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The Situation Room
Biden In Flood Disaster Zone, Climate Crisis A Code Red; U.S Tops 40 Million Confirmed COVID-19 Cases, More Than 4 Million In The Past Four Weeks; D.C. Rally Next Week In Support Of January 6 Rioters Raising Security Concerns At Capitol; Gov. Newsom Bringing In High Profile Democrats As Recall Election Enters Final Week. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 07, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: We'll breakdown the legislation and what it means to the war on voting in the U.S.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And we begin this hour with President Biden's visit to the northeast flood zone. Let's go to our White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz.
Arlette, the president, he got an eye full today. He sounded the alarm about climate crisis in this country during his stops in both New York and New Jersey.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, Jim. And President Biden is heading back to the White House tonight after spending the day touring some of the hardest hit areas in New Jersey and New York, seeing firsthand that damage on the ground and also visiting with those families who lost so much in Hurricane Ida.
But the president also spoke with a real sense of urgency about the threat posed by climate change, saying that storms like Ida are evidence that action must be taken now.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: This is code red.
SAENZ (voice over): President Biden issuing a warning on climate change today as he saw firsthand the damage brought by Hurricane Ida.
BIDEN: Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, to our economy and the threat is here. It is not going to get any better. The question, can it get worse? We can stop it from getting worse.
SAENZ: It was the second time in four days that the president toured the devastation left in Ida's wake on the ground in Louisiana on Friday and today in New Jersey and New York, meeting face to face with families impacted by the storm.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our plan was to go in and save her belongings, but, unfortunately, probably around 2:30, 3:00 Thursday, the house was on fire.
BIDEN: Thank God you didn't come back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
SAENZ: The president pledging federal support will continue for the long haul as the region recovers from flash flooding and tornados that damaged homes and killed at least 50 people.
BIDEN: We're going to make sure the relief is equitable so that those hardest hit get what they need, and we know there is a lot more to do. That's why we're here.
SAENZ: He also used the visit to make the case for his economic agenda, arguing investments in infrastructure and combating climate change are vital for recovery.
BIDEN: I think we're at one of those infection points where either we act or we're going to be -- we're going to be in real, real trouble. Our kids are going to be in real trouble.
SAENZ: The White House says one in three Americans live in counties impacted by severe weather in recent months. And officials argue action is needed across the board.
MAYOR ROBERT FAZEN (R-BOUND BROOK, NJ): We do as much as we can on 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.
SAENZ (on camera): And the White House today also asked Congress to approve billions of dollars in funding for natural disasters in their upcoming government funding proposal. Specifically, they are asking for $10 billion to respond to Hurricane Ida and another $14 billion for recovery and unmet needs relating to other national disasters, like wildfires and storms.
The president in his remarks today also suggested he may soon head out west to California to see the devastation of the wildfires on the ground there. Jim?
ACOSTA: All right. Arlette, thanks so much.
Now to M.J. Lee in New York, where President Biden spoke just a short while ago. M.J., what are you hearing from people there who are devastated.
M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim. Devastated is just right. If you walk down streets like these, this is just a few blocks away from where President Biden just spoke in Queens, you see house after house with basements that are completely just ruined. You still see days later piles of trash and furniture out on the sidewalks and people wondering how are they going to fix up their homes, how are they going to be able to afford all of this?
And when they describe what happened days ago, they say that this was really like a scene from a movie, that they have never seen this kind of flooding, even folks who have lived here for decades, that the water just came in so fast and they just did not expect this kind of devastation.
One man we spoke to earlier today whose basement was completely ruined, he said that this was particularly bad timing for this community because they have been through so much over the last year with the pandemic. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything got destroyed, nearly everything. We've -- this whole weekend, we have just been taking stuff out of the house and putting it into the alleyway. Literally, there is nothing left.
