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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Announces Vaccine Requirement For All Federal Employees; More Companies Tell Employees: Get Vaxxed Or Get Fired; Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) Is Interviewed About Vaccine Requirements; Louisiana COVID Patients Explain Why They Didn't Get Vaccinated; Blinken: First Afghan Allies To Arrive In U.S. "Very Soon". Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 29, 2021 - 17:00   ET




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tell the health industry that they should be -- the government health entities, what they should say and do. But my expectation is they're going to reach that conclusion in the early fall.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were fully vaccinated, you longer need to wear a mask. And it seems fascinating.

BIDEN: If fully vaccinated in America where you do not have -- well, let me clarify it --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In May, you made it sound like a vaccine was the ticket to losing the mask forever.

BIDEN: That is true at the time because I talk to people who are going to (INAUDIBLE) that getting vaccinated make a gigantic difference. And what happened was very clear, they didn't get vaccinated. It was spread more rapidly to people. More people were getting sick. That's the difference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How was the First Lady, sir?


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper.

You've been listening to President Biden speaking about the urgent need for more Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. The President announced some new requirements for all federal employees and federal contractors. He also laid out new incentives to get more people vaccinated including asking states to give $100 to every newly vaccinated person and reimbursements for companies who give their employees paid time off to get their shots.

President Biden also addressed the new mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the mask mandates popping back up in cities across the country. Let's get straight to CNN's Jeff Zeleny right now live at the White House.

And Jeff, the White House obviously is worried about the trajectory that the U.S. is on with the Delta variant, and too many Americans still refusing to get vaccinated.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Jake, no question about it. What we just heard there was a president pleading with his country to change their behavior and try and stop this rising pandemic. We have not heard President Biden speak with this level of concern in his voice really for several months.

Also, a tacit acknowledgment which of course we all know that progress on this has essentially been frozen, has been halted in place. For the last month many people here at the White House have been trying to downplay the fact that progress had been halted.

This was a president essentially throwing that out the window and saying, look, America is not making the progress it needs to. And really imploring and calling up on all Americans, the unvaccinated as well as the vaccinated to step forward and try and make a course correction here. Talking about the economy, talking about, you know, how it's going to impact schools and other matters.

Jake, this is a big inflection point in this fight against COVID-19. The Biden administration has made this their top priority to fight this pandemic. And for six months or so it was going along pretty well. Now that progress has halted and we do not know what is going to be coming next.

But you saw him walking into the eastern there with a mask. Their mask requirements now happening across the country here in Washington, D.C. as well. But specifically, they are trying to really jumpstart something in the private sector by doing what he can do to require federal workers to give an acknowledgement of their vaccination status, which before today, they were not allowed to do.

And if they don't get vaccinated, they have to submit to twice weekly testing, not travel for work, social distancing, they're making it harder for them to do their jobs. But the DOJ, probably the biggest part of this, the Department of Defense, the President authorizing his secretary of defense to look into this, that would certainly go a long ways to sending the message as well, getting people in the military vaccinated. So Jake, I think this is one of the biggest speeches the President has given on COVID in certainly weeks, if not months.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Let's discuss two main issues for us to talk about. One of them that is a vaccine and one of them is masking.

Let's start with the vaccine for a second because it was remarkable, Ayesha, because we have talked about this for months now. I have said, others have said President Trump gets credit for things that happened well under his administration, gets blamed for things that happened poorly. Operation Warp Speed happened under his administration. It is a miracle of modern science with the scientists delivered there. Both those who got the funds directly from the administration like Moderna and those that were encouraged to through distribution promises and funding like Pfizer.

President Biden came as close to crediting Trump, at least in part, as I have ever heard him say, the vaccine was authorized and approved under a Republican administration. He also went on to praise a Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who's also a Republican. Will that make a difference?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: I don't know that that will make a difference. But he's trying to make the point that look, this is not just a Democrat thing. This is not something that he is trying to push on the American people. That this is something that happened under, like, this vaccine was developed under President Trump, former President Trump and that hoping that his base will, you know, latch on to that. But that just hasn't happened yet.


