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Olympics 2020 CEO Won't Rule Out Last-Minute Cancellation Of Olympic Games Amid Rising COVID Cases; Bootleg Fire Creating Its Own Weather As California Wildfires Burn Over 20,000 Acres This Year; Infrastructure Deal On Life Support As Key Senate Vote Looms. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 20, 2021 - 14:30   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: More signs of trouble for the Tokyo Olympics. The CEO of the games would not rule out cancelling the games at the last minute.

Because of the number of COVID cases linked to the games is now at 71. The city of Tokyo reported more than 1,300 new COVID cases today.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: A Tokyo public health expert says the Olympic Village bubble system, which was designed to keep athletes and visitors safe is, quote, "kind of broken."

You see here on the screen the number of people through a telephone survey who say they do not support holding the Olympics in Tokyo. And 55 percent oppose the Tokyo games.

Let's talk now about this with David Wallechinsky. He's the former president of the International Society of Olympic Historians.

David, thanks for being with us.

Let's pair those two things that we just learned.

First, the CEO saying that in just a couple of days he could decide to call the whole thing off and more than half of people who took this survey saying they don't want the games there.

Should they be happening in this environment?


CAMEROTA: Yes, in Japan.

BLACKWELL: In Japan, yes.

WALLECHINSKY: Yes. It is very unfortunate, because when the Japanese were given the Olympics in 2013 they were so enthusiastic. They loved the idea of having the Olympics back in Tokyo. They hosted the Olympics in 1964, the summer games.

But now everything seems to have gone wrong. The pandemic is spreading.

I guess, for some perspective, the COVID rate in Japan is still lower than it is in the United States. But the Japanese thought they had this under control. And they failed to spread -- the government failed to spread vaccinations.

So you talked about the bubble being broken. Yes, I would say that's probably true.

CAMEROTA: And so what does that mean for the athletes? You have pointed out that basically, when it comes to the Olympics, the athletes are not the priority, television is the priority.


CAMEROTA: This -- I mean, just issues about their health, like what does it mean for their safety given all of that this year?


WALLECHINSKY: Well, just to clarify. I think that the athletes are very important. You have to keep in mind that three-quarters of the athletes will only get one shot at the Olympics.

And so for them this is a big deal to have it cancelled, that would be horrible for them.

But the money situation is very important. Ask yourself, for example, as we said before, why are the games in July/August to begin with?

The last time the summer Olympics were in Japan, they were held in October because that was the month that was safest for the athletes.

But this time, you have the TV rights, you have the sponsors wanting it in the summer.

So money is an important factor. And that does make it hard for the athletes.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Considering that most of the people -- frankly, this year all of the people that are going to watch the game are going to watch it on television because there are no spectators allowed there.

Will we have -- I know you have written the books on the Olympics -- those magical moments without the tens of thousands of people at opening ceremonies or the cheers at the track and field events?

I remember Michael Phelps breaking that record and hearing the roar of the crowd. If we don't have that, will we feel the magic of the Olympic games?

WALLECHINSKY: It won't be the same for the athletes because I think that in many sports -- for example, the long jump or the triple jump, you will see the athletes, come on, cheer me on, cheer me on.

Not so much the high jump. But, you know, come on, I want to hear you before I run down the runway. You're not going to have that.

But in terms of magic moments, yes, you could have that.

You know, when the U.S. hockey team won in 1980, there weren't very many people in the venue, but everybody watched it on TV and it was a magic moment. So that can still happen.

CAMEROTA: But do you worry that all of these COVID developments are eclipsing the achievement and the inspirational stories of the athletes?

WALLECHINSKY: I would say, strictly speaking of somebody who is going in two days, it is concerning. Every single Olympics, there's negative publicity leading up to the opening ceremony. And then once the competitions begin it is all about the athletes.

Sometimes those criticisms are not valid and they're forgotten quickly, such acid any 2000, London 2012. Sometimes, unfortunately, those criticisms are legitimate, such as the Rio games of 2016.

I think we have a situation like that right now where we can cheer on the athletes, but we're not going to forget about the pandemic because more and more people are going to test positive.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and the concern there was Zika as it was spreading across Brazil.

David Wallechinsky, we have to wrap it there.

I thank you so much for your time and expertise.


CAMEROTA: So the fire in Oregon has gotten so intense it is actually creating its own weather system. What does that even look like? We show you in the frightening impact next.



BLACKWELL: Scorching hot temperatures, increasingly dry conditions are fueling dozens of wildfires throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The Bootleg Fire in Oregon is spreading and more than 1,000 acres per hour. Thousands of people have been forced to leave.

One couple, they left their home and returned to find it had been destroyed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, that was our house. There's our yard. Our truck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't know what else to say about this. We've lost everything.


CAMEROTA: Just devastating.

The Bootleg Fire, for some perspective for you, is now bigger than the city of Los Angeles. It is half the size of the entire state of Rhode Island.

In fact, it is so big and so intense that experts say it is now creating its own weather conditions. Heat from the flames are creating clouds that then turn into thunderstorms with lightning and strong winds.

Bill Weir, CNN chief climate correspondent, is in southwestern Montana where the temperatures are expected to hop 100 degrees this week.

Bill, what is the thinking and the feeling on the ground there?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, here just outside of Yellowstone National Park, which is on the other side of that ridge line, they're having a fire preparedness meeting tomorrow, Alisyn.

