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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden To ABC: No Way To Withdraw U.S. Troops "Without Chaos Ensuing"; Taliban Look To Form A New Government In Kabul; Biden: Adults Will Be Eligible Next Month For Third Vaccine Dose; GOP Gov. Candidate Served With Subpoena During Debate; FL Board Of Education Votes To Punish Two Counties Mandating Masks; Mask Fight In FL Schools As Pediatric ICUs Fill With COVID Patients; Fire East Of Sacramento Triples In Size, Engulfs 50K Acres. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 18, 2021 - 17:00   ET



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government get into a plane and taking off and going to another country, when you saw the significant collapse of Afghan troops we had trained or up to 300,000 of them, just leaving their equipment and taking off. That was, you know, I'm not -- that's what happened, that's simply what happened.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: But we've all seen the pictures. We've seen those hundreds of people packed into a C17. We've seen Afghans falling --

BIDEN: That was four days ago, five days ago.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What did you think when you first saw those pictures?

BIDEN: Well, I thought it was weird. We have to gain control this. We have to move this more quickly. We have to move in a way in which we can take control of that airport. And we did.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don't think this could have been handled? This could have been handled better in any way? No mistakes?

BIDEN: No, I don't think it could have been handled in a way that there -- we're going to go back in hindsight and look. But the idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens. I don't know how that happened.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So for you that was always priced into the decision. Yes.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Always priced into the decision.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is at the State Department. But we're going to start with CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlin, this doesn't exactly jive with what Biden has been saying in recent weeks, because he has acknowledged that they did not expect the Afghan military to fall as quickly as they did.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, I'm a little surprised by that last comment there saying that he did not believe there could be a drawdown that would happen without chaos ensuing. Because what we have heard from the President and his top national security advisors for the last several months, and especially over the last several days is that they've been planning for every contingency for the last several months dating back to that July 8 press conference he held explaining why he was getting out of Afghanistan.

He said it was going to be a safe and orderly drawdown. And that is the way he's been framing this essentially since he confirmed in April that this is the decision that he was going with.

He did not say back in April and back in July that this could be an incredibly chaotic as we've seen now the drawdown that has happened. So, of course, we'll wait to see the full interview and see if there's more quotes from the President on this and what this is going to look like. But it is kind of hard to see how those answers there are going to satisfy a lot of the Democrats, typical allies of this White House or major U.S. allies that have been critical of the way this U.S. lead exit has gone down and what the last few days have looked like.

And just one point of fact I'll note, Jake, when he was talking there about the plane that was crowded with so many people that was leaving that military aircraft, that was leaving the airport and cobbled, that was taken on Monday and the President had said four or five days ago, but that was a picture I believe from Monday, Jake.

TAPPER: Kylie, our crews on the ground reported absolute madness at the Kabul airport, violence by the Taliban, gunshots fired into the air. Is there any sense in any kind of organized effort right now at the airport to prioritize getting Americans out of Afghanistan, getting these Afghans who are in the pipeline for these Special Immigrant Visas out of Afghanistan?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, what we're watching is the State Department try and apply some sort of organization to a situation that is, frankly, totally lost control right now. This is not a program. These programs to get these Afghans out of the Afghanistan who helped the United States, it wasn't a program that was designed to work in this pressure cooker situation right now.

So, what the State Department is trying to do is prioritize some of those folks, those who have already received these visas, they're telling them to head to the airport and try and get on these flights. Any American who is now in the country, the State Department is also telling them to head to the airport. They're saying that it's first come first serve once they get to the airport. But of course, there are key problems here, right, getting to the airport. Now, the State Department says that they are aware of these reports, of there being issues with the Taliban, not allowing for safe passage to the airport, they are saying that they're going to continue to push them to do so. But they're also telling Americans that they can't assure them that they're going to get to the airport safely, even though they want them to go there. So there are a lot of question marks here around this whole operation.

And I do want to point out that the State Department is saying that there are no reports as of now of any Americans who have had troubles getting through these checkpoints, so they are confident in that. But this is a situation that is evolving moment by moment. And so, this is something that they are keeping their eyes on surging resources to the airport to work on. But frankly, you know, a lot of folks saying they should have done this sooner.

