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The Lead with Jake Tapper
CDC Advisory Panel Recommends Third Vaccine Dose for Those with Weakened Immune System; CNN Gains Access to Taliban at Old U.S. Military Base It Seized; Interview with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; White House Facing Multiple Crises: Afghanistan, COVID, Immigration & More; Three Teachers in Broward County, Florida, Die of COVID Within One Day of Each Other. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired August 13, 2021 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: That does it for me. I'm Victor Blackwell in New York. Thank you for being with me.
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: It's the repeat of a horror show in the nation's hospitals.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Zero ICU beds for kids, not enough ambulances. That is the situation across the country as COVID surges once again.
And then CNN gets exclusive access to the Taliban as they rapidly gain ground in Afghanistan.
Plus, could the delta variant be a problem for Delta Airlines? With COVID surging, the new fear is the travel boom might turn into a bust.
BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.
And we start this hour in the health lead and the beginning of a new round of COVID shots in the U.S. This afternoon, a CDC advisory panel voted to recommend a third round of vaccines for people with weakened immune systems. Meanwhile, some of those suffering from the worst of COVID have a message for Americans yet to receive even their first COVID shot. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think everybody ought to try to get it, yeah. If it'll help prevent you from getting really sick --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe it would've kept me from getting worse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is something that could save your life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Each person there was unvaccinated and got sick with COVID.
And as CNN's Nick Watt reports, it's these kinds of cases overwhelming hospitals nationwide.
MAYOR RON NIRENBERG (D), SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS: San Antonio, we had 26 minutes where the seventh largest city in the United States was without EMS units to transport people.
NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 10,000 Texans are in the hospital now fighting COVID-19.
JUDGE CLAY JENKINS, DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS: In Dallas, we have zero ICU beds left for children. That means if your child's in a car wreck, if your child has a congenital heart defect or more than likely if they have COVID and need an ICU bed, we don't have one. Your child will wait for another child to die.
WATT: At one hospital in Tennessee, no beds. There are no beds, says the chief medical officer.
And in Memphis --
CHIEF GINA SWEAT, MEMPHIS FIRE DEPARTMENT: There's times when you may call for an ambulance and we may not have one available.
WATT: In these states, more than 90 percent of ICU beds are now occupied. The situation is worse in states where vaccination rates are lowest.
In Mississippi, just 36 percent are fully vaccinated.
THOMAS COBBS, MISSISSIPPI STATE HEALTH OFFICER: Almost 8,000 Mississippians have died from COVID. How many Mississippians have died from the vaccine? Zero.
WATT: In Arkansas, 38 percent fully vaccinated.
KYLE BUTRUM, FATHER: It's been really touch and go.
WATT: Kyle Butrum's baby is in the hospital with COVID. He's pleading.
BUTRUM: Get your vaccine so that another child doesn't have to do this, and another family -- doesn't have to send their kid away.
WATT: Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines reportedly provide 100 percent protection against death even with delta in the air.
DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: The protection afforded by vaccination keeps you out of the hospital, keeps you out of the morgue.
WATT: An additional vaccine dose for the immunocompromised who might not have had such a great response to two doses greenlit by the FDA last night.
This afternoon, CDC vaccine advisers also voted in favor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eleven yeses, zero nos. And the ayes have it.
WATT: Sometime, not yet, booster shots likely for the rest of us.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It would have to be in an orderly fashion. So it would not be everybody at once. It would be an orderly fashioned and a timely way.
WATT (on camera): Now, here is one indication of the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on this country. FEMA has what's called a funeral assistance program. And they have now given out more than $1 billion to American families to bury their COVID dead.
One FEMA official called it a very sober milestone -- Pamela.
BROWN: It absolutely is. Nick Watt, thank you so much.
I want to bring in CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Nice to see you again, Sanjay. So let's start with these booster shots. Who exactly is in this approved group, and who is not?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, there is a list, and people -- there's about 9 to 10 million people roughly that are going to qualify for this based on the conditions.
We can show you this, I'm not going to read all of these conditions. Typically people who have immune compromised sort of state, they know it, it's either people who've had an organ transplant and are on drugs to prevent rejection, people who have recently had chemotherapy. If you have autoimmune disease, you may be taking certain medications that also dampen your immune system.
So, there is a list of people. It's a little -- you know, people are going to have to sort of figure this out a little bit by talking to their doctors if they're unsure. But for the most part, the thing is this, Pamela. If your immune system is weakened to the point where you don't generate much of a response to the vaccines, they're basically saying a third shot may help.
