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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden: "The Big Lie Is Just That, A Big Lie"; Texas Dems Pressure Congress To Pass Voting Rights Legislation; Forty-Five States See Rise In New COVID Cases Over Past Week; Who Will Lead FDA?; Capitol Police Funding Battle; Vaccine Mandates; Sisters Of American Kidnapped In Afghanistan Begs Biden Administration To Bring Her Brother Home. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm glad you brought up the calamari.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: It was shocking. That's all I'm telling you. It was a shocking bill. And when I take my son out, I don't expect it to be three digits.

BLACKWELL: Oh, no, just the one kid?

CAMEROTA: I mean, and my husband.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Biden laying out what the White House calls the moral case for voting rights.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The president slams Republicans as anti-American for new voting laws and for lies about the last election, but can Mr. Biden convince all 50 Senate Democrats of his case?

Politics poisoning the effort to vaccinate more Americans with kids now caught in the middle of this fight, and COVID cases nearly doubling compared to a week ago.

And as the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan, one American family is begging President Biden to not forget the last American hostage held by the Taliban. And his sister joins us for an exclusive interview.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin today with breaking news in our politics lead. President Biden just moments ago making an impassioned, high-profile speech on voting rights in the United States as civil rights activists and progressives criticize the president for not having done enough on the issue. Speaking in front of a crowd in the city of Philadelphia, the president called various state-led efforts to limit ballot access unconscionable and un-American. And he slammed Republicans who continue to tell lies about the 2020 election.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The big lie is just that, a big lie. In America, if you lose, you accept the results. You follow the Constitution, you try again. You don't call facts fake and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you're unhappy. That's not statesmanship.


That's not statesmanship. That's selfishness. That's not democracy. It's a denial of the right to vote.


TAPPER: Let's bring in Kaitlan Collins now live from the city of Philadelphia where President Biden gave that speech.

Kaitlan, I see various progressive voting rights activists applauding the speech saying it's strong. But the big question, of course, is, is it going to lead to any real legislation or change the reality on the Hill?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it doesn't seem like it because he did not call for new legislation, but you did see the president reassure or seek to reassure those Democrats who say he hasn't really done enough to make this a central theme of his presidency, which he had said he would do by pushing for legislation to get passed on Capitol Hill.

Voting rights legislation that we know has essentially faced no path to adoption so far because Republicans are completely unified against it. And that has been the big struggle that the White House has faced with trying to answer these calls from civil rights activists to push harder for this legislation even though they do not see that it has a path forward without getting rid of the filibuster.

Yet, he still did push for it here in Philadelphia in this speech. Here is what he told the audience.


BIDEN: We must pass the for the people act. It's a national imperative. We must also fight for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore and expand -- to restore and expand voting protections.


COLLINS: So, of course, Jake, he did not mention the filibuster while here. That is something that people like Al Sharpton who met with the president last week has said he needs to make more appeals to Democrats to unite behind changing the filibuster rules because they see it as -- the imperative here is to get legislation passed, not just litigate their way out of this. This is what we heard from several civil rights activist who did meet with the president last week.

I do think the other overarching theme of this speech, though, Jake, was going after the big lie and asking Republicans if they have no shame given they have helped perpetuate the former president's lie about the election and the idea that there was any fraud in that election, which is a lot of the driving force behind some of these changes that you were seeing across the nation.

And he was saying that is not what we do in America. If you lose the election, you accept the results, you can try again, but you don't just try to push back on the results because you don't like them.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan, stick around. I want to bring you in as I bring in our panel.

Sabrina, let me start with you. So Republicans have been pretty unified not just in Washington but around the country, in opposing bills, legislation, that would make it easier for people to vote. There are even some moderate Democrats who have concerns, however, about what Biden is proposing, the two pieces of legislation he talked about, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Act.


Who did President Biden -- whose mind did he change today? Who did he bring, energize to do something about this, if anyone?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in some ways this was an effort by President Biden to animate the American people, especially Democrats after he has faced some criticism or concerns from civil rights leaders for not being more assertive in pushing back against these Republican-led efforts to restrict ballot access. Is he talking to Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema? Perhaps. But there is, as you point out, a long way to go before getting to some kind of compromise on voting rights legislation.

