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New Day

COVID Deaths Surpass 1918 Pandemic; Rain Headed to Midwest and Northeast; New Video of Border Patrol Agents Confronting Migrants; Gary Fineout is Interviewed about Florida Election Law; Ken Burns Comments on Current Era. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 21, 2021 - 06:30   ET



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): True that back in 1918 the population was a third of what it is today. But that entire population was at the mercy of the pandemic because there were no vaccines.

But today, a different problem in the United States. A reluctance to use the vaccines, the very tool our ancestors wish they had had.

DR. HENRY BERNSTEIN, FORMER MEMBER, CDC ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON IMMUNIZATION PRACTICES: It's the unvaccinated that are driving this present surge that's resulting in many hospitalizations' need for intensive care unit, and also the record number of deaths that we're seeing.

DR. KIERSTIN KENNEDY, UAB CHIEF OF HOSPITAL MEDICINE: We have had some capacity open up, and it is not because these patients are miraculously getting better and going home. It's because they're dying.

GUPTA: Federal health officials now say we're in a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

XAVIER BECERRA HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: When 99 percent of the people who are dying of COVID today don't have a vaccine, that's the -- that's perfect proof that you need to be vaccinated.

GUPTA: It all raises an uncomfortable question, what are we willing to accept when it comes to deaths? This is the death toll over time so far, 1,000 in March of 2020, 300,000 by the end of last year, twice that many by this summer. Some now ask, could there be a million tragic deaths before this is all over?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: I certainly hope not. I hope not. I don't believe at all that that is something that is an inevitability by any means. If we get the overwhelming proportion of our population vaccinated, we're not going to see that at all.

GUPTA: But that means getting most of some 70 million eligible adults vaccinated, an effort that's been poisoned by politics and misinformation, the worst it has been in a hundred years. DR. HOWARD MARKEL, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN CENTER FOR THE HISTORY OF

MEDICINE: It's never been this level of anger and politicization and distrust.

GUPTA: 2021 isn't 1918. They lacked the science to prevent 675,000 deaths. Whereas we, to a great extent, have lacked the will.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Our thanks to Sanjay for that.

This morning, the White House is condemning disturbing new video that shows law enforcement charging migrants at the border.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, Republicans say their new election laws are designed to prevent fraud, but brand-new evidence out of Florida shows that is not the case.



KEILAR: This morning, some stunning new images that show California's famed groves of giant sequoias wrapped in a fire retarded aluminum foil as crews are desperately trying to save them from fires that are burning through the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains. That includes one of the largest trees in the world, the General Sherman.

Meantime, rain is on the way for the Midwest and the Northeast.

Chad Myers joining us now with a look here.

I mean those pictures out of California, that is just, you know -- especially as a Californian, Chad, I will tell you, I've never seen anything like it.


No, and we had a wind event there yesterday and a little bit more today. That will, again, increase the fire danger out there. We've had 86, 87 days in a row with the fire danger being the highest number possible on the fire rating category.

So, here we go.

But, yes, cold air is coming into the northeast, along with rainfall. And a beautiful -- unbelievably beautiful weekend.

This weather brought to you by Servpro, making fire and water damage like it never even happened.

So, here we go. Here comes the rain. It's going to come through the Midwest. It's going to eventually go all the way through the Northeast. Now, there's going to be some heavy rain, two to four inches in some spots. So that could cause some problems, especially if you have saturated ground. But it's the rainfall. It's going to come through with the cold front that you will remember it's the cold air that you will remember.

That cold front's going to get all the way down to New Orleans. The high in New Orleans by the weekend will be 78. Won't that feel good for the people that are still picking up the pieces down there in Louisiana.

Cooler air all across the Great Lakes and the Northeast. Look at it, 70s -- 70s by the weekend. And the same story all the way down across the Gulf Coast. We'll take this weather for sure.


KEILAR: All right, Chad, we will. Thank you.

BERMAN: So, the White House says images of border patrol agents on horseback confronting Haitian migrants are horrific. And the Department of Homeland Security is investigating. Footage shows them twirling something at migrants who crossed the border near Del Rio, Texas. The agents trying to corral the migrants. Some 10,000 are living in desperate conditions under the international bridge in Del Rio, awaiting processing as the U.S. accelerates deportations.

For many, the journey to the southern border begins in southern Mexico. And that's where Matt Rivers joins us live.

And, Matt, I think it's so important to point this out. This is a continental problem. It's not just one place or one town on the U.S./Mexico border.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. I mean what we're seeing at the U.S. border didn't start there. I mean you've got migrants who have made a very long journey to get to that point. That's the end. The thousands and thousands and thousands of people that you see at the U.S. border right now, just ten days, maybe two weeks ago were here in southern Mexico, and moving through this area in a way that immigration activists tell me they've never really seen before.



RIVERS (voice over): A packed street in southern Mexico resembling something out of Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of Haitian migrants fill the sidewalks of Tapachula. This city is often a stop for those traveling north to the U.S. But the amount of Haitians making that journey right now, both government officials and activists say, is unprecedented.