Our community is so numb. We got hit by corona about crazy in this neighborhood, I mean, not too long ago, we had a freezer taking bodies away from the hospital. So, at this point, we're kind of just emotionally numb, and it's like at this point the tragedy is people losing their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: Look, and some of the folks we spoke to said they certainly appreciate President Biden coming to this area to see the damage with his own eyes, but they also just have a lot of practical questions, like how are the sewage systems going to be fixed? How are they going to get reimbursed for all of the money they now have to spend to fix their homes?
And it was really interesting, Jim. You heard President Biden saying in his speech here, go to the FEMA website, call FEMA to try to get help. Well, we spoke with one woman earlier today who said that she did just that and she actually ended up getting the run around, that she was told that she had to first contact her insurance company. So, it just all goes to show that for the people whose homes have been completely ruined, they're not feeling a lot of confidence right now, that that money is going to reach them fast enough. Jim?
ACOSTA: I'm sure it is ago agonizing process. Our hearts go out to them. All right, M.J. Lee, thanks so much for that report.
Joining me now, the Queens Borough president, Donovan Richards. Donovan, thanks so much for being with us once again. You just joined the president as he toured the damage in your borough just a short time ago. What commitments did the president make as Queens residents are trying to recover from the storm? And were you satisfied with what you heard? DONOVAN RICHARDS, QUEENS BOROUGH PRESIDENT: Well, I'll start, I'm never satisfied until every home is rebuilt and people's livelihoods are put back in place. But one of the things I'm very appreciative of that the president did is he went into people's homes, he spoke to them, he acknowledged their pain. FEMA was there, so it was great to have the administrator there letting folks know that there is assistance right now for them, which is something we didn't see during Sandy.
It took about a month before we saw FEMA during that hurricane. So, to have FEMA on the ground and boots on the ground today was very important, and then, lastly, pushing this infrastructure bill. I mean, there is rhetoric and then there is dollars. And Queens residents are very tough. We're resilient. But we also know that money is a big piece of this in terms of fixing our infrastructure.
ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, anything to stop this from happening again, no question about it, Donovan. And President Biden is using today's trip to highlight the threat of climate change. He repeated that message a few times today. You say though that this is nothing new. You have been seeing the effects of climate change for some time now, Hurricane Sandy, for example. But we're also seeing this with Katrina and other big storms. Are you hopeful that this storm will finally lead to some meaningful change in addressing this issue?
RICHARDS: I'm cautiously optimistic. We need Senator Manchin to get onboard immediately. You know, this package is much bigger than just about a dollar figure. This is about people's livelihood. And I do believe the president is doing everything in his power to push this rock up the hill. And I know he's doing it along with our Senator Chuck Schumer as well, which was acknowledged today.
So I am cautiously optimistic. Once again now that we're here having this conversation, I think that these storms have certainly sent a code red, as the president said today, to the nation that the clock has run out, and we have to act now.
And this is something my residents have lived with for decades and welcome to everybody else who just have endured this now. It is sad that it's come to this, but now everyone is impacted and we're all in this together and we have to move forward to ensure that this package passes.
ACOSTA: And our reporter, M.J. Lee, was just saying a few moments ago, she's hearing from residents who are concerned about this red tape at FEMA, that they're getting the run around at FEMA. What do you think about that? Does FEMA need to cut the red tape and get these checks going? I know that's something you haven't taking about.
RICHARDS: Yes. I have been here before. So one of the things I discussed with the president along with the mayor and the governor today was the importance of having presence on the ground. We want to have mobile FEMA units stationed in these neighborhoods. The mayor did rightfully and I want to thank him open up five centers across the city. But we need to see a more local, hyperbole (ph) presence of these centers centered in t neighborhood impact. We should not have to travel a mile or 2 miles or 20 miles to get to nearest center. So, FEMA needs to be in the neighborhood, and I think that's the message that many local elected officials, such as myself, said today.
