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Fighting the Pandemic; United First U.S. Airline to Mandate Vaccine for Employees; Source: Biden Decides to Stick with August 31st Deadline to Withdraw; Biden's Agenda at Stake; Mississippi Sees Surge of New Cases & Hospitalizations. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 24, 2021 - 12:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. At this hour a senior administration official now confirming to CNN that President Joe Biden is sticking with the August 31st deadline that he had set to withdraw all troops and forces from Afghanistan despite the urging of NATO allies to extend.

Right now nearly 5000 people are waiting to board military and commercial planes inside the perimeter of the airport in Kabul. And in the last 24 hours, major progress in the part of the U.S. military, more than 21,000 people have been evacuated a record high number, as we've been watching this operation play out.

We were expecting to hear from the president this afternoon on his decision. This morning, he addressed an emergency session of the G7 about that timeline. Let's get back over to the White House CNN's Phil Mattingly is standing by. Phil, what more are you learning about the reasoning behind Biden's decision to stick with this August 31st deadline?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Kate, this has been something the president and his top national security officials have been weighing now for several days, obviously the key component how many Americans how many Afghans can they evacuate before that deadline?

And perhaps most importantly, how will the U.S. Defense Department how will the Pentagon have to start scaling down to meet that deadline, which is just in seven days? Keep in mind Kate; you mentioned that he had the virtual meeting with G7 leaders this morning. Many of those key allies have been pressing the president to extend the deadline.

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have been doing the same very concerned that they're just simply isn't enough time in seven days to get out the number of people that would need to be removed in that timeline.

However, the president has decided to stick to that timeline for the moment after consultations with his national security team. One of the primary reasons given by administration officials is security concerns and risks.

We know the Taliban has been very clear they view that as a red line that any move past that deadline would be considered problematic and in their view would involve quote, consequences according to one of their spokesman,

There's also the terror threat that administration officials have been keenly focused on over the course of the last several days driven by ISIS other groups that perhaps are in the area, the knowledge that 5 to 6000 U.S. troops trying to move thousands of people out of the country, while keeping a perimeter at a very sizable airport are at an acute risk to any terror threat is playing a role in this as well.

Now the president has ordered his team to come up with contingency plans should there need to be a change in terms of that deadline in the days ahead? But as I noted, White House officials have been weighing this keenly aware of those security concerns keenly aware of the realities on the ground.

And with the ramp up, you've seen tens of thousands leaving the country over the course of the last several days. There's a belief that they can meet that deadline that they have to meet that deadline Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, Phil thank you very much for that. For more on this very important decision from the president is joining me now as a Former Aide to General David Petraeus, Retired U.S. Army Colonel Peter Mansoor and CNN Global Affairs Analyst Susan Glasser.

Susan, as Phil was laying out G7 allies were clear in their position going into this meeting with Biden, they wanted to push the deadline a bit by a few days even to allow for more time to get more people out. What happens now that Biden has decided - has been made very clear that he's sticking with the deadline?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think Kate it will be very interesting to see what the president says in his remarks today. Obviously, as you pointed out, there was this private meeting with the G7 leaders.

They have been increasingly vocal publicly that they need more time to get this done. But the risks I think are escalating at every moment. And if Biden, you know, comes out with a very absolute pronouncement about August 31st, you may also see signs of increasing desperation.

Remember, what we've already seen, is a lot of chaos and even violence, shootings outside the gate of the Kabul Airport. I think the concern would be that if there's a hard exit that those kinds of incidents could increase, in addition to the terrorist threat that the White House has said that it is tracking.

So I think this could end up being a very, very risky period for this evacuation, and the allies were slow to start. They also had not planned for this kind of immediate evacuation of their personnel. And we're starting behind the eight ball.

They have joined us and ramping up in recent days, but it's not clear they can get their own people out in time.

BOLDUAN: Colonel, what's your reaction to this news that the president has announced he's sticking with this deadline?

COL. PETER MANSOOR, U.S. ARMY (RET.) FORMER AIDE TO GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, the good news is that we're on a pace now to withdraw probably around 150,000 people by the end of the month, which is a lot of people, it's more than we expected to have to remove, should the Taliban take over the country.

So that's the good news. The bad news is it is now inevitable that some Americans and some of our allies will be left behind. There is no way that we will get them all out by the end of the month. They simply can't get to Kabul. Some of them aren't even in Kabul.

