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The Lead with Jake Tapper

FDA Approves Pfizer Vaccine, Paving Way For More Mandates; Biden Encourages Hesitant Americans To Get Their Shot Today; Pentagon: 16,000 Evacuated From Kabul Within Last 24 Hours; Interview With Arizona Secretary Of State Katie Hobbs; Flash Flooding In Tennessee Leaves 21 Dead; Biden's National Security Adviser: ISIS Threats Against The Kabul Airport Are "Real" And "Acute". Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 23, 2021 - 16:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The long-awaited stamp of approval.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The FDA fully approves Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, setting the stage for sweeping vax mandates, and maybe pushing more reluctant Americans to get the shot.

A race against time, and the Taliban. The U.S. up against a deadline to evacuate thousands from Afghanistan. We'll talk to a former U.S. official who has negotiated with the Taliban.

Plus, seven-month-old twins swept out of their father's arms. They are among the 21 dead after floodwaters in the U.S. unleashed disaster in a matter of minutes.


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

And we begin today with the health lead and the major development in the fight to end the coronavirus pandemic eight months after the first shot was given under emergency use protocols, Pfizer's COVID vaccine has now been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, opening the door to more vaccine mandates in businesses, in government agencies, and in universities across the country.

In fact, minutes after the FDA news, the Pentagon announced it is requiring all of its 1.3 active duty service members to be vaccinated.

Today, President Biden urged Americans who have been waiting for full approval from the FDA to go get vaccinated now. And he reiterated his call for private and public sector leaders to implement vaccine requirements or mandates.

About one-third of the eligible population in the United States, 82 million people, still has not been vaccinated. And more than 1,000 Americans nearly all of them unvaccinated are dying from COVID each day. That's the highest that number has been in five months.

CNN's chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins me now live.

And, Kaitlan, FDA approval allows the White House to push even harder for vaccine mandates. Are they expecting this news to make a real difference in the number of shots going into arms every day?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, they're certainly hoping it will because there are still tens of millions of Americans who are eligible to get the vaccine but haven't yet made that decision to do so.

And a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that it was about three in ten unvaccinated Americans said they were likely to get the shot once it got full approval from the FDA. And now of course that has happened. So the White House is going to make a messaging push. You saw President Biden speaking today, and other officials are continued to expect to push this announcement from the FDA to try to get people vaccinated.

But, Jake, more than just people going out and getting the shot on their own, President Biden when speaking on this news earlier was also calling on private companies to do more to require the vaccine. We had already seen several companies do so. We know some have been waiting for this full approval. And so, that is what he is calling on private companies to do to make it more required widely across the U.S.

And the federal government is going to be taking these steps as well, Jake, because we know the pentagon was waiting for this full approval to now require it among U.S. military active duty troops. And so, that's one thing that's expected to happen. We'll wait to see if more parts of the federal government then do also require it as well, Jake.

TAPPER: School is back in session in places all over the country. President Biden said he's going to address how to send kids back to school safely soon. What's the goal there, especially considering so many kids are already back in classrooms?

COLLINS: Yeah. This is something that the president has said he is expected to discuss with the education secretary in the coming days. Again, it's caused a real issue in communities with local ordinances and governors and whatnot, trying to impose these bans on mask mandates.

And that, of course, is raising questions for a lot of parents since we did see this move from the FDA today, but we have still not heard anything from the FDA for children under 12, they are still not recommended to get this vaccine by the FDA.

And so, what President Biden said today was kind of in line with the CDC guidance of what they had issued about kids going back to school, saying that make sure everyone you can around your child who isn't vaccinated and can't be vaccinated is vaccinated. That means parents and other teenagers who are eligible to get the vaccine. And, Jake, he said otherwise, make sure your kid is wearing a mask when they leave the House.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Meanwhile, COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. In Florida, the number of people dying from COVID every day is at its highest point of the entire pandemic.

And as CNN's Nick Watt reports, more local officials all over the country especially in Florida are denying governors' block on mask mandates.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Pfizer vaccine now fully approved for people 16 and over.

DR. JANET WOODCOCK, ACTING FDA COMISSIONER: This is a pivotal moment for our country in the fight against the pandemic.


The public can be confident that this vaccine meets the FDA's gold standard for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality.

WATT: The vaccine was being deployed under FDA emergency use authorization. This might help the hesitant.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: This may tip them over toward getting vaccinated.

WATT: There are about 82 million Americans who are eligible but have not yet gotten their shots. Now, the approval also bolsters vaccine mandates for workplaces and more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is going to be a game changer for us. Some places including the hospitals, schools cannot enforce the vaccine for COVID. Now they have proof that will open that door.

WATT: This morning in Miami, defying the anti-mask governor, schools reopened in Florida's largest district with a mask mandate.

ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, MIAMI, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: If there's a consequence, put it on me. If there's a price to be paid, put it on me.

WATT: The feds also ready to fight anti-mask local legislators.

MIGUEL CARDONA, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: We are prepared to launch investigation with our office for civil rights to ensure that all students have access to this fundamental right of education.

