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Don Lemon Tonight

President Biden Is In NYC For U.N. Speech Amid Foreign Policy Turmoil And Threats To Domestic Agenda; Major New Developments In The Gabby Petito Case; Texas School Board Takes Step Towards Firing First Black Principal; Missoula Mayor Begs Residents To Get Vaccinated; Idaho COVID Surge Spills Into Neighboring States. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired September 20, 2021 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: President Biden just hours away from addressing the U.N. General Assembly as tensions in his own party threaten to derail his agenda. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the next 48 hours will be critical.

Plus, Pfizer announcing a lower dose of its COVID vaccine is safe and effective for kids ages 5 to 11. Dr. Anthony Fauci telling CNN a decision from the FDA could come within weeks.

And we're learning a 911 call reporting a so-called domestic dispute between Gabby Petito and her fiance Brian Laundrie just days before her disappearance. This as the FBI confirms it just concluded a search at the Laundrie family home.

I want to bring in now CNN White House correspondent John Harwood and former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. Good evening, gentlemen. Thank you so much for joining.

Mr. Harwood, I'm going to start with you. President Biden's domestic agenda is on thin ice tonight all because of his own party. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the next 48 hours is going to be crucial in determining if they can reach a deal. Where do negotiations stand at this hour? Please fill us in.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: look, Don, this is a very difficult moment for the Biden White House and for Democratic leaders when they're about to figure out whether they can pull this off with very narrow majorities, a very substantial bill expanding the social safety net, expanding health and education benefits for the American people.

They have a significant consequential split between moderates and progressives in the party. When you get this deep into the calendar, they want to enact this month or this month bleeding into next month. The deeper you get into the calendar, the more these threats from both sides take on added meaning. And so we don't know if they can bridge that gap. Joe Manchin did make a comment to one of our colleagues tonight that there's a lot going on that you don't know. So we will see what happens in those next 48 hours that Pelosi referred to. But whether or not they can get through to something that's reasonably close to what Joe Biden wants in this $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, we don't know if they can pull it off.

There's cautious optimism in the White House they still can, but a recognition that once people late in the process play chicken too long, sometimes they collide even though they don't intend to, and that could have bad consequences for them.

LEMON: Yeah. So, Jim, if these bills collapse because of open warfare within the Democratic Party, there will be tons of finger-pointing here. Will Biden be able to carry on with the rest of his agenda if this falls apart?

JIM MESSINA, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think he will, and I don't think it's going to fall apart. You know, Washington runs on two things, Don, power and time.


MESSINA: Democrats have the power to do this. Now, there is -- as John just said, they're starting to run out of time, and now is kind of the point where they got to figure out what to do. And the truth is there is a split inside the party, and that's okay. That's very traditional.

The question is, you know, can the progressives live with getting only half a loaf? When I was in the White House, we used to say, look, passing something and getting things done is always better than doing nothing.

That's the choice in front of some of these members tonight is, yeah, you might not love this, you might not have everything you want, but we're talking about historic investments in child care, tax credits and other things that Democrats have been trying to do for 20 years. I just hope that we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater here.

LEMON: Well, Jim, Democrats are also facing a showdown with the GOP over raising the debt ceiling. I mean, there's going to be a test vote on this tomorrow. The GOP is saying that they won't vote to raise it, despite it happening three times in the Trump administration on a bipartisan basis. So, what's changed now? What's different? There's a Democratic --

MESSINA: Mitch McConnell has decided to play politics, Don. As you said, they did it three times for President Trump. They did it countless times with President Obama. It's what the government has to do to continue to go forward.

And Mitch McConnell has decided that he wants to draw a line in the sand and see if he can hold his base together because his party has a similar problem. They're warring with themselves, too, you know, the Trumpians who are trying to continue to run this party and you have traditionalists like Mitch McConnell.

And so he's saying, well, here's an issue that we all can get behind, which is fighting Joe Biden, no matter the economy would crash and the stock market would go crazy, and all these things. Mitch McConnell just wants to play politics and it's sad but it's true.