And I don't think that Biden making that statement in and of itself will be enough, because the people who are concerned about Biden are not listening to what he has to say, which has been the problem all along for this administration.

TAPPER: Would it help, Alice, if instead of trying to undermine democracy and continue to cast aspersions about the elections in the United States, President Trump very aggressively went on a tour? And yes, he has talked about how he's vaccinated, but he is not -- he has 10s of millions of dollars in his campaign account for all this stop the steal nonsense, he could emerge as a hero on this issue. He could say I need Trump supporters, vaccine -- vaccination rates to go up, let's do it people. Would that help?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That would help tremendously. But that will not happen, unfortunately. And yes, I'm glad to see that President Biden praise the previous administration for getting the vaccines out there and helping to get them approved. But the former President, Mr. tremendous opportunity, when he got the shot, the king of optics should have staged a big photo op shown the American people what it's like to get the shot and how important it is. Unfortunately, he missed that opportunity, and has gone on to make this a political issue. And that's really unfortunate, because it's not.

As President Biden said, this is not a red state or blue state issue. This is a life and death issue. But I will say with this -- what he said today was really important from a communication standpoint, when you're issuing a broad mandate. You tell people what they need to do, you tell them how you're going to help them and you tell them why it's important. He was able to do that. But the biggest hurdle aside from that is taking the politics out of this and putting healthcare on the front burner.

TAPPER: Now, let's also talk about the masking because to be frank, it's confusing. It's confusing, and you heard President Biden say some things that you found also not as clear as they could have been. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, and I don't think it was clear when the CDC director announced that the other day, we should note that they changed the mask guidance for fully vaccinated people and tied it to the number of cases where you live. President Biden pointed that out.

But he also was saying that breakthrough cases are rare for fully vaccinated people. And if you do get infected, it's likely to be a mild case. The CDC said they were changing this guidance because they have found evidence that people who are fully vaccinated can spread the virus. So, they seem to be saying this is an area of concern that we're looking at. And that's part of the reason --

TAPPER: Not getting sick if you're vaccinated, but spreading the virus if you're vaccinated.

COLLINS: But spreading it.


COLLINS: But still talking about -- they were saying maybe it's not so where (ph). We're looking at how often fully vaccinated people are getting it, that's why we're recommending this.

I think the other confusion was that he was tying wearing a mask to vaccination rates in your area. That is not what the CDC did the other day. They tied it to the number of cases in your area, not hospitalizations, not the number of cases in your area. That's why in D.C., now starting on Saturday, we're going to be wearing a mask when we're inside, even if you're fully vaccinated.

TAPPER: Biden seem to suggest that in New Castle, Delaware, where his home is, the vaccination rates are high. And that's why he didn't have to wear a mask there. Is that accurate? It's not true?

COLLINS: That's not the case. The reason he did not have to wear a mask when he went there the other day is because they had a moderate level of transmission not substantial or high, which are the two levels. Which is also confusing, because I don't think most people know which area they live in, it changes as they update the guidance.

So I just think it raises a lot of questions. And there at the end, you saw the President grow quite animated, because he was asked about what he did say not that long ago, that if you have been vaccinated, you don't have to wear a mask. He was saying what we've heard from a lot of health officials, which is they are working on a rolling basis with changing science and data and evidence here. And clearly, the level of concern is real with the Delta variant because he said cases are going to go up. We have not heard that from him in a very long time.

TAPPER: So, Jamal, as a communications professional, nobody doubts that the people at the CDC and, well, I shouldn't say nobody, I don't doubt that the people at the CDC and President Biden want Americans to get vaccinated so that people don't get sick. But as a communications matter, where could they improve? JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't think this is a communications problem for them. It turns out, he used to say, you know, we're going to avoid stuff like the plague. That's not really a thing, right? Like, people don't really -- are not willing to avoid the plague.