The entire west, over 90 percent of the west is in this deep drought, and this climate change is a cascading series of events, right?

So years ago, before climate change, there was a certain inspect that would burrow into the trees but cold winters would kill it off.

Now that doesn't happen anymore. As a result there's a lot of dead trees, a lot more fuel, and we are seeing what is happening in the west.

Yesterday, the most stunning number to come out of CalFire -- you talk about the Bootleg Fire in Oregon. Just south of them in California they have had five times the acreage burned this year than last year.

And last year was epic worst of all time in history wildfire season. Already at this point, in mid-July, it is five times that big right now.

So we are in a stage really where people are trying to wrap their heads around this new normal and understanding that adaptation to this is just as important as mitigation, cutting off the source of the problem, fossil fuels.


BLACKWELL: Bill, you talked about how the weather there, this drought is fueling the fires. How is that impacting fighting the fires and how much harder it will be to stop them?

WEIR: It is -- it makes it so difficult, Victor. I mean in California they've admitted for years that when the Santa Ana winds are blowing, there's no way for humans to put those fires out. They just have to wait for the weather to change.

Now that essentially has become a year-round phenomenon as the fire systems create the most challenging conditions.

There's such a demand for firefighting planes and helicopters in the northwest, they get priority for jet fuel. So it has created a fuel shortage there as well.

Then you can imagine, you know, all of that fire retardant equipment, how hot that is, the amount of sweating you do out there while working a wildfire as well.

Then there are bugs that are prevalent in this hotter temperature as well.

So hats off to the hot-spot jumpers out there who are doing the most brutal work we can imagine, trying to contain a force of nature that we have not seen, an unnatural disaster that really nobody in our lifetime has seen.

CAMEROTA: Bill, I have asked you this before but I always wonder about it, how you keep from becoming despondent when you are on your beat, when you are there on the ground and you see all of this.

Are there things to give us hope at this point or is it just all Armageddon?

WEIR: Well, it depends on the day and the mood. I mean this is a tough one. I'm no fun at dinner parties anymore. When we used to have dinner parties.

But I try to focus on the idea that we are all essentially first responders. And it is our children, our grandchildren. And we want them to know that we wanted to rush into this disaster and save as much life as humanly possible.

At this point, how bad it gets, you can't stop the effects of this. It has been a slow-motion thing that's been building through the industrial revolution.

And so we have to brace for what is already destined to come. But how much worse it gets will be determined by actions that everyone takes right now.

Everybody knows what the solutions are. It is no longer a question. It is no longer a debate.

We have the technology to turn this around and stop this from getting out of control and getting past a certain temperature in which feedback loops make it unstoppable, as maybe the tundra melts and all of that methane is released.

And as places get so dry that they turn to deserts. Deserts don't come back. Landscape like this is resilient. And if you leave it alone, it will bounce back.

That's the most troubling thing. But there's no good reason to stop trying. We all have to do our part to at least make the future that much brighter as we can.

BLACKWELL: All right.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Bill. That's really helpful. It is just helpful to hear your perspective on it because you deal with it every single day.

BLACKWELL: Bill Weir, thanks so much.

Be sure to join Bill on this journey to see how innovation could bring balance to our planet, also our diets. "EATING THE PLANET EARTH, THE FUTURE OF YOUR FOOD," airs Friday night at 9:00 Eastern, here on CNN.

We will be right back.



BLACKWELL: Republicans say a procedural vote on infrastructure Democrats are forcing tomorrow will not get the 60 votes it needs to advance.

CAMEROTA: GOP Senators argue this procedural vote is premature since the details of the bill have yet to be worked out.

Still, aides say this group continues to have productive talks even at this hour.

CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill for us.

Lauren, what's the latest on these negotiations?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn and Victor, perhaps one of the clearest signs of Republicans are planning to object to this vote tomorrow is the fact that Mitt Romney, a key Republican negotiator, has told CNN's Manu Raju that he does plan to vote against this proposal or advancing this proposal tomorrow unless the bipartisan group has a deal ready to go tonight.

As you know, they've been working on this proposal for several weeks. They really announced a deal almost a month ago. They still don't have legislative texts on paper. That's a key proper.

Tomorrow, majority leader, Chuck Schumer, plans to force a key vote on advancing that legislation when it's not written yet. That's becoming a major sticking point for a lot of Republicans.

I asked majority whip -- or minority whip, John Thune, whether or not Republicans will block this. He said, I can guarantee Schumer will not have 60 votes tomorrow.

In all likelihood, the Democrats and Republicans in that bipartisan group will keep trying to work together. That's their commitment right now.

How much time will they give this deal? That's what we don't know at this point. How many more hours, how many more days can this drag on?

As you know, time is ticking and the August recess is around the corner.

I think that's the concern for Schumer. He knows he has other things he needs to get done, including moving ahead with a Democratic-only infrastructure bill starting with voting on the $3.5 trillion budget deal. He needs to get the Democrats in line with that as well.

A lot of moving pieces. As you can see, Democrats and Republicans still don't have a final deal as part of that bipartisan negotiation -- Victor?


CAMEROTA: All right. We will get the latest from the White House later in the program on all of this.

Lauren Fox, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Breakthrough COVID cases are hitting the White House now. We'll talk about the highly contagious Delta variant. Why it's spreading so fast and what you need to know.