LEMON: I just remembered during the Bush and the Obama administrations, all the consternation and we covered it over and over, the debt ceiling, the debt ceiling, time is coming up. We may have had a countdown clock. I mean, who knows? But it was most probably we did. But, I mean, you know, this isn't something that's new just to this administration, but under the previous administration, there was bipartisan support to raise the debt ceiling.

John, Biden has his hands full at the moment. The infighting is just, you know, the major issues he's facing right now, including what's happening at the Texas border. There's new video that appears to show law enforcement officers using aggressive tactics with migrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border. I mean, these images are awful. I mean, the optics is terrible. What's the White House saying about this?

HARWOOD: They're acknowledging that it's awful. Homeland Secretary Mayorkas said this even that he was troubled by the video and they're looking into potential disciplinary action. There's no getting around the fact that the situation on the border is one that's a big problem for the Biden White House. Immigration is not what they want to be talking about right now.

But you can't avoid it when you have a situation like that. And that video, by bringing it to life, is a headache for the Biden administration that they don't need right now.

As Jim Messina well knows, when you serve in a White House, the pitching machine throws about ten pitches at the same time. Well, Biden has got about 20 coming at him right now. This is one he does not need.

LEMON: Gentlemen, thank you very much. I appreciate you joining us.

I want to bring in now CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod and political commentator Bakari Sellers. Thank you both for joining. Before I get to you, I want to talk about, you know, all the things that the president has to deal with, his legislative process. Bakari, what do you think of those images?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know I want to be clear. They're not just aggressive tactics. That's brutality when you have Haitian migrants in custody. And I think what we saw was despicable. What we saw is what we expect in countries, not the United States in our backyard, but it harkens to a dark period in our history.

And for me, it makes my stomach turn. And so I know the secretary made a statement but it was lukewarm at best. They damn well better get their act together because they can't be beating Black folk at the border the way they had been or anybody for that matter. That is just unsettling at best.

LEMON: David, a clear indication that the immigration process needs to be overhauled. There's a lot of blame to go around. But the GOP has been fighting immigration reform for quite some time.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Yeah. Well, it's not clear how that would relate to this situation. You had a situation in Haiti where you had an outpouring of people to the border from Haiti. But it really doesn't matter. Bakari is absolutely right. Whatever the circumstances, there's no excuse for what happened down there and what these images show.

And, you know, I don't think the administration has any rebuttal to that assertion. But they're going to have to act to it. They've got a terrible situation at the border. It has been festering for some time. This has made it a lot worse.


AXELROD: You know, they can't tread water on this. They have to act.

LEMON: Yeah. My point is if there was some real immigration reform that had already taken place, perhaps images like these would not have happened. I understand that we have migrants that come across. The systems might have been in place to --


LEMON: -- to handle these things had they -- had we had some real reform.

AXELROD: Look, we badly need immigration reform from top to bottom, Don.

LEMON: Right.

AXELROD: And that's been true for a long time.

LEMON: Yeah.

AXELROD: You know, Democrats were hoping to get some of that done through the reconciliation bill. That's not going to happen now because of the parliamentary rule in the Senate. So, yeah, it's a real, real problem for the administration, for the country.

LEMON: Yeah. Bakari, both sides of the Democratic Party digging in. Moderates like senators Manchin and Sinema on one end and the House progressives like Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez on the other. Is it possible for Biden to bring the party together? I don't know if -- I don't know if I should be qualifying Manchin and Sinema as moderate.

SELLERS: Let me just say that, you know, from my perch and I think many people, I don't think you can compare the power or the leverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to that of Manchin and Sinema. I don't think it's fair to equate her simply because she doesn't have that same type of juice that Manchin and Sinema have.

I think that the Democratic Party has a Manchin and Sinema problem. We were here with my good friend, David Axelrod, a couple of months ago and I was articulating that part of the -- you know, the hiccup that we have, the Democratic Party is Manchin and Sinema.

