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Erin Burnett Outfront

CDC: Delta Variant Now Makes Up More Than Half Of U.S. Cases; Biden Zeroes In On The Unvaccinated, "More Dangerous" Variant; Israeli Government Sees Decline In Pfizer Vaccine Efficacy; New Phase In Surfside: Reporters Gain Access To Site Tonight; New Forecast: Elsa Expected To Become A Hurricane Tonight Before Landfall Over The Northern Florida Gulf Coast; GOP Candidates Embrace Big Lie For 2022 Midterm Elections; GOP Seizes On Critical Race Theory, Stoking Parents' Fears, Anger. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired July 06, 2021 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WOLFBLITZER. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, the CDC just announcing the highly contagious Delta variant now makes up more than half of all new infections in the United States. This as President Biden makes an urgent new push to get more Americans vaccinated.

Plus, breaking news, Tropical Storm Elsa gaining strength, expected to become a hurricane closing in on Florida. Already the outer bands of the storm disrupting the search for victims in Surfside.

And the FBI just releasing nearly a dozen new videos that reveal the horror from both inside and outside the U.S. Capitol on the day of the deadly insurrection. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight breaking news, the CDC just announcing that the highly contagious Delta variant now makes up more than half of all new coronavirus infections in the United States. The variant showing to be much more transmissible than previous strains. And President Biden tonight sounding the alarm.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now as I speak to you, millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected. And because of that, their communities are at risk their friends are at risk. In today's briefing, we discussed how the Delta variant is already responsible for half of all cases, in many parts of this country. It's more easily transmissible, potentially more dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: More easily transmissible and potentially more dangerous.

This is why Biden's now rolling out a new strategy to slow the variant spread. They say they're going to make vaccines more accessible and to better explain why the vaccines are safe, which of course has been falling on deaf ears in certain parts of the United States.

For the President and health officials time is of the essence, because the Delta variant is raging across America. It is incredibly more transmissible. Cases are on average. Three times higher in states with lower vaccination rates. So just as an example, I'll show you the state of Mississippi tonight.

It has the worst vaccination rate in the country with only 30 percent of people fully vaccinated. Cases there on the rise, up 34 percent from a month ago according to the seven day average. You can see what happens, low vaccinations, higher infections.

Mississippi not alone, though, because 11 states are seeing an increase in the number of new cases. Many of those states have rates of fully vaccinated people below the national average, which is still below 50 percent.

In Texas tonight, health officials are confirming that the Delta variant turned up in at least three samples from an outbreak at a church camp that left 147 people infected with the virus. Now, in a moment I'm going to speak to a doctor from Galveston County.

The spike in cases is also taking a toll on America's health care system. In southwestern Missouri tonight, one hospital having to transfer COVID patients because they're overwhelmed. I mean to transfer them to other hospitals.

And then on top of all of this, there is this as the Delta variant spreads there are new questions about the effectiveness of the vaccines themselves against the variant. The Israeli government says its analysis found that the Pfizer mRNA vaccine provides only 64 percent protection against infection. That number was 95 percent in May.

Kaitlan Collins is OUTFRONT. President Biden tonight, Kaitlan, saying that millions of Americans are at risk as low vaccination rates collide with the Delta variant, which is obviously spreading so quickly in parts of the United States. So when we talk about a change in strategy to make vaccines easier to get, I mean, what does that actually mean? What's the actual plan here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that's still a big question facing the White House, because they feel like they've done so much. And so the question of what else can we do differently now that we've essentially thrown everything at this is really what's facing them.

And you saw President Biden outline a few steps that he wanted to focus on today in this renewed push to get vaccinated. A lot of those steps are steps that they're already taking. And so you're realizing that the White House is kind of hitting this wall of what do we do when we're in this situation, because they are walking a fine line when it comes to COVID-19 in between celebrating where we are right now as a country and marking the progress that has been made. I mean, you see that new cases and deaths are down dramatically nationwide.

But Erin, on the other side of that is this new variant that is spreading wildly across the United States. And as you noted, the CDC now says the Delta variant accounts for more than half of the new cases in the United States. And so that is something that is top of mind for President Biden and his top aides.

And so we met with his top health advisors today. We are told that he has inquired about what is this impact from the Delta variant going to look like. And he came out and said today the people who are concerned about here are not those who are vaccinated, it's the unvaccinated. Because not only were we concerned about you from before for being unvaccinated, something we've been talking about for months, that fear is now coming pounded by the fact that this variant is so wildly going across the United States and it's so much more contagious based on what health experts have seen.


So that is what they've got to combat here and that's what they have to deal with going forward is the concerns about those areas where it's a potentially deadly combination. Low vaccination rates and a high circulation of this Delta variance.