I think in many ways, yes, this was a symbolic speech because the math isn't there in this Senate. And so the unanswered question is what does the White House do next? Now you see President Biden using his bully pulpit to try and very clearly frame these Republican-led bills around President Trump's attempts to overturn the election. But can they actually take a more direct role in negotiating some kind of compromise? Or is he going to continue to expend his political capital on infrastructure, which is clearly much more of a priority for the administration?

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. At the very least, you have to keep it in the news, right? I mean, you have to keep the spotlight on this issue, especially while there's a lack of progress to actually get legislation passed. Because while there's a lack of progress on the Hill, as you noted, Jake, there are plenty of state legislatures around the country right now that are continuing to push voting restrictions on specific groups, mainly minority groups as well.

And that, of course, prompted a handful of Democrat state legislatures to come or members of the state legislature to come to Washington, D.C. today to continue to put the pressure on the White House.

TAPPER: Well, I know -- explain what you mean by that just because I want people to understand. When you see there are restrictions aimed at minorities, who do you mean and how do you mean it? Because I know for instance there are efforts to remove the number of drop boxes or reduce or eliminate drop boxes.

How is that targeting minorities, or what specific laws target minorities?

KANNO-YOUNGS: Of course. I mean, another example, let's stick with Texas for example, right? I mean, right there, you have restrictions that are going through specifically in Harris County, right? That's a very diverse area to limit --

TAPPER: Houston.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Houston, correct. Yeah, to limit the availability for drive-thru voting, for drop boxes, as you say, to restrict the amount of opportunities that people may need, working-class people may need. Not everyone can just go and vote, you know, at specific times of the day. So by restricting those opportunities, that is the argument made by many advocates out there, including Democrats on the Hill today, about why this would be targeting a specific group of people.

TAPPER: Because those groups, Hispanics, for instance, in Houston or African-Americans in Georgia tend to use the drop boxes more. It's not like in the law, but it's looking at the ways that they use it.

Kaitlan, let me ask you. President Biden today called on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the more expansive For the People Act. As of right now, Democrats in the Senate don't have the votes. They don't even have all the Democrats in the Senate.

So what power does Biden really have here as long as he's pushing these two pieces of legislation and not something, for example, that can get 50 or even 60 votes?

COLLINS: Yell, yeah. Those two pieces of legislation are not going anywhere right now. They have no viable path forward because there is that unified Republican opposition, not even all the Democrats are on board with that.

So the question of what pushing for that actually does really remains to be seen because that has been a question posed to the White House time and time again where they have said we don't want to just see these calls for this, we actually want to see change happen.

I think part of when you talk to civil rights activists and other progressive Democrats who really want to see the White House put more muscle behind those legislative efforts or any other is they want to see the president bringing in lawmakers to talk about this, using his power to actually talk to them one on one, to encourage them to vote for this or talk to them about what it is they want to see in this, because those are efforts that he's taken when it comes to infrastructure and other pieces of legislation. And so, they want to see that same effort applied here.

Now, we talked to the White House, they say it's an uphill battle, these two bills aren't going anywhere, and president Biden has said, look, I have a very slim Senate majority. He said that in Tulsa when he last gave his speech on voting rights where he called out Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema saying they vote more with Republicans than they do with Democrats. That's not true, we should note, but he was making the argument that he does not have them safely in the corner of Democrats every time.

And so, this is a reality that he has made pretty clear before. Afterwards, the White House got a lot of questions about that. But they are clear-eyed about what the reality of actually getting those two bills passed is.


And so I think that's why he called for it but also moved on and focused on other efforts that they can take when it comes to voting rights and furthering voting access.

TAPPER: And, Sabrina, a civil rights activist pointed out that Biden was elected with broad support of the black community whose votes are often put at risk by the restrictions as Zolan was just talking about.

Take a listen to President Biden a few minutes ago.


BIDEN: This year alone, 17 states have enacted, not just proposed but enacted, 28 new laws to make it harder for Americans to vote. Twenty- first century Jim Crow assault is real. It's unrelenting. And we're going to challenge it vigorously.