I mean, whether or not you're talking about the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package and them standing in the way of child care, et cetera, et cetera, or whether or not you're talking about a prescription drug plan to actually lower the cost of prescription drug prices in this country, which we know does well across party lines, I mean, it seems as if Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin are just stifling the progress of let me check my notes of Democrats.

It's the wildest thing that I've seen. There appears to be no appetite. I know they had a meeting. But there really appears to be no appetite to reign in the fact that we now have a president Joe Manchin.

LEMON: Yeah. David, I want you to respond because if you are advising President Biden, what would you tell him to do here? Because it seems like this is a legislative standoff where neither side wants to blink first.

AXELROD: listen, I agree with what my old colleague, Jim Messina, said a couple of minutes ago. I think this is too big to fail for Democrats. They're at a historic juncture here. If they cut off their noses to spite their face and walk away from historic progress here, that would be not only a tragic circumstance for the country but it would be a really disastrous one for the Democratic Party.

I think one thing that Manchin and Sinema have taught progressives in the House is how to use leverage. And everybody is trying to use leverage to shape the final form of this legislation. But if they miscalculate and it ends up in the whole thing crashing, the infrastructure bill, the reconciliation bill, it would be a disaster for the Democratic Party.

I think they understand that. I think that they will come to some conclusion here. I cannot believe that they're going to walk away empty-handed. But as Harwood said, you know, it could be that they've gotten in so deep here, it's hard to get out.

But remember, Manchin and Sinema have a huge investment in that infrastructure bill. They really helped shape it. I can't believe they're going to want to see it go down.

LEMON: I mean, what will that say about -- Bakarai, the reason I said -- you know, when I said -- people keep calling Manchin and Sinema moderates, right? So then who are the people who are to the right in the Democratic Party of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? You understand what I'm saying?

Because it seems to me that they are -- I would say right, center- right when it comes to Democrats. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and that wing, those are the progressives. And most of the people are somewhere in the middle. That would be the moderates and not the Sinema and Manchins of the party.

SELLERS: I get how -- I get -- I understand how you're reshaping the kind of the paradigm in which we see the Democratic Party. I mean, the fact is, and this is what is troublesome about the position that -- and I actually agree with Jim Messina and David Axelrod. They're experts in this. They've actually spent time in the White House and crafted major legislation like this. They not disagree with anybody who helped usher in the Affordable Care Act

My only point in all of this is saying that no one truly knows what Sinema and Manchin are standing for. I think that is the largest problem. It's not where they fall on the political paradigm.


SELLERS: But the fact is they say 3.5 trillion is too much. Okay, well, what's enough? Tell me how you want to encapsulate this. What do you want? Do you want $3 trillion or $2.5 trillion? What do you want it could cover and what don't you want it to cover?

AXELROD: That is the wrong way to think about it, Bakari. They ought to be talking about --

SELLERS: I knew I was going to be wrong with that.


AXELROD: No, my point is this, my point is this. Presumably they are talking about what should be in that bill. One of the things that disturbs me about this whole discussion is we talk about, well, it should be $3.5 trillion or it should be, Manching said $1.5 trillion, 1 to 1.5 trillion. These are just numbers and this is not the way this should be discussed. What is going to be in there and what are you leaving out? And that's the discussion -- that's the hard discussion that they're having now.

But I will say this. If Joe Manchin says, I will vote for a reconciliation bill that will spend, you know, $1.5 trillion, perhaps it'll get to $2 trillion. There's a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. I fear that if that is the result that you have a $2 trillion infrastructure bill and a $1.2 -- I mean, a 1.2 infrastructure, $2 trillion reconciliation bill, that somehow people will walk away from it and say, gee, that wasn't very good. It would be historic and it should be noted as such.

LEMON: I got to go, Bakari. If you can quickly, please.

SELLERS: No, I was just going to say I agree with him, but the simple point is that no one knows what Joe Manchin is standing for. We want to know what he wants in that 1.5 trillion. I think that would help this discussion go a long way. And I think you're right. He's just not communicating in his office. He's terrible at it.

LEMON: Maybe they just want to put it off to -- you know, that's the whole point of it.