So that is what they're facing right now. They're not sure what it's going to look like in a few weeks. They're hoping that given the numbers have changed in this so much better given, the more vulnerable population is vaccinated. They're hoping that is going to be the key to the success here. But they want to make sure that people know that just because a lot of people have gotten vaccinated it does not mean that this is over (inaudible) ...

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Kaitlan. And certainly not, I mean, everyone, if you do the math, if it's a raging, all of a sudden that if it's 93 percent effective against death, all of a sudden that 7 percent starts to matter if it's raging all over. That's part of the issue here.

Professor William Haseltine is with me, Groundbreaking HIV/AIDS Researcher. And Professor Haseltine, let me just ask you first to react to what the CDC is saying. The Delta variant now makes up more than half of all known cases in the United States. It's a growth - it's obviously incredibly more transmissible. We've seen that around the world and it could be even worse than they're saying, but more than half. What's your reaction to those numbers now we're formerly hearing them?

DR. WILLIAM HASELTINE, GROUNDBREAKING HIV/AIDS RESEARCHER: Well, first of all, it is very concerning because the Delta variant is perhaps 10 times more transmissible than the original variants that were circulating this time last year, much, much more. Very transient exposure, somebody walks through a mall, you might contract this virus. The lesson is get vaccinated if at all possible. You get vaccinated

when you can. This is very dangerous. And not only is it more transmissible, there's increasing evidence that once you get it, you're more likely to end up in the hospital twice as likely to end up in the hospital.

BURNETT: So let me ask you that about given what you're saying there, which is very sobering, the new analysis out of Israel. So they say there's a drop in vaccine protection against the Delta variant. They're talking about the Pfizer vaccine, which - it's is an mRNA proxy for Moderna as well, but they're specifically mentioning Pfizer, saying it only provides 64 percent protection against infection.

Now, that number was 95 percent in a study from May. So obviously just in terms of being able to get in and possibly retransmit it. That's a dramatic shift. To a lay person, it sounds that way. Does it sound that way to you?

HASELTINE: Well, let me talk about the good news first. The good news is that the vaccines are still protecting people from dying. There been no deaths in Israel. However, the news out of Israel is a little bit of a chill wind in a sense that we are hoping the vaccines, the Pfizer vaccines, Moderna vaccines, the mRNA vaccines in particular would really give you robust protection against infection and transmission. It seems that these new variants and variants to come may be able to get around that absolute protection or that near absolute protection, so it is worrying from that perspective.

BURNETT: So let me ask you here because, obviously, the severe death rate is better. I mean, it's statistically extremely significant to have a protection rate go from 98 to 93, that's a very significant drop but it's still very good, right? I get that.


BURNETT: The question is, if someone's vaccinated, they get a breakthrough case. Could they be at risk for long COVID symptoms and how do you contextualize this, Professor, in the context of The Wall Street Journal reporting almost half of the recent deaths in the U.K. are in the fully vaccinated population?

HASELTINE: Well, the first thing to say in terms of that is most people in America have been vaccinated with the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine, which is more effective than the vaccines that have been used on the whole in the U.K. So those who are vaccinated here have a higher degree of protection.

We've always known that breakthroughs can cause disease. Breakthroughs can also cause death. But they're far less frequent in those vaccinated, far, far less. Perhaps 50 to 100 times less frequent than what occurs in unvaccinated people. Bottom line, get vaccinated.

BURNETT: All right. Professor, I appreciate your time. And I thank you.

I want to go now, as promised, to Dr. Philip Keiser. He is the local health authority for Galveston County. And Doctor, I appreciate your time. I mean, I know this is sobering for you. You're dealing with an outbreak in your county with 40, I'm sorry, 147 people testing positive for the virus after a church summer camp.

Do you believe this outbreak was able to move so quickly through the camp because of the Delta variant? I mean, you just heard the Professor saying that variant is likely, at least, 10 times more contagious than the original coronavirus.


DR. PHILIP KEISER, LOCAL HEALTH AUTHORITY, GALVESTON COUNTY, TX: Yes. No, we believe that this is the Delta variant. We have now, actually, since we talked earlier, we're probably up to almost 160 cases that have been confirmed. We were able to do some typing preliminary on some of the cases. And the three tests that we got back on those preliminary things that we got back from last week are positive for Delta.

So to my mind, there is no doubt that this is the Delta variant and it's spreading very rapidly in this population.

BURNETT: So I don't know if you're telling the numbers have gone up to at least 160. I know, it's a moving target, Doctor.

KEISER: Right.

BURNETT: But I also understand to this crucial question people have, obviously, most of them weren't vaccinated but at least six of the people who tested positive were vaccinated. So those appear to be breakthrough cases. That is sobering for anybody. Can you tell me anymore about those or about what you take away from that information?