So instead, what we're now finding is that we have -- we're at war with a virus that has done more damage to America than any terrorist attack has ever done, right? Killed more people, shut down economy.


SIMMONS: That's right. And so, we have got to do whatever it takes to break the back of it. So, what I think is happening here, by doing the mandate, not only are they going to get huge populations of people vaccinated, you're going to encourage them to get vaccinated.

They're also making people who are having the lacks vaxxer, right? They're the ones who are, like, not only against vaccination, I just haven't gotten around to it yet. I think we're starting to see some of those people decide to get in the game and go and get that vaccination.


TAPPER: Dr. Peter Hotez is still with us from Texas.

Dr. Hotez, President Biden said several times, quote, "we're following the science." But the CDC has yet to divulge the studies. It's looking at the data it has to explain and justify its most recent masking guidance, should they?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT AT TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Yes, they should. And it is very confusing. I mean, I understand it, but I have an MD and a PhD and I've been thinking about coronavirus vaccines for more than a decade. And, you know, it goes like this. So, you know, we know that these vaccines, even against the Delta variants still protect against serious illness and symptomatic illness or holding up really well.

The issue is there's preliminary data and it's only preliminary, it hasn't been published, it comes out in various preprint forms, that the amount of virus in breakthrough cases, in those rare breakthrough cases is quite high. So people are still shedding a lot of virus if they get Delta and they're vaccinated. As opposed to previously with the earlier lineages if you were vaccinated with stopping both symptomatic illness, a serious illness and asymptomatic transmission. And that second performance feature may be going away with the Delta variant unless we could restore it with a third immunization, which is also being under consideration.

So, what's happening is we're trying to communicate complex scientific concepts and trying to simplify it, so people can understand it. And it's tough to do. You know, if you give me 10, 15 minutes to explain it, I think everyone will understand it. But it's hard to get that kind of time. And conveying complex scientific concepts has its challenges.

So I think the CDC is following the science. I think they will come out with the published information. But remember, they're dealing with a lot of preliminary things as well.

And -- but what it really comes down to, Jake, is this, we're all worried. And we're worried because Delta is accelerating and something else is about to happen, and that is school is about to open. Especially in the south, where they opened up schools early and this is where transmission is accelerating. So, we're worried this is going to blow the whole thing open and trying to keep a lid on it by doing everything humanly possible to encourage people to vaccinate.

And I thought the President gave an excellent speech. Basically, what he said is anything within his jurisdiction under the auspices of the federal government he's going to implement in order to get people vaccinated, just to keep a lid on it. And I think he made that point pretty clear.

TAPPER: Dr. Hotez thanks so much. And thanks to everyone here.

It's not just President Biden, it's also businesses from Google to Netflix to Morgan Stanley, a number of major corporations are now mandating all of their employees have to be vaccinated. I want to bring in Richard Quest. He's the Editor at Large for CNN Business.

Richard, good to see you.

A long list of companies going beyond the option. Biden is giving federal employees a choice, basically get vaccinated or get weekly negative COVID tests. These businesses, however, are saying no, no, you have to get vaccinated before you come back to the office. Is that even legal in the United States?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: It's a very fine point, Jake. Have you read up on it? It basically providing you're not breaking the American against Disabilities Act, and you're not dealing with the Civil Rights Act, and you've managed to follow all the necessary Equal Employment legislation, then yes, it probably is legal, depending on the reason why somebody says whether it's a religious reason or whether it's a medical reason, but it's not clear.

However, companies are going forth anyway. Because they've had enough. They are all looking forward to September coming back into the office. They are deeply worried. You know, the good doctor just before me talks about how worried everybody is, companies are worried about filling big buildings, like here at Hudson Yards with 1000s of people and somebody not being vaccinated, and the whole thing goes over the edge.

TAPPER: A lot of these corporate vaccine requirements came along quickly and on mask this week, did something change? Was there a directive? What had that happen?

