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Advancing the Infrastructure Bill; Ex-DOJ Officials Talk about Undermining the Election; Experts Fear Sturgis Rally with be Super Spreader Event; Taliban Takes Fifth City; U.N. Secretary General Calls Climate Report a Code Red for Humanity. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 9, 2021 - 09:30   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Vote on the massive $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal. But the legislation still faces an uncertain future in the House, where Speaker Pelosi has yet to agree to take up the bill.

CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill this morning.

So, Lauren, when is the package expected to pass in the Senate? And if it does, what's next?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the key question has been if Republicans are going to be willing to let this move forward a little more quickly than what it would normally schedule for that final vote. And here's why that matters, because tomorrow morning at 3:00 a.m. is when that final vote would be scheduled. Obviously, that kind of time in the morning would be uncomfortable for a lot of members making it to the floor. So the question is, will there be some time yielded back? Right now we just don't have the answer to that.

But once they pass this bill and we expect that it will pass with Republican support, then Democrats will move on to their own budget bill. And that is an important piece of legislation because it really sets the framework for how Democrats are going to write their bigger, Democratic only infrastructure bill that's going to include a lot more than what is in this bipartisan package.

So, once this bipartisan package passes, then there will be 50 hours of debate over this Democratic only budget bill. One that passes, then there will be a vote on voting rights and then the Senate will leave for its recess. But that's a lot of moving parts here.

There's also another important factor at play. The budget bill does not include an increase in the debt ceiling. And that matters because Janet Yellen made it very clear this morning in a letter to lawmakers that she wants this to be passed by a bipartisan basis. And that matters because without a bipartisan support for the debt ceiling increase, you cannot increase the debt ceiling at this point. The fact that Democrats didn't include it in their budget bill means it will not be included in their reconciliation package. And that potentially could mean a major showdown on Capitol Hill when lawmakers return after that August recess, Erica.

HILL: So much to look forward to.

Lauren Fox, thank you.

Senate Justifier Chairman Dick Durbin says he's learned, quote, frightening information about what occurred at the Justice Department during the final days of the Trump administration. Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue and former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen both recently testified before the Judiciary Committee. Sources say they revealed new details about a former DOJ lawyer's attempt to subvert the results of the November election.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joining us now with more on this.

So what was said in that testimony?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, this amounted to really hours of testimony. This from the two top officials at DOJ who were there in the immediate aftermath of the election. And what we're hearing from these senators who were sitting in that testimony this weekend is not only was there frightening information revealed, but also that the pressure that former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen faced directly from Donald Trump was very real and very specific. That's coming from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, who told our Dana Bash yesterday that Rosen refused to do certain things that Trump asked of him, specifically pertaining to state's election returns.

And we already know that Jeffrey Clark, he was the head of the civil division at DOJ at the time, he wanted to send those letters out to several states, including Georgia, that falsely claimed that DOJ had found irregularities in the vote that had affected the outcome. And we know that Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, they refused to sign onto those letters.

But now, Jeffrey Clark has become this focal point for congressional investigators. A source has told us that when Rosen testified, he talked about five episodes where Clark went out of the chain of command at DOJ to push these fraud claims. And that Trump and Clark were in direct communication. That's something that's totally out of the norm for officials other than the attorney general at DOJ.

And we also know that in this testimony this weekend, Rosen and Donoghue told lawmakers that Trump, he never ordered them to do anything illegal, and that actually Trump eventually accepted their advice, that DOJ couldn't claim fraud when they have zero evidence of it. But, still, there remain a lot of questions about who else at the White House might have been part of this push to get DOJ involved in pushing these false election fraud claims and potentially what other schemes might have been in the works among allies of Donald Trump.

So, Erica, this might be just the tip of the iceberg, what we've already seen come out. There needs to be a lot more testimony that these senators are pushing for. In particular they want to hear from Jeffrey Clark, who has sort of been at the center of this. Erica.

HILL: Yes. Wow. And as you point out, could be the tip of the iceberg.

Jessica Schneider, thank you.

Despite the pandemic, thousands of unmasked bikers gathering for a huge rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. Just ahead, I'll be joined by a local doctor who fears this could be a super spreader event.



HILL: This morning, hundreds of thousands of people are converging on a small South Dakota town for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It's a 10 day event kicking off on Friday. No mask mandates. No vaccine requirements.

All of this amid rising COVID cases across the country fueled by the highly contagious delta variant. There was a lot of concern about last year's event. The rally led to at least 51 cases among Minnesota residents who attended according to the CDC.