KEISER: Yes. So right now we have six people that were vaccinated and one of them we actually confirmed it was the Delta variant. So again, I think that's sobering information. You say six isn't that many, but if you realize that in our entire county, we've had only about 100 breakthroughs of people that have been vaccinated who got infected out of 170 some thousand people who have been vaccinated, and now we have 150 people and six of them are positive.

So it does really suggest that the variant is not only more transmissible, but it is also - the vaccine doesn't protect against it as well as it does against the wild type virus.

BURNETT: So are you able to tell us anything about, I guess, first let's talk about the vaccination situation in your county. I understand that about 57 people eligible to be vaccinated have received at least one dose. That's good. I mean, you're above 50, you're not where you should be or anybody wants to be. But you're better than a lot of places, I realized that.

I also know after the first dose, of course, as you and I both know, you need the second dose. It's crucial.

KEISER: That's correct. BURNETT: Do you think that the story that you're facing now is going

to help you get people over this line, get people to get vaccinated or not?

KEISER: Well, we hope so. When we look at people that have been vaccinated, those over 65, we're over 80 percent with shots in arms. But it's with the younger people that were really lagging. When we look at people under 20, we're only about 20 to 25 percent of those people that had been vaccinated. So we have a long way to go with this group.

And of course, this is a church camp for 12 to about 18 year olds, so most of them were in that age group. Some are older, because they were parents and counselors. Some were younger. They got to go along with their older siblings. But most of them are in that age group that were unvaccinated.

So we're assuming a significant portion of these folks were unvaccinated. A lot of people have a lot of objections to getting vaccinated, and they've kind of developed over the year or so. But I think the most important thing to say is that we've given this fact these vaccines to over a hundred million people in America and we know that they're safe. There's really no rational reason and it's time. It's just time to do it.

We've got vaccine. We've got plenty of it. We can get you done tomorrow if you'd like. And it's very important that you get vaccinated not just to protect yourself, but particularly for the younger people to protect other people in your household, to protect elderly people, to protect those people that are still at risk.

The other point you bring out is that people are even though kids are less likely to get sick, you get a lot of them infected. Some of them are going to get really sick and some of them are going to have bad outcomes, so we want to avoid that.

BURNETT: Right. No, that's true and I think it's a really important point you raise, especially with something that is so hugely contagious that we are going to see that and hopefully that's not the wakeup call required for people. Thank you very much, Doctor, I appreciate your time tonight.

KEISER: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next breaking news, the death toll climbing as crews recover eight more people from the site of a sudden condo collapse, all of them dead.

Plus Tropical Storm Elsa gaining strength and racing toward Florida now expected to become a hurricane before making landfall.

And the FBI tonight releasing chilling new videos from January 6th, including new images of rioters harassing officers who were blocking the Senate chamber doors. I'm going to talk to the long-term partner of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick (inaudible) ...



BURNETT: Tonight, Tropical Storm Elsa now forecast to become a hurricane. The storm churning near Florida, right now maximum sustained winds of 70 miles an hour and going up, as we said, anticipated to be a hurricane. The wind gusts are threatening to disrupt the search for victims in Surfside, Florida where eight bodies have been recovered since yesterday with a formal death toll now at 36 with 109 people still unaccounted for.

I want to go live to the scene. Rosa Flores is actually just now getting access to the actual rescue site itself. Rosa, this is the first time you've been able really to be inside there. It's incredible what you're able to see, please tell us.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, more than anything, first of all, I want to warn our viewers, because I know that so many people around the world and around the country know people or have family members who are related to this collapse. I just want to warn you that these images might be difficult for you to watch because this is the first time that we're getting this close access to this collapsed building.

As you might imagine, you can feel the pain. You can feel the urgency here from all of the first responders that are surrounding us. Now, what you're looking at is what is left of the demolition that happened on Sunday. That's what this front portion of the building is. This is what's known as the alpha portion in the grid search that search and rescue team are using to find signs of life, to find survivors, beyond this first pile of rubble. Then you'll see heavy machinery equipment, a crane.


Those are the tools that are being used right now to search for survivors and you can see that these cranes rise up to the sky. They have American flags flying that almost seem like they touch the sky. I can tell you from talking to search and rescue teams here, there's about 200 search and rescue personnel on this site right now.

They are very carefully sifting through this rubble. They only bring and use the heavy machinery when they feel it's safe. First, before that happens, every single piece of this rubble that they come in contact with, they methodically analyze their movements, because any movement could be catastrophic.