ACOSTA: And what are you going to do to do to solve this problem of folks living in these illegal basement apartments, that heart-breaking video that you and I discussed yesterday of the NYPD going into some of these flooded basements? It just tears your heart out. What are you going to do? What can be done about these basement apartments that can be so dangerous for the residents? I know, a lot of folks can't afford anything else in some cases, but what can be done about it?
RICHARDS: Well, I'll start with what we're doing in this office. I can't speak for everybody else. But we have approved 10,000 units of affordable housing. That housing cannot open up soon enough. We'll be -- we have done some ground breaking but we need to see a whole lot more. We know that's just -- that's a drop in the bucket when you are talking about a city where you have nearly 300,000 people living in basements.
One of the proposals I have, Jim, is to subsidize these units, to have homeowners subsidize, to bring these units up to grade, up to compliance where there are windows, where we can do egresses. And that's a larger policy decision but we know that money needs to be attached to this conversation as well.
ACOSTA: Donovan, help me understand this. Why is it that -- is it a drainage issue in these -- what is the overriding issue in these basements that causes them to get flooded to this extent, for folks out there who don't understand it? Is it just the volume of water and it just washes in --
RICHARDS: Well, let me just say that -- I mean -- yes. Yes. I mean, this was an extreme water event. I mean, this was an extreme weather event where obviously our sewer system could not keep up with the pace of the storm that came in. So the number one way to ensure we don't see flooding -- and we saw this in the community, Rockaways was actually dry. We had a lot of infrastructure investment put in after Sandy. We still need more from FEMA and the Army Corps. But the bottom line is where infrastructure investment was put in normally to places where we saw flooding, you didn't see it this time.
So, the answer to your question is infrastructure investment. We need this $3.5 trillion plan to pass, and New York city needs to get a large bulk of that to bring these communities' infrastructure up to grade and up to par.
ACOSTA: Yes. Infrastructure is not a boring word. It is not a boring topic when it has real world implications like what you're talking about and what the people in your community are going through. All right, Donovan Richards --
RICHARDS: And, Jim, and let me just add. I used to chair the Environmental Protection Committee in the city council in actually Southern Queens, which is a predominantly black and brown neighborhood. It was always disproportionately impacted by flooding. What happened differently this time was that we had a $2 billion investment from the city. And, historically, the places that we would see flooding in a storm like this where that investment went in, we relatively saw no flooding. So it shows that if we invest in communities, we invest, then we can get ahead of them.
ACOSTA: And you invest in people at the same time. All right, Donovan Richards, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
Just ahead, a new measure of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. tops 40 million total cases as the president prepares, gave a major speech on the challenges ahead. You are in The Situation Room.
ACOSTA: A grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic. The United States now has surpassed 40 million total cases and is close to passing 650,000 total deaths. Sources tell CNN President Biden will deliver a major speech on Thursday setting out the next phase of his administration's response to the pandemic.
CNN's Nick watt joins us live from Los Angeles. Nick, much of the country is acting like it is business as usual. That is just not the case. These numbers are terrible.
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they really are not great, Jim. And this one in particular stuck out to me. In a week, a quarter, more than a quarter of new cases were in kids. This comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The last week that they did a tally for, more than a quarter million kids infected.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Right now, we are in outbreak mode.
WATT (voice over): 4 million new COVID-19 cases reported in just the past four weeks.
FAUCI: It could go either way, and it is up to us.
WATT: So, this is an inflection point as temperatures drop and millions of kids venture back inside classrooms.
FAUCI: If we do things right, we hope that we don't see much increase at all. We've got to get the school system masked.
WATT: but, remember, there are politicians and parents fighting that simple logic.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are all demonic entities. You are going to be taken down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You already had your first warning, and this is your last. She cannot speak anymore.
WATT: meantime, nearly 100,000 Americans are in the hospital fighting this virus, the vast majority unvaccinated.
DR. LANCE VANGUNDY, EMERGENCY ROOM MEDICAL DIRECTOR: Sad and sometimes demoralizing. I'm not judging patients for making that decision. I really want to empathize, try to understand why they're afraid of the treatment because what they really need to be afraid of is the virus.