TAPPER: Now, civil rights leaders who are now in Congress like Jim Clyburn, I asked him, do you agree with this kind of rhetoric, Jim Crow? And he said yes. I didn't know actually what he was going to say. Because when the Jim Crow laws to restrict voting by blacks were enacted, when those laws were enacted, they didn't say don't let black people vote, there were all sorts of technicalities and things like that. And that's what people are talking about here.

Is this a consensus view among Democrats, do you think?

SIDDIQUI: I think certainly there are a lot of Democrats who see it that way. You saw the president be very forceful in his framing of this issue. I mean, look, when you talk about the aftermath of the election because that is what really paved the way for Republicans to try and use the big lie to, you know, rally behind these bills seeking to crack down on voting access, they often complained about urban areas and cities, not so much rural areas who also overwhelmingly voted by mail. So I do think there is an emerging consensus among Democrats and President Biden did not really mince his words.

But, again, it goes back to the challenge. You mentioned Congressman Clyburn. He wants to see a filibuster carve out for voting rights legislation. That's not something you heard President Biden talk about today.

Is that something perhaps he can rally some of these moderate Democrats behind? Because we already know where he stands on eliminating the filibuster all together. It just doesn't seem like without some kind of carve out, at least if there's going to be any real consensus on voting rights legislation, even though he's highlighting at the same time the urgency of moving forward on these issues. You heard the president say roughly 28 bills in 17 states led by Republicans that have sought to crack down on access to the ballot.

TAPPER: It's something of a contradiction, though, if it's so urgent, progressive Democrats say, then why aren't you willing to change the filibuster at least for this one thing? We'll see what happens.

Zolan, Sabrina, Kaitlan, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.

Texas Democrats left their state to stop that Republican-backed voting bill. And now, the Republican governor is issuing a threat for when those legislators return.

And you'd think it would be a priority after a deadly insurrection. Why funding the Capitol Police is now a partisan fight.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today, Texas Democrats could be arrested when they return to the Lone Star State. That's at least the new threat from Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott after a group of Democratic lawmakers fled Texas yesterday to deprive the legislature of a quorum so as to block Republican legislators from passing a new voting law that contains additional restrictions. Though we should note that some of the more notorious provisions of the Texas law have been removed.

The Texas state legislators, the Democrats are on Capitol Hill today meeting with Democratic Party leaders in the U.S. Senate and trying to pressure President Biden to do more to pass federal election reform legislation.

But as CNN's Sara Murray reports for us now, this flight-and-fight effort is perhaps doomed to fail.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: As Texas Democrats make another dramatic attempt to fend off new voting restrictions in the Lone Star State --

RAFAEL ANCHIA (D), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: We are not going to buckle to the big lie in the state of Texas.

MURRAY: They're taking to Capitol Hill to press lawmakers and President Joe Biden to pass federal voter protections.

CHRIS TURNER (D), CHAIR, TEXAS HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: We can't hold this tide back forever. We're buying some time. We need Congress and all of our federal leaders to use that time wisely.

MURRAY: The Democratic members of the Texas house fled to Washington Monday evening on private planes to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to pass a new package of voting restrictions, including banning drive-through polling centers and 24-hour voting and making it harder to remove partisan poll watchers.

Other controversial measures like shortening voting hours on Sunday which could greatly limit Souls to the Polls and allowing political parties to shut down polling places and disqualify individual voters have been removed from this legislation unveiled last week.

DADE PHELAN (R), TEXAS HOUSE SPEAKER: There have been 80 ayes, zero nays. The motion fails for lack of quorum.

MURRAY: The move incensed Texas Republicans.

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK (R), TEXAS: You don't run from a fight. They have a constitutional obligation when they are elected to office to show up.

MURRAY: And GOP lawmakers quickly approve the measure authorizing arrest warrants for the absent Democrats.

PHELAN: The sergeant at arms and the office appointed by him are directed to send for all attendees whose attendance is not excused under warrant of arrest if necessary.

MURRAY: But with Texas law enforcement lacking jurisdiction in D.C., there's little they can do as long as the Democrats remain out of state.

JASMINE CROCKETT (D), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: I'm not worried about the threat of being arrested. The most that could happen is we could be detained, which is why we got out of the state.