Now, this is still a search and rescue effort at this hour. That's what we heard from search and rescue teams and officials. They have not given a timeline as to when this will move into a recovery phase. They say that their focus right now is on saving lives.

Erin, I can tell you from talking to one of the families, I made it a point to talk to one of the families before coming to the site just because I knew this was going to be so impactful. The one thing that this family member said is he just wanted to get a closer look of the efforts that are being done here to search for survivors. That was their focus.

This one man says that he is running out of hope, because it has been 13 days. But as you can see, the search and effort here has not stopped.

And as I look closely, Erin, I can also see some of the dangers that the search and rescue teams are facing. You can see the thick concrete. The mangled rebar and I know that it's so important for the families to know and to see firsthand the work that is being done to find their loved ones.

It's also important for them to see some of the dangers that that these men and women face. I know that when families visited this site, they witnessed one of the personnel tumbled 25 feet down the pile of debris. Those are some of the dangers that they're exposing themselves to make sure that they work around the clock.

They are working 12-hour shifts. Many of these men and women only take breaks to check their oxygen levels, to check their pulse to make sure that they're in the physical condition necessary to continue searching.

So Erin, as you take a look at this pile of rubble we know that so many people around the world know people whose lives perished here or who are hoping that their loved ones come out alive. Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Rosa, thank you very much. And, of course, as you look at that, the devastation, 109 people are inside that they're - hope for a miracle, but you're looking at, of course, what we know was the grave site for at least 36 people there on your screen.

And as they are desperately, you hear Rosa saying, they're just trying not even to take breaks to try to desperately race against time here. They're also racing against now the storm. Heavy rains, strong winds and tornadoes are all now threatening the coast because of Elsa, forecast to be a hurricane upon landing in Florida.

I want to go now to meteorologist Tom Sater to just get the - obviously, people are hoping here against hope, Tom. They don't want to lose time in the search. And, of course, you now have this storm. Tell me about where it may hit and what conditions it may bring.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST AND WEATHER ANCHOR: Well, Erin, first let's start with the operation there in Surfside. It looks like they're mainly clear or not clear, but at least dry the cloud covers with them. They had the worst of it earlier when a good band moved into that, but it's nothing worse than they've been putting up with for 13 days, so good news for them and their operation as far as the weather concerned.

Just moments ago, the team and a hurricane hunter aircraft have taken off to go investigate once again. By the time they get there, I think it's going to be a little too late for the APM (ph) advisory to lift Elsa to Hurricane status, but it's coming.

The last few images here on this loop, you can see how bright and how expanding this area of red and purple is. That means it's getting stronger. So it's going to become most likely a category one hurricane sometime this evening or overnight before landfall up in the Big Bend area.

The hurricane warning in place is the first time that the West Coast here of Florida has seen a hurricane warning since Hurricane Michael, terrible hurricane three years ago in 2018. Last night they increased the surge up to five feet. I'm very concerned now when it comes to Venice.

Everyone who lives in the inlets up to Tampa Bay and everyone who lives in Tampa Bay; Tampa, Sarasota, St. Pete. But again it is getting stronger, lightning shows that and as it makes its way toward a landfall at sunrise up in the Big Bend, that's a good place because it's mostly uninhabited.


We do have a tornado watch till 11. That'll be extended. But to give you an idea how rare this is, to have a hurricane make landfall in July on the West Coast of Florida, the last time was 134 years ago, 1886, before they were even named. So we've got a long night ahead of us. It will be downgraded as it makes its way into the Carolinas, but reemerge off the coast of Norfolk and become a tropical storm once again.

BURNETT: All right. Tom, thank you very much.

And next breaking news of the disturbing new video we are getting just now from January 6th. We're learning about new security concerns tonight also at the U.S. Capitol.

Plus, Republicans across the country now campaigning on Trump's election lie.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We already know that there is fraud.



BURNETT: Breaking news, videos just released showing more of the violence and chaos both inside and outside the US Capitol on January 6, Insurrection Day, this is new video, this is surveillance video from the Justice Department. It shows the rioters actually harassing Capitol police officers who were trying to block the Senate chamber until they were able to force them out of the way and of course, they broke the doors open and stormed in.

Seconds later, rioters are seen taunting one of the officers showing their fists in a fighting like stance as you can see there. The FBI is now releasing nearly a dozen new videos from outside the Capitol as well. They are still trying to identify rioters who assaulted law enforcement. Here is one of the new clips. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)


BURNETT: These new videos come as we are hearing a growing concerns of more pro-Trump related violence this summer, multiple Capitol police officers telling CNN that now, nowhere near enough is being done to prepare them for any such threats. One officer telling CNN "We haven't made any changes to prepare for it, zero. That's what I'm worried about."

OUTFRONT now, the long-time partner of fallen Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, Sandra Garza.