Dr. Fauci says he's concerned this year's rally could spark a new surge.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Yes, it's understandable that people want to do the kinds of things they want to do. They want their freedom to do that.


But there comes a time when you're dealing with a public health crisis that could involve you, your family and everyone else that something supersedes that need to do exactly what you want to do. I mean you're going to ultimately be able to do that in the future. But let's get this pandemic under control before we start acting like nothing is going on. I mean something bad is going on.


HILL: Dr. joining me now. He's vice president of medical affairs at Monument Health Care System in South Dakota.

Doctor, good to have you with us.

I'm just curious, you share those same concerns as Dr. Fauci?


Yes, I'm very concerned. It's very clear, when you have a mass gathering event, the virus, it behaves one way. It's evolutionary (ph) adapted to spread. And this particular variant, the delta variant, is highly transmissible in sort of spreading to other person. It's about five other people.

What we've seen in Provincetown and a Milwaukee Bucks game, a few other places, anytime you have this kind of situation of large crowds, it's very difficult to keep the virus from spreading. But also kind of in the same place we were last year when we had this Sturgis rally and we had a spread after that event. Currently we're reporting about 60 new cases daily, which is about where we were last year. So all of that points to, you know, a concern about a rise in cases following the rally.

HILL: And, of course, last year we didn't have the delta variant. You know, CNN spoke with some folks who are there in Sturgis just to get a sense of what they're saying, what they're thinking. The majority of them hadn't been vaccinated.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are y'all concerned about COVID at all?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm vaccinated.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm vaccinated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife stayed home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife stayed home because she has COVID right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I already had it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you concerned about COVID this year or the delta?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not where we are -- not where I am, hell no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you get the vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hell no and I ain't getting it until they start telling me it isn't going to make you sterile and kill your ass.

I -- I don't trust it when it's not even approved yet, but --


HILL: These are things we've heard before, right? There are plenty of unvaccinated people that we've spoken with, that we have heard from who have -- who have made similar claims as to why they're not vaccinated. And there's a good portion of the country that is not getting vaccinated.

You know, but as we heard from Dr. Fauci also in that clip, you know, at some point wanting to do the things you want to do supersedes, you know, it's not just about you.

What is the reaction -- you're there on the ground. What is the reaction, not just in the hospital but also, I mean, just on the streets in terms of the impact this could have on your community?

KURRA: Yes, there's a lot of concern and frustration. And as much as we all enjoy the tourists, we really encourage people to come here because it's beautiful here in the Black Hills, if you've never been. But the misinformation, it's very hard to get through. This is an entirely preventable situation. And in the hospital, in the ICUs here at Monument Health, when we see those folks that are not vaccinated end up requiring critical care, it's really sad. It's a little too late.

The other thing that is -- bears pointing out is, those below the age of 12 are not eligible for the vaccine. So those folks are vulnerable. And it's in our best interest for the future of South Dakota and all of the country to take care of these folks and make sure you're vaccinated. Stay home if you're infected. But mass gathering events, unfortunately, are, you know, the perfect stage for this virus.

HILL: If there is a surge in cases, is the hospital prepared to deal with that? Do you have everything you need?

KURRA: Absolutely. We've been well prepared -- unfortunately the pandemic last year got us into ready gear and we have been ready. And we've got supplies, personnel and we've got the support of our partners in the department of health and, you know, local partners ready to help us as well. But we are ready at Monument Health if there were a surge. But, unfortunately, that seems to be inevitable given a mass gathering event here probably in the next 10 days .

HILL: Dr. Shankar Kurra, I appreciate you joining us and best of luck. And we will be checking in to see how things do work out on your end there. Thank you.

KURRA: Thank you.

HILL: An Afghan official tell CNN things are getting nasty as the Taliban quickly seizes multiple key territories it just the last few days. So will the international community react? That's next.



HILL: Troubling news out of Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters have seized several key territories in just a matter of days. An Afghan security official telling CNN things are getting nasty.

And this time lapse shows just how quickly the Taliban have gained ground since early June. The U.S. is expected to completely withdraw troops by the end of this month. Five provincial capitals have now fallen under Taliban control, many more being threatened by the militant group.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joining us now.

So, Nick, where do we stand this morning?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Make no mistake, Erica, this is certainly the worst five days I think I've seen in the last 20 years in terms of the position of Afghan security forces and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. It's extraordinary how this began with the first provincial capital falling on Friday.


So many, I think, thinking the Taliban could almost always be kept in the rural, rural heartlands of Afghanistan and out of the urban centers. The first fell on Friday and then recordly yesterday three more.

