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Now, Biden Visiting New York and New Jersey to Survey Deadly Storm Damage; Biden to Give Major Address on Pandemic Response Thursday. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 07, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Thanks for your time today on Inside Politics. I hope to see you back here this time tomorrow.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Happening now, President Biden is in New Jersey getting a firsthand look at the damage and destruction left behind by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. And moments ago, he urged action on climate change.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: You can't build back and restore what it was before because another tornado, another ten inches of rain is going to produce the same kind of results.

We're at one of those inflection points where we either act or we're going to be in real, real trouble. Our kids are going to be in real trouble.


CABRERA: In all, 52 people were killed in the northeast, families drowning and homes, others in cars. And soon, the president will speak directly with more officials and residents in these hard hit areas. In New Jersey, and in New York, and we're showing you what it looked like just days ago.

Today's trip also a critical moment as the president pushes his infrastructure bill.

We have team coverage of the president's trip. First, Athena Jones is in Manville, New Jersey, where President Biden will visit next. Athena, what will he see and hear from officials there?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. Well, the president wants to come and see the damage firsthand, see it for himself. Coming to where we are now, we saw piles and piles of debris from houses lined up. This is the biggest pile we've seen so far, and it's been growing today. you can see a couch. There's a door. There are appliances that have been pulled out. The wood from all of the walls, the insulation, and that is because this home saw rising flood waters.

This is one of the folks who had to evacuate because the floodwaters reached above this door frame. And so if you take a look inside this house, you can see what remains and just the vast extent of the damage and the danger, and the reason people had to get out so quickly. And so this is the kind of damage we expect the president to see.

We know, of course, that he has already signed a major disaster relief. There's six counties here in New Jersey. This is one of the hardest hit areas of the state. But there are six counties that saw damages. Phil Murphy, Governor Phil Murphy, has said that he's going to be asking the president to declare the same major disaster relief declaration for other counties so that more people could get access to help. What kind of help? This federal assistance can include grants for temporary housing, grants for home repairs, to cover uncovered insurance losses, property that was lost that didn't have any insurance coverage.

And if you speak to people like the resident here who I spoke with, they need that and they need it fast. This is someone who is clearly not living in this house. And so the hotel bills, the food bills adding up by the minute. And so they want to see immediate help and they want to see long-term help. That is the kind the thing the governor and president have promised that the federal and state government will be with the folks as long as they need on this long road to recovery. Ana?

CABRERA: Wow. The damage there is just incredible. Your heart just sinks for that homeowner. Thank you, Athena Jones.

To Queens, New York, where the president will also visit this afternoon. Shimon Prokupecz is there. Shimon, what are people there hoping to hear from the president today?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, the people that I've talked to here, there's a lot of frustration because they feel that the city, government has failed them. What you will hear in a couple seconds from a woman that I spoke to is that how her area, this area has been flooding for years and that city officials just did nothing about it.

And what she's going to talk to you about is there's this area, there's an alleyway here behind me where you see some of the secret service agents. That's where the president is going to be meeting with the residents. That alleyway flooded several feet. Then what happened is the water had nowhere to go. It was trapped in the alleyway and went into the basements of these people's home.

Here's what this one resident told me just moments ago.


LENA, QUEENS, NEW YORK RESIDENT: Help. Help. We need it. 38 years is enough.

Nobody wants anything more than just fix it. And we can go back to what we kind of sort of was a normal life. After you break it down, you rebuild it. It happens again. It's not only me. It's everybody here that's done it five, six, seven times.


PROKUPECZ: And, Ana, she's not the only one who was raising that frustration. I tried to talk to other people on camera. Some of them were afraid to talk because they said they didn't want to talk until they met with the president. The administration asking them not to speak until after they met with the president, and, certainly, they're going to have a lot to tell the president and tell him about their anger and their frustration over how they've been living.

Everything in their homes have been destroyed. And now they're hoping they can get some money and somehow rebuild.


CABRERA: Well, and the president even said that you can't rebuild back to what it was because of climate change. He says there needs to be serious changes. Thank you, Shimon Prokupecz.