Thank you very much. I appreciate it, gentlemen.

Lots of new developments tonight in the case of Gabby Petito just one day after investigators found what they believe may be her remains. The FBI today is searching for the family home of her fiance. That as a chilling 911 call is released.




LEMON (on camera): Tonight, investigators are looking for Brian Laundrie after searching his family's home and questioning his parents. Over the weekend, officials discovered what they believed to be the remains of his fiancee, Gabby Petito, in an undeveloped camping area in Wyoming. And there are many new clues as to what may have happened leading up to her disappearance.

Joining me now is former FBI profiler Mr. Jim Clemente. Jim, I appreciate you joining us. Look, this is what you do. And I've known you for well over a decade now. When I was working at the local news in St. Louis, Missouri, we did a story together. So I know that you're an expert on this. I want to start by playing this. This is a 911 call where the caller reports a domestic dispute. Watch this.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Hi. Can you hear me, sir?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Yeah, I can hear you.

UNKNOWN: (voice-over): Hi. I'm calling, I'm right on the corner of Main Street by Moonflower and we're driving by and I'd like to report a dispute domestic from Florida. It's a white van, Florida licence plate, white van, gentleman --

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Where is it at?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): They just drove off. They're going down Main Street. They made a right onto Main Street from Moonflower.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): And what were they doing?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): What did you say?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): What were they doing?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): He was slapping her?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Yes, and then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off.


LEMON (on camera): So I just want to put up for everyone, this is video from the couple's encounter with the police where Brian says that Gabby was the one who hit him, contradicting what we heard in the 911 call. So, what do you believe, Jim? The the police video on this 911 call tells us about the nature of this couple's relationship.

JIM CLEMENTE, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Don, I think it's very complicated and nuanced. But right from the start, you could see the difference in their emotional behavior. He was calm. He was a little nervous about what the cops were going to do. Once he got out of the car and he realized he wasn't going to get arrested right away, he was very calm.

He was actually very social. He was charming, whereas she was in complete distress the entire time, something much greater than what's described by him. He minimizes everything. He minimizes his role, He blames everything on her.

On the other hand, she takes the blame. She says, I get OCD and it frustrates him and I had to apologize to him for my behavior. That sounds like coercive control. That sounds like a situation where there's been ongoing domestic violence, and she has basically taken over his controls. The things he wants her to do, if she violates them, she apologizes to him.

This 911 call basically totally contradicts what he said and is very consistent with a pattern of abuse that apparently has led to her death.

LEMON: you know, Jim, the autopsy is scheduled to be completed tomorrow. What kinds of details do you think we're going to learn from this report?

CLEMENTE: Well, the thing about it, Don, because we don't know exactly how long she was exposed to the elements and whether or not the body was concealed in some way or buried, actually it probably would be better if that were the case because that would mean that the animal activity and the decomposition may have been slowed.


CLEMENTE: But if decomposition was advanced, we may not get that much from the body itself and we'd have to then of course rely on forensic evidence found in the van or his car or at his home or on the telephones or other devices and credit cards and so forth.

But I think the autopsy will likely be able to at least give us some idea of the time of death or date of death. And we're hoping that there's a cause of death. And from that and all the other circumstances, the manner of death will be determined, and that's either homicide, suicide, accident, natural or undetermined.

And in cases where a body is found skeletonized, sometimes if there's no actual fractures or tool marks on the bones, sometimes it's just undetermined.

LEMON: Listen, I got --I'm going to lean on you and just let you answer this. By the way, I said well over a decade. I cannot believe it, 1997, it's been 24 years since we've known each other. So, listen, Jim, what's next? What do you see happening here? Bo one knows where he is as of now. The autopsy is coming out. We have all this other information. We've got the text messages.

CLEMENTE: Well, I'm hopeful that the family's attorney tomorrow will say that they're going to basically have him turn himself in and hopefully --

LEMON: They cancelled the press conference, by the way, according to Chris. He said he spoke to the family.

CLEMENTE: That' a shame.