WATT: Idaho planning to ration care some places due to beds and staff shortage. The governor calls this an unprecedented and unwanted point in the history of our state.
FAUCI: We have about 75 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not yet vaccinated. If we get the overwhelming majority of those people vaccinated, we can turn this around.
WATT: In more than half of states, there is a little dip in average daily cases right now. Will that hold? Last year, there was a post- Labor Day bump.
DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER, PROVIDENCE HEALTH SYSTEM: We are having to prepare ourselves for having yet another surge.
WATT: This Labor Day weekend seems like this, football fans packed in the stands in Alabama, which has the lowest vaccination rate in the land, in South Carolina, which has the highest infection rate in the land, and in Georgia where near record numbers are already in the hospital.
WATT (on camera): Now, the next frontier are going to be -- is going to be the booster shots. Now, the Pfizer vaccine, third shots expected to roll out the week of September 20th. And if, as we suspect, the deal is going to be that you get your third shot eight months after your second shot, then during that first week of rollout, about 5 million Americans are going to be eligible for that. Jim?
ACOSTA: All right, very important information. Nick Watt, thank you so much.
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now. Sanjay, great to see you.
The U.S. has now recorded more than 40 million COVID-19 cases. It is just unbelievable to even say that. Put that number into perspective for us.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the way that they're sort of getting at those numbers are looking at the amount of immunity that's sort of circulating out there, Jim. So, let me show you this graph. They're trying to figure out how many people have antibodies, how many people have those antibodies through infection. That's the line at the bottom there. They're saying about 40 million, as you said. And then other -- the rest of the immunity coming from the vaccine, as you can see there. So, if you add it all up, they say about 80 percent of the country has some evidence of immunity.
Now, I will say, Jim, I think the numbers are, frankly, all over the map, because we have never done enough testing, we still aren't doing enough testing. At one point in the spring, in May, they said there may be 100 million people, at one point, been infected with COVID. So, whether that means antibodies sort of drifted off in those infected people or what, the bottom line is we will know when we start to getting to higher levels of immunity when numbers start to come down. That's going to be the best sort of gauge of that, Jim.
ACOSTA: Yes. And 53 percent is just not going to cut it. Children now represent more than one in four of the weekly COVID-19 cases reported nationwide. As many children are heading back to school this week, how do we prevent that number from going even higher? Because at the very least, we should be able to protect these kids.
GUPTA: Yes, no doubt. And I was really struck when I was reflecting on some of the reporting from last year, Jim, even pre-vaccines I'm talking about. There were studies done showing just how safe schools could be, again, even without vaccines. And it is really based on a few things. Schools that did this diligently had much lower transmission rates than schools that didn't do these things. Let's show them on the screen. And they also had much lower rates within the school than the surrounding community.
Now, vaccination, again, under the age of 12, vaccines aren't going to be available. But vaccines weren't the only thing. Masks and specifically the right kind of high filtration masks, having good ventilation in schools, doing regular testing and really understanding risk, understanding and eliminating some of the riskiest things. They did that well, Jim, in many school districts last year sort of showing even pre-vaccine that schools could open safely. The problem is now, I think, many places said, well, we've got the vaccine, so let's not worry about the basic public health strategies. That's the mistake. It can be done and it is not that hard to do.
ACOSTA: We have to do everything. It sounds like all of the above might be the better approach. And Dr. Fauci says three doses of the coronavirus vaccine just might just be the proper vaccine regimen. Is that where we're heading now with the data, do you think?
GUPTA: Well, you know, it sounds like it, Jim. I mean, one thing we had heard from the beginning is that as the vaccine starts to sort of wane in terms of effectiveness, that might be a signal for a booster. So there are two messages we're getting at the same time. One is that the vaccines are still working really well against hospitalization and death, which they are, but there are some signs that they may be waning, especially if you look from other countries. So, that's sort of driving this. I will say, most adult vaccines do require boosters. We don't talk about this much but we can show some of these vaccines, whether it's hepatitis or herpes zoster or even papillomavirus, two or three shots for many of these. So, that part is not unusual.