QUEST: Delta, Delta, and the realization that things are getting worse. And the fact where in the summer, you've got the South with the school's reopening. You've got this date in September, when more and more companies are saying we want you back in the office.

And some of the big banks here in New York have made it clear as you know, Jake, they've said we're not messing around with hybrid this or hybrid that, you're back in the office. Well, you can only say that if you basically demand everybody to be vaccinated, because simply having a testing requirement or a mask requirement per se is not going to give that same element of security.

TAPPER: All right, Richard Quest, thanks so much.

Coming up next, a deal on Capitol Hill. Can this infrastructure agreement make it to the finish line? I'll talk to the number two House Democrat next.

Plus, Suni Lee steps up and wins gold. I'll talk to a gymnast who won the same event. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our national lead. President Biden just moments ago announcing federal workers and federal contractors must all get vaccinated or undergo regular testing indicating that they do not have COVID. The Biden administration is racing to switch tactics as coronavirus caseload skyrocket across the country along with the Delta.

Joining me in live discusses, the House Majority Leader Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

Mr. Majority Leader, let me ask you a question. So, the federal government is now going to be mandated to have vaccines or weekly COVID tests, should Congress do the same for all members of Congress and staff?


REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): Well, I think we certainly have urged all members of Congress and all staff to be vaccinated, and I think we're well over 70 percent. So that we have reached a percentage, that's a good percentage. But should we urge everybody to have one? Yes. Should we require everyone to have one or as the President has done alternatively be tested or certainly wear masks and assert that they are not feeling as if they may have COVID? I think the answer to that is yes.

We need to get people vaccinated in this country. And we need to urge everybody to be vaccinated.

And very frankly, every leader, Republican or Democrat, this has nothing to do with politics, everything to do with health and life in our country. And it just seems to me inconceivable that when you see 98 plus percent of the people who are getting really sick or getting the Delta variant --


HOYER: -- are unvaccinated. They are -- get the variant and have been vaccinated. It is a minimal illness. It's just unfathomable that people don't understand. Get vaccinated.

TAPPER: Yes. So, I just want to make sure that I understand you here, because we believe based on comments that Kevin McCarthy made yesterday that about 65 congressional Republicans are not vaccinated, 65. You're saying that you think that all 65 should either be required to be vaccinated or take weekly COVID test to indicate that they do not have COVID, as well as anybody else who works in the Capitol who is not vaccinated?

HOYER: I think the answer to that and the only reason I hesitate, these are elected officials. They're elected to represent their constituencies, so it's a little more complicated, in my opinion, but yes. For the safety of all the members of Congress and for the operations of the Congress of the United States, we want to have a healthy Congress.

Every member ought to be vaccinated or in the alternative. Certainly, we're requiring now every member to wear a mask, which is mandatory on the House floor, or you get a fine. And I think in addition to that, if people -- if the 65 -- I don't, that's not my figure, it is Kevin McCarthy's figure, but if that's the figure, then they ought to have to be tested on a relatively regular basis to make sure that they're not bringing virus into the chamber and shouldn't be bringing virus, frankly, into their offices or into the office complex.

TAPPER: President Biden gave a nod to the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed, he praised Republican Governor Kay Ivey, he praised Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, that seems to be no accident.

HOYER: Well, I'm sure it wasn't an accident when he did that. I'm sure he did it consciously. And I think what he wanted to say is, honestly, look, this is not a political issue, and some Republicans have done very good work. Clearly, Warp Speed did get us to a place in some respects. And of course, the extraordinary intellect, intelligence and resources of the United States of America were brought to bear in a very focused way and accomplish something in the quickest time, I think in history, to develop this kind of a vaccine that quickly and that effectively.

So yes, I think this is not a partisan issue. We ought to give credit to Republicans, Democrats, the medical community and the nurses, the media, who's made it very clear that vaccinations work by simply giving the figures to Americans.


