Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Governor Cuomo Resigns Following Damning A.G. Report On Sexual Harassment Allegations; As School Districts Battle GOP Over Masks, Cases Skyrocket & Hospitals Run Out Of Beds; Senate Passes $1.2 Trillion Sweeping Infrastructure Deal, Fate In House Still Unclear; Broward County School Board Votes To Keep Mask Mandate; Taliban Scrambles For Diplomatic Fix As Taliban Gain Ground. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 10, 2021 - 16:00   ET



LAUREN LEADER, CEO, ALL IN TOGETHER: It's an extraordinary full circle to see her sworn in.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right. Lauren Leader, thank you so much for your time.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Is there a PowerPoint template for a resignation?

THE LEAD starts right now.

A huge moment in American politics. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is stepping aside, but still defiant in the face of multiple accusations of sexual harassment.

And then, more school re-openings, more kids caught in the middle as battles over mask mandates get heated and hospitals get overwhelmed.

Plus, President Biden moments ago celebrated a monumental step for his agenda, calling it proof that Washington can work, as he promises to bring it across the finish line.


BROWN: I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

And we begin with our politics lead and a truly historic day in American politics. Embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is resigning exactly one week after the New York attorney general's investigation concluded he sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo maintains his innocence, even as he resigned today. The three-term governor will leave office in two weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: My instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated. I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing. And therefore, that's what I'll do.


BROWN: This can only be described as an abrupt and dramatic fall from grace. A little more than a year ago, Cuomo received high praise for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, holding daily press conferences. You may remember, which turned into must-see TV.

But then the scandal started. A federal investigation into nursing home deaths in his state, a federal investigation into giving COVID testing priority to family and close allies. The numerous sexual harassment allegations. A long list of drama that led to an even longer list of Democrats calling for him to step down including President Biden, who moments ago said he, quote, respects the governor's decision.

And as CNN's M.J. Lee reports, with Cuomo still up against a criminal investigation, his uphill fight to prove his innocence is far from over.


M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An upheaval in American politics, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announcing his resignation.

CUOMO: The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing. And therefore, that's what I'll do.

LEE: The news marking a dramatic fall from grace for the three-term governor, a fixture in national politics for decades.

The governor coming under siege in recent weeks accused of sexually harassing multiple women, facing an impeachment investigation in Albany and several criminal investigations.

Cuomo remaining defiant about the attorney general's report released last week, detailing the women's allegations.

CUOMO: The report said I sexually harassed 11 women. That was the headline people heard and saw and reacted to.

The reaction was outrage. It should've been. However, it was also false.

This is not to say that there are not 11 women who I truly offended, there are. And for that I deeply, deeply apologize.

LEE: The governor explaining that his instinct was to fight, but he didn't want to become a distraction for the people of New York. CUOMO: It is your best interest that I must serve. This situation by

its current trajectory will generate months of political and legal controversy.

LEE: Cuomo's resignation coming after a lengthy briefing by his lawyer, going on the attack against some of the governor's accusers and saying the A.G. investigation was incomplete.

RITA GLAVIN, GOV. CUOMO'S ATTORNEY: Everybody should have a chance to respond, and everybody should be scrutinized with what they say by facts, context, and evidence. That hasn't happened here.

LEE: An attorney for two of Cuomo's accusers, Alyssa McGrath and Virginia Limmiatis, saying in a statement that the women felt both vindicated and relieved that Cuomo will no longer be in a position of power over anyone.

Cuomo handing over the reigns to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Hochul tweeting this afternoon, in part: I am prepared to lead as New York state's 57th governor.



LEE (on camera): Now, there are some things that don't automatically go away just because the governor has resigned. There is the impeachment investigation that is still ongoing, in Albany, there is the DOJ probe.

There is also of course the criminal investigation that is being conducted by the sheriff's office in Albany. That one is significant.

So, we are going to learn, Pam, in the coming days and weeks what happens to all of those different probes even after Governor Cuomo is no longer in office -- Pam.

BROWN: Yeah, this story will continue.

All right, thank you so much, M.J. Lee.

And let's discuss, joining me now, Maggie Haberman of the "New York Times", former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Rebecca Roiphe, former prosecutor with the New York district attorney's office.

Great to see all three of you.