TAPPER: And Kaitlan, President Biden, we've been talking about this now for several days. He wants to talk about the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan more than he wants to talk about how this withdrawal has gone how inept the exit has been.

He's basically told Stephanopoulos, look, all this chaos was baked into the decision. I knew it was going to happen but on July 8, he said the jury's still out, but the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban over running everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely. That was last month.


COLLINS: Yes, just a few weeks ago. And part of George's question there was asking, you know, is this an intelligence failure? And I think that's something that a lot of people have wanted to know, because the questions have been, you know, what were you hearing behind the scenes? Were you told this as a likelihood and you just did not heed that advice? What were those conversations like?

And Chairman Milley of the Joint Chiefs tried to clear this up earlier by saying that he said there was nothing that he or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army in this government in 11 days. Saying that they did not predict what we are now seeing. And the other day, President Biden himself admitted that this happened a lot faster than anticipated.

So I think that does raise a lot of questions about how they could not see this as something gone wrong and as a failure, which has been something that aides have been hesitant to say publicly. But privately, no one is saying that this went down the way that they believed it would or certainly hoped that it would.

They've talked about the issues with the best laid plans, they often need adjustments, but no one has, you know, been behind the scenes saying, actually, this wasn't success. Instead, they've been focusing on what they're doing now to try to patch it up by getting everyone out of there.

So, clearly, this matches with the tone that the President has had over the last several days, he is defiant over how this is happening.

TAPPER: And Kylie, this August 31st deadline that the Biden administration has set for itself for U.S. troops leaving completely once again, it's arbitrary, they could change it. But assuming that they stick with it, what happens to any Americans who might not have been able to get to Kabul or the airport by then?

ATWOOD: Well, it's a really good question. And it's one that we spoke about with the State Department earlier today. Basically, they are saying that they were telling all Americans in the country to get out of the country for months now. They're hanging it on the fact that they knew that things weren't going well and they were warning those Americans on the ground to get out.

They're now telling them to go to the airport. They are going to be first priority when they get to the airport to get on these flights out of the country. But what they're not saying is they can definitively assuredly say that all of these Americans are definitely going to get out of the country.

And that is a frightening situation, right? But it is a reflection of the reality right now, which is that the fact that the State Department is unable to say that they are in contact with every single American in the country by virtue of the fact that that program essentially rests on the Americans themselves to get in touch with the State Department so that they even know that they're there.

TAPPER: And according to a Senate source, the Biden administration briefed Senate aides and said when it comes to those Americans and parts of the country other than Kabul, they could provide air bridges, which is I assume a reference to helicopters.

Kylie and Kaitlan, thank you both.

Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts. He's a Marine Corps veteran, he commanded infantry in Afghanistan. He's now a major in the reserves. He supports President Biden's decision to pull all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. It's good to have you on the show.

I want to get your reaction to that little clip we heard from President Biden telling George Stephanopoulos that the chaos that we have seen was baked into his decision, that he always knew it's going to be chaotic. He always knew that things were going to be bad. Do you agree?


When this president took office, he faced a wrenching decision, he could go big or go home. He could double down and ramp up the U.S. military presence by an order of magnitude to enter a third decade of conflict in a failed counterinsurgency, or he could make the high integrity decision to withdraw the forces. Now, withdrawal from a country whose moniker is the graveyard of empires was never going to be smooth sailing. And we're seeing that in real time now. But more importantly, we are seeing the U.S. military and this administration adapt to the fluid situation and resume both commercial and military evacuations as they've stabilized the airport.

TAPPER: So you agree that it was -- no matter -- it was going to be chaotic, you can't just withdraw from Afghanistan and have there not be some chaos?

AUCHINCLOSS: I think that we have focused a lot on the Taliban horsepower and the speed of their advanced but have not focused on the Afghan willpower. A 300,000 person army with a decent Air Force collapsed in a matter of days. And that type of morale breaking is an indication of a complete lack of leadership from Afghan central government.