We've seen lots of migration before, says Ruben Figueroa, but we have never seen this many people from Haiti. It's unbelievable.

Nearly 19,000 Haitians and counting have applied for asylum in Mexico this year. Already three times higher than all of 2020. But for many, asylum claims won't keep them here. They will head north, arriving by any and all means.

Here, a few days ago, dozens of migrants, many of them Haitian, take a ferry to cross a river, the only way to get across. Most will then pay a few dollars to a motorcycle taxi to take them along the next leg of the journey.

RIVERS (on camera): He's basically saying that he's never seen this amount of Haitian migrants come through here before.

RIVERS (voice over): The goal for many is to make it to a place like here, seven hours away in the town of Malpaso, where there is fierce competition to get on the buses headed north. Tensions boiling over at times. Arguments erupting outside of ticketing stations.

These buses will eventually take them to the U.S., which is how recent scenes of thousands of Haitians trying to get into the U.S. came to be. The U.S. says it will deport these people by the thousands, but there are more coming.

RIVERS (on camera): So this space in southern Mexico, up until just a few days ago, was actually a place where hundreds of Haitian migrants were staying on a temporary basis every single day. This community actually set up this shelter because of this recent influx.

As you can see now, though, it's empty. All the Haitians that were here, left. They're headed north to the United States.

RIVERS (voice over): And this surging migration has every chance to continue after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti six weeks ago. Hundreds of thousands were displaced and immigration activists say many could leave the island soon and eventually end up right back here in southern Mexico, U.S. bound.


RIVERS: And what government officials are telling us is that the vast majority of Haitians that have come through here to southern Mexico, going to the U.S., they're actually Haitians that have left the island years ago, after the earthquake in 2010, Hurricane Matthew in 2016. These are people who had been living in South America but chose to make this journey all the way north, up to the U.S., due to economic hardships, primarily, throughout this pandemic.

Kind of amazing when you think about the fact that even though there was this major earthquake, John, just about six weeks ago now, those people who will be leaving the island, and make no mistake, people will migrate as a result of the earthquake, they haven't even made it here yet. So this is the kind of scene that we could see again in the future.

BERMAN: It's not even this disaster in Haiti that's driving people to the border today, it's ten years ago, five years ago. Such an important reminder.

Matt Rivers, thank you so much for your reporting.

New text messages show what motivated some Republicans in Florida to craft new, restrictive voting laws. It has nothing to do with fraud.

KEILAR: Plus, just in, Johnson & Johnson says its two-dose vaccine provides protection at a 94 percent rate, putting it on the level of Moderna and Pfizer. We'll have details about that ahead.



BERMAN: New this morning, internal text messages between Republican lawmakers in Florida undercutting the claims that the state's new, more restricting voting law was not politicly motivating. According to "Politico," Republican Senate Senator Joel Gruters defended a senate proposal to cancel all existing mail-in ballot requests, saying that it would be devastating to Republicans to keep them valid heading into the 2022 election, when DeSantis and other state Republican officials are up for re-election. That proposal did not ultimately make it into the final bill, but Republicans did shorten the time the ballot requests would be remain valid.

Joining us now, Florida man, Gary Fineout, his is the political reporter who broke this story and obtained this information.

Gary, always a pleasure to see you. And great reporting here. Very revealing.

What did these text messages show that these Republican leaders were worried about, and how were they trying to remedy it?

GARY FINEOUT, REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, what it showed is that the concerns about mail-in balloting were also tied to partisan advantage, to political gain, as opposed to just, it's a concern about election integrity and security.

BERMAN: They were specifically saying that keeping the rolls open, basically people who apply for mail-in ballots last time would get them new again this time no matter what, that allowing for that would help Democrats too much? Am I reading that correctly?

FINEOUT: Well, right. And basically in the 2020 election, as the effect of the pandemic, you know, caused a change in electoral behavior, the Democrats really pushed to get people to vote by mail as opposed to voting in person. And going into the 2020 election, they had a significant advantage in the number of people who were getting their mail -- who were getting their ballots through the mail. So what the legislation was about was basically one of the things that it did is, it basically said, well, if you hadn't gotten in your request by -- if you already had an old request or a request from the last cycle, it was automatically going to be canceled and you were going to have to apply again.


The Florida law had been that your mail-in ballot request was good for two election cycles. The law that was ultimately passed changed it from two to one. But the text messages show that part of the discussion about this was, how is this going to impact Republicans going into the election? Not, is this a good idea or a bad idea because of election security.

BERMAN: It's bad for us as Republicans, not, it's bad for us in Florida because, dot, dot, dot, of security issues.

And just a reminder, this is a reversal of the political situation in Florida from five, ten years ago when more Republicans used to vote by mail, correct? So -- so they only became worried about this type of mail-in balloting when more Democrats started doing it.

FINEOUT: No, I think it's important to note that in Florida, Florida has what's called excuse-free mail-in balloting, or what used to be known as absentee balloting. That was put in place by the Republicans following the debacle that was the 2000 recount.