I think the confusion here, Jim, is that if a booster was always going to be necessary at six to eight months, that's probably what they should have said from the beginning. I think, you know, the mixed message here is that does this mean the vaccine is not working? No, it does not. Does it mean it may not work as well in the next few months? Perhaps, and I think that's what's driving the booster conversation.
ACOSTA: All right. Dr. Sanjay, we'll keep plugging away at this, and I know you will as well. Thanks so much. We appreciate it.
Coming up, a rally celebrating January 6th rioters is now just days away, if you can believe that. And law enforcement officials are ratcheting up their warnings that it could trigger new violence at the U.S. Capitol.
ACOSTA: Here in Washington, law enforcement officials are gearing up for potential violence at a rally designed to show support for the January 6th rioter.
Our Brian Todd has been digging on that. Brian, this rally is coming up soon.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Jim. And former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe says that law enforcement needs to take this threat of what could happen on September 18th at this rally very seriously. Tonight, we have new information on the threats and on the security precautions.
TODD (voice over): Tonight, new concerns over an upcoming rally which seeks to support those who were arrested for the January 6th Capitol attack. Law enforcement veterans telling CNN they're worried that justice for J6 planned for September 18th could bring some of the same violence to the Capitol.
CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I'm very concerned about September 18th. You have got a lot of extreme people out there with these extreme views and many of them are violent.
TODD: The justice for J6 rally is organized by a former Trump campaign staffer and is intended to show support for the insurrectionists who have been charged in the Capitol attack investigation. It is not clear how many people will gather outside the Capitol on that Saturday, but the new Capitol Hill Police chief said they need to be ready for anything.
CHIEF TOM MANGER, UNITED STATES CAPITOL POLICE: We've got to be prepared for that because we don't know what to anticipate. It could be 5,000 people show up instead of 500, we need to be prepared for that. So we're going to make sure we have enough folks in place to handle the demonstration.
TODD: Sources familiar with the security preparations tell CNN there are serious discussions about reinstalling the kind of fencing that went up around the Capitol after January 6th. A law enforcement source previously told CNN that the Metropolitan D.C. Police Department will be fully activated. A top homeland security official has told CNN online extremist rhetoric is strikingly similar to what it was in the build up to January 6th with increasing calls for violence linked to conspiracy theories and false narratives.
PROF. CYNTHIA MILLER-IDRISS, EXPERT ON EXTREMISM, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: We have this committed, relatively large group of people in the country who still believe, despite all evidence to the contrary that the election itself, the presidential election, was illegitimate. And they believe that they are called upon to act heroically to thwart kind of as courageous revolutionary actors to thwart that election.
TODD: Some law enforcement veterans have expressed frustration with conservative lawmakers, like Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who they say are fanning the flames by trying to make martyrs of those arrested for the January 6th attack, referring to them as political prisoners and detainees.
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): We want to know how are the detainees being treated.
TODD: Former D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey is concerned about security not just at the U.S. Capitol but at state capitols and other buildings on September 18th.
RAMSEY: I think police across the country, as well as federal agencies across the country need to be very, very aware and protect federal buildings because, as you harden one target, you make another one look soft.
TODD (on camera): Law enforcement analysts and those who monitor extremists tell us they are concerned about potential lone wolf actors. Charles Ramsey points out some of those who were among the most menacing people on January 6th are still out there, like the person who planted two pipe bombs near the Capitol just before the insurrection, who still has not been caught. Jim?
ACOSTA: Brian Todd, thanks for that report.