LEMON: They're awaiting word from the FBI, they said, until they get the FBI's word.

CLEMENTE: Well, I'm saddened to hear that because it sounds then like that it won't be moving forward. I was hoping that they were going to bring him out and let him actually face whatever happens.

But the fact is that his claim, the lawyer's claim that he was just keeping him quiet because that's his Fifth Amendment right, I think when you balance that, Don, against the fact that Gabby's life was hanging in the balance, I mean, she could have still been alive and yet he didn't cooperate at all. It kind of tells me that that's a huge red flag that he knew that it was already too late for her.

LEMON: Yeah. Jim Clemente, thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

CLEMENTE: Thanks for having me, Don.

LEMON: Just moments ago, a Texas school board moving forward with a process to fire their high school principal, their first Black principal ever. There's a story behind it. Stay with us. You'll hear it.




LEMON: At a special session tonight, a Texas school board voting unanimously to move forward with a process that could lead to the firing of Principal James Whitfield. He is the first Black principal at his high school put on leave late last month after accusations that he was supporting critical race theory. The school district said at the time in a statement that the suspension was not in response to community complaints.

CNN's Omar Jimenez has been monitoring the meeting tonight and he joins me now. Omar, good evening to you. So, tell us what went down tonight. What happened?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Don. So the school board basically voted to move forward with the nonrenewal process of Dr. Whitfield's contract. It is the step one of a two-step process. And in this step one, they laid out their reasons -- their accusations for why they believe his contract should not be renewed.

In particular, they laid out six. And among them they said that it was because of performance and communication concerns dating back to February, behavior to supervisors, dishonesty with media, failure to express concerns appropriately, dividing the community, and relationship with parents, community and colleagues.

Now, after that dividing the community part, the entire hearing room, which is full of parents that had come out to support Dr. Whitfield and voice their concerns, that whole hearing busted out in laughter. And one person even yelled repeatedly at the school board, "you are full of -- it." in more explicit terms.

The school board said this was not a decision about critical race theory, his race or any public callings for his firing. But, again, they emphasized this was step one of a two-step process.

LEMON: Okay. So then what's the school board -- what does the school board say? We've heard that. What is the community saying? We've heard what the school board saying, excuse me, what is the community saying?

JIMENEZ (on camera): Yeah. Well, one of those accusations was saying that he failed to maintain great relationships with the parents in the community. Well, take a listen to the parents in the community that came out.


UNKNOWN: And to the board, it is not okay to punish a respected educator for defending himself when you could not find the intestinal fortitude to defend him as you yourself should have done.

UNKNOWN: On the possible termination of Dr. Whitfield's contract, no matter what the verdict shall be, the lasting impact of Dr. Whitfield's time at CHHS has permeated our student body so much that the fight against ignorance will never stop.

UNKNOWN: This is not about one man. He comes, he goes, that is fine. I'm worried about my children that they're not going to have the best administrators, teachers, specialists because some folks are not welcome at the table.


JIMENEZ (on camera): And Dr. Whitfield even spoke himself at this hearing. Take a listen.


JAMES WHITFIELD, PRINCIPAL OF COLLEYVILLE HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL: I can assure you, I have not changed. I'm still the same man today as when you hired me. You promoted me twice in three years. So I ask you, what has changed since July 26th?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Thank you, Dr. Whitfield.




JIMENEZ: As you heard, the room broke out in applause after -- the people there, we didn't hear a single person that was against him or that was for him being fired, I should say, Don.

LEMON: Interesting. So, some board members made it clear tonight that this vote is just the first step of a process and they want to hear from Dr. Whitfield. We heard a little bit from him tonight. I don't know if they want to hear more. But what comes next?

JIMENEZ: Yeah. So basically, the way they laid it out, step one was tonight. That was laying out the accusations against Dr. Whitfield. So they voted to move forward on those. Step two is going to be an actual hearing where evidence and testimony is heard, where he can defend himself, where he can argue for his position that he should stay and bring in, again, testimony to support his actual position.

