You know, Harris County in Houston is very prone to flooding, so this is going to be something we'll follow over the next few hours. Don?

LEMON: Not good, considering what just happened there with Ida. Thank you, Pedram. I appreciate it. We will be watching.

And tomorrow night, make sure you tune into CNN's special coverage of California governor recall. It starts at 10:00 p.m. And I am going to be on covering the recall really late or really early starting for those of you on the West Coast and hopefully you on the East Coast will be watching, too, starting at 2:00 a.m., so make sure you tune in.

Thanks for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. We start with breaking news.