And let's get more on all of this with the former FBI deputy director and CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe. He's the author of The Threat, How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. Andrew, you say officials need to take this more seriously than perhaps they are right now, this intelligence about this upcoming rally, which seems to indicate some of the same folks who were there on January 6th may come back, I guess, for a sequel. What should officials be looking at right now? And I guess the question I have in my mind is, you know, are they -- are they really that dumb that they would show up again at this rally and cause a bunch of violence and problems like they did the last time?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes. We'll find out, right, on the 18th. I think to your first question, my concern is that officials take the intelligence, particularly that chatter that they're hearing on social media, the conversations that they're hearing from the subjects who are under investigation and may be subject to some level of surveillance, if they're seeing and hearing the same sorts of things that they heard before January 6th, they should be taking better preparations and taking those conversations more seriously.
I mean, let's be honest. January 6th was a combination of a massive group of people and an unprepared police force on the Capitol, not properly assisted by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. So -- but from all indications, Jim, it looks like our law enforcement intelligence folks are taking this rally on the 18th very serious.
ACOSTA: Does that mean we should have the National Guard here? Does that mean we need to have fences up around the Capitol? Do we need to take those kinds of precautions? Does it need to be ramped up to that level, do you think?
MCCABE: Well, it is hard for me or anyone to know exactly what they're hearing. But if they're hearing the same sorts of chatter and seeing the same sorts of signs that they saw before the 6th, then I would say, absolutely, they should. The FBI, DHS, Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police got caught short on January 6th. They will not want to get caught sort on the 18th. And my guess is they will, in an abundance of caution, reach out for all of those sorts of security measures.
ACOSTA: And how could authorities try to figure out how many people are going to show up for this? I mean, that's an interesting question. How does that calculation work? Do you just look at social media and see if you can find tea leaves?
MCCABE: Sure. Well, it begins with the permit the rally organizers have to file with the city.
And in that permit, they have to give an estimate of the size of the crowd they expect. This one started at 500. The organizers have already changed that to 700 to start there. But then you look at social media. You look at those networks and those people who you know are very invested in trying to amp up and amplify the crowd around these events. Of course, in this case, you don't have a sitting president who is participating in that sort of pre-event publicity, so that's a very big factor that we don't have here. But from all that sort of intelligence collection, you try to make your best estimate as to who you think will actually show up.
ACOSTA: And talk a little bit about the mindset behind, you know, this rally, what's motivating the people to show for this rally on the 18th. I mean, obviously, the big lie is a big part of this. But one of the things that you see out there, and you hear from some of the folks who were associated with people who are going to be there on the 18th is that the people who are in jail from January 6th are political prisoners, this kind of nutty stuff that they're being of punished for their political views.
MCCABE: So, Jim, I think they're gravitating towards that sort of language because they know it appeals to their target audience. Those really hard right folks, supporters, rabid supporters of the former president, people like that, are going to -- those sorts of claims ring with that crowd. But the fact is it is completely untrue.
The simple fact that you have political beliefs and find yourself in jail doesn't mean you are a political prisoner. All those folks arrested and those who were detained as a result of their involvement on January 6th are detained because a judge or grand jury has determined there is probably cause to believe they committed a crime, and in many cases, violent crimes. So these folks are far from political prisoners, they're in jail and they're in the situation they're in because they've likely violated federal criminal law.
ACOSTA: And Trump doesn't have the same platform that he did to rile people before January 6th but there are others on the hard right of the Republican Party who are picking up the slack, I guess, picking up where he left off.
MCCABE: They really are. So he's the biggest factor in terms of being able to draw attention and ultimately people to these sorts of events. So that's going to hurt them this time. All indications are that this crowd seems to likely be smaller than the one we saw on January 6th. But that is not stopping some notable voices on the Hill and notable voices from the far-right in doing everything they can to try to attract as many people to this rally as possible.
ACOSTA: All right. Of course, we will all be watching. We know you will as well. Andrew McCabe, thanks so much for that. We appreciate it.
Just ahead, new restrictions on voting in Texas as the Republican governor signs the legislation and pushes forward a right-wing agenda. He's also defending the state's near total ban on abortion. What are Democrats doing to fight back?