HOYER: And I think, senator I said, but President Biden clearly has had a background of bipartisan involvement, and accomplishment. And he is very committed to that, he believes that's the best interest of the country. He believes it's the best way to get it done. We share that view. TAPPER: So, we saw a breakthrough on infrastructure last night, that bipartisan package in the Senate Democrats and Republicans working together. House progressive Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Democrat of New York, is criticizing negotiators in her view for, quote, "choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations," and calling that a bipartisan accomplishment.

I guess her general argument is a bunch of middle-aged white people cannot be representative of what the entire country wants and the Democratic Party failed to include nonwhites in the negotiations. Thus the bill was not what you wanted it to be. What's your response to that?

HOYER: Well, I think the important thing is what is the substance of the bill? I take your point. It's a good point. We believe very strongly in diversity and inclusion in the Democratic Party and certainly in the House of Representatives. You see that all the time.


Having said that, it's the product that ultimately, we will make a judgment on when we vote. I was pleased to see the Senate get 67 votes to proceed on the infrastructure bill. The infrastructure bill has a lot of very good in it.

As you know, we passed the Invest in America Act that Pete DeFazio brought to the floor as chairman of the committee. A very, very good bill that now I had real investment infrastructure bill, also real investment in climate and meeting the climate change. That is an existential threat --


HOYER: -- to our country and to the community. So, we believe there are other things that could have been, should have been in that bill, but we think the bill that the Senate has adopted has a lot of very good things in it.

TAPPER: You think that --

HOYER: And please --

TAPPER: You think that, sir, but Chairman DeFazio called the bill, quote, "crap?"

HOYER: Well, I wouldn't characterize it as that. I don't think I'm more -- in a more reflective mood that he -- there's a lot of very good solid investment that's included in the Senate bill. And we'll have to make a judgement. Is it enough?

And very frankly, Jake, as you know, I'm an old timer, I've been here for some period of time. And I think it is very sad that we do not go to conference with our bill, the Invest in America Act, their bill, which is in the process of being --

TAPPER: Yes. HOYER: -- put on paper. If they pass it as I hope they will. What we will do is go to conference. Now, whether we'll do that or not, as you know, unfortunately in the Senate, now to take 60 votes to pass such a bill. It takes 60 votes to even go to conference which I think undermines our democracy. But that's another issue.

TAPPER: It's another issue, yes. All right.

HOYER: For another day where we are. And if they pass the bill, we'll have to decide what actions we ought to take.

TAPPER: Yes. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, thank you so much for your time, sir. Really appreciate it.

HOYER: You bet, Jake, thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, the urgent plea from people who put off getting the vaccine only to end up in the hospital with the virus. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We are continuing with our health lead and trying to understand why tens of millions in this country have not yet gotten vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus. Louisiana is among the states with the worst vaccine rates and no coincidence it is also suffering a surge in new cases.

CNN's Miguel Marquez visited a hospital in Baton Rouge and found people willing to discuss why they put off getting a shot until it was tragically too late.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ. CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aimee Matzen struggles to breathe.

(on-camera): What does it feel like to have COVID?

AIMEE MATZEN, LOUISIANA COVID-19 PATIENT: Exhausting, extremely frustrating, tiring. And the fact that I am here now, I am furious with myself.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Why?

MATZEN: Because I was not vaccinated.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Not anti-vaccine, she says she just didn't get around to it. The 44-year-old is now one of dozens of COVID-19 patients in Baton Rouge's Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Her oxygen low, her doctor says she might need a ventilator.

MATZEN: Just don't want anyone else winding up like me, especially when the vaccine is so easy to get now. MARQUEZ (voice-over): The Delta variant now prevalent in the Bayou state, not only is it enormously infectious.

DR. CATHERINE O'NEAL, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, OUR LADY OF THE LAKES REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: The Delta variant is far more contagious, right? But that viral load doesn't just mean that I'm going to spread it to more people. It also means that when I inhale somebody else's breath, I am getting a massive amount of virus.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): It is spreading everywhere in cities and rural areas.