MURRAY: Back in Austin, voting rights activists cheered Texas Democrats on in their fight.

JAMARR BROWN, CO-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEMOCRATIC PARTY: We have fought too long and we have fought too hard to have our right to vote stripped away from us.

MURRAY: Even though their odds of success appear slim. In Washington, Democrat senators have been unwilling to bust the filibuster to pass a voting rights bill. Republicans in Georgia, Florida, and Iowa have already passed laws making it harder to vote, often citing unfounded claims of widespread election fraud to defend their efforts. Similar measures have been considered in a number of other GOP-led states.

As for Texas Republican governor, he's vowing to get a new voting bill passed no matter how long it takes.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: I can and I will continue to call special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year.



MURRAY: Now, there are still more than 20 days left in this special session. But it's clear if Texas lawmakers set foot back in the state, Governor Greg Abbott has no qualms about seeing them arrested -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray in Austin, Texas, for us. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Several states are now banning COVID vaccine requirements in public schools. Should this shot be any different from the other ones already required, including for the mumps?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead today, get vaccinated. It seems so simple. They're free, they're available. Vaccines are the best way to make sure you don't die from the coronavirus.

But the injection of politics into the vaccine effort is making the push for the last third of U.S. adults to get the jab incredibly difficult.

CNN's Erica Hill now examines the preventable explosion coronavirus cases in the United States.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite millions of shots in arms, the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction.

DR. CHRIS T. PERNELL, FELLOW, AMERICAN COLLEGE OF PREVENTIVE MEDICINE: This is primarily a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And we need to be very clear about that message.

HILL: Daily vaccination rates are down nearly 50 percent since last week. Average new cases jumping 97 percent. And those are just the ones we know about. DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: People are thinking COVID's

over, why do I really need to get tested? And this is particularly happening in areas, unfortunately, where the vaccination rates are low, which is exactly where we want to be testing more.

HILL: The data is clear. States that have fully vaccinated more than half their residents are reporting fewer cases. But even those bright spots are surrounded by a sea of red, a whopping 45 states seeing a rise in new cases over the past week.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We have a solution to this for this. And the solution is vaccination.

HILL: The surgeon general voicing support for vaccine mandates in hospitals.

MURTHY: I think that healthcare workers have a responsibility to protect the patients.

HILL: As more states work to ban vaccine requirements or proof of vaccination, at least seven passing legislation aimed at public schools.

PERNELL: To flat out prohibit COVID-19 vaccination is not in anyone's best interest. When states make that move, they get in the way of good and effective public health.

HILL: In Tennessee, 14 to 17-year-olds don't need parental consent for medical care, including vaccines. A state medical director shared a memo laying out that policy and says it resulted in her being fired.

DR. MICHELLE FISCUS, FIRED TENNESSEE TOP VACCINATION OFFICIAL: I've not done anything wrong except inform our physicians of where the guidelines were around vaccinating minors. And, you know, my job is to protect, promote, and improve the health and prosperity of Tennesseans and the people of Tennessee have been sold out for politics.

HILL: The Tennessee Department of Health told CNN it can't comment on personnel matters.

In New York City, public schools will require masks this fall. That announcement coming on the same day California's health department backtracked on a promise to ban those who refused to mask up in K-12 schools, now saying enforcement will be up to local officials.


HILL: Jake, I just want to update you on the latest vaccination numbers. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have now fully vaccinated more than half their population. That's more than the nationwide average, which is actually 48 percent for the total population. Here's the group that's giving some folks pause -- 12 to 15-year-olds have been eligible for two months. Just a quarter, 25 percent of that age group, is now fully vaccinated.

TAPPER: All right. Erica Hill, thank you so much. Joining us now to discuss, Dr. William Schaffner, he's a professor at

Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee.

Dr. Schaffner, I want to talk about Tennessee. Let's bring it up on the map. It's the dark red on the CNN map showing its vaccine rate. The top vaccine official in your state was fired yesterday. You heard her say in Erica's piece, quote, the people of Tennessee have been sold out for politics.