Maggie, I want to start with you. You have covered Andrew Cuomo for many years. You say his decision to step down today is stunning. Why is that?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, it's both unsurprising and surprising, just to be clear. I don't think he had a choice. I think that he assessed the situation, he ran the string as long as he could and realized this was the best option because the other option was going through a pretty painful impeachment hearing.

It's clear that the votes were there to remove him and to go through about hearing not just about these allegations but potentially about nursing home deaths or about his book deal, that that would bring in his staff.

But it is surprising if you covered Andrew Cuomo and you know how much he likes to fight and how much he doesn't like giving in and how he generally goes kicking and screaming when he does back down. So the fact that he basically right after that combative statement from his lawyer and himself was, like, and I resign. It is a seismic shift in New York.

BROWN: Right. I agree with you. I think, you know, he clearly wanted to defend himself and also that's what he was doing with his lawyer. And then he said a couple other things, and then he got to the resignation part.

Christine, do you agree with President Biden that Cuomo has done, quote, a hell of a job as governor given his personal conduct?

CHRISTINE QUINN, FORMER NYC CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: You know, I think there are a lot of great things that Governor Cuomo has done like marriage equality, like legislation around rape and sexual assault on college campuses, like legislation around abortion and reproductive rights. But all of that said, his legacy will be what he did to these 11 women, and God knows how many others.

You can't take marriage equality away from him, but it's all tainted now. I'm someone who has worked very closely with the governor on a lot of different issues, but particularly ones for women and girls and the LGBTQ community. And I have to say, I thought he was one of the greatest allies women had in New York. And I really now feel, you know, misled and somewhat manipulated by him.

So his legacy is never going to be the same and is really tainted and almost ruined, basically ruined by what he has done repeatedly.

BROWN: And, Rebecca, there was a clear strategy here today as I was talking about with Maggie. You know, he had his lawyer come out setting up the defense, saying that there were some troubling omissions in the report, that it was a shoddy report.

Then he comes out with part defense, part apologies. Then he resigns. What was the point of having his lawyer go first?

REBECCA ROIPHE, FORMER PROSECUTOR, NY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: His lawyers, I think, were in a really unenviable position in a certain way because they were facing a political situation, a public situation, a civil legal battle, and a potential criminal legal battle. Each of those arenas has its own rules and provides for certain kind of process for the person who's been accused.

So, the hodgepodge defense was partially caused by the fact that they were trying to address all of these at the same time. So, I think part of what that did was set up future battles in which, you know, even though these allegations were so -- I agree, incredibly strong, incredibly convincing.

And there's still -- you know, people accused of something who stand to lose a lot have certain rights. And so, his lawyers are setting up their ability to defend him in those other arenas now that he's taken impeachment and at least temporarily possibly the political scene off the table.

BROWN: If you would, Maggie, just set the stage for us big picture. How huge of a deal of it is in American politics at large that Andrew Cuomo is stepping down as governor of New York today?

HABERMAN: Look, Andrew Cuomo was a comeback story after pulling out of the election in 2002, the Democratic primary just a few days before it was taking place when it was clear he was going to lose. He's obviously a legacy politician. He is the son of a very famous governor in New York.


Andrew Cuomo's life has been constructed in part at trying to best his father. His father died several years ago but Andrew Cuomo still wanted to get a fourth term, which had eluded his father. Mario Cuomo lost in his effort for a fourth term. Andrew Cuomo's not even getting to that election. And so, it is dramatic just in terms of the stories of its state and politics.

In terms of America, this is somebody who had been described as a possible presidential candidate on a number of occasions. This was somebody who was floated briefly as a possible attorney general for the Biden administration during the transition. So, she was seen as a Democratic star, and certainly last year during COVID and obviously his response has been pretty heavily criticized to the virus in the months since. But, at the time, he was getting a lot of kudos and a lot of plaudits.

And so, I think you are seeing this big shakeup in terms of the world of governors on the Democratic side across the country and potential presidential candidacies. I will say I'm not certain that Andrew Cuomo thinks his political career is done. I think many people in the state think it is. I think it's very hard to see him comeback from him. But I think he clearly thinks he could have a future just based on how he telegraphed that message today.

HABERMAN: And to resign rather than get impeached and be removed from office also might make you think that as well.