ACOSTA: Tonight, another key element of the Republican agenda is now law in the state of Texas. Governor Greg Abbott has signed a controversial bill that puts new restrictions on voting. And we're joined now to talk about it by Congressman Joaquin Castro. He is a Democrat from Texas, of course. Congressman, this law passed after a long fight. Texas State Democrats, they did as much as they could to try to stop it, but they couldn't stop it. What do these restrictions mean for voting rights particularly for communities of color?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): It means that Republicans, including Greg Abbott, are trying to make it harder for people who don't agree with them to actually go vote. So, if you look at what they did, they outlawed sending people mail ballot applications. These are applications. Not even sending them mail ballots but sending them mail ballot applications when it is already hard to vote by mail in Texas.
They banned a few things at Harris County had worked on because they have such a large population, so they banned drive-through voting that was very helpful to people that are taking their kids with them when they go vote, or people who are disabled, for example. So they banned that. They banned 24-hour voting. You have a lot of people that work shifts late into the night, and so they want to be able to vote at 11:00, midnight, so forth, and the legislature banned.
But probably the most dangerous thing, and I think what we're going to see flare-ups happen in November of next year is that they allowed for these poll watchers to go intimidate voters. And so that means anybody, like the Proud Boys or these far-right groups, can go basically watch people over their shoulders as they vote and try to intimidate them. They get a free warning. They get a free pass. The first one is free. And then the election judge, if they catch them doing something again, can actually ask them to leave.
And so it is a horrendous situation here in Texas in terms of voter suppression. This is who you have a state that's got four or five of the largest 15 cities in the country that continues to -- the state -- at least the statewide politics continues to be dominated by a far- right group of people that really are out of sync with the population of Texas as a whole because they make it so hard for people to vote and kick them out of office.
ACOSTA: Governor Abbott was also asked today about Texas this near total abortion ban and whether it would force victims of rape and incest to have that baby. Let's watch how he replied and let me ask you about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): It doesn't require that at all, because obviously it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion. So, for one, it doesn't provide that.
That said, however, let's make something very clear. Rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Congressman, what is your reaction to that?
CASTRO: Well, the governor, Greg Abbott, is a hypocrite that he's hurting the people of Texas, especially Texas women. Folks know that many women by six weeks don't even realize or know that they're pregnant.
But also, Jim, a few years ago, the Texas legislature and the governor actually had a chance to fully fund getting rid of the rape kit backlog in Texas, in Texas countries.
And they wouldn't put up the money to do that. And so, he talks about getting rid of rapists in Texas. The legislature wouldn't even put up the funds to clear the rape kit backlog, which was thousands of rape kits across the state. It took a state rep, Victoria Neave, from Dallas to make it an optional fee, I think when you go renew your driver's license to actually create a fund to go forward and do that.
So, you know, Greg Abbott has taken the state in incredibly far right direction, and I believe that ultimately, it's going to come back to bite him.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: And I also want to ask you about the situation in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, he is denying reports that the Taliban have blocked planes from leaving the country and holding people hostage as Michael McCaul, the Republican congressman, was saying over the weekend.
You sit on the intelligence committee. Are people being blocked from evacuating? What is the situation as you understand it?
CASTRO: I have not heard that information. I've been -- that has not been communicated to me as a member of the Intelligence Committee. The administration successfully with partners evacuated 120,000 people in a matter of few weeks, which was an incredible feat that hardly anybody thought was possible.
There are still obviously some Americans that we need to make sure we help get out of there. There are three people in my district, three families that have folks that are over there. So, I'm still working hard on that.
So, we have to be mindful of those challenges. But the secretary of state is coming in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee next Monday. And so, ranking remember McCaul at that point will get his opportunity to present his evidence and lay out everything when we convene.
ACOSTA: All right. Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks so much for your time this evening. We appreciate it.