I don't want to weigh in on politics. That's not your field. But you're a medical expert. As far as you know, has Dr. Fiscus done or said anything appropriate when it comes to vaccinations?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Well, Jake, absolutely. We need to keep the focus on vaccinating children. That's very, very important. You know, for many vaccines during the COVID enterprise, routine vaccinations dipped because children didn't go to their family doctors and their pediatricians. Now that they're all going back to school again this fall, we really need to keep vaccinating them to get them caught up. And that's with routine vaccines. And now we have COVID vaccine on top of that. We need to keep our children who are going back to school 12 and over well-vaccinated.

TAPPER: And I believe that was the message she was trying to deliver. Also in Tennessee, 14 to 17-year-olds are allowed to receive medical care without their parents' consent.


Researchers in the "JAMA Pediatrics" journal say that older teens have the capacity to make their own decisions about getting vaccinated.

Do you agree?

SCHAFFNER: I think many young people are quite aware of the issues, and they can go to the pediatrician or to their family doctors and request vaccination.

Anything we can do to increase vaccination rates for routine vaccines, as well as for COVID, are very, very important. We can't let our guard down. These diseases are out there in the world. They can be imported and spread among unvaccinated children.

It wasn't so long ago that we had large outbreaks of measles because there were children who were unvaccinated. These diseases are out there in the world. They don't need a passport. They can be back in this country in no time and make our children sick, when there's no need for that. These vaccines work and they're safe.

TAPPER: And one of the reasons people get vaccinated is not just for concern over themselves, but also a concern for other people in the community who might be vulnerable.

There are children in schools, for example, who might be -- have compromised your immune systems. And there are schools that want to ban people who aren't vaccinated from coming in.

But there are seven states that have barred public schools from requiring a COVID vaccine or requiring proof of vaccination. Schools have been requiring vaccines for other diseases for years. Does it make any sense to treat the COVID vaccine differently than the measles vaccine or the polio vaccine?

SCHAFFNER: Well, Jake, one of the things you keep hearing in this context is that these vaccines are being used under an emergency use authorization. They're not yet fully licensed.

I actually think that that is a pro forma issue, personally. But, nonetheless, I would hope that my colleagues at the Food and Drug Administration can go through their rigorous process as quickly as possible and fully license these vaccines, so that that concern on the part of some administrators and even some parents can be dissolved, and we can vaccinate these children much more quickly.

TAPPER: Why are people in Tennessee who are eligible not getting vaccinated, the ones who are not? What do they tell you?

SCHAFFNER: The same things that we hear all over the country. There are a whole variety of issues.

There are still people who are not yet convinced of the safety of these vaccines or their effectiveness. There are other people who are not convinced of the severity of COVID. There are lots of questions.

I mentioned the licensure issue. That comes up very, very frequently. Some people are concerned that there may be long-term effects years later, adverse effects associated with the vaccine. Of course, we have no vaccine, none, that we give to any of our children, adolescents and adults that have those kinds of long-term effects, and there's no reason for it either.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. William Schaffner, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

New CNN reporting also in our health lead. President Biden is in a standoff with his own party over who should lead the Food and Drug Administration. That's the agency Dr. Schaffner was just referring to. It's the agency in charge of approving vaccines and other medications.

CNN's Kristen Holmes joins us now.

And, Kristen, a career scientist at the FDA is at the center of this dispute?


You're talking about Dr. Janet Woodcock. She is the acting head of the FDA. So here's where things stand right now. There is no permanent head of the FDA and the Biden administration has yet to nominate one. And we talk to doctors and health officials and lawmakers who all say that this is a huge deal, that there should be someone at the helm of this critical health agency during this critical health crisis here in the United States.

But it's appearing less and less likely that Dr. Woodcock is going to be that person. Sources are telling us that, despite the fact that at once she was considered a front-runner, that she has decades of experience at the FDA, that there was just an enormous opposition to her being in charge of this, to her potential nomination, particularly from Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin.

And these senators, they're opposed to the way the FDA and particularly the part of the FDA that Woodcock lead for years handled the opioid epidemic. They say that the agency was just too quick to approve these new and addictive painkillers.

So the big question here is what exactly happens next, because it's unclear who else is up for this job. And as the administration says, look, we have this acting person here, we have this acting power that is an important role. These other officials are saying it's just not good enough. We need someone who can be held accountable long term, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kristen Holmes, thank you so much. Interesting.