And that was something they wanted to make clear that, again, this was one of two steps because people were angry and emotional, as you heard in some of that hearing. So, whatever happens will be decided at that date. But he has been with the school district since 2018 and hired consistently since he was -- since he first began there.

LEMON: All right. Omar, thanks for this. We'll continue to follow it. Appreciate it. Have a good night.

So, absolutely overwhelmed. That's what a Missoula, Montana hospital is saying about their ER right now. And the mayor of that city is resorting to begging people to get vaccinated. He joins me next.




LEMON (on camera): COVID cases spiking in Montana. Things are so bad in Missoula that they are asking for the National Guard's help and begging residents to get vaccinated.


MAYOR JOHN ENGEN, MISSOULA, MONTANA: If you have not been vaccinated, please get vaccinated. That is the single most effective way for us to ensure the safety of our friends and neighbors and family members and to relieve that stress on hospitals. I would resort to begging to ask you to get vaccinated. It makes such a difference.


LEMON (on camera): Well, that was Missoula Mayor John Engen, and he joins me now. Mayor, thank you so much for joining. Good evening to you. You know, we just heard you pleading with people to get the shot. How many people still haven't gotten vaccinated and why at this point?

ENGEN: Oh, a big question, and I think one that's not exclusive to Missoula. You know, we had roughly 70 percent of Missoula County vaccinated early when vaccine become available and those numbers are holding to a certain degree. The challenge we really have is, you know, the greatest generation showed up early.

There was a time when I had folks begging us for the vaccine and the tables have turned. Today, we've got north of 1,300 active cases in Missoula County. And our hospitals are experiencing something they haven't during the course of the entire pandemic.

I've got hospital administrators calling me, begging for help and some relief. So we reached out to the governor's office. We request for National Guard support. We're not alone in Montana in asking for that support. But I often say Missoula is a city near Montana. Our politics are a little bit different. We're a blue dot here.

And I think we've been, to a certain degree, insulated until now just by virtue of the fact that folks were really compliant with mask orders and certainly when the vaccine became available, they were lined up to get it.

LEMON: Yeah. And now it's different. So, listen, I mentioned that you called on the National Guard. What kind of help are you asking for, exactly?

ENGEN: We put in a request for 24 members of the Guard. Today, there's not an emergency order in place in the state of Montana. The governor rescinded that. So, the National Guard isn't really up and running. So these folks have to be activated and deployed. We asked for 24, and we would share that resource around the community.

So the hospitals clearly need help in all sorts of clinical efforts. We run what's called a non-congregate shelter. That's federal speak for -- place for folks who are un-housed can isolate and quarantine to not only recuperate themselves but to make sure that we are not spreading this virus on the street because they don't have a place to live. We would deploy those folks in those circumstances as well.

We're way behind on contract tracing to the point that I'm not sure contact tracing even makes a difference for us anymore.


ENGEN: And, ultimately, all of this can be fixed if we had enough folks vaccinated and by virtue of vaccine either immune or when they contract the illness suffering much less and not filling up emergency rooms or intensive care units.

LEMON: One of the city's health officials is saying that the state legislature is keeping you from implementing basic safety protocols like mask mandates and limiting event sizes. Is the state keeping you from keeping your resident safe?

ENGEN: Oh, absolutely. The Montana legislature is a function of what was really for us a brutal legislative session. The state legislature meets every two years and this session was all about backlash against local health departments and really local communities and local control.

We are no longer able to issue mask mandates. We really have none of the tools around our disposal early in the pandemic, which I think, contributed mildly in keeping our numbers low and keeping the community safe. Those options are available to us today. It is tragic and it is some of the dumbest politics I've experienced in 16 years as mayor the city of Missoula.

LEMON: Mayor Engen, thank you. Good luck. Good luck. Thank you so much. Be safe.

ENGEN: Thank you. Appreciate the chance to tell the story.

LEMON: Absolutely. So Idaho has some of the lowest vaccination rates and their COVID cases are so bad that they are spilling into their neighboring state, who now says that they need federal help to keep up with the cases. Stay with us.