TAPPER: Well, you know that the argument from people who disagree with how this was done, not necessarily people who think that we should continue to have a presence there is that the U.S. provided logistical support, the U.S. provided, especially through contractors, technical support for the Air Force. And then, when you have Trump saying the troops need to come out, Biden saying troops need to come out, and all that support coming out, it's not a surprise that the Afghan military would crumble as it did.


AUCHINCLOSS: The fact that after 20 years and $80 billion plus, the Afghan military was incapable of fighting for more than a week on its own two legs is really indicative of the fact that there was no political end game for the counter insurgency. And that's why this President's decision to withdraw was so critical.

I also just really want to underscore the critical point here, which is that this President's choice was not between status quo between the contractors and logisticians that you're referring to or withdrawal. This president's decision was, do we ramp up the American military footprint and engage in full scale combat with the Taliban for a yet another decade? Because if he had decided to stay past President Trump's agreement, the Taliban would have launched their fighting season again, and we'd be back in firefights.

TAPPER: It wasn't that long ago, when you congressmen were leading combat patrols against the Taliban in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Now CNN has witnessed the Taliban dispersing crowds with gunfire. There have been reports of violent clashes with protesters in other parts of the country earlier.

In our show, Clarissa Ward, showed some video of her being a constant, told to cover her face. Taliban fighters threatening to pistol work with her producer, a CNN producer. How long do you think the Taliban is going to even allow the U.S. to continue this airport operation without kinetic engagement with the U.S., without shots being fired?

AUCHINCLOSS: The Taliban are inheriting a different country than they left 20 years ago. The literacy rate in Afghanistan has doubled, the infant mortality rate has halved access to electricity, has tripled or quadrupled.

There are 10 times as many kids in school as there were 20 years ago, 40 percent of whom are girls. The Taliban are inheriting a country in which real progress has been made. And my fervent hope is that they're going to adapt to some of that substantive progress rather than force the country to adapt to their violent extremist norms.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Jake Auchincloss, thank you so much. And of course, thank you for your service sir.


TAPPER: Coming up next, I'll talk to an Afghan refugee who's trying to get Afghans out of the country as his family remains at risk.

Plus, defying the governor, we'll talk to one Florida school official where the district is extending its masked mandate. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we are back with breaking news in our world lead. President Biden telling ABC News that there was no way to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan without chaos ensuing.

Meanwhile, the Taliban say that they are looking to build a new government in hopes that at least some other nations will recognize their legitimacy. That process would include meeting with Afghanistan's former President Hamid Karzai and with other prominent non Taliban figures in Afghanistan.

Here to discuss is Feroz Mohmand, who worked for former President Karzai until he fled to the United States in 2012 for his family's safety.

Feroz, we'll get to that meeting in a minute. But I do have to ask you, you have multiple family members and friends still in Afghanistan, how are they? What have your conversations with them been like?

FEROZ MOHMAND, PRESS COORDINATOR FOR FORMER AFGHAN PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI 2007-2012: Jake, thank you for having me in your show.

The situation on the ground has been, you know, decoded is totally different than what I hear from my friends and those who are trying to get to the airport, even U.S. citizens. This morning, I was in contact with one of my friend whose mom, sister, and a little niece is -- are U.S. citizen, they were trying since yesterday to come to the airport, but they couldn't make their way.

On the third or fourth attempt, actually, they were able to get into the airport after all this chaos that are in the street. They were pushed and tortured by the Taliban that they sold their country that's why they are going to work for infidels in the United States and they are United States puppets.

TAPPER: But they got to the airport, which obviously is the good news there. And I'm told you're personally helping some people who were able to get on flights yesterday. Tell us about that.

MOHMAND: Yes, yes. I have helped with this family, probably 10 people now that I've been in contact with my friends from Washington, D.C., some friends from DOD, they're really helpful in some of my previous coworkers in Afghanistan from the United States side. They're all trying and coordinating to have them get on the C17.

And it's not an easy process. I have to stay up late night and talk and make phone calls and e-mails. But I'm happy to see those families are reuniting and coming back to their home, their second home, United States.