O'NEAL: There's nowhere safe. If you're interacting in this community, you should be vaccinated and you should have a mask on because we are inundated with COVID.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Ronnie Smith, 47, says he thinks he got it from a friend outdoors, outdoors, at a barbecue. He was planning to get the vaccine when COVID-19 got him.

RONNIE SMITH, LOUISIANA COVID-19 PATIENTS: Well two days after the event, it just like -- I went down on the floor and I couldn't get up.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Nurses here say they've watched the number of critically-ill patients grow rapidly. Some anti-vaccination patients still in denial COVID-19 is real.

MORGAN BABIN, NURSE, OUR LADY OF THE LAKES REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Some people insist that we're lying to them about their COVID positive diagnosis.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Even sick people.

BABIN: Even sick people.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Who need oxygen, who might be on their way to death --


MARQUEZ (on-camera): -- are still denying they have COVID?

BABIN: Yes, I have patients that denied that they have COVID all the way up until intubation.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): What do they think they have?

BABIN: They think that they have a cold.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Carsyn Baker only 21 has a kidney condition. Her doctor has advised against getting vaccinated for now. She thinks she picked up the coronavirus while in a screened in porch across the room from someone else who had it.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): What does that tell you about how easy it is to pick this variant up? CARSYN BAKER, LOUISIANA COVID-19 PATIENT: Yes, it just kind of sucks because people like myself with an autoimmune disease, you can't really go anywhere now because just everybody's getting sick and it just doesn't matter what you do.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Laurie Douglas has been in nursing for 35 years. The last year, her hardest, frustration with sickness, death and the unvaccinated at boiling point.

LAURIE DOUGLAS, NURSE, OUR LADY OF THE LAKES REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Sometimes praying isn't enough and yell at Jesus if I need to. It's head-shaking, teeth grinding, knees tight standing up just wanting to scream from the hilltops, frustrating


Miguel Marquez, CNN, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Miguel for that peace.

Coming up, the rush to get them out of Afghanistan before the Taliban get to them first. The effort to help the Afghans who help the United States, that's next.


TAPPER: In our world lead today, the Biden administration says the first group of Afghan interpreters and other allies from that war will begin arriving in the U.S., quote, very, very soon. Some Afghans who helped the United States during America's longest war will head to Fort Lee, Virginia where they finally will be out of arm's reach of the Taliban who have been threatening to kill them and their families.

But even after this group arrives, thousands more Afghans and their families are still waiting in the wings and making heartbreaking pleas such as this one.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was so difficult for me that I'm living in here. They will kill me, sir, please. I don't know what to do. I don't know with whom I should talk.


TAPPER: CNN's Kylie Atwood follows the harrowing journey.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I don't go out of Afghanistan, I'm counting down my end of life. KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every day that the Taliban control surges in Afghanistan, the situation grows more deadly for Afghan interpreters who are trying to flee the country after working alongside U.S. troops and diplomats. Three interpreters who have applied for Special Immigrant Visas to the United States, or SIVs, spoke to CNN and described just how urgently they must get out of the country. Because after years of putting their lives on the line next to U.S. soldiers, the Taliban are hunting them down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely we need to get out of the country. They are looking after us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our future will be dark. They're going to cut our heads too.

ATWOOD (voice-over): He's referring to a recent report of the Taliban, beheading Afghans who worked alongside U.S. troops. These Afghans fear for their families as well as themselves. CNN is concealing their identities to keep them safe. One of them, Niab (ph) is particularly concerned about what will happen to his daughter's if the Taliban takeover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They will destroy the schools and they prevent my girls to go to school.

ATWOOD (voice-over): All three men we spoke with had faced terrifying threats. One of them, Ramesh (ph), explained what happened to him earlier this month when the Taliban knocked on his door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My family hide me and told them, Ramesh (ph) was gone somewhere. Then, they search at our house, and I was hide inside the oven in my yard. They burned my house. And nothing remained to us. All our materials burned by them.

ATWOOD (voice-over): They burned your house?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. They burned my house.