I want to ask you, Christine, I think this is important. Because he made clear today he thinks that at least some of these allegations are politically motivated. His lawyer who I interviewed over the weekend said, look, some of these women are being truthful, the governor has said that he has done some of these things. But as you heard him today, he was trying to make the case that some of this is politically motivated.

Is there any evidence of that, Christine? QUINN: There's no evidence of that. One of the women was running for

office. She didn't raise this issue in her campaign at all, and that the governor raised that is still on the defensive, tragically shows he just doesn't get it.

BROWN: Yeah. And, you know, this does raise the question of, Rebecca, about what's going to be his future not only politically as Maggie raised. He might still think he has a future there, but also the legal aspect of this. The Albany County D.A. says the governor's resignation doesn't change the criminal investigation into him. You're a former prosecutor. How concerned should he be about potential criminal charges?

ROIPHE: Well, I think it is a concern, although there are a couple of things to point out about those potential charges.

One, it looks like from all the evidence that we see that this would be a misdemeanor charge. He would be facing up to a year in prison and probably wouldn't serve prison time at all even if he were convicted.

And second of all, the rules of evidence make it such that those charges will be hard to prove. And the D.A.s understand that. They have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

And part of what made that report so convincing is what everybody keeps repeating, which is those 11 women. But in a criminal case, you have rules of evidence that prevent you from usually bringing in evidence of other bad acts, and that will make it much harder if you have isolated one act to defend against.

And so, you know, while I think it's possible, I think that would be an uphill battle for a D.A., and I think they also -- you know, a D.A. really has to consider this is going to be a lot of resources that takes away from other sorts of cases that the D.A. might be working on.

And maybe this is a priority, in which case they should pursue it as long as they have the evidence there. But those are a lot of considerations so we really don't know how that will end up panning out.

BROWN: OK. Rebecca Roiphe, Christine Quinn, Maggie Haberman, thank you all.

Well, an entire state left with just a few empty ICU beds. Up next, a look at the surge of COVID in places where people aren't getting the shot.

Plus, some school officials risking their salaries over a battle involving kids and masks. I'll talk to one of those officials, ahead.



BROWN: In our health lead, nearly one-third of eligible Americans still are not vaccinated, fueling an alarming rise of new COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Now children, many who don't have the option to get vaccinated, are getting infected at unprecedented levels.

And as CNN's Nick Watt reports, some children's hospitals are trying to prepare for the unimaginable when more kids go back to school.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRCTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We are in a major surge now as we're going into the fall into the school season.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So, should districts mandate vaccines for teachers?

FAUCI: I'm going to upset some people on this but I think we should.

WATT: Some places, there are politicians and parents fiercely opposing mask mandates for schools.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Forcing masks is child abuse.

WATT: Among the actual experts, there's a near consensus view.

DR. MARK KLINE, PHYSICIAN-IN-CHIEF, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL NEW ORLEANS: I think bringing together large numbers of children, congregating them in classrooms with masks being optional or, worse yet, even forbidden, is just a formula for disaster.

WATT: Kids can get COVID. In just the past week nearly 94,000 confirmed cases among children nationwide.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY: With the delta wave, we need to do everything possible to protect those that are not vaccinated. And those that are not vaccinated get protected two ways, by those that are eligible for vaccination, getting vaccinated, and by wearing a mask. And I think it's as simple as that.

WATT: Big picture, we're now averaging well over 100,000 new cases a day, up 37 percent in just a week.

Just over half of Americans are fully vaccinated.

GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R), WEST VIRGINIA: You're taking a hell of a risk if you're not vaccinated. That's all there is to it.

WATT: And you're pretty darn safe if you are. More than 99.99 percent of the vaccinated have not suffered a severe case, according to our analysis of CDC data.


Andres Perekalsk from Texas, young and healthy, did not get vaccinated, nearly died, now regrets it. ANDRES PEREKALSK, COVID-19 PATIENT: Do it for your family, do it for


WATT: Arkansas has just eight ICU beds unfilled.

In Mississippi?

NICHOLE ATHERTON, ICU NURSE, OCEAN SPRINGS HOSPITAL, MISSISSIPPI: There are going to be children in my own community that are orphans, and it could've been prevented.

WATT: Many hospitals now feeling the strain particularly in states with low vaccination rates.