There may be some people who never generate a response to the vaccines, and it's unclear for them whether a third shot for help. But for people who have had at least some response, that's what they're focusing on with this new guidance.
BROWN: So, just to drill down on this, so say you're 90 years old, you wouldn't necessarily qualify in this group, right? Even though your immune system isn't up to full speed, it's been weakened, right? GUPTA: Right. What this is specifically saying is people who fall into
that specific immunocompromised group, there's a lot of people who are elderly who are vulnerable. There may be people who have chronic conditions who are vulnerable, things like heart disease and diabetes. They're not saying that they necessarily need this third shot at the time.
That may change in the future, but what they're saying is for the general population, even if you're a vulnerable person, the vaccines are still working really well for you. But for about 9 or 10 million people, they did not get the same immune response from the vaccine as the others did, so they're thinking the third shot may help with them.
BROWN: So even though third shots aren't authorized by the FDA for the general public, some people are getting them anyway. We just saw someone on with Victor Blackwell who had gotten a shot anyway, even though they weren't eligible under the FDA.
Is there any harm in doing that?
GUPTA: That's a good question. I don't think there's harm in doing that. In fact, they have data now because they've been doing clinical trials for the recommendation they just made. I think people who get a third shot often times may have side effects similar to the side effects they got with the previous shots, things like that. So, you know, it's not a question of harm necessarily, Pamela. It's just a question of following the science, do you need it?
If you start to see a deterioration or a reduction in the benefits of the general population who's vaccinated, a reduction in terms of people who are showing up in the hospital, people do die after being vaccinated, I think that's going to be a signal that it may be time to start thinking about third shots for other groups of people.
And to your point it may be by age ultimately, the elderly patients followed by younger healthcare workers. We'll see. But for now, it is really specific. They're just saying the immunocompromised and about 9 to 10 million of them.
BROWN: Right, because you look at Israel, they're already administering booster shots for those over the age of 65. So that's why I'm asking about the age in particular.
And I want to talk about the numbers in the hospital right now. 80,000. The U.S. hasn't had numbers that high since February. You're a practicing physician in Atlanta. How stressed is the entire system right now, Sanjay?
GUPTA: I mean, Pamela, it's serious. I didn't think we'd be having this conversation again so soon. And I think what people sometimes don't realize is that when hospitals become that full, they sometimes will go on what is called diversion, which basically means elective cases, elective operations and care is much harder to come by, trying to take care of trauma, heart attacks, things like that. It's difficult because you have to find hospital beds and they become increasingly difficult to find. So, you know, hospitals getting full. This is the same conversation we
were having last year. Bending the curve so the hospitals don't get full, and you can continue to take care of patients who have nothing to do with COVID. They may be vaccinated, they have nothing to do with COVID. But when hospitals become full, all of society is affected.
BROWN: Yeah. You're seeing hospitals now open up garages where cars once parked to now put hospital beds because they're seeing so many COVID patients.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much, as always.
GUPTA: Thanks, Pamela.
BROWN: And coming up, I'll talk to the homeland security secretary as the department warns online extremist chatter is reaching levels similar to before January's insurrection.
Plus, we are live in Afghanistan with an exclusive look at former U.S. bases now held by the Taliban in its relentless offensive.
Stay with us.
BROWN: Topping our world lead right now U.S. troops are heading to Afghanistan for an urgent rescue mission. They are there to evacuate nonessential American embassy personnel and get Afghan allies out as soon as possible, all while the Taliban rapidly advance.
Starting in June, you can see the Taliban in red wrestling back into all of the land faster and faster from the Afghan government noted in gray.
Today, they claim half of all regional capitals. As the U.S. prepares for the worst, telling diplomats in Kabul to destroy sensitive documents at the embassy.
CNN's Clarissa Ward joins me live on the ground in Kabul.
Clarissa, you got exclusive access to the Taliban. What did you see?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Pamela.
We actually traveled to Ghazni province. It's just a few hours south of Kabul. That province is now completely under the control of the Taliban, and they took us to see some bases that once belonged to the U.S. and are now very much under their control along with whatever they found there, Humvees, weaponry, ammunition.
We also while we were there though, Pamela, got to really have a glimpse into what life is like under the Taliban as that appears to be what Afghanistan's future now looks like.