ATWOOD (voice-over): After that, Ramesh (ph) snuck out of his hometown in the middle of the night, embarking on a dangerous journey to Kabul, where the Taliban are not in control.

Army Captain Sayre Paine worked with Ramesh (ph) in Afghanistan and encouraged him to flee to Kabul under the cloak of darkness.

SAYRE PAINE, FORMER ARMY CAPTAIN: To me, it's the comrade in arms and delegable duty to not betray them. You put these people on the tears with your own family.

ATWOOD (voice-over): Pain says the United States could not have done the job on the ground without the interpreters by their side. He feels angry thinking about the ones who may not make it out.

PAINE: To allow and fully know all of these people signing up for this promise -- to come literally to the promised land and to just let it go isn't the trail to those people.

ATWOOD (voice-over): About 20,000 Afghans have applied for SIVs. 700 of them will fly into the United States in the coming weeks and wait at a U.S. military base while their visas are finalized. Yet the total processing time can take years. President Biden has promised --

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will stand with you just as you stood with us.

ATWOOD (voice-over): But the United States government has not yet laid out a comprehensive plan to get these Afghans out of the country before the complete U.S. troop withdrawal next month.

Due to the urgent and vast nature of this challenge, many individuals like Paine have taken it upon themselves to contribute. Janis Shinwari, a former Afghan interpreter living in Virginia set up a nonprofit to help SIVs based on his own experience.

JANIS SHINWARI, FORMER AFGHAN TRANSLATOR: When I came here at the airport, I realized that government has not taken care of us and I was with my own. And from that time, I thought that I have to build something to help these SIV's when they're coming to the United States and they don't know anybody.

ATWOOD (voice-over): Earlier this month, he waited at the airport to welcome an Afghan SIV recipient and his family to the United States. Janis's nonprofit paid for their flights.

It's an emotional and hopeful scene, but a glance at his phone offers a reality check, hundreds of messages, all Afghans pleading with him to help them get out.


ATWOOD: Jake, each of these Afghan SIV applicants that I spoke with has children. One of them has five children. I tell you that to underscore the fact that it's not just these 20,000 applicants who are trying to get to the United States, it's also their families who are trying to get here because they feel their lives are in jeopardy. Jake?

TAPPER: Kylie Atwood, thank you for that important report. The Biden administration finally is laying out its strategy for immigration from Central America. What's in the strategy? That's next.



TAPPER: In our world lead, nearly two months after Vice President Harris went to Central America to focus on trying to stem the tide of illegal immigration to the United States, the Biden administration is now out with a new plan to ease the crisis at the U.S. border. Some of the broad strokes include tackling corruption and economic insecurity in those Central American countries. I want to bring in CNN's Priscilla Alvarez. And Priscilla, Americans

may be hard pressed to hear anything really new in this announcement and any specifics.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Yes, the pillar is laid out actually or emulate the February executive order in which Biden laid out the strategy for Central America.


But here's what experts are pointing to. They say this strategy is also focusing on pathways to legal migration. So that indicates the Biden divine administration knows that people will migrate from the region, but how do you do that lawfully and from the region. So not having to take that journey to the U.S. southern border. So that is something that they're pointing to. But, again, we're waiting for more details.

TAPPER: What are you learning about plans by the administration to push back on this new executive order out of Texas?

ALVAREZ: The Justice Department is threatening legal action. This is the second time the administration has had to send a letter to the Texas Governor saying that his orders are going a step too far. So in this case, this is an order targeting migrants and the transportation of migrants.

I spoke to officials today who were concerned about the way that it could really affect their operations. And now the Justice Department is stepping in, they're calling it both dangerous and unlawful in a letter and threatening and to go to court and they have to.

TAPPER: All right, we'll see what happens. Priscilla Alvarez, thanks so much.