ARTHUR CAPLAN, DIRECTOR, MEDICAL ETHICS AT NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: There's outbreaks following the unvaccinated strategy all over the place with hospitals just about to tip over. The moral equation has to shift. Stop protecting the unvaccinated. They're selfish, they're greedy, they're not doing the right thing by their neighbors.


WATT (on camera): Now, Pamela, today, the Baltimore mayor was talking about re-enacting an indoor mask mandate, and he said anyone who's frustrated about wearing a mask and is not vaccinated, look in the mirror, it's your fault. He says if you're unvaccinated and complaining, just shut up -- Pamela.

BROWN: Did not mince words about that. Nick Watt, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss is Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Nice to see you, Michael.

Bottom line here, why is it taking so long for the vaccine to get at least emergency authorization for kids younger than 12?

MICHAEL OSTERLHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE REASERCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Well, particularly for the group under 12 we're still collecting data. And one of the things that we all want are these vaccines right away. But at the same time, we want to make sure that they're safe and they're effective. For younger kids under age 12, what's the right dose? We surely may not be wanting to use the same dose we're using in adults.

So those studies, which are ongoing, will hopefully provide us with licensed products some time yet even this year. But, as you and I both know, they can't come soon enough.

BROWN: So what is the difference, though, between a 12-year-old who is authorized to get the vaccine right now based on the data and, say, a 10 or 11-year-old? What are they really looking at?

OSTERHOLM: Well, you're absolutely right. It seems like there might be a bright line. If you're just one day old or one day younger, you're eligible or you're not eligible. But the challenges we have in doing these studies is you do them incrementally. First, we did them in adults. And that's a place where from a standpoint of consent and willingness to participate in these studies, you can make that choice.

Once you become involved with adolescents, for example, particularly the older ones, they still can have a voice. But it's parents that often decide.

Well, when you're in the younger age group, they don't really have a choice. It's the parents who decide if they're going to be involved or not in these studies. And from that perspective, we believe that safety has to be of the highest order.

So, you're right, it seems artificial, but they had to put a cut-off somewhere to do an incremental group to say we're going to look, for example, at 12 to 18-year-olds and now 11 to 3-year-olds and now under 3. So, this is unfortunately one of the challenges of trying to do these studies. And normally for a vaccine like this, if it were not COVID, we would be taking years to do this kind of work.

I don't want anybody to misinterpret that as meaning there are being shortcuts taken. But it is going to take us until this fall or early winter before we have these vaccines for these kids.

BROWN: And the big reason is because you have the entire world medical apparatus trying to -- you know, working on this to get these vaccines out, to get vaccines to kids. That is in process.

We just heard Dr. Anthony Fauci say that teachers should be required to get the vaccine. Do you think that is enough to keep kids safe in school?

OSTERHOLM: Well, it's a critical step but it's not enough. I worry very much about what's going to happen this fall. As you're seeing right now, we're seeing the most number of kids hospitalized with COVID since the very beginning of the pandemic, and those numbers are continuing to increase.

Delta basically is a somewhat different virus in kids than it was these strains of virus that we had a year ago. When we first generated data showing that kids didn't transmit nearly as frequently, they didn't get infected often themselves, and they surely didn't get in serious disease that often. This is a different virus. This is not your strain of a year ago.

And what we're seeing now are kids frequently are transmitters, they're easily to get infected, they can get very sick. And I think that the school opening that we're seeing happen right now is a collision course with destiny.

I think clearly, we are going to see major outbreaks, and that's why the most we can do is bubble the kids as much as possible. Teachers, any adult in a school setting should be vaccinated. I strongly support Dr. Fauci's point about mandates. I think at the same time at home we have to do that. [16:25:00]

And, you know, one of the things, Pamela, it is just so concerning to me is kids 12 years of age and older are eligible for this vaccine. Junior high and high school, and yet we're seeing horrible, horrible rates in many communities of these kids getting vaccinated. And if you want to protect them, vaccine's it. If you want to protect their younger brothers and sisters, vaccine's it.

And so, I think we have to really put a full-court press on getting 12-year-olds and older vaccinated and then protecting the younger kids as best we can with vaccinating all those around them and what we can do in schools to provide them safer air.

BROWN: Very quickly if you can, just want to drill down on what you said about this strain being more dangerous for kids versus a year ago. How so?