They were the last line of defense between Congress and that MAGA mob, so why is there even a fight about providing basic funding for the Capitol Police?


That's next.


TAPPER: In our politics today: You might think that funding the Capitol Police, especially after the deadly insurrection could, be something quick and easy that Democrats and Republicans would all be able to agree on.

Nope. Instead, there is a fight in the U.S. Senate after Democrats unveiled a proposal that includes several elements unrelated to Capitol security.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Ryan, what exactly are Democrats proposing and what are Republicans saying?



This is a $4 billion package that Senate Democrats have proposed. And, yes, it does fill the funding gap that Capitol Police and the National Guard need. But it also has funding for a lot of other things that aren't directly connected to those security forces, for instance, hardening the windows and doors here at the Capitol, also COVID- related funds for various federal agencies, and also hardening things like federal courts across the country.

It's become a partisan battle now here on Capitol Hill. And, today, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said it shouldn't be that way.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): But these folks defended us. These folks are doing their jobs. And Republicans are somehow -- they get so contorted and so twisted in a knot, that they're withholding money from them. Stop it.


NOBLES: Now, Republicans would argue that they have a counterproposal, one that would do just that, just fund the Capitol Police and National Guard, fill that funding gap that they say is a necessity.

I pressed the majority leader to ask him why they wouldn't just pass that. Jake, his response is that all of these priorities are too important and that they need to get the entire bill passed and as soon as possible.

TAPPER: Ryan, Capitol Police, their funding starts running out in August. Is there any chance that this is going to be taken care of and fixed before August?

NOBLES: Well, there didn't seem to be a lot of optimism around that yesterday.

But so far today, Patrick Leahy, who's the Senate Appropriations chairman, and his counterpart, the vice chairman, Richard Shelby of Alabama, they did talk on the Senate floor. And Leahy said that progress is being made.

So these negotiations are under way. Whether or not they're going to get there in time before all this funding runs out remains to be seen. But, Jake, at the very least they are talking, which means that there is some progress.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

As America ends its involvement in its longest war, one American citizen remains in captivity in Afghanistan. And his sister, she's going to join us live next.



TAPPER: In our world lead today, today, the Pentagon said that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is now more than 95 percent complete. That includes more than 980 retrograded cargo planes loaded with equipment and seven facilities now in the hands of the Afghan military. But an Illinois family is begging President Biden to not forget about

Mark Frerichs. Mark Frerichs is a U.S. Navy veteran who was kidnapped in Afghanistan in January 2020. There he had been pursuing a water contract. Today, July 13th is Mark Frerichs's 59th birthday and his second in captivity.

In a CNN, exclusive interview, his sister Charlene Cakora joins me with her husband Chris Cakora by her side.

Charlene, thank you so much for being here. I know this isn't easy.

Tell me about the work that your brother had been doing in Afghanistan before he was kidnapped.

CHARLENE CAKORA, SISTER OF MARK FRERICHS, AMERICAN HELD HOSTAGE BY TALIBAN: He did a lot of contracting work helping to rehabilitate Afghanistan. He was just trying to do everything he could to help out there. And he was working on a water project the last I talked to him two days before he was kidnapped. And he was very excited about what he was doing.

He was always happy on the phone, Zoom calls that I'd get, and the stuff that he would accomplish out there to help people. He was very proud of all that and very happy with what he was doing.

TAPPER: Have you had any indication that mark is still alive and where he might be?

CHARLENE CAKORA: We do not. We were told that he could be in Pakistan. We're being told now that he's not in Pakistan, maybe he's in the border. We do not know where he is. And right now, we -- they are saying that he's well and he's healthy, but that was in January. And so, no, we don't have any recourse right now that he is alive or dead.

TAPPER: When you say they're saying he was okay in January, who and how did you hear that?

CHARLENE CAKORA: That was from our ambassador. He basically stated that he was told by, I believe, Mullah Baradar that Mark is healthy and well, and that's what they told me.

TAPPER: The Biden administration obviously has been very focused on withdrawing all U.S. service members from Afghanistan. The president did briefly mention your brother in his speech on Afghanistan last week. Let's roll that tape.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to continue to work for the release of detained Americans including Mark -- excuse me Frerichs. I want to pronounce the name correctly. I misspoke. So that he can return to his family safely.