CASTRO: Thank you.
ACOSTA: All right. Coming up, with just one week to go before the California recall election, Governor Gavin Newsom is turning to big name Democrats to help him save his job.
ACOSTA: As California hits the final stretch of its closely watched recall election campaign, Governor Gavin Newsom is bringing in the reinforcement.
CNN's Lucy Kafanov is tracking the story for us from Los Angeles.
Lucy, the governor is banking on firing up his Democratic base with big names like Elizabeth Warren. What can you tell us?
LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim.
And not just Elizabeth Warren, Vice President Kamala Harris will be campaigning with Governor Newsom tomorrow. The White House announcing the president himself will be out here sometime next week. The stakes are high in this recall election and not just for California.
KAFANOV (voice-over): With just seven days left to convince Californians that he deserves to keep his job.
GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: Are we going to vote no on this recall?
KAFANOV: Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is delivering closing arguments.
NEWSOM: Racial justice is on the ballot. Economic justice is on the ballot. Social justice is on the ballot.
KAFANOV: Striking a national tone.
NEWSOM: We did not defeat Trump-ism. It's still alive all across this country. It has come to the state of California.
KAFANOV: With help from high profile friends from Washington.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): I will fight with everything I've got to keep from putting one more Donald Trump Republican in office.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): It is part of the same thing suppressing the vote, going into the Capitol, stopping our democracy.
KAFANOV: Newsom has sought the race to turn it into a referendum and how to fight the pandemic.
NEWSOM: Our approach to this pandemic we believe has saved lives. Their approach we quite literally believe will impact not only public health in this state but impact our economic recovery.
KAFANOV: Making a woman's right to choose a theme after Texas banned most abortions this month.
NEWSOM: You saw what just happened in Texas.
KAFANOV: On the other side of the recall effort.
LARRY ELDER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: In a few more days, you're going to have a new governor. His named is going to be Governor Larry Elder.
KAFANOV: The leading Republican tender, conservative radio host Larry Elder also not shying away from national implications.
ELDER: God forbid Governor Elder should replace Dianne Feinstein. They're afraid I'm going to replace her with a Republican, which I most certainly would do and that would be an earthquake in Washington, D.C.
KAFANOV: On the campaign trail Elder also talking up local issues.
ELDER: Cost of living is going up. Homelessness is up, crime is up. Where has this man done anything right?
KAFANOV: Touting his outsider status as a selling point.
ELDER: I've never run for office before unless you count fifth grade class president.
KAFANOV: Elder has been criticized for controversial comments he has made about race and gender.
ELDER: I've always felt that minorities and women complain too much about racism and sexism.
KAFANOV: Though for some of his supporters, it's all about the personal appeal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's like Donald Trump. I voted for Donald Trump twice.
KAFANOV: The former president has refused to concede the 2020 presidential election making false claims that it was stolen and full of fraud. Elder seeming to take a page from that playbook.
ELDER: The 2020 election in my opinion was full of shenanigans. And my fear is they're going to try that in this election right here in recall. We have bevy of lawyers. We're going to file lawsuits in a timely fashion this time.
KAFANOV: California Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1. For Newsom, turnout is the name of the game.
NEWSOM: Let me be explicit. Either we vote no on this recall or in a matter of weeks the next governor in the state of California is Larry Elder.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KAFANOV: And it seems like Governor Newsom's strategy to try to energize the Democrats by nationalizing the race is paying off, at least in terms of the early returns.
Of the nearly 6 million ballots cast so far, more than 53 percent came from Democrats, 24.5 percent came from Republican voters -- Jim.
ACOSTA: It's going to be a fascinating recall election.
All right. Lucy, thank you so much.
And we'll have more news just ahead.
ACOSTA: Stay with CNN for new developments on the storm damage and recovery in the Northeast and Louisiana. If you're looking for ways to help victims of those disasters, go to CNN.com/impact for details on how to impact your world.
I'm Jim Acosta, thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.