And so there is going to have to be some sort of deal with the Taliban to get the remaining people out of the country once our forces are removed from Kabul International Airport.


BOLDUAN: And Colonel talk to me more about this because that has been the driving focus of all of this right, get Americans out evacuated safely? Well, in that the promise was from the U.S. military and the president, we will stay there until we can and we will get them out safely along with Afghan allies who fought alongside or helped the U.S. military effort for two decades. And what you're saying is, is you think there's no way that folks aren't left behind at this point?

MANSOOR: I don't think it's, it's possible to get them all out. It's easy if they were all in a queue ready to get on board planes, the logistics of it is simple. Vetting Afghans figuring out which are - which ones deserve a flight out of the country and which ones don't getting all the Americans and other foreign nationals outside of Kabul to Kabul, and getting them off to the airport without getting interdicted by the Taliban, those are the hard things.

And is simply one week is not going to be enough to sort it all out. We'll get most of them out. That's a good thing. And again, there's going to have to be some sort of agreement with the Taliban that if there are any left behind, they will allow them to leave.

BOLDUAN: Susan, in talking about agreement with or conversations with the Taliban, there's also this news that we've learned that the CIA Director Bill Burns was dispatched to Kabul yesterday to meet with the de facto leader of the Taliban. Were you surprised to hear that?

GLASSER: You know, first of all Kate, it's an extraordinary moment, right? Mullah Baradar was arrested, in part with the help of the CIA spent, I believe, eight years in prison until the Trump Administration pressured Pakistan to help release him.

For Bill Burns, one of America's most experienced diplomats, a career Foreign Service Officer, before he became the Director of the CIA, to travel look him, I'd - you know, it's a kind of a remarkable moment, it also speaks to the rapid shift in the power dynamics, not just the United States, the most powerful country in the world.

Now, the CIA Director is having to fly into Kabul, which we expected to be run by an allied government, you know, to seek concessions from the Taliban. Now, of course, we had to kind of, you know, moment that speaks to this reversal in the power dynamic in Afghanistan.

I got to imagine that he had a strong message from the President of the United States from President Biden to Mullah Baradar. But it's interesting that we see the timing today of President Biden and the question of sticking with the August 31st deadline.

In fact, the Taliban, as I understand it, in Kabul today, after that meeting said we are not going to go for any extension of the August 31st deadline.

BOLDUAN: Colonel part of CNN's reporting is not only that the president has decided to stick with the August 31st deadline, but also that the president has asked for contingency plans in case he determines at a later date that the U.S. needs to remain in the country for longer. What is your reaction? What did - what does that mean to you?

MANSOOR: Well, it would put the military in a really difficult situation, getting all the people we want to get out in one week's time, plus getting all of our equipment and troops off the ground, that's going to be a gargantuan task.

And then to have branch plans off of that plan to say, well, no, we were just kidding, we're going to stay longer that is really, really a difficult lift for the military. So I'm glad that they're going to go through the planning exercise, but I really don't see an extension happening once he decides and he has decided to remove the troops in one week's time.

The Taliban, by the way, want this evacuation to end because all the people they need to run the country are getting on planes and leaving. So this is important to them. And it's why they have issued this red line.

BOLDUAN: You call it a gargantuan task. I mean, look, we've seen huge progress overnight on the part of the military and get - in boosting the operation. 21,000 people in a 24 hour period, evacuated from Afghanistan, as you said you think they could - they're going to get up by the end of the day? I think he said by the end of the month, you're getting 100,000 people out.

I mean, that is enormous. But as you're saying enormous progress already but can you put into perspective how as you put it gargantuan the task is now that Biden has set the date certain when he wants American troops out?

MANSOOR: So now you hear the commander on the ground and you have to continue this airlift. But you also have to plan for the withdrawal of your forces, 6000 of them, plus allies from that same airbase, you have to shrink your perimeter and get all your equipment out. So this is going to be a really, really difficult chore now the military can handle it. And I think what we'll see is three or four days of massive airlifts about 20,000 a day.


MANSOOR: If we can get that number of people vetted. And then the last three days or so it's going to be the military collapsing the perimeter and getting its equipment and its people off the ground to meet that August 31st deadline.