And again, the process is not as easy as it sounds like I was listening to some of the reports that, you know, you just make your way to the airport.


TAPPER: Right.

MOHMAND: How? How you make your way to the airport while it's surrounded by the Taliban?

TAPPER: Yes, no. And that's -- those are the reports that we've been sharing from Clarissa Ward and others in Afghanistan, talking about how difficult it is to get there.

Obviously, the Taliban are the bad guys. They have a mediaeval ideology and barbaric techniques. But beyond them, who do you blame for what's going on in Afghanistan right now?

MOHMAND: It's a very broad question, Jake. I mean, you know, I blame the Afghan leadership, I blame the U.S., you know, government, the way they handle the situation, the way this peace process started. And I always quote it "peace process," with who, with a person that is sitting the other side of the table to -- in their mind, in the Taliban's mind that they either convert you to what they believe in their ideology, or they behead you, they cut your head, basically. What kind of -- how you make a peace deal with them.

And, you know, you mentioned -- you know, the CNN reporter and I saw that report, the Taliban was in front of her, in front of the U.S. Embassy, saying that to America. And you know, that is, you know, it really hurts me, if I see the Taliban flag over the United States Embassy.

I've been to that embassy many, many, many times for meetings, meeting friends, just going to have a coffee or, you know, lunch with my friends there from my U.S. counterpart side. But right now, that U.S embassy is in the hands of, you know, I hate to say this, that's a terrorist organization.

TAPPER: Yes. Feroz, what do you think about your former boss, Hamid Karzai, meeting with Taliban leaders? Was it a good idea?

MOHMAND: You see, Jake, that, you know, in some point, I mean, I disagree with some of his choices that he made that he, you know, started talking to the Taliban at the time when I was in the palace. I remember, you know, that these peace talks and story (ph) started at that time, that even I think at that time, the United Stated didn't even wanted to have a peace deal with the Taliban.

So, I do not agree with some of his, you know, choices that he made at the time. But right now, the situation in the country, I think he doesn't have any choice to sit down with them and kind of find out what to do next so they can save the country.

I know that everybody's talking about the Afghan army didn't fight for their country, please, let's remember that for the past 10 years, more than 100,000 Afghan forces sacrifice their lives, you know, also the U.S. military officers that they sacrifice their life. So let's not disrespect those live and make sure that not to blame one side and say, who did this? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered that, you know, it's too early to see why it collapse in less than 24 hours.

TAPPER: Yes. Feroz Mohmand, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it. We'll be praying for your friends and relatives in Afghanistan.

President Biden just minutes ago announcing new measures to get more Americans vaccinated. Will they work?



TAPPER: Welcome back in our health lead. President Biden just announced that beginning September 20 and pending a green light from the FDA fully vaccinated adults will be eligible for booster shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. This, as coronavirus continues to surge across the United States at least five states at or near full hospital capacity and cases are continuing to skyrocket up 36 percent since last week alone.

CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is back with us.

And Sanjay, we should reiterate as President Biden did, this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated when it comes to deaths and hospitalizations. Almost all of them are people who have not been vaccinated.

So, I do want to start on this booster decision. There are a lot of questions people have. First of all, are we going to need to get boosters every eight months?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think there's any indication of that, that you know, I mean, sometimes when you talk about these boosters, and a lot of vaccines do have boosters, after the booster shots, you may not need it again for 10 years, you know, something like tetanus.

Obviously, flu is a little bit of a different situation because you're not so much boosting for flu, it's just sort of acknowledging that the flu virus itself sort of drifts and you need to have a different vaccine to try and protect against that.

I just don't think that we know. But I think that the point you make about when you show the hospitalization numbers in your mind people that 99 percent roughly of the people 95 at least percent of the people who are in the hospitals are the unvaccinated. Most of the transmission of virus that's going on in this country are among the unvaccinated that this booster of the vaccinated may not necessarily address some of those problems right away.

What's driving this Jake is interesting. And I can tell you from having spoken to people about just every level of these health organizations. It's not a slam dunk decision. What they saw, here's the graphic basically looking at health care workers and looking at long term care facilities and seeing as a result of the Delta variant how much protection against infection has gone down.