WARD (voice-over): This is what remains of the U.S. presence in much of Afghanistan. The hollowed-out skeletons of sprawling military bases now under the control of the Taliban.
Once there were hundreds of U.S. in NATO troops in FOB Andar in Ghazni province. The last Americans left a couple of years ago, but their memories still lurk ghostlike.
It's just so strange to see this, you know? The Taliban granted access to CNN along with award-winning Afghan filmmaker Najibullah Quraishi, keen to show off the spoils of war.
So we're just arriving at another U.S. base. And already I can see a large number of military vehicles over there. According to the Taliban, Afghan forces here surrendered three weeks ago when their food ran out, leaving weapons and ammunition and more.
When the Americans were here, were you and your men attacking this base a lot?
MUHAMMED ARIF MUSTAFA, TALIBAN COMMANDER (through translator): Yes. Many times we attacked this base when America was here. We did operations. We were using IEDs. The Americans had their helicopters, weapons and tanks on the ground. We mujahidin resisted very well.
WARD: Now they roam through what's left of the tactical operations center. Anything of value will be stripped down and sold. Walking through what's left of these American bases, you have to ask yourself, what was it all for? America's great experiment with nation building now vanished into dust.
MUSTAFA (through translator): It's our belief that one day they will have victory and Islamic law will come not to just Afghanistan but all over the world. We are not in a hurry. We believe it will come one day. Jihad will not end until the last day.
WARD: It's a chilling admission from a group that claims it wants peace, despite continuing a bloody offensive.
Since the U.S. began its withdrawal in may, the militants have advanced across the country at an alarming rate on the back of American pickup trucks.
On the Ghazni highway, we passed base after base, all flying the militants flag. At the end, it's a similar sight, the days of underground insurgency are over, and the Taliban is poised to re- establish the very emirate America once came to destroy.
But Taliban Governor Mawlavey Kamil insists the group has changed since then.
MAWLAVEY KAMIL, TALIBAN GOVERNOR, ANDAR DISTRICT (through translator): The difference between that Taliban and this Taliban is that the Taliban of 2001 were new. And now this Taliban is experienced, disciplined. Our activities are going well. We are obeying our leaders.
WARD: A lot of people are concerned that if the Taliban takes power again, women's rights will move backwards. How can you guarantee that women's rights will be protected?
KAMIL: We assure this to people all over the world, especially the people of Afghanistan. Islam has given rights to everyone equally. Women have their own rights. How much Islam has given rise to women, we will give them that much.
WARD: That is clearly open for interpretation. Next to the mosque we find a classroom of young girls. But their teacher says they will only receive religious education and will not attend regular school. At night, I am separated from my male colleagues and sleep in the women's part of the house with the children.
I've been talking to some of the women in this room and I promised that I wouldn't show any of their faces. But it's interesting because the Taliban talks a lot about how it's changed and girls can go to school now. But I asked if any of these girls would be going to school and I was told absolutely not, girls don't go to school. And when I said why don't girls go to school, they said Taliban says it's bad.
Here, what the Taliban says goes. This is now what Afghanistan's future looks like. Far from what the U.S. once envisioned and what so many Afghans dreamed of as the Taliban pushes on towards an all but certain victory.
WARD: And, Pamela, we actually reached out to some of the soldiers whose names you might've noticed.
There was a mural at that base with the names of some soldiers. We reached out to some of them to get their impressions. How does it feel to know that this base that you once spent time on, that you were fighting on, that you lost men on, is now under the control of the Taliban, and one soldier who is no longer in the military, he was a private at the time.
He said, you know, when you start out in the army, you really believe that everything you're doing is right, you're doing it for the right reasons. And now when I look at the situation and I see what's happened and I see these images that you're showing me of this base, I don't feel so much angry as I feel just what a waste, what an unbelievable waste.
Those were his words, and I think they really stuck with a lot of us as we take stock of this incredibly powerful and potent moment, Pamela.
BROWN: What a waste. Clarissa Ward, thank you for bringing us your excellent reporting once again.
Well, Afghanistan is just one of the crises President Biden is facing. Next, I'll talk to the head of homeland security amid an unprecedented situation at the border.
BROWN: In our politics lead, the Biden administration is facing multiple crises on all fronts. Afghanistan is on the verge of collapse. COVID is surging and overwhelming hospitals in the south. There are persistent inflation concerns, record numbers of migrants have been detained at the U.S./Mexico border. And there's an uncertain path for the sweeping infrastructure agenda.