And, Sandra, I am -- I appreciate you being back on with me tonight. I'm sorry because today is exactly six months, and yet, we're now seeing I appreciate you being back here with me. I appreciate you being back here with me.

I'm sorry because today is exactly six months, and we're seeing new video showing taunts against officers like Brian. You hear that officer's quote to CNN, though, about how things now, worried that they've done no preparation, and no changes, anything, zero, for other possible violence. How hard is this for you to believe, Sandra?

SANDRA GARZA, PARTNER OF FALLEN CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER BRIAN SICKNICK: It's really unbelievable, Erin. Here we are six months and the officers feel like nothing has barely changed.

It's very disturbing, especially given that, you know, FBI Director Wray came out not that long ago and issued the report about the QAnon conspiracy theorists that now they feel like they want to go from not just digital soldiers but actually on the ground soldiers and are really considering -- or considered to be a real threat as well as what he said earlier, that domestic terrorism is truly on the rise.

I mean, those things combined, and given that they're looking at the fencing coming down soon, it's a nightmare. It's very terrifying.

BURNETT: When you talk about that morale in the department seems to be extremely low. Union leaders are now saying more than 75 officers have left since January 6. I know in my conversations with you, that decent surprise you, this doesn't surprise you. But for viewers to understand, that's about three officers a week if you want to look it that way.

One of them telling CNN, we're losing guys left and right. The young guys don't want to be here, and the old guys who are eligible are just rolling out. I mean, I know, Sandra, you have spent so much time speaking with officers and their families, you know, who worked with Officer Sicknick.


BURNETT: What do they tell you about morale and why so many are leaving, how they feel about others leaving?

GARZA: Well, that's exactly right. Morale is at an all-time low. They're very upset that they don't have a chief. I know for a fact that they have been asking for a specific person. They want inspector Tom Lloyd as their new chief. I know he put in for it. They like him. I know Brian was a big fan of his. He's a good leader.

On January 6, he was out there side by side with them. He was relieving officers, letting them go and get medical treatment. Actually, "The New York Times" included him in an article on January 14th saying how he was doing just that, you know, fighting side by side with the officers and, you know, being a true leader.

And that's not to throw anyone else under the bus, it's just to say, you know what, if they want to improve morale among the officers and not lose any more officers, they need to listen to what they want.

And when you have a good leader -- and believe me, in this kind of job, that's everything, having a good leader.


GARZA: And when you have a good leader, you know, you retain employees, you know, you can actually recruit new employees because people are happier, they feel respected. And, you know, also, the congressional members and all the employees in the Capitol are at a safer, you know, level because you have a good leader that can give direction under a lot of pressure and stress.

And again, that's not to throw anybody else under the bus. I'm not trying to throw, you know, Chief Sund under the bus, but I think, you know, given everything Capitol Police have been through, they still haven't gotten the congressional medal of honor. What they're doing is absolutely terrible.

I was told off the record that the Republican members that are out parading around with Donald Trump, you know, they're on camera saying, you know, January 6 wasn't a big day, but then behind the scenes, they're buying them pizzas and donuts. It's like, you know what, so they can buy them pizza and donuts but they don't care if they get murdered?

I mean, you know, the logic in this is just outrageous. They need to cut this out and do something. And, again, this isn't -- I mean, of course, you know, I'm out here because I love Brian and I'm doing what's right for Brian and his colleagues, but also we're talking about democracy, too, right, and the safety of all the innocents in the building.

BURNETT: Right, right. And you and I have talked about that. All these people who risked their lives and did that every day and of course they're dealing with people who are saying it wasn't a big deal.


And, you know, it's not about Trump and all of those things. I know you've met with many Republicans who have given you that feeling, right, Sandra, in response to why they don't support these medals of honor, which are so crucial and so deserved.

GARZA: Absolutely.

BURNETT: To that I want to bring up again the date today, Sandra. It's six months to the day. As I said right before we spoke before a national audience, I said, I know every day is hard, but an anniversary is an anniversary and you think about that. Today there was a statement from the Capitol Police Department. I just want to read a part of it about Brian.

They said: We will never forget USCP Officer Brian Sicknick who died after the attack nor the sacrifices of the nearly 150 law enforcement officers who were injured. We honor all the brave men and women who, against all odds, faced down a violent crowd that day and protected our elect leaders and everyone else who was in the Capitol complex.

And I know, you know, you speak out because you want people to know what happened. You want the truth to be told. You want the recognition that Brian deserves. To everyone watching tonight, you know, how do you want them to honor the sacrifice of Officer Livengood as well as Brian?