OSTERHOLM: Well, clearly, it's much more transmissible. In that sense we're seeing that all over.

I mean, let me give you an example right here in Minnesota. A state that has an incredibly capable and competent health department, and they have been following it very closely and carefully cases throughout our community and trying to understand where they were exposed to the virus.

From the beginning of the pandemic through this past July 1, we had four examples of outdoor festivals or fairs where transmission occurred. We've all talked about the safer outdoor air. Since July 1, there have been nine in Minnesota. And that really gives you an indication just how much more infectious this virus is.

BROWN: OK. Michael Osterholm, thank you so much.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, proof that bipartisanship can work. That's what President Biden is touting today with a big step forward for his agenda, up next.



BROWN: Topping our politics lead today, President Biden praising the powers of bipartisanship moments ago after the Senate passed a sweeping $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package earlier today.

But as CNN's Kaitlan Collins report, it might be a while before President Biden can sign it into law.


KAMALA HARRIS (D), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On this vote, the yeas are 69, the nays are 30.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Capping off weeks of intense negotiations, the Senate passed a critical component of President Biden's agenda today.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After years and years of infrastructure week, we're on the cusp of an infrastructure decade.

COLLINS (voice over): With yes votes from 50 Democrats and 19 Republicans, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill made its way through the upper chamber.

BIDEN: I want to thank those senators who worked so hard to bring this agreement together. I know it wasn't easy. For the Republicans who supported this bill, you showed a lot of courage.

COLLINS (voice over): President Biden who was scheduled to be on summer vacation returned to Washington to tout the achievement.

BIDEN: America, this is how we truly build back better.

COLLINS (voice over): For weeks, his top aides, 10 Senate Democrats, and Republicans have worked fiercely behind the scenes to reach a deal. If passed by the House, the bill would revamp the nation's roads and bridges while boosting broadband connections and combating climate change.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This will deliver huge benefits, millions of jobs to the American people, deliver clean drinking water and high speed internet to every household in the country.

COLLINS (voice over): Lawmakers have said the cash infusion is urgent. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she won't bring it up for a vote until another more ambitious policy package expected to have only Democratic support also passes the Senate.

PSAKI: His message is that he remains committed to passing each of these pieces of legislation on dual tracks; that he is going to work in lockstep with Speaker Pelosi.

COLLINS (voice over): Moderate House Democrats are pushing for an immediate standalone vote as their progressive colleagues warned they won't vote for it until the $3.5 trillion package passes.

Democrats are immediately turning to the next part of Biden's economic agenda with hopes of passing a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that would in turn advance the priorities they left on the cutting room floor of the bipartisan talks.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The two-track strategy is proceeding full steam ahead.

COLLINS (voice over): But first, there will be a marathon of votes until late tonight with Senator Mitch McConnell warning of hundreds of G.O.P. amendments. SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We will debate and we will vote and we

will stand up and we will be counted.


COLLINS (on camera): Now, Pamela, Senator Mitch McConnell and those other 18 Republicans who voted for this bill to get it passed through the Senate were shrugging off those threats from former President Trump as he tried to derail this bill, threatening to primary, essentially those who voted for it.

But there were several Republicans who had initially backed this deal when President Biden and Democrats and other Republicans had first announced that they had come to a broad agreement. In the end, they did not actually vote for this

But as I noted today, this bill still has a long way to go as it makes its way through the House, but President Biden said he is optimistic and confident that it will win approval while there.

BROWN: Yes, that's what he told you to your question, if it's so important, why doesn't the House take it up now? All right, Kaitlan Collins, Thanks so much, live for us from the White House.

Some school officials are now risking their salaries in order to implement mask mandates in their schools. I'm going to talk to the head of one of those county school boards, up next.



BROWN: Breaking news, in just the last hour, the School Board in Broward County, Florida, the state's second largest school district voted to keep its mask mandate defying an order from Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. He threatened to withhold Broward's state funding, as well as two more counties.

CNN's Leyla Santiago reports from one of those counties which started school today.


TINA CERTAIN, ALACHUA SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: It makes you pause. It does make you pause, but our goal is the health and safety of our students and our staff.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): School Board Member, Tina Certain says she is willing to risk her salary to spare the students of Alachua County from risking their health.