BOLDUAN: Colonel, thank you very much for being here for that perspective. Susan, it's great to have you thank you. So the crisis at the airport in Kabul has led to some extraordinary moves, including the Biden Administration, listing U.S. Airlines to help with the evacuation of Americans and Afghan refugees from Taliban controlled Afghanistan.

We want to show you pictures of United's First - the first United - we will show you pictures of the United First evacuation flight landing yesterday at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, an estimated 340 evacuees were on board, Delta, American Atlas, Omni; Hawaiian Airlines are all also joining in this operation. It's been a huge effort.

And joining me right now for more on this is United Airlines CEO, Scott Kirby. Scott thanks for sticking around I appreciate the chance to speak with you about this. So that first United plane landing back in the United States yesterday, have you had a chance to hear anything about the flight hear anything from the crew? I mean, it's really fantastic to see this coming together.

SCOTT KIRBY, CEO, UNITED AIRLINES: Yes. Well, you know, United Airlines, we're honored to be a part of the humanitarian response, as we've been throughout the crisis, and our people have been overwhelmingly supportive, happy to be a part of this.

We've had over 8000 volunteers who've offered to help in this mission. And obviously, we don't need that many. But it really is gratifying to see the role that we can play beyond just taking care of our customers, you know, really stepping up into crisis and doing the right thing for humanity.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And so everyone knows, commercial flights aren't going into Kabul. You are doing the important task of kind of in their first stop after out of Kabul after leaving Kabul. That's where United Airlines can pick them up to take them. As we saw it back to Dulles is one place.

How many flights we now know that the president says the evacuation effort will be done, what needs to be done by August 31st? How many flights like this are you expecting for United to fly?

KIRBY: Well, we'll still see how many in totals? We will of course, do as many as the government asked us to do whatever we're requested to do, we'll do 100 percent of it. So far, I think we have 15 scheduled, but expect to have even more scheduled, you know, as we move forward through the next week.

BOLDUAN: It's really cool to see this come together. If I could also ask you about an another important area that you are leading in the pandemic, following the news about the Pfizer vaccine getting full approval, United announced the deadline for all United employees to get vaccinated is now September 20th.

The option essentially, as you've discussed before, is get vaccinated or get a new job. What percentage of employees is vaccinated at this point?

KIRBY: Well, it's hard to know for sure, because they have time to sign up. The groups that we have a better insight on pilots, we have - we're at 91 percent of our pilots are vaccinated, and about 82 percent of our flight attendants are vaccinated. And I hope that we will get to 100 percent as we move forward.

And as the vaccine requirement comes into place by the end of September, that's certainly our goal is for every single person that United to get vaccinated to stay with the company and get back to taking care of our customers.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Look, Dr. Collins, Francis Collins of NIH, he was just on the show, and he says he wants to see what you're doing. He wants to see more of this from he says that's the way - that's the way to go - from a scientific standpoint, that's the right place to be.

But do you have an estimate? I mean, you got to plan for these things, how many employees you are expecting to lose over this?

KIRBY: Well, hopefully, it'll be a small number. We don't know for sure. But what I do know is that when it comes to safety and saving lives, that business consideration is short term, and we'll deal with whatever the ramifications of that are.

But right now, we are losing about one to three employees per week, are losing their lives to COVID 100 percent of them are unvaccinated. We haven't had anyone in the past couple of months lose their life that is vaccinated. And in a world like that, you know, moving quickly, you know, and saving lives one to three per week.

You just have no choice as a business leader, but to do the right thing and require vaccines regardless of what the ramifications are hopefully going to be.

BOLDUAN: Especially when you get - when you see those two kinds of numbers, if you will up against each other. You know which one to pick. I mean, you have made clear that you think the question of whether or not passengers should be required to be vaccinated to fly.

You think that should be up to the government does full approval by the FDA of the Pfizer vaccine change that equation for you?

KIRBY: It doesn't. I mean, I still think that his government is going to be required. But for the government to make a decision like that, for what it's worth internationally, I think most international borders are going to require they're already do in a lot of cases.


KIRBY: But if you want to travel internationally, you're going to probably have to have a vaccine to go to in front of the United States for most destinations. And we'll be prepared to support it if the government ever decided to do it domestically. But I think that ultimately, that's probably a federal decision.