GARZA: Yeah, and I would also add Officer Jeffrey Smith and the other officers. I know you care so deeply about this, Erin. I mean, you've invited me back to your show as well, but the officer who lost an eye, officers who suffered concussions, I mean, unseen injuries, right? I mean, you know, PTSD, all of that.

But I really want people to call these Republican members of Congress who refuse to admit what happened that day. They need to be, you know -- I hate to use -- "harass" is not the right word because I don't want anybody harassing anybody, but they need to call them and say, look, you know, this is wrong what you're doing. This is about justice. This is about the safety of our country.

And that's -- I think that's what everybody wants who is looking for a healthy outcome. And it would honor their memory appropriately. Them trying to sweep this under the rug is not honoring their memory.

And I just want to add, too, I'm so appreciative of Representative Liz Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger for having the courage to speak out, and all the other brave, you know, couple handfuls of Republicans who are doing the same and thinking about our country.

BURNETT: Sandra, thank you very much. And I know it is -- it is fair and it is right to point that out, but, of course, it is the mass of the Republican Party, still, where you see people who are denying what happened and its significance. And now, you have Republican candidates embracing Trump's big lie and the rigged election.

Is their baseless claim really a winning message? We're going to be talking about that right after this break.

Plus, it's become a flashpoint in schools across the country. So, no doubt you've heard of CRT. But here's the most important thing: what is critical race theory?



BURNETT: Tonight, campaigning on the big lie. Hundreds of Republican candidates, hundreds, you did hear me correctly, that's according to "The Washington Post", are running for local, state and federal office on a platform, a platform pushing Donald Trump's false claim that the United States presidential election was stolen.

Why are they embracing a lie?

Sara Murray is OUTFRONT.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Wren Williams, seizing on the election fraud narrative in his bid for the Virginia House of Delegates was an easy call.

WREN WILLIAMS (R), NOMINEE FOR VIRGINIA STATE DELEGATE: Well, it's pretty hard to forego campaigning as one of Donald Trump's legal attorneys in the 2020 election, you know, when that is the national role that I played.

MURRAY: Williams represented former president Donald Trump in his unsuccessful bid to challenge the election results in Wisconsin.

WILLIAMS: I've seen enough discrepancies throughout at least Wisconsin that would overturn the whole Wisconsin election.

MURRAY: There's minimal evidence of election disparities and no sign of widespread fraud. Even so, he used election fraud concerns to win his GOP primary, beating out the incumbent.

Now, Williams is calling for more election safeguards.

WILLIAMS: I pushed back and I tell you, there is not one single case of election fraud? And they're like, well, it's not widespread election fraud. How much is enough? Like how much is too much?

MURRAY: He argues his fraud concerns are a far cry from peddling conspiracies.

WILLIAMS: I understand your concern. There are issues like what I am saying and there are issues like the cracking (ph).

MURRAY: Voting rights advocates don't see much of a difference.

SYLVIA ALBERT, DIRECTOR OF VOTING AND ELECTIONS, COMMON CAUSE: I think they're all coming from the same place of promoting the big lie and undermining people's faith in the elections. The way they do it might be more palatable and that might be just the way they've learned to sell themselves, but it really is coming from the same place. MURRAY: Across the country, Republican candidates are campaigning on

the baseless claim that fraud was a rampant problem in the 2020 election. Some are still falsely claiming Donald Trump was robbed of a victory.

ALBERT: I'm not at all surprised it has become a campaign platform.

MURRAY: Kristina Karamo is campaigning in Michigan, after claiming Trump actually won the state which he lost by more than 145,000 votes.


MURRAY: While post-election audits, a Republican-controlled Senate committee and even Trump's former Attorney General Bill Barr found no evidence of widespread fraud in Michigan, Karamo is still calling for audits in the style of a widely panned Maricopa County, Arizona review.

KARAMO: People mocking the audit are really ignorant. No, common sense tells you if someone is doing something effectively, you learn from them, that way you can replicate the process yourself.


MURRAY: In Arizona, their secretary of state candidate and current State Representative Mark Finchem.

MARK FINCHEM, ARIZONA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: We already know that there is fraud.

MURRAY: He's taken his fraud claim to at least one podcaster supportive of QAnon, as well as to Washington, where he was spotted outside the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 insurrection, though he says --

FINCHEM: A lot of step, I never came anywhere near the entry point for the Capitol.

MURRAY: Finchem still touts his belief that the Arizona audit could somehow upended Biden's victory in the state.

FINCHEM: What I would be in favor is reclaiming our electors. If you have enough states to pull those back and you get below 270, we now have an illegitimate president.

MURRAY: But seizing on election fraud as the campaign talking point has its drawbacks, as Wren Williams is finding.