Now as CNN's Phil Mattingly reports, all eyes are on how President Biden responds to the mounting pressure.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden behind closed doors at Camp David as his White House faces down a series of crises.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is about keeping our children safe.
MATTINGLY: Before leaving Washington, a push to take the temperature down on the political spiral enveloping mask guidance.
BIDEN: To the mayors, superintendents, local leaders who are standing up to the governor's politicizing mask protection for our kids, thank you.
MATTINGLY: But as millions of students head back to school, the delta variant now overwhelming hospitals in states with the lowest vaccination rates. This as the FDA approves boosters for some immunocompromised, continues questions not over if but when the broader vaccinated public will need booster shots, perhaps more importantly, how those will be rolled out by the federal government.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We are assuming that sooner or later, we're going to have to give boosters.
MATTINGLY: And as the pandemic once again overwhelms the U.S., the Taliban doing the same to the government in Afghanistan. The president making this comment just one month ago.
BIDEN: The likelihood there's going to be a Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.
MATTINGLY: The clearest window into what officials acknowledge was a misread of the dynamics on the ground as U.S. troops departed. Now, Biden signing off on 3,000 troops being sent back into the country. REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The president
decided that this was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. A prudent decision to scope down to reduce our civilian footprint in Kabul while we still have an environment where we can do that safely.
MATTINGLY: Tasked with aiding an embassy drawdown effort that could expand into a full-blown evacuation in the weeks, officials say, raising significant questions on Capitol Hill from Republicans --
REP. MIKE WALTZ (R-FL): It's a disgrace and a national humiliation. And I think that President Biden is barreling towards his own Saigon moment.
MATTINGLY: And Democrats.
REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): We're going to have to have that debate, and we're going to have to ask how did we misread the intelligence, how did we not see this coming.
MATTINGLY: And the White House continuing to press behind the scenes to enact Biden's sweeping agenda.
BIDEN: We will keep a careful eye on inflation this month.
MATTINGLY: But top officials increasingly concerned about inflation and so are some Democratic lawmakers. The driving force behind a clear White House messaging shift designed to counter that problem.
BIDEN: If your primary concern right now is the cost of living, you should support this plan, not oppose it.
MATTINGLY (on camera): Pamela, the administration also still grappling with a lingering issue on the southern border. They have made clear they are trying to implement policies that are fair, humane, and orderly. It has been the top line goal of the president since he took office.
But just yesterday getting a clearer view on just how complicated that process is, more than 212,000 migrant encounters at the U.S./Mexico border, Pamela, that is in the month of July, that is the highest number in more than 21 years -- Pamela.
BROWN: And we should know, the highest numbers are at a time of record heat as well. That says a lot.
Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.
And joining me now is secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas.
Secretary, thank you for coming on.
We just heard what Phil said there. We're talking about the record numbers. Why is there an unprecedented number of migrants crossing the border?
ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, thank you very much for having me.
There are a number of reasons. Most importantly, the countries of origin in the Northern Triangle, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, have suffered a tremendous downturn in their economies. There is extraordinary poverty as well as violence. The impact of climate change, extreme weather events, the reason people are fleeing their homes is quite significant. And that is what we are seeing.
I think at the very same time, we have to take into account the fact that America's economy is surging. We are seeing us emerge from the pandemic in a way that other countries south of our border are not. And so, the attraction of the United States and the promise it brings at a time when there is so much suffering in other countries is a clear explanation of why we're seeing that migration and the numbers that we are seeing.
BROWN: And, of course, the economic picture is mixed. But the administration has been telling migrants not to come here for months. Children are traveling to the U.S. alone in record numbers, almost 19,000 last month.
Why is your message not working?
MAYORKAS: I think really we have to confront the fact that people's desperation is so severe, the fact that the aid that we were providing to those countries of origin was slashed by the prior administration. The fact that the programs, the safe, orderly, humane alternatives that we provided to children, a perfect example, is a signal American minors program, was dismantled in its entirety by the prior administration.
I think those things have to be considered as well as we assess the situation. And what we are trying to do in building a safe, orderly and humane path.
BROWN: And so, you're talking a lot about the root causes, what is happening in these Central American companies. Vice President Harris has been tasked with tackling that situation. But she has only been over there one time.
Does more need to be done to address the root causes, particularly by the vice president?