So all of these things that have happened in mail-in balloting over the years had allowed the Republicans to do a good job and to keep their control over state government.

What has happened is in the last couple of cycles, as you've seen more and more Democrats have been voting by mail, whereas Republicans have been going more to early voting and to voting on Election Day.

BERMAN: So, tell me, besides intrepid reporting, how you came upon these text messages, and what the long-term impact might be. Do Democrats or interest groups have any recourse here?

FINEOUT: Well, basically, how we were able to obtain these -- these text messages and some emails was basically that there are groups that have sued the state and the legislature and the governor over this new election law. And there was discovery that went on in the case.

So, what I was able to do was I -- I made public records requests to the governor's office, to the house and senate, to find out what they had delivered to the lawyers.

And as for the ramifications, well, I mean, the lawsuit is ongoing. And we'll see how that -- how that plays out. There's several groups. There were multiple lawsuits that were filed right after this was signed contending that the new law, which has a lot of different things in it. It's not just this that's in that law, that this could effect, you know, voting of the elderly, and minority groups and things of that nature.

So that lawsuit's going to play out over the months ahead as we -- as we head into the 2022 elections. Now, I would say as to the overall impact, I mean, I don't know.

I mean what's interesting is, as you pointed out, Republicans used to be really good at mail-in ballots. And I guess we're going to see is, was what happened in 2020 sort of a one year situation where, because of the pandemic, or are all the changes that they've done with mail-in ballots, will it wind up hurting Republicans in the end?

BERMAN: Gary Fineout, I should not have said besides intrepid reporting how did you come across this, because it was only intrepid reporting that let you get those text messages.

Always great to have you on. Gary Fineout, great to see you. Thank you.

FINEOUT: Thank you. Thank you.

BERMAN: So, is the crisis that the United States is going through right now as bad as the Civil War? One of America's most prolific documentarians says yes.

KEILAR: Meanwhile, the United States facing the possibility of economic catastrophe amid a showdown on Capitol Hill. We'll break down what's at stake.



KEILAR: Ken Burns, one of America's most prolific documentarians, recently went on a podcast where he made this claim about really the context of the state of America right now.


WILL ARNETT, "SMARTLESS" PODCAST: You've been making films about the American experience and about America for the, you know, whatever it's been, over 40 years. Do you have a cynical view now of where we're headed and where we've come from? Is it -- is it doom and gloom or are you -- do you feel OK?

KEN BURNS: Well, I don't think anybody has the luxury at this moment of being cynical. Cynical's a, you know. Like just debauchery is just a luxury of too much time and too many things that you're not doing with your hands that you begin doing with your hands.


BURNS: It's -- it's -- it's really serious. There are three great crises before this, the Civil War, the Depression, and World War II. This is equal to it.



So joining us to discuss is CNN political analyst Natasha Alford and CNN political commentator and the host of "Smerconish" on CNN, Michael Smerconish.

Michael, do you agree with Ken Burns?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Brianna, I can't match his historical analysis. I can only say that I've been paying close attention for the last three decades and I'm not accustomed to having the level of concern that I have today about the security of the United States. And I don't mean from foreign threat, I mean from domestic threat. I worry about the stability of our country in ways that I never have previously. I've grown up politically worried about things like will Social Security be there and what should be the tax rate? And, yes, to an extent, the Cold War. But I think we face real crisis from within. So, sadly, my answer is, yes.

KEILAR: Natasha, what do you think?

NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Brianna, I think the level of political polarization that we see produces casualties that amount to what we would see in a war, right? Think about that 675,000 COVID death number. It's a really gruesome milestone. And yet, if you go on any mainstream social media site today, you will see that there are people who question that that number is real. Can you imagine? There are people who have died, and there's so many Americans who are falling in the camp of saying, we just don't think the number is real.

And so when we can't agree on basic things in a society, like what the facts are, then you get the result of only 54 percent of Americans being vaccinated, which is not how we end a pandemic. So it does beg the question of, where do we go as a country when people are willing to both die and put others' health at risk, all for their sense of what personal liberty is.

KEILAR: I -- you know, Michael, I think one of the reasons it's -- I -- well, a couple reasons that what Ken Burns is saying really raises eyebrows is because, you know, he mentions the Civil War, which, obviously, he is very familiar with, right? He has the -- the documentary on it. But, of course, you know, slavery and the context of what life was like for so much of the country during that time. But also the fact that these things he's highlighting are existential threats, which means that's what he sees right now as.

SMERCONISH: True. And -- and I think Natasha's on to something. Truth has become an elastic concept. We can't even agree on basic facts. And one of the reasons that I think we can't agree on basic facts is that there's such diminished confidence in our institutions, in government, certainly in the media, the police, even in the military. And so it's -- it's hard to know where you can go for information on which you can rely.

And I think that technology has proven to be an accelerant on this fire.


Things won't get better until people start drawing on more sources of information as they decide