There are, in fact, two others which seem under significant pressure at the moment. One of those importantly is another key city, Kunduz, falling yesterday. This other key city is Ghazni as well. This is extraordinary, to be honest, because the idea the Taliban can influence major urban centers where often their support is less strong will be a real sense of demoralization for Afghan security forces.

You can imagine at this point trying to work out, frankly, which fire they should race to put out next. Heavy battles too happening for the southern key city in Lashgar (ph) and Helmand, where so many Americans lost their lives.

In the past, the Taliban have moved into cities and this may be the case again now, and being pushed out again by Afghan security forces. But often that was because of U.S. air power pinpointed -- often directed from the ground in the past by U.S. spotters, being able to kick the insurgency back. That is significantly less in evidence at the moment, although there are still U.S. air strikes. And there's a clock ticking on this too because the U.S. has been very clear, when its presence on the ground ends, and that should be by August the 31, so too will that air support.

A senior Afghan security official saying to me that they are, frankly, deeply worried about what happens after that air support ends. It's not making a huge difference in the last five days, certainly, but imagine their world without even that potentially as a back-up. That's the deep concern. Unclear what level of alarm bells, frankly, are ringing with inside the White House. This was their decision alone. And, unfortunately, what many are saying was the inevitable slow collapse of Afghan security forces appears to be happening a little faster than anybody had imagined. It could still change but real fears for ordinary Afghans now, Erica.

HILL: Yes, absolutely.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.

The United Nations secretary general calling the latest climate change report a, quote, code red for humanity. That report warning that wild weather events will worsen if we don't act quickly. We have more, next.



HILL: A new U.N. report says there is no denying humans have changed the climate. It is getting hotter and is happening faster than previously thought. Right now the planet is 1.1 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels. That may not sound like a lot. It is massive. It's expected to hit the threshold of 1.5 degrees by the 2030s and a full two degrees warmer as soon as 2050.

CNN's chief climate correspondent Bill Weir joining me now.

So, Bill, the U.N. secretary general calls this report a code red for humanity, which sounds to me like a call to action.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Erica, it is. Yes. But it's just a continuation of a call to action that really started 30 years ago with the first of these reports when scientists said, hey, you know, kind of like a baby in a car on a hot day with the windows rolled up, we're creating an atmosphere for life on earth that is not sustainable. We should pay attention to it. Nothing has changed since then. This report is just much more definitive and has much more clarity because the science and data sets are huge now and they can actually attribute real weather events, the heat dome in the pacific northwest that's like killing clams in the shell and starting these massive wildfires, they can say that is x percent the result of this amount of fossil fuels that have burned since this day. That's how good the science is getting.

But we also have, on the positive side of this, plenty of science that could get us out of this. And the only thing missing, political will.

HILL: Yes, which -- well, that always seems to be the issue, doesn't it?

There's also some interesting data in here about how methane contributes to the climate crisis.

WEIR: Exactly. They really bored down on what was billed in this country as the clean natural gas, much better than coal. Well, you know, whales burn cleaner than coal. It doesn't mean we should burn them. But methane, it turns out, 80 times more potent than CO2. So to use the baby in the car analogy, methane is like turning up the heater inside of the car. It acts much faster and you can turn it down much faster. So if they focused on that -- we have some infrared video down in the Permian Basin of Texas that shows what methane looks like. And this stuff is leaking out at incredible rates from all kinds of facilities, from agriculture, from burping out of cows. So there's all kinds of research on how to capture this and how to create a more climate friendly dairy, for example, and capture all that planet- cooking pollution. So that's just one step.

But, ultimately, the big takeaway is, it has to start kind of yesterday. We need a World War II level mobilization. You know, those factories didn't start making bombers out of the goodness of their heart. It took nationalizing things. But to get back to politics, we live in an era, as you've been reporting, it's tough to get guys in Sturgis to put on a mask when what we need is all those guys to join in an effort to decarbonize as fast as humanly possible.

HILL: Yes, something that could benefit everybody.

Real quickly, you talked about how the science can really pinpoint the impact on what we're seeing with the heat dome, for example. What about these heat waves? What about the droughts?

WEIR: They're only going to get worse, unfortunately. And the droughts, you know, they're -- I've seen science that says we need ten rainy years to recharge the reservoirs in California. And huge cities depend on this. So, yes, this is all connected to that as well. And if you live either in that kind of dry area and your local authorities aren't talking about it, or if you live on a coastline where sea level rise is guaranteed, it's just a matter of how high, they need to be talking about it immediately.


HILL: Yes, absolutely.