MAYORKAS: Well, the vice president has done so much. Yes, she has been there once in person. She's had a number of conversations. And more importantly, if I may, she has directed members of the cabinet and leaders across the government to take action.
And it is under her direction that we have done so much already. Yesterday when I visited the border at the president's request, I spoke of the many different programs that USAID, a part of our Department of State, already has begun to implement in addressing the root causes.
There is money at work. There is energy and people at work already, and more to come.
BROWN: So you have the root causes and you have what's going on here in the U.S. The inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services is investigating conditions at the Fort Bliss facility for unaccompanied minor children. Girls described being told to wear the same underwear and turn it inside out because there is no laundry available. At another side in Texas, migrant kids have reported undercooked or raw food, prolonged stays, cramped quarters.
President Biden campaigned in part on fixing the terrible situation at these facilities. Why is this happening?
MAYORKAS: Well, let me say one thing that's very, very important. We have ended the policies of cruelty that defined the prior administration. And that was done very swiftly. We are no longer expelling unaccompanied children under Title 42, the authority of the Centers for Disease Control. The president ended that because of the cruelty that it imposed upon vulnerable children.
We are caring for children. And if in fact there are any weaknesses or infirmities in what we do, we cure them very quickly. The Department of Health and Human Services took swift action at Fort Bliss to address the conditions that the inspector general of that department reported.
BROWN: So it's been remedied. This is no longer going on with their having undercooked food and having to wear their underwear inside out because they don't have laundry -- we should be clear, that has been fixed?
MAYORKAS: Solutions have been designed. Solutions have been implemented. And if, in fact, there are any shortcomings in what the government does, when those shortcomings are brought to the government's attention or when the government proactively identifies them, because we are vigilant, we will address them swiftly.
We are caring for the children. We are no longer expelling the children. We are uniting those children with their families, with their legal sponsors here in the United States, and providing them with a path to asylum or other humanitarian relief as our laws envision.
BROWN: I want to ask you about this taped audio that Fox News has obtained of you speaking of border patrol agents. And you told them, quote, if our borders are the first line of defense, we're going to lose. And you also said, this is unsustainable.
Are we going to lose? Is Customs and Border Patrol at a breaking point right now?
MAYORKAS: Oh, we are not going to lose. As I articulated very clearly throughout the day yesterday, in every one of my meetings along the border, whether it was with Border Patrol agents, other law enforcement leaders, civic leaders, members of the community, we have a plan, we are executing our plan, it takes time, but we will not lose.
BROWN: But if this pace continues, how much longer until we are at a breaking point with CBP? What have the agents told you? You were talking to them in person. Did you get the sense from them they feel that way?
MAYORKAS: Well, what I communicated to them, and they very well understood, is the fact that we are not in this alone as the United States government. But we -- this is a regional issue.
We are working with the countries of origin not only in addressing the root causes, not only in developing safe, orderly, and humane alternative pathways for people to seek relief under United States law.
Not only are we working with those countries and with Mexico in those regards. But we are also working together to interdict irregular migration and to attack the smuggling organizations. This is a regional --
BROWN: But as you know --
MAYORKAS: And we are all working together.
BROWN: As you know, the CBP is so bogged down that some people are getting through, they're crossing the border and getting into the country because they are so bogged down dealing with this influx.
There is so much to talk about on that front. But I do need to talk about this other urgent problem, and that is Homeland Security Intelligence Chief John Cohen telling CNN that online calls for violence are strikingly similar to the buildup to the January 6 insurrection. DHS has put out a bulletin today about this. How concerned are you?
MAYORKAS: We consider domestic violent extremism the greatest terrorist-related threat to our homeland. The bulletin that we issued today was actually the next iteration of a prior bulletin that expired today. And we have watched the threat throughout the past six months. And we have maintained our alert. And we have maintained our line of communication not only with the general public but also with our state, local tribal and territorial partners.
BROWN: Okay --
MAYORKAS: We are seeing -- I'm sorry.
BROWN: Go ahead. I just -- we're in the essence of time. Go ahead.
MAYORKAS: We are seeing expressions of violent extremism born of false ideologies, false narratives, ideologies of hate, and we are seeing the potential connectivity to violence which is where we step in. And it is for that reason that we did not let our prior bulletin
expire but rather renewed the alert to the American public to stay vigilant. And if one sees something of great concern from a public safety perspective to report it to either the local authorities or the federal government.