BOLDUAN: I will say that we have seen private businesses like restaurants in various cities make the decision of if you want to come in and be a customer, you do need to be vaccinated and show proof. Why can't you make that choice? Why not?

KIRBY: Well, you know it - well again, I do think it's you know, it's a controversial decision. It's up to the government, one of the safest places you can be, and amazingly enough is on an airplane because of the airflow on airplanes. And so given all that, given the logistics of trying to manage everyone and make sure that everyone has been vaccinated in a world where the government hasn't mandated.

Just as an impractical answer for us, I would encourage everyone to be vaccinated, but I think it's going to require government directive before that something that happens domestically.

BOLDUAN: Scott Kirby, thank you for coming on. Really appreciate it.

KIRBY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine could be a big move toward ending the pandemic but will it make a difference in some of the hardest hit states in the country like Mississippi? I'm going to speak with a local doctor who is fighting the virus and also fighting vaccine hesitancy at the same time. That's next.

Also and historic first, in New York, the state's first female governor is sworn in the very serious challenges that Kathy Hochul will face and is facing on day one as she takes office following Andrew Cuomo's resignation.



BOLDUAN: Let's drill down more on the COVID pandemic the state with the most cases of COVID per capita in the United States right now that is Mississippi where they are saying an average daily case count around 3000. Mississippi is also leading the United States the number of patients in ICU beds.

An Active Duty Military COVID response team is currently on the ground in the City of Jackson, a second team expected in Tupelo in the coming days to help with this response to help with the staffing issues they face now.

Mississippi is also the second lowest vaccination rate in the United States at 37 percent of residents fully vaccinated. So what do they do now? Joining me now is Ijlal Babar. He's the Director of Pulmonary and Critical Care at Singing River Health System in Mississippi Doctor, thank you for being here.

I mean, we listed it out. But you know it all too? Well. You all are facing some of the worst of it right now. I mean, with no beds essentially available, and the vaccination rate is still only 37 percent. Do you think this FDA stamp of approval that came this week on the Pfizer vaccine is going to make a meaningful change in your community?

DR. IJLAL BABAR, DIRECTOR OF PULMONARY & CRITICAL CARE, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM: Kate, I think it might help. But you know, based on what I've experienced, and other people have experienced, there's not a single reason that people have are not getting vaccinated.

So I think that might bite them in some people, but I don't think we're going to have a huge change because of that.

BOLDUAN: You're actually studying kind of vaccine hesitancy in your community? The reasons people are not comfortable? Or not very yet, if you will, what are the reasons people are giving you still for not getting the shot?

DR. BABAR: You know, I think and then we only have very preliminary data. We're still collecting this data right now. But it seems that the biggest concern is we do not have enough research on the vaccine. And they feel that the vaccine is not their best chance of protection against the disease.

BOLDUAN: But isn't this the most researched, studied vaccine ever?

DR, BABAR: I agree with you. But I think that the problem is the narrative that people are listening to? I think that social media has provided a totally separate narrative that people are subscribing to, they're not really going to the commercial narrative that we - that we are looking at.

BOLDUAN: And I actually read that you said that at least one patient has actually told you they would rather die than get the vaccine. Are you seeing that - are people listening to social media more than they're listening to doctors?

DR. BABAR: Absolutely I think so. And Kate, you know, we have so many people in our ICU and when we talk to their family, we never hear from them. And even worse that this patient of - they didn't get vaccinated.

Do you know - you would expect that to be it was - the vaccine. It just does not happen. Here in fact, I'm asking whether I'm giving patients Hydroxychloroquine or Ivermectin, that's the question some families have.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Babar, thank you very much for your time. We're having a bit of a technical issue with the audio. I do want to continue this conversation another time. Thank you for what you're doing and thank you for coming on.

DR. BABAR: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next for us, Democrats telling CNN that they are incredibly close to a deal nothing less than President Biden's entire agenda, though, seems to be at stake along with trillions of dollars in federal spending the very latest on that ahead.



BOLDUAN: We are hearing incredible stories of survival but also intense heartbreak from the flooding disaster in Tennessee that has now killed 21 people. The fast moving floodwaters knocked homes off their foundations swept cars away, washed out roads and more and more.

Vanessa Yates was one person who was trapped inside her home with four month old daughter at the time when the floodwaters came rushing in. I spoke with her last night about her terrifying ordeal. Listen to this.