LEMON (on camera): Washington Governor Jay Inslee is asking for federal help to support his state's health care systems as the COVID surge overwhelms hospitals. A problem made worse by patients coming into Washington from Idaho where COVID restrictions aren't in place. And tonight, hospitals in Idaho now facing critical decisions over who gets care as one of the least vaccinated states in the country faces a desperate battle against the virus.

CNN's Dan Simon has the story now.


UNKNOWN: Do you guys want (INAUDIBLE)?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He worked as a truck driver. Today, Daryl Rise is a full-time caregiver in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to 10-year-old twins Emitt and Emery (ph) after their mother, Daryl's sister, died last month from COVID-19.

DARYL RISE, LOST SISTER TO COVID: As they were intubating her, they've given her the sedation and the paralytic, which is standard. Her heart just let go.

SIMON (voice-over): Natalie Rise was only 46. Tell me, what did Natalie do for a living?

RISE: Natalie was a registered nurse. She did home health care. She went around and helped people in their homes, the elderly.

SIMON (voice-over): Which made her firm anti-vaccination stance all the more puzzling.

RISE: She was telling me to not get vaccinated. I think it was from misinformation. I think it was from falling into negative social media and bloggers, YouTubers.

SIMON (voice-over): As the delta variant continues to run rampant, health care leaders face a challenge. Nearly 30 percent of their own ranks as of July still have not been vaccinated, according to the COVID States Project. And as cases and hospitalizations remain high here in Idaho, one official saying there's really only one word to describe the current situation.

KATHERINE HOYER, PANHANDLE HEALTH DISTRICT: Awful. We are in the worst state we ever have been within the pandemic.

SIMON (voice-over): Things right now are so dire that last week the state authorized hospitals the right to ration treatment.


SIMON (voice-over): It comes even as the state still has no mask mandate. Protesters staging mask burning rallies like this one in March. Idaho also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. The lack of restrictions causing frustration in neighboring Washington State, where there is a mask mandate and where hospitals like this in Spokane are filling up with patients from Idaho. Doctors warning everyone from cancer patients to people on a transplant list could see delays in treatment.

Those patients who are impacted and their families, how do they take that?

DAN GETZ, PROVIDENCE SACRED HEART MED CENTER: Horribly and rightly so. We are doing everything that we can to expand capacity, get those folks in the operating room with their surgeons who can cure them. But at the end of the day, we are delaying their care.

RISE: They've didn't receive care (ph) for 45 minutes.

SIMON (voice-over): As Daryl got the tragic call his sister had died.

RISE: I was destroyed. I didn't what is going to happen with these two beautiful little children.

SIMON (voice-over): He was also grappling with something else. His 71-year-old unvaccinated mother had also gotten COVID and was coming out of a medically-induced coma. She had to be told that her daughter, just a few rooms away, had died from the same disease.

RISE: I got a phone call from the nurses saying, get back up here, we are going to tell your mom, you need to tell your mom, we are all mothers and she deserves to know.

SIMON (voice-over): Even now, Daryl says his mother is still on the fence about the vaccine, indicative of a struggle to end the pandemic.

RISE: Do you want chocolate or milk? All right.

SIMON (voice-over): Now left to raise his niece and nephew. He says the the day following his sister's death --

RISE: The next day, I went and got vaccination. It was the hardest decision of my life. Am I doing it right by God? Am I doing it right by Natalie? And I got it out of fear.

SIMON (on camera): Don, health officials on both sides of the Idaho- Washington border say what they are seeing is so tragic.


SIMON (on camera): So they asked, why would you stick with the status quo? Why not enact a mask mandate, for instance? But they say what is most frustrating is that people are dying needlessly. Don?


LEMON: Dan Simon, thank you. And thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. The entire abortion law in Texas that turned ordinary citizens into amateur enforcers and offers a bounty for doing it has just seen its first two amateurs emerged. One is, you can't make this stuff up, a federal convict under home confinement. The other doesn't even live in Texas. We will have the detail shortly in that breaking story, one of many tonight.