BROWN: And that is important. It's just a yes-or-no answer, is there discussion at DHS to mandate vaccines for airline passengers on domestic flights? Yes or no?
MAYORKAS: I'm sorry. If you can repeat the question.
BROWN: Is there a discussion? Is there a discussion, a consideration at DHS to mandate vaccines for airline passengers for domestic flights? Just yes or not? We got to run.
MAYORKAS: There is -- there is not. There is not at this time.
BROWN: Okay. Thank you.
Thank you. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, thank you for your time. I know how busy you are dealing with multiple issues right now.
MAYORKAS: Thank you very much.
BROWN: Well, a stunning loss, three teachers in one county dying from COVID complications all within a 24-hour period. A look at the return to school, ahead.
BROWN: From foreign policy to national security, the Biden administration is facing mounting pressure over how it's handled Afghanistan, COVID, immigration, and more.
Let's discuss with our panel on this Friday.
Mona, I'm going to start with you here because there are huge issues on President Biden's plate, issues that aren't going to be fixed overnight. What do you make of Biden's response so far?
MONA CHAREN, POLICY EDITOR, "THE BULWARK": So, what's interesting is that all the attention Washington has been on the big proposals in Congress and whether there's going to be movement. And yet sneaking up on the outside, you have these other things that are potentially very dangerous for the administration, the situation at the border, rising prices, rising crime and Afghanistan.
These are things that have not been on the front burner for the Biden administration but are huge potential weaknesses.
BROWN: And the way he handles this, Olivier, is not only important for his legacy but also for the midterms, right? OLIVIER KNOX, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST:
Sure. And I think what you're going to start seeing including from congressional Democrats is not so much a coalescing around the idea that the withdrawal from Afghanistan, for example, was the wrong policy. But they're going to start going after it as this was just not done properly. I know it was not top of mind for most American voters in November. But we should reflect on the fact that both presidential nominees had as part of their promises a withdrawal from Afghanistan. It's not a fundamentally unpopular thing.
The danger at least on this front is the image is coming back from Afghanistan, and the -- what Clarissa Ward put on the air, the empty American bases ransacked now, the fate of Afghan women and girls, violence against Afghans who helped America. And the White House knows this. They know that they've got a bunch of really difficult news cycles ahead of them.
CHAREN: And the fact that they seemed surprised, that didn't play well at all. The administration seemed shocked at how fast the Afghan government has fallen.
BROWN: Right. Because in July, President Biden said, Ashley, that he thought it was unlikely that the Taliban would take over Afghanistan. Now it seems all but inevitable.
You know, you can argue that, look, he inherited a really tough situation with Afghanistan and he is sticking to his pledge to withdraw. But given how this is unfolding, how much blame should Americans put on President Biden?
ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it hasn't even been a full year. So I think he has definitely inherited problems that have gone not just to Trump but Obama and all the way to Bush's presidency. I think that this is an important issue that the administration is going to have to tackle. But I will tell you I think Americans feel comforted that it is Joe Biden who is going to have to figure this out versus a Donald Trump because he was so erratic.
So I, myself, and other people that I've been speaking to around voters, they feel okay with him at the wheel driving this. But I think in terms of your point around the border, around Afghanistan, this is why the infrastructure conversation is so important, and progressives continue to say voters came and they wanted you to really deliver for them so we need a comprehensive package to show that we're fighting for them.
BROWN: Right. But the infrastructure agenda is in limbo. I mean, Margaret, you have these nine House moderates demanding that the chamber pass the infrastructure bill before the budget package. How do you think this is going to play out? Pelosi certainly on the tough spot here.
MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You're right. Pam, it's in limbo because Democrats are putting it in limbo right now at this moment. And it's really interesting. I was speaking with someone in the intelligence community earlier in the week who was saying it had been very frustrating to see what was building in Afghanistan and the fact that the infrastructure coverage was taking so much energy and visuals away that the American people weren't concentrating on this thing that was happening.
I'd say now the flip is true, which is that Biden's greatest political strength is this bipartisan deal that has gone through the Senate, could clear the House also and become law if the Democrats would get on the same page. And now between the imagery in Afghanistan and the divisions inside the Democratic Caucus, it is in peril.
I think ultimately we're seeing House Speaker Pelosi take a pause, let the temperatures cool down. But ultimately she has to decide who's going to blink first. And if it's not going to be the progressive, she's going to need to find a way to convince these nine members that they have said what they needed to say in their swing districts. Maybe there are some other portions that need to be negotiated. But the only way to hold this thing together is by doing both.