As kids step into the classroom for the first day of school, Governor Ron DeSantis is threatening to withhold salaries from superintendents or school board members who are mandating masks.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): It is about parental choice, not government mandate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our governor who is a Republican, which is in theory the party that emphasizes local control and has completely removed the decision-making authority from our own elected officials here.

SANTIAGO (voice over): In Alachua County Schools, students are required to wear a mask for at least the first two weeks unless they provide a doctor's note. Leon County, a similar requirement.

The Governor's Office says those counties are not complying with his Executive Order saying in part, "When districts enact opt-out policies that require a doctor's note, they are not giving all parents a free choice." But some schools feel they're not getting a choice.

SHARVANA OGLE, TEACHER, HOWARD BISHOP MIDDLE SCHOOL: If we chose to not do that, because of money or politics, then we wouldn't be advocating the best interest and safety of our students and that is what we're here for.

SANTIAGO (voice over): At Howard Bishop Middle School, teachers told us the first day of school brought excitement, but also a sense of apprehension and uncertainty over the mask controversy and a rise in hospitalizations.

Florida has a hospitalization rate that is more than triple the national rate, and the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that the U.S. had an 84 percent increase and new COVID-19 cases among children during the last week of July, yet, DeSantis is holding firm.

DESANTIS: If you look at the data, it's totally reasonable for a parent to say you know what, I'd rather send my kid to school you know, without wearing the mask.

SANTIAGO (voice over): But the data shows masks work. Principal Mike Gamble says masks are only one of the mitigation strategies they have in place.

MIKE GAMBLE, PRINCIPAL, HOWARD W. BISHOP MIDDLE SCHOOL: We know how to contact race and who might have been around a positive case.

SANTIAGO (on camera): Are you expecting that?

GAMBLE: I hate to sound like a pessimist, but we're going to be prepared for that.

SANTIAGO (voice over): Alachua County Schools say they are seeing an increasing number of employees testing positive. Two employees and one student recently died from COVID.

On Monday, there were 32 new positive cases and 72 employees were in quarantine, and this school year has only just begun, now, amidst a pandemic and politics.


SANTIAGO (on camera): And just moments ago, President Biden criticized the Governor's efforts here in Florida to prohibit any sort of mask mandate in the schools calling it quote, "disingenuous." When asked if he had any Federal authority to intervene, Biden said he is looking into it.

BROWN: All right, Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.

And I want to bring in Leanetta McNealy. She's the Chair of the Alachua County Public Schools Board, in the Gainesville area. Nice to see you, Leanetta.

Today was the first day of school --


BROWN: And how's it been going, and you know, have any parents so far used the doctor's note to get their child out of wearing a mask?

MCNEALY: I don't have a number on that, possibly tomorrow after they have a chance to look at the opt-out forms that may have been submitted today. But today was the very first day. It's an exciting time in the Alachua County Public Schools.

BROWN: Well, congratulations on your first day of school today. Governor DeSantis does not agree that a doctor's note gives parents enough of a choice and he is threatening to withhold your salary. Are you willing to give up your pay over this fight?

MCNEALY: Well, you know, it's very important for our children to be safe and have their wellbeing as well as our staff, and so I'm all in if he wants to take the salary away from us, our board members as well as the superintendent, I feel even more empowered that I know I'm doing something correct.

BROWN: So what happens if a student shows up to school without a mask and a note? Is there disciplinary action, if that happens?

MCNEALY: No, there will be no disciplinary -- well, I'm going to say, there should not be any disciplinary action, except that we have two nurses at each school site and I'm sure that they will take the opportunity to call the parent to say the student is out of compliance.

We can do one or two things, give a call to a parent. We have plenty of masks on campuses. So, there -- it is no problem handing a student a mask to put on.

BROWN: So, why not do then what other school districts are doing and allow parents to opt out of the mask mandate? Why is there this extra step of requiring a doctor's note?

MCNEALY: Well, our opt-out policy will require it because as you could expect, any parent can say their child has a situation. We want it to be through a physician that is stating that, will sign off on that, so that we know that this is absolutely the truth.

BROWN: Of course, all of this could be alleviated in large part if children 12 and younger could get a vaccine. What is your message to the F.D.A. as you wait for the emergency authorization process to play out?