Joining us now is the mayor of Bound Brook New Jersey, Robert Fazen, and Michael Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. He's also the author of The New Climate War.

Mayor Fazen, first to you. We showed live aerials of the horrific flooding in Bound Brook just last week, a transit train, we saw, inundated with brown, murky floodwaters. We showed images of a minor league baseball field completely under water as well. How much damage was done in your community, and what do you hope comes out of the president's trip today?

MAYOR ROBERT FAZEN, BOUND BROOK, NEW JERSEY: Well, Ana, Bound Brook was not hit that hard. The river flow that you saw near the train was really the only area where the flood hurt us here in Bound Brook. Very quickly, 22 years ago, Hurricane Floyd did 18 feet of water on our main street. This did not. This had zero flooding on our main street primarily because of the work that was done by the Corps of Engineers building levies around the Borough of Bound Brook. They completed that project in 2015.

CABRERA: Thank goodness that that project had been done and completed. But when you listen to the president today, Mayor, and he speaks of climate change and the need to go above and beyond, did that resonate with you?

FAZEN: Yes, very much so. I feel that I won't say Bound Brook is the poster child, but the flood-proofing that we really encouraged over the past 15 years is now complete. The little things we do here in Bound Brook, as far as making sure we have this motto where we want to be carbon-neutral by planting more trees and being green, we do as much as we can at the local level, but I'm sure that not only the United States but the rest of the world is responsible for fixing this problem. CABRERA: Michael, we heard the mayor talk about Hurricane Floyd. Other officials in New Jersey have also compared this storm with Ida to Hurricane Floyd in 1999. But are we in a much worse situation when it comes to the climate and these storms now than, you know, 20-plus years ago?

MICHAEL MANN, DIRECTOR, EARTH SYSTEM SCIENCE CENTER, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: Yes, hi, Ana. Absolutely, we are seeing the impacts of climate change now playing out in real-time in the form of these monster storms. And we know that for each degree Celsius of warming of the ocean surface, you get 7 percent more moisture in the air, so the potential for much greater amounts of rainfall, but you get as much as a 20 percent increase in wind speeds and a 60 percent increase in intensity.

And so there's no coincidence here that the most intense and destructive hurricanes on record in the northern hemisphere, in the southern hemisphere, in the Atlantic and Pacific, for the globe have all happened within the last decade because of record warm ocean temperatures, record amounts of heat that fuel these increasingly strong and destructive storms.

CABRERA: If changes aren't made, Michael, what are we looking at? How much stronger, how much worse, how much more frequent will these monster storms get?

MANN: Yes. Well, you know, you can extrapolate that rule I gave you, for each degree Celsius, an increase of 60 percent in the intensity of these storms. So if we warm the planet beyond two, two-and-a-half, three degrees Celsius, we're starting to now talk about storms that are qualitatively different from anything we've seen before, where we will have to introduce a category 6 to describe the destructive potential of the storms. That's the bad news.

The good news is that we can prevent the planet from warming up if we reduce our carbon emissions by 50 percent within the next decade, which this administration has committed to doing that and other countries are now starting to come up with similar commitments, if we can do that, and reach carbon neutrality, no carbon emissions by 2050, we can keep the planet below one-and-a-half degrees Celsius, three degrees Fahrenheit, where we really start to see the worst consequences.

CABRERA: Mayor, Bound Brook is a flood-prone town given its proximity there to the Raritan River. The river rose over 40 feet last week. And you say your city was prepared for this. The U.S Corps of Engineers have completed the Green Brook Flood Control Project back in 2016. Still, as we can see, you had significant flooding.


Do you have a plan to take on climate change, not just flooding events?

FAZEN: Well, the plan is basically the only thing we can do here at the local level is, number one, we've installed electric charging stations for the commuters to park at. We've -- we're now in the process of purchasing electric vehicles for the municipality, which will reduce the carbon emissions. But I really think, most importantly, we really try to plant as many trees and get as much green as we possibly can to eat up some of the carbon emissions. And, hopefully, mathematically, we will be carbon neutral.