Infection could be -- infection with no symptoms.


It could be infection that has lots of symptoms. But there has been a waning of the effect. The summary of why they're doing this is basically that they know that the antibodies are going down in people who have received a vaccine several months ago. We know Delta variance is going up, and that there may be some decreased protection.

While the vaccines still do a great job of keeping people out of the hospital, the concern is that if this protection continues to wane, the protection against hospitalizations may also wane. So this is a sort of trying to anticipate the future and not everyone sort of really sees the necessity for these sorts of boosters right now.

TAPPER: This only applies to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, these boosters that the Biden administration is pushing for. What about the millions of Americans who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, this is a source of frustration I know because I've gotten so many calls. But all the information we're hearing right now is for Pfizer and Moderna. They're saying with regard to J&J, about 20 million of those shots have been distributed, about 13 million have been actually administered. They're saying, because that vaccine was authorized later because there's fewer people, they don't have the same amount of data on that vaccine as they do on the other vaccines.

Having said that, the taskforce says they will probably be making recommendations about Johnson & Johnson as well. And those recommendations will probably be very similar to what we're hearing on the other vaccines, that a booster will be probably necessary. So we'll see when that data comes out, and I don't think it'll take that long. We know places like San Francisco, Jake, have already started offering boosters for people who received the J&J vaccine. I think that's going to sort of, you know, be something we see around the country.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

More than three dozen candidates running to replace California's Democratic Governor. One of them was served with a subpoena mid- debate. We'll show that to you next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, as a public service announcement for candidates everywhere, a little debate 101. Try not to get served with a subpoena while you're on stage during the debate. Yes, this really happened in California's recall race for governor.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is following the race which is, in many ways, a political circus but could have a huge nationwide impact. Stephanie, let's start with the obvious, who got served and why?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A political circus especially when there's 46 people who are on the ballot. So yes, a lot of people, but this particular individual, Jake, it's John Cox, he's a businessman. He's run for office before. If you do know who he is, it's probably because you know of this big bear video that he has of one of his campaign ads saying that he's tough and scary. And like the beautiful Gavin Newsom, is how he puts it together.

But what happened yesterday was that he was on the debate stage with a couple of other Republicans when he got served with papers. If you want to see it, take a look.


JOHN COX, AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN: Down out first of my --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Cox, you've been served. San Diego Superior Court, ordered by the judge.

COX: I want to give a shout out to my friend and fellow businessman.


ELAM: So you see he took a brief pause there but kept on going with his opening speech there. What this is allegedly about is $100,000 or so that John Cox's campaign did not pay to an advertising firm for ads, attorney fees and other costs. And so afterwards, the Los Angeles Times reporting that John Cox called it a garbage thing that this happened while he was up there on stage. But, obviously, this is a run that is very much of high interest here, and that was one way to make sure that he did get the papers.

TAPPER: But we should point out the recall action, it's just under four weeks away, September 14th. And the Governor Gavin Newsom, the Democrat, he might actually be in some serious trouble. Is it really possible that he could be defeated?

ELAM: This was not something that most people thought was even going to be a problem for Gavin Newsom. But when you take a look at what has happened here, for one thing, this is an overwhelmingly blue state. That is true, but what we see happen here happens across the country. When it's not a presidential election, people don't turn out as well. And that has made things tight.

So if you take a look at the CBS News poll, you can see that of likely voters, yes, he should be recalled. 48 percent, no, keep him in place, 52 percent. But you see both of those percentages fall within the margin of error there. So that is part of the issue.

And really, there's the issue of apathy. People are focused on other things. Are they're going to show up and help out Gavin Newsom? But the Republicans obviously have a hard time getting the governor's office. This is a great way for them to try to get it and so that's why you see that they are really working on their base to turn out and vote.

TAPPER: Happened in 2003. CNN's Stephanie Elam, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

More kids heading back to school today as more kids had into quarantine. The battle over masks in schools amid this surge of the Delta variant, that's next.