That seems to be where the Democratic Party is right now.
CHAREN: She's got the worst job right now. It is just so painful, because her caucus is basically split in two. You've got the progressives who've got about half and the moderates and conservatives, if you can call them that, are also a little more than half.
And she has made promises to both, you know, that they are going to get what they want and not everybody can be happy. I mean, she's really going to prove her mettle now if she can manage something here now, because there was a message this week from a group of the moderate Democrats saying that they're not going to support the infrastructure bill.
BROWN: And privately, hey, we're going to do this. It's another to put it in writing and put it in the --
TALEV: But it's Biden's biggest calling card. And he is the biggest drawer for the Democrats. And Democrats are going to run on what it means to be a Biden Democrat. So if they drop the ball on this, it's not just his problem.
BROWN: We've got to go, unfortunately. But thank you all so much. I hope you have a great weekend.
BROWN: Coming up, the battle over masks and schools, how many students are actually opting out of masks in Florida. We looked into it. And that's next.
BROWN: In our national lead -- three teachers in one Florida county have died from COVID complications within one day of each other. Two more school employees remain hospitalized. This as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continues to block mask mandates in schools.
As CNN's Leyla Santiago reports, the tragic deaths of these teachers is making the mask and vaccination fight in the sunshine state heat up even more.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five days before classroom doors are set to open in Broward County, Florida, two teachers and one teaching assistant have died within about 24 hours of each other from COVID-19-related complications. All three of them were unvaccinated.
The county teachers union said --
ROSALIND OSGOOD, CHAIR, BROWARD COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD: There are a lot of people that have still not gotten the vaccination, and it is becoming a deadly thing for them not to be vaccinated.
SANTIAGO: A hundred thirty-eight of about 35,000 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since August 1st, according to the county COVID dashboard.
ANNA FUSCO, PRESIDENT, BROWARD TEACHERS UNION: We are living it right here real in Broward County.
SANTIAGO: This at the end of a tense week dominated by Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis taking on school districts over mask mandates. The governor threatening to withhold salaries from school board members and superintendents choosing to override his executive order that essentially prohibits mask mandates in schools. Although unclear if and how that would happen.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: If you're coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I'm standing in your way.
SANTIAGO: Some school districts fighting back. In Broward, the school board voted this week to keep its mask mandate in place as some parents protested outside the meeting.
OSGOOD: We feel strongly that the lives of our students and staff are invaluable, and we're not willing to play Russian roulette with their lives.
SANTIAGO: CNN looked into how many parents are planning to actually opt out of masks for their kids. Parents of about 4 percent of students opted out in Orange and Palm Beach County Public School Districts. In Duval County, 8 percent. Hillsborough County, approximately 15 percent. Same in Lee County.
In Palm Beach County where schools started this week, father of two Michael Napoleone says that he thinks parents should not be able to opt out at all.
MICHAEL NAPOLEONE, FATHER OF PALM BEACH COUNTY STUDENT: Just because you have rights doesn't mean you have no responsibilities. And I think you've got to take the responsible thing and let your kid wear a mask in school.
SANTIAGO: Sean Sykes disagrees.
SEAN SKYES, FATHER OF PALM BEACH COUNTY STUDENT: It comes back to personal responsibility. I'm not going to tell anybody what to do, but they should support the fact that we may feel differently.
SANTIAGO: Some kids will be going masked and others maskless in the same classrooms as the debate and public health crisis continue.
SANTIAGO (on camera): And Broward County under a tight deadline right now. They have about another five minutes to respond to the state on how they plan to move forward or face a noncompliance investigation.
BROWN: All right. Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.
The entire world just set a brand-new record, and it isn't a good one. We're going to explain, up next.
BROWN: Well, if you need more evidence that the climate crisis is real and worsening, globally, July was the hottest month ever on record. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official says in this case, quote, first place is the worst place to be. We've seen the effects of the record heat with fires blazing here in the U.S. and around the world.
And this also comes on the heels of the U.N. report which says the word has heated more than previously thought, a code red for humanity.
Well, be sure to tune into "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday. Jake Tapper will talk to the incoming New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Congressman Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican of Foreign Affairs, that's 9:00 and noon Eastern.
And you can also catch me starting at 6:00 p.m. this weekend. Our coverage continues now.