CABRERA: Michael, what do you think needs to happen in the northeast when it comes to infrastructure improvements in order to prepare for future storms like this?

MANN: Yes. Well, first of all, the mayor is to be commended for the actions that he's taking and the awareness that he's raising among the folks that he represents that we do have to respond at a local level, adaptation, increased resilience.

The impacts that we're seeing now are baked in. We're not going to be able to get rid of them. So we have to learn to deal with, to be more resilient in the face of these more destructive events, and that means certainly better infrastructure, levees and coastal defenses, things that we can do to increase our resilience.

But, look, if we let the planet warm up beyond one-and-a-half degrees Celsius, three degrees Fahrenheit, we're going to exceed our adaptive capacity as a civilization. So, we need to deal with the impacts that are baked in, but we have to prevent it from getting worse.

And planting trees can help at the edges, but there's no question, we have to stop burning fossil fuels. There can be no new fossil fuel infrastructure if we are to prevent the plan from warming into what is truly the danger zone.

CABRERA: And, Mayor, I know that you look at what you can do on the local level. That's where it starts, some of these changes, even though there's much more and a broader impact that can be felt if those changes are then, you know, expanded to a larger level to the federal level and beyond. But I appreciate you sharing the proactive measures you're taking in your community. I'm glad to hear that the flooding and the damage wasn't worse there. Thank you, Mayor Robert Fazen and Michael Mann. Thank you both for being with us.

FAZEN: Thank you. I appreciate it.

CABRERA: I don't think it's smart. I don't think it's smart. That is a quote from Dr. Fauci today telling CNN what he thinks about thousands of maskless fans packing college football stadiums. Look at that. We'll discuss.

Plus, the Taliban just announced a new caretaker government in Afghanistan and two officials sanctioned by the United States are part of this new government. What the White House is saying about that.

And it's official, after several attempts from Democrats to block it, Texas Governor Greg Abbott just signed one of the most controversial state election bills in recent history. What happens now?


CABRERA: As the U.S. surpasses 40 million coronavirus infections and cases and hospitalizations soar above levels from a year ago, pre- vaccine, we've learned President Biden will deliver a major speech this week, expected Thursday, on the next phase of the pandemic response.

Now, the timing is critical. A new Gallup poll finds 42 percent disagree that the president is communicating clearly on this issue. Much of the recent confusion has been over booster shots and whether they are needed. This morning, Dr. Fauci tried to clear this up.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It looks very much like it isn't has if two doses of a vaccine are failing. It's that the proper regimen will very likely, as we look back on it months from now, will be that three doses is really what you should be getting of an mRNA.

I believe strongly that, ultimately, we are going to see that as the proper regimen, three doses of an mRNA.


CABRERA: The administration is still targeting the week of September 20th for that third dose of the Pfizer vaccine to rollout with Moderna shortly after but some 70 million Americans still have not even received one dose of the vaccine, and those are of those eligible.

Now, the urgency couldn't be more clear with the delta variant rampant. Experts are worrying the new school year now in full swing after the Labor Day weekend will lead to a cascade of new cases in schools.

Let's bring in someone bearing the burden of this COVID surge, Sara Reynolds, Nurse Manager at Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix, and also with us, Dr. William Schaffner, infectious diseases professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Dr. Schaffner, first, the big picture, new cases nationwide were already three times higher this year compared to Labor Day of 2020. And last year, 31 states saw a surge in cases a couple weeks after the holiday weekend. Are we going to see that again?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Well, Ana, I think we're all concerned about that. The curve is going up. And, indeed, the activities over the holiday weekend could drive it even higher. Yes, we're concerned about that. We're hunkered down in hospitals because, obviously, as has been widely reported, hospitals are under stress.


Many new COVID case patients are being admitted. They're largely over 90 percent unvaccinated, and indeed, even our pediatric hospitals are seeing the impact. More and more children with serious COVID are being admitted. We still haven't gotten sufficient numbers of people in this country vaccinated, I'm afraid.