TAPPER: In our national lead today, Florida's biggest county could soon become Republican Governor Ron DeSantis's latest target. Right now school officials in Miami-Dade County are considering a mask mandate in schools, they say to protect kids from contracting and spreading the exploding Delta variant after the Florida Board of Education, appointed by Governor DeSantis, voted unanimously to punish two counties for enforcing mask mandates. Threatening Broward and Alachua school officials with slashed funding or cut salaries or even termination.

CNN's Leyla Santiago from Florida looks at this life or death schoolyard fight.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida's second largest school district opened its doors to students today amid a fight over mask mandates. Broward County, one of two districts that Governor Ron DeSantis says is defined his executive order that prohibits schools from mandating mask without a parent opt out. The state now threatening to withhold salaries from school board members and superintendents who choose to override that order. GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): That's defined the state of Florida's laws and the Parents' Bill of Rights that was enacted just this past legislative session that I signed into law.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Alachua County went back to school last week with a mask policy the state calls noncompliant. Florida State Board of Education now moving forward with an investigation into the county saying they have the right to pursue all legal means available to ensure school districts adhere to Florida law, including but not limited to withholding state funds.


This all as Broward County has seen an increase of more than 40 percent in positive cases in its three-day average since July 29th. As of Tuesday morning, Broward County's paediatric ICU is at 94 percent capacity. Florida House members pushing back against the Governor.

REP. DEBBIE-WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): This is a man who is allowing the explosion of COVID to occur again and dismissing it as just being seasonal.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): In Hillsborough County, the school board held an emergency meeting this afternoon to talk about mandating mask as more than 10,000 students are in quarantine just one week after classes started. According to a spokesperson with the school district, that's 4.8 percent of the student population and 338 staff members are in quarantine.

LYNN GRAY, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD CHAIR: Hillsborough County Public School District is in a public health emergency. We must act and act now.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Miami-Dade school board member Luisa Santos --

LUISA SANTOS, MIAMI-DADE SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: I ran to keep a safe learning environment to accelerate learning and to create an equitable and excellent school district. And I plan to live up to that commitment.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Just before the Miami-Dade school board meeting was scheduled to take up the issue of masks in school, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho doubled down on his position to follow the science.

SUPT. ALBERTO CARVALHO, MIAMI-DADE: And if the reward is a threat, I wear it as a Badge of Honour.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): A decision sparking controversy at today's Miami-Dade school board meeting inside and outside.


SANTIAGO: And Jake, the school board here in Miami-Dade County just voted seven to one to implement a mask mandate that will not allow a parent opt out. That is what Governor Ron DeSantis says is non- compliant when it comes to his executive order. Let me show you what we've been seeing all day here. That is a group of parents. That is against the mask mandate. They have been very vocal here speaking at the meeting, a meeting that became very contentious, as we heard from very impassioned parents.

And then on this side, you have the parents who are against -- or excuse me -- are for having a mask mandate. Police at one point had to shut down the road. But the news just coming in. This is a group of parents that will just learn that their students will have to wear masks in school with no sort of parental opt out. The only way they can get out of that is if they have a doctor's note.

TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago in Miami, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Leanetta McNealy, she's the Chair of the Alachua County Public Schools Board. Thank you so much for joining us. So, what is your reaction to the punishments that the State Board of Education voted through?

LEANETTA MCNEALY, CHAIR, ALACHUA COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS BOARD: Well, one of the things, as you probably know, that the State Board, including our Governor, DeSantis, they would like to withhold funding from the superintendent and the board members. Now, in yesterday's emergency board, State Board of Education meeting, they also sort of shared with us or threaten a few so we'll consider that, that the superintendent could possibly be removed as well as the elected officials. We would also tend to have a situation where we might remove.

But you know, Jake, it's OK. It was OK when we were told that funding would probably be withheld. It was certainly OK with me, because a loss of funding is certainly nothing when it compares to a loss of lives.

TAPPER: So Governor DeSantis's office, he tries to make the argument that there's no definitive study that shows that kids wearing masks, that the masks prevent the spread of COVID at all. And that, in fact, there is a mental cost, especially when it comes to disabled students. Your board just extended the mask mandate for students for eight more weeks. Do you -- is there a scientific study? Is there data that you're basing this on?