Coming up next, a new champion, Team USA Suni Lee wins gymnastics gold. We're going to talk to a gymnast who won that same event next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Our sports lead, Team USA Suni Lee won the gymnastics all- around gold medal today while her teammates Simone Biles cheered her on from the sidelines. Lee is the fifth consecutive American woman to win that title. A streak (ph) that was started by my guest now, Carly Patterson Caldwell who won the gold and the all-around at 16 years old at the 2004 Olympics. She's now a motivational speaker and joins us now.

Thanks so much for joining us, Carly. What's Suni Lee feeling right now?

CARLY PATTERSON CALDWELL, 2004 GYMNASTICS ALL-AROUND OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL WINNER: Probably just a whole bunch of surrealness. It is definitely one of the most incredible and surreal moments of your life winning the gold medal and the all-around kind of having -- thinking about having all of your hard work and all of the hours and dedication, years in the gym, kind of culminating in just the perfect time. And now you have this Olympic gold medal to show for it.

I know it's probably going to take her a few days at least to sink in. I know it didn't sink in for me personally that I won gold until I got back home and saw the craziness of what was going on in the media and just how excited everyone was about it. So it'll probably really sink in for her when she gets back home.

TAPPER: So how might her life change when she gets back to the states?

CALDWELL: Oh, gosh, it will get flipped upside down for sure in the coolest way. She will be asked to go everywhere and have all these amazing opportunities to look forward to and I hope she enjoys every single minute of it. She deserves it. She worked so hard for it. And yes, just a lot of fun and maybe a little bit of -- she'll be a little tired from all the going and blowing but it'll be awesome.

TAPPER: This Olympics has brought new attention to athletes' mental health with both Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka opening up about their struggles. What's your advice to Suni Lee with her life about to change in terms of mental health?

CALDWELL: Yes, you know what, I think the best advice I can give is to stay grounded, is to keep the community around you that's been around you, your family, your friends. Keep all of those people close that you -- that have helped you on the rise, on the way to that gold medal. So make sure you stay close with them and you have them to lean on in the good times and the bad times when, you know, she's exhausted or when she doesn't know what to do or how to handle something. That is my best advice.

I had a great support system, great family looking after me. And I think that was such a huge help in me being able to transition from Carly the gymnast, the Olympic gold medalist to Carly, you know, the college student, the wife, the mom, the friend, all of those things.

TAPPER: Simone Biles was on the sidelines cheering on all the competitors. You went through the same system, the same rigorous training, you felt the pressures of being a star Olympian. What do you think USA Gymnastics needs to do to make sure these athletes have the support they need? It sounds like you were lucky, you had a support network. But other athletes have talked about how they don't always have that.

CALDWELL: Yes, you know what I think USA Gymnastics is really in transition still right now trying to change a lot of things, trying to learn a lot of things that maybe they can do and change to help the gymnast coming up and just make it a better system. But I think, you know, having that pool of maybe mentors, Olympic mentors, college athlete mentors that these younger gymnast can maybe go to and talk to when they're having a hard time or if they just don't know how to handle the nerves or they want to know what we did or want advice. I think that would be a huge help. You know, maybe counselors or therapists on hand, things of that nature that, you know, are just kind of at the disposal of the gymnast when they need it. I think that would be a big help.

TAPPER: Earlier this week after Simone withdrew, we talked to Aly Raisman and she talked about how proud she was and also just how dangerous gymnastics can be if your head is not exactly in the right place. I wondered what your reaction was if you saw any of the frankly inane and pathetic commentary on social media questioning Simone Biles and her strength and where with all, given the fact that it is so important that your head's in the right place where you can break your neck as a gymnast.

CALDWELL: Yes, they are doing -- especially Simone, she is doing the hardest skills that you can do. Male gymnast don't do these skills. And when you are not mentally all there and prepared and feeling at your best and 100 percent, it is very dangerous. Gymnastics is a dangerous sport to begin with. So, when you're doing dangerous skills like she's doing of that crazy caliber, it can be life-threatening if you're not mentally there and prepared.

TAPPER: Carly Patterson Caldwell, thanks so much. A joy to have you on the show.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now