WILLIAMS: Now I have this issue show up that basically people aren't willing to trust the system, and I'm like, look, we need you to vote.


MURRAY: Now, Williams is in a pretty conservative district in Virginia. He's well-positioned to win his race. It's unclear what's going to happen with Finchem and Karamo. We submitted questions to them, try to get them to cooperate with this piece, they did not want to answers questions, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Sara, thank you very much.

I want to get straight to Scott Jennings. He's the former senior advisor to Mitch McConnell, and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

So, Scott, you know, you got hundreds of Republicans who are, you know, obviously, believe that they can win by echoing Trump's false claim that the election was stolen. I mean, it's pretty stunning. You know, you're in Michigan, a state that he lost by more than 154,000 votes and the message is he won.

Here's a question to you, just from the political perspective here, strategy perspective, is that really a winning message? Is it going to work?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, certainly effective in Republican primaries right now where candidates are trying to do -- outdo each other on who is more loyal to Donald Trump, so buying into that message helps you achieve that goal. Where I think it becomes more problematic, if you're not running in a really red area in a general election, if you're running in a purple area, it's going to be a problematic message.

I don't know if it will be enough, frankly, Erin, to derail Republican chances to win back the House in 2022 midterm. But I think as we get into 2024, if the Republican Party intends to make the centerpiece of its platform relitigating the 2020 election, there is virtually no chance to win back the White House.

So, Donald Trump is our party's nominee, of course. That's exactly what he'll want to do. If he's not the nominee, that person eventually I think is going to have say out loud into a camera, Joe Biden is a legitimate president and now, let me explain why you should vote for me.

BURNETT: It's amazing to think that someone should have to say such a thing, but this is the reality we live in, Scott.

The question for you, though, is -- you talk about it might work in these elections. Those sound bites are there. They live. You cannot take that back. Does that matter? You're on the record saying it's stolen, it's stolen, and then in two years you want people to kind of forget you said that?

JENNINGS: I think it greatly depends on your jurisdiction. If you live in an area where Donald Trump did quite well, I doubt it's going to be very hurtful. But if you're in a purple area or blue area or you're trying to win a seat of a Democrat or you got to talk to a bunch of swing voters, if you happen to live in one of those kinds of jurisdictions, like a lot of the Senate races will be in '22, yeah, it's going to be very problematic. And as I said, I think even in '24, Republicans are going to have to

make the case of American people of why they should entrust us again with the most awesome power in the land, the presidency of the United States, and if we go into that election re-litigating 2020 with a lie, I don't know that they're going to entrust us with that power again.

BURNETT: All right. Scott, thanks. Always appreciate it.

JENNINGS: Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, teaching about race and racism, leading to parents clashing with teachers and school officials. So what exactly is critical race theory?



BURNETT: Tonight, teaching the truth is not radical or wrong. That was the message today from the president of one of the largest teachers' unions in the United States who are fighting back, as Republican leaders in several states try to restrict how teachers teach racism in the classroom.

Elle Reeve is OUTFRONT.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are thousands of parents who have been speaking out against CRT and rightfully so. These are my babies, not yours. If you are embarrassed or ashamed of your skin color, that's your issue, not mine nor my children.

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a school board meeting in a suburb of Philadelphia, where a small group are speaking out against critical race theory or CRT.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not want our children to be taught that America is systemically racist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Six hundred thousand people died in the Civil War to end racism and slavery. Don't rewrite factual history or indoctrinate. Just present the facts.

REEVE: In the wake of protests of the murder of George Floyd, Republican politicians have been hyping critical race theory as a threat to the impressionable minds of America's children.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Critical race theory says every white person is a racist. Critical race theory says America is fundamentally racist and you're irredeemable racist.

REEVE: In more than 12 states, legislators have proposed bills to ban CRT. We wanted to meet the people working with actual kids in actual schools.

So, we talked to Keziah Ridgeway who teaches high school African- American history and discusses CRT in her anthropology class.

Can I just start with a very simple, what is critical race theory?

KEZIAH RIDGEWAY, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: Yes. Critical race theory is not being taught in schools. It is a theory. It is a lens by which to view history in the way that law and race kind of overlaps and connects in society.

Can it influence the way that some teachers teach? Yeah. But that's a good thing. Right? Because race and racism is literally the building blocks of this country. So, how can you not talk about it?

REEVE: Critical race theory is an academic framework that says racial inequality is perpetuated by racism embedded in American laws, not by individual bigotry.

But relentless propaganda from some conservatives has created a panic that white people and especially white children are under attack.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Critical race theory is teaching people to hate our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Schools are embracing this ideology and forcing white students and white teachers to be ashamed of their own skin color.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not critical race theory. It's racism.