CABRERA: I don't know how you both are doing it. Right now, some 99,000 people are hospitalized. We know the U.S. is averaging nearly 1,500 COVID deaths a day right now. And, Sara, Arizona has seen a steep increase in COVID hospitalizations this summer. COVID patients now account for roughly one quarter of ICU beds statewide there. What does that look like on the ground?

SARA REYNOLDS, NURSE MANAGER, VALLEYWISE HEALTH MEDICAL CENTER: It's hard. It's hard work. These nurses were all exhausted. We're tired of doing -- we're tired of doing this. We've done it too many times before, and it makes us all very weary. We're tired emotionally, physically.

CABRERA: I'm sure. And we know there's a shortage of nurses right now, the American Nurses' Association calling the Department of Human Health and Services to declare it a national crisis. Is your team shorthanded? And if so, what is driving that?

REYNOLDS: Well, we just have too many patients for the amount of nurses that we have. We've lost a lot of nurses to travel assignments as well. And so our staff is running pretty thin as is. But it's mainly the inflow of patients that we don't have enough nurses for all the extra amount of patients, and they're such high acuity patients. They require a lot of manpower to take care of them.

CABRERA: What do you mean by that in terms of -- what do they require? Can you provide some more details to give us a sense of the, I guess, conditions the severity of illness you're seeing?

REYNOLDS: Well, these patients, they require complete, total care. They're on a ventilator. A lot of them are on continuous dialysis. There are multiple medications that we have to titrate continuously just to keep their blood pressure, their vital signs stable. A lot of times, they have to be turned over, which takes a team of at least five people. And it's just very labor intensive. And things are just -- they're so unstable that we're having to -- it's a constant thing. And when you have multiple patients that all require that much work, it makes it very hard to -- on the nurses. It makes it hard.

CABRERA: Yes. And that's -- you're talking more specifically about the COVID patients you're seeing, right?

REYNOLDS: Right, the COVID and the ICU. And even on the floor, they just go downhill so fast. The ones that are not in the ICU, they just -- they can decompensate so quickly that it also requires a whole lot of manpower to take care of them.

CABRERA: Dr. Schaffner, even though this surge is even worse in some states and in some parts of the country than at any other time during the pandemic, we are seeing relatively normal life, like packed football stadiums this weekend.

This morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed concern about that here on CNN. Listen.


FAUCI: No, I don't think it's smart. I think when you're dealing particularly -- outdoors is always better than indoors. But even when you have such a congregate setting of people close together, first, you should be vaccinated. And when you do have congregate settings, particularly indoors, you should be wearing a mask.


CABRERA: I just can't get over the pictures of those outdoor stadiums. Dr. Schaffner, even if these events are happening outdoors, are crowds like that safe?

SCHAFFNER: Oh, Ana, we wouldn't ever talk about being safe. I don't use that four-letter word. But these crowds do provide a risk. This delta variant is so readily spread that even outdoors where people are cheering and enthusiastic, exhaling with vigor, if there are people infected, they can infect people around them.

I looked at those television images. Nobody was wearing a mask at all. And I would be very surprised if we didn't have outbreaks here and there across the country related to these gatherings, these football stadium events in the coming weeks.

CABRERA: Sara, as a nurse on the frontlines, what goes through your mind seeing those images?

REYNOLDS: It's tough. It's like we're fighting this fight alone as health care workers. It's like none of the public seem to care as much. Everybody is more relaxed. Nobody is wearing masks anymore. And it's -- it's hard feeling like we're alone in this fight.


CABRERA: Well, you're not alone. We are so grateful for all that you do, both of you, for your ongoing dedication to keeping us safe and healthy, and to continuing to raise awareness about what you're experiencing. Dr. William Schaffner, Sara Reynolds, thank you both for being with us.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

REYNOLDS: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: The Taliban announcing a new interim government for Afghanistan. What this signals for the U.S., and how it deals or doesn't deal with the Taliban in the future.