TAPPER: What was your reaction to that? CHARLENE CAKORA: My reaction was, it was very surprising because that

just gave me the indication that he's not bringing Mark's name up as much because I feel that it should be just rolling right off of his tongue at this point, Frerichs. So, I just -- it makes me mad because I feel no, he's not -- he's not getting Mark's name out. Otherwise he wouldn't have misspoke his name.


TAPPER: The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for any information leading to Mark's location and rescue. Do you believe that there is an active effort to make that happen to get him home safe?

CHARLENE CAKORA: I believe they're not getting anywhere with the RFJ. I mean, I don't think that they've gotten any leads, and it's not getting anywhere. My belief right now is I really need to appeal to any U.S. government that can help get mark home, and also appeal to Afghan, Qatar, Pakistan governments to help get Mark home and get him returned home safely.

TAPPER: Who have you talked to in the Biden administration? I know that you've discussed mark's well-being with the two U.S. senators from your home state of Illinois, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. Who else have you spoken with, who in the Biden administration specifically?

CHARLENE CAKORA: We have Secretary of State Blinken. We've talked to him several times. He's been a big help. And also Roger Carstens, I believe he came from the Trump administration. And that's, to my knowledge, that's pretty much -- that's pretty much it.

TAPPER: Has there been any communication from the kidnappers at all? Do they want anything?

CHARLENE CAKORA: Not personally that we understand from the kidnappers themselves. But we have been told that per our ambassador and Mullah Baradar that they are requesting the release of Benir Norjai (ph) for the release of Mark as a trade.

TAPPER: I know you hit roadblocks with both President Biden and former President Trump. Why do you think you hit roadblocks? Why do you believe that your brother's name is not top of mind for these two presidents?

CHARLENE CAKORA: I think he's just a thorn in their side because they want to get this peace deal, they want to get it signed, they want to get it done, they want this -- our troops to come home. And they're -- I don't feel that they're really putting Mark ahead -- forward with anything and putting him, giving him --


CHARLENE CAKORA: Priority, yes. And I don't even feel that he's priority right now. But he is to me one of those troops. Even though he wasn't active, he's a U.S. Navy veteran, even though he wasn't out there to be active with, you know, our forces, he was out there as a contractor, which I feel that he should still be treated the same and make sure he gets home as well as everybody else.

TAPPER: Lastly, Charlene, CNN runs internationally. Who knows who's watching right now. If you could speak directly to your brother, what would you say?

CHARLENE CAKORA: Mark, please just keep your head up high. We will do everything we can to get you home. I'm working very hard and we're all working hard. So please have faith in our U.S. governments that we will get you home soon.

TAPPER: And we're going to continue to help you, Charlene and Chris Cakora. Thank you so much for your time, and blessings to you and to your brother out there.


CHRIS CAKORA: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, what does Republican Senator Joni Ernst have to say to her fellow Republicans as the vote and election reform issue keeps being debated and discussed and as many keep pushing the big lie? We're going to talk to her next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, some 100 people allegedly missing or arrested in Cuba after widespread protests the size of which we have not seen in decades. We will go live to Havana.

Plus, new inside-the-room details on former President Trump's final days in office. What caused Trump and his family to become apoplectic?

And leading this hour, President Biden this afternoon pushing election reforms, slamming Trump's big lie that the presidency was somehow stolen and denouncing as un-American, state level actions the Democrats say will restrict voting access. But even with slim control of Congress, there is no clear path for Democrats to take any sweeping actions. We'll talk to both Democratic and Republican senators this hour.

But first CNN's Kaitlan Collins starts us off with Biden's high- profile address.


BIDEN: An assault on democracy.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden putting his political muscle behind voting rights.

BIDEN: Some things in America should be simple and straightforward. Perhaps the most important of those things, the most fundamental of those things is the right to vote.

COLLINS: Standing in the birthplace of U.S. democracy, Philadelphia, the president blasted Republican efforts to limit access to the ballot as un-American.

BIDEN: In America, if you lose, you accept the results. You don't call facts fake and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you're unhappy. That's not statesmanship.