RIDGEWAY: These are systemic things. Ignoring it perpetuates the problem. By acknowledging it, we can find solutions. And we can address the problems in inequality that exists. I think teaching it this way does the opposite of what these people say it does.

REEVE: Are you teaching children to hate America?

RIDGEWAY: No. I'm teaching children to question America.


And that's what makes a good patriot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't force on our kids a particular world view. They can go wide brush in painting this country as structurally racist. It's insane.

REEVE: Why is it insane, though? I mean --


REEVE: Last year, Elana Fishbein says she received an e-mail from her kids' school that students would be learning more about race. She thought the materials were racist. So, she pulled her kids out of public school. She created an advocacy group, No Left Turn in Education, to draw attention to her claim that CRT is poisoning young minds. This isn't just in history. In the '90s, the crime bill gave much more

severe sentencing to crack cocaine versus powder cocaine simply because black people were perceived just doing crack cocaine and white people --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ask Joe Biden why he did that? Ask Joe Biden --

REEVE: That's a great question. Joe Biden I think is a perfect illustration, right? Joe Biden would present himself as a nice guy who would never have a racist bone in his body. Yet, he participated in creating these laws that have a structural effect of affecting black people more than white.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you don't have them now.

REEVE: People affected by that law are still alive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are talking about something different now. This is my taxpayer's money. I don't want it to go to indoctrinate kids that then are going to hate my kids because of the color of their skin and attack them because of the color of their skin.

What happened in the summer, it twisted the minds of all kids. My kids can be attacked by Antifa kids or BLM kids if they're not black. They are white like my kids. But they are believing, they were indoctrinated. They internalize this philosophy.

REEVE: Were your children beat up by Antifa kids?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I beg your pardon?

REEVE: Were your children beat up by Antifa kids?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm talking, it's going to happen if we are not going to stop it. But we are going to stop it. We are. We are the great majority of this country.

REEVE: Anti-CRT propaganda is drawing crowds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, I'm against critical race theory.

REEVE: More than 100 people showed up at this diner near Baltimore where local Republican groups held a panel on school COVID shutdowns and CRT.

What is critical race theory?

SAM JONES, COLLEGE REPUBLICAN: Critical race theory is the idea that's taught to our nation's youth that the way you are born contributes to the amount of success you can achieve in this country. States that white people are born with everything and if you are not white, you are born with nothing.

REEVE: Can you name any critical race theory scholars?

JONES: Probably not. REEVE: Can you name any critical race concepts?

JONES: I don't know what the concepts are. I think -- I think -- I summarized critical race theory as a whole pretty well.

CRAIG LEWIS, COLLEGE REPUBLICAN: To paint the country as a inherently racist country from its founding I think is dangerous.

REEVE: The three-fifths compromise is written into the Constitution in which slaves are counted as three-fifths of a person.

LEWIS: Of course, that was applied at an earlier time. That's not the case now.

REEVE: Well, you just mentioned the founding of the country. So --

LEWIS: Yeah. It wasn't perfectly written in the Constitution.

REEVE: When did you first heard about critical race theory?

MEKKAH X MOHAMMMED, CONCERNED PARENT: Sometime around last year.

REEVE: Where did you see it?

MOHAMMED: On Fox News.

The idea you can succeed based on your race is ludicrous. This is not the 1960s anymore. Just because of your skin color does not mean that you cannot be successful here in America. Point blank, period.

RIDGEWAY: I teach these books for my anthropology class.

REEVE: Are you teaching white kids to hate themselves for being white?


REEVE: Are you teaching black kids that there is nothing they can do to improve their situation?

RIDGEWAY: Absolutely not.

REEVE: There's racism and they can never fight it to so they should give up?

RIDGEWAY: Absolutely not. I'm creating free thinkers and future politicians and lawyers and teachers and change makers. Our kids are smart. They know what's happening. And I think we do them a disservice by continuing to pretend critical race theory is the issue when it's really you just don't want kids to learn the truth, because not only do they become critical thinkers, they also become voters.

And that is what's scaring a lot of these people, because they know as this generation gets older, a lot of these people that are making laws will be voted out of office.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BURNETT: So, Elie, I know you spoke to parents and activists in

Philadelphia for your story, but you've done so much reporting on this. How widespread is it?

REEVE: Yeah, we are seeing conflicts over CRT pop up across the country. For example, our crew just dropped by one meeting to see if someone might show up and talk about it, and two people did.

While this conflict and panic is based on misinformation, the fear these people feel is real. We saw a woman cry real tears at the thought that her child was being taught to be ashamed for being white.

BURNETT: Wow. It's incredible. Reports like yours make a difference. And, Elle, thank you so much.

REEVE: Thank you.

BURNETT: And thanks very much to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.