MCNEALY: Well, we are hoping that they will continue to adamantly push to find whatever they need so that the FDA can approve the vaccine for children younger than 12. We certainly could use that in our elementary schools.

BROWN: OK, Leanetta McNealy, thank you so much for joining us today.

MCNEALY: I thank you for having me.

BROWN: Well, coming up, the Taliban now claiming an eighth city in Afghanistan as hundreds of civilians have reportedly been killed in the violence. That's next.



BROWN: In our world lead, the Biden administration is scrambling for a diplomatic solution in Afghanistan, as the Taliban continues to gain ground just days before key U.S. forces are set to leave.

Today, the Taliban claimed that size an eighth capital city giving them control of a large swath of the country seen here in red.

Let's bring in CNN's national security correspondent Kylie Atwood and international security editor Nick Paton Walsh.

Nick, let's start with you. We are seeing these really heartbreaking videos of Afghans, now refugees taking shelter in Kabul. Is there any chance Afghanistan's government could regain control?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Not at this stage. And at this point, they seem to be revising their plan and constantly trying to work out which is the next fire to put out. We were at three provincial capitals lost on Sunday. Now we are talking about eight with the possibility of a ninth being reported at the moment. It just keeps happening.

President Joe Biden pressed on this because it is, frankly, happening, because this is done conditionally, withdrawal of U.S. troops. He said he did not regret that decision, reminded to withdraw U.S. troops, reminded Americans they spend over a trillion dollars in 20 years to train 300,000 Afghans. He said it's down to the Afghans and their leadership to come together to fight.

Now, sadly, a lot of that is based on the same misconceptions America's had for a long time. The trillion dollars wasn't just spent on the military. Some of it wasted on projects, some of it must be in Taliban hands by now. Twenty years, yes, but some would argue, actually they served one year tours 20 times. People's attention often lapsing, the same person again and again.

Can the Afghans come together to fight? There was a move by President Ashraf Ghani to bring a lot of the local militias back under control. They're trying to basically get the people to fight alongside the army. It's smacked a little desperation. There may be 300,000 soldiers but that's a very small number of commandos that are actually effective.

So, a lot of Joe Biden's talks still sadly resting on the talking points that have proven to be hollow over the past decade. The Taliban are moving exceptionally fast. I think we will see air power begin to diminish in the next three weeks. The U.S. are not going to be providing air support come September. That will be key.

And the other question is what kind of society are the Taliban bringing in with them, and what are they doing to those who are loyal to the government? Troubling times, Pam.

BROWN: Very concerning.

Kylie, what is the U.S.'s response?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, I'm learning that there are active discussions underway to further drawdown personnel from the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Now, this comes as nick has pointed out there are these Taliban gains that frankly sources tell me have come at a more rapid pace than U.S. officials expected them to.

And that is what has spurred these conversations about a potential partial withdraw in the coming days or weeks. Now, this is not an evacuation that is being considered at this time. But it is part of the planning and part of the preparations for if the situation on the ground there gets worse.

Now, the State Department says that their posture has not changed. And they point to the fact that there are ongoing discussions about the security situation on the ground in Afghanistan, but they also acknowledge that the problems there continue to get worse. The security situation is challenging, and they would have more diplomats on the ground there if they could, but, frankly, they can't right now.

And the other thing to consider is that the U.S. continues to push for a diplomatic solution in Afghanistan. That is what they are saying is the only solution here. U.S. special representative for Afghanistan is in Doha in talks with the Taliban, again this week pushing for this diplomatic solution, pushing the Taliban to stop their military offenses and telling them to get involved in negotiating a political settlement.

But they have tried that for months now, and that has gone nowhere -- Pam.

BROWN: We've seen that. All right, thank you so much, Kylie Atwood and CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.

Well, wildfires raging out of control are now forcing thousands of Californians to leave their homes. That's next.



BROWN: In our national lead, California remains ablaze with 11 active fires wreaking havoc, 12,000 Californians have been evacuated across the state. In northern California, the Dixie Fire, which is now the second largest fire in state history, continues to grow.

The blaze has already destroyed nearly 900 structures, more than 16,000 more structures still in danger. Dixie Fire is only 25 percent contained after burning for 27 days. And with thunderstorms and extreme heat in the forecast, firefighters are bracing for a difficult fight to contain its spread.

I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @PamelaBrownCNN or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN.

And our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."