MCNEALY: Well, I can tell you this, we have the best medical professionals in the union, in the United States, at the University of Florida. So they came once again to our board meeting last evening to share with us updates and to reemphasize the mitigation necessity and having students be mask. We certainly support those professionals as well as the scientists that presented to us last night. I think that is why we had a unanimous vote to continue masking for at least eight more weeks.


TAPPER: The same experts who are recommending masking are also recommending that everybody who's eligible get vaccinated. What is the position of the Alachua County School District when it comes to requiring eligible adults, teachers, staffers, superintendents, principals, et cetera to have to get a mandate? Do you have a vaccine mandate?

MCNEALY: We do not have a vaccine mandate, and especially because of all of our elementary kids. There is nothing yet on the table for children under 12. But we are highly encouraging all of our students above 12 and above to get vaccinated. We are also doing the same with our employees.

And we hope that the whole community will also get them vaccines. We have an incentivize plan for our employees in the district. And so, we are hoping that they will take advantage of that incentive and go on and be vaccinated.

TAPPER: Why wouldn't you require it?

MCNEALY: Well, that's a good question. We still have some things that we are requiring that all staff members are mask. All employees, anyone come in on our campus, and we've even limited that with visitors or whatever vendors, we have limited those. But we have not mandate it. What we've mandated masking for all of our students and all of our employees. But I thought you asked me the question, mandating vaccines.

TAPPER: I did. I did in fact ask you that question, because if you're going to push masks for everybody, it also makes sense if we're following the science, that every eligible adult, teacher, superintendent, administrator, also be vaccinated.

Leanetta McNealy, thank you so much appreciate your time. Good luck with the school year.

More than 100 large fires burning in the U.S. and a new one growing so rapidly. It's forced thousands to quickly evacuate, that's next.



TAPPER: The climate crisis in our Earth matters series, absolute devastation as fires ripped through Northern California. The one you're seeing here is just east of Sacramento. It exploded to three times its size on Monday night. So far, it's engulfed more than 50,000 acres and it's totally uncontained. Almost 7,000 people have been told to leave their homes. One of the hardest hit towns is Grizzly Flats, where an elementary school has been completely flattened by the flames.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov is live on the scene in El Dorado County, California. And Lucy, you talk to a rancher who just lost everything. What did he have to say?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we came across Chris Kingsley moments after he stepped foot on his property to discover every single thing there scorched burned. And just to give you a sense of how unpredictable and fast moving this fire is, we were going to go live from there, the winds shift that the flames moving towards his property again. 164 acres, he's owned it for 38 years, he had a sawmill horses, everything laid on Tuesday. Those flames rip through the area he described seeing fire as tall as 300 feet in the air those flames, the sound of it like a freight train. Take a listen.


CHRIS KINGSLEY, RANCHER WHO LOST HIS HOUSE IN CALDOR FIRE: -- for life, you know, when you've spent 38 years and then trying to restore the ranch, like I mentioned was historic ranch and the old house built in 1869 is over there. And what else to say.

KAFANOV: I'm sorry. I'm really sorry.


KAFANOV: And the tragic thing about all of this, Jake, is his property is so rural that he couldn't even get fire insurance, millions of dollars worth of equipment. He was going to be building tiny homes for the homeless. He was also going to be doing -- putting his animals to use to help kids and people with PTSD heal. The animals survived but everything else he owned, his dreams up in flames. Jake?

TAPPER: And Lucy, let's be clear about this. Cal Fire data indicates that six of the seven biggest fires in California history have happened in just the last two years. Six of the seven, what's going on?

KAFANOV: I mean, climate change, Jake. The irony is, I'm standing behind a lake that is at a historic low, they're actually dipping in buckets on helicopters to try to get water to the flames. The climate -- the changing climate has completely re-carved the face of the west. You have these dry fuel conditions that's making the fires bigger, stronger than ever before, Jake.

TAPPER: In a perfect world, fossil fuel company executives would be out there helping fight the fires. CNN's Lucy Kafanov, thanks so much.

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