WATT: There are schools in the south that have opened then closed again or put kids in quarantine due to COVID cases. DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: I think that this is a

harbinger of the challenges we are going to face. The schools could become focal points of community transmission.

WATT: The U.S. is now averaging nearly 150,000 cases a day, and once again averaging over 1,000 COVID-related deaths a day. That toll is up over 50 percent in just a week. Vaccines, there were just three days in a row with more than a million shots in arms. We haven't seen that since mid-June.

MURTHY: Because especially with the delta variant, getting that protection is more important than ever.

WATT: Mississippi has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Officials there say more and more people are taking a livestock anti-parasitic instead. There's an online lie that it fights COVID-19. The FDA tweeted: You are not a horse, you are not a cow, seriously, y'all, stop it.


WATT (on camera): Now, with this full approval, Pfizer can also now market and advertise their vaccine. And today, a company spokesperson told CNN that they hope to use that to increase confidence in this vaccine.

One word of caution from the FDA to physicians: do not use this vaccine off label in the under-12s, not yet. The data is still being gathered. The dosage is still being figured out -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick. Thanks so much.

Let's bring in Dr. Peter Hotez. He's co-director of the center for vaccine development at Texas Children's Hospital.

Dr. Hotez, good to see you again.

So, today, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he believes today's announcement could encourage as many as 20 to 30 percent of unvaccinated individuals to get vaccinated. Does that seem a reasonable expectation to you?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, AUTHOR, "PREVENTING THE NEXT PANDEMIC": Not without the mandates. I do think there will be a modest increase. But, look, we have a long way to go to fill this gap. You know, unfortunately, we've underachieved as a nation. Only 51 percent of the American people are fully vaccinated.

If we're going to halt this virus transmission, we are going to have to get to 80, 85 percent. So we need to close that gap on 80 million people. And I think having the full approval will certainly convince some. But it's just one of a dozen fake talking points put out there by the disinformation campaign. And I think a number of people are just going to revert to one of the other ones.

I think the bigger impact as was mentioned is going to be around mandates, employer mandates, federal mandates from the military. I think the one thing that didn't happen today that I would have liked to have seen is they did this approval for 16 and up. If they had gone to 12 and up, I think that would have been very powerful because one of the worst performing groups in terms of vaccinations are the adolescents 12 to 15.

And we were looking at 20, 25 percent of adolescents down here in the South are fully vaccinated. And if we had that approval for 12 and up, we could have mandated vaccines for the middle schools, done more with school mandates. And so, that's unfortunate. So that's going to continue to be a problem as well.

TAPPER: New York City is now requiring all education staff including teachers and principals to be vaccinated. Do you think that other cities and states should follow suit?

HOTEZ: Look, we have to, Jake. If we're serious as a nation about getting our kids through the fall school year, here's what has to happen. Basically everyone who walks into a public school has to have a mask on except maybe some of the special needs kids who can't do it.


And everyone over the age of 12 and up has to be vaccinated. When you've got this screaming level of transmission across the country and the delta variant, that's highly transmissible. That's the only way.

So, the more we can move in that direction, the greater the likelihood we'll ensure that our kids can get through the school year, because look what's happening in the south already, with no mask mandates, none of the adolescents are vaccinated who are eligible. We're seeing schools open up and then they shut down a week later because so many kids are getting COVID.

So, we're all holding our breath down here in Texas where many of the school districts are just opening today. I just don't know how it's going to go.

TAPPER: So, Dr. Hotez, already with the news of this approval, right- wing media is already now has a new narrative and a different channel when the news came out started talking about whether or not the process was rushed. What would your response to that be?

HOTEZ: You know, Jake, the FDA is, for approving vaccines, has about the highest regulatory bar that exists anywhere in the world. And it wasn't rushed.

What's happened with the FDA is they've been reviewing data steadily. That's why we've been able to move expeditiously. And the other piece to this that not many are talking about is the fact how good that emergency use authorization process turned out to be and how hard the FDA worked to fully approximate the full approval process.

So this is not the case at all. But, you know, unfortunately, the far right has been dominating the Internet right now in terms of putting out disinformation. And if we're going to move the next step as a country, we've got to close that 80 million gap.

TAPPER: Dr. Peter Hotez, thanks so much.

The desperate effort to evacuate Afghans who helped U.S. troops during the war reports now that the Taliban are not letting them through to get to the airport. An update the week after the collapse of Kabul.

And it's the reason the U.S. went in there in the first place 20 years ago, and now terror chatter is picking up. How ISIS and other groups might be trying to seize the opportunity in the chaos.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead now. The pace of evacuations is finally picking up at the Kabul airport. That's good news.

The Pentagon saying today that 16,000 people have been evacuated out of that city in just the last 24 hours. And since the Afghan government fell, the U.S. has evacuated or coordinated the evacuation of approximately 37,000 people.

Without question, this is progress and good news for the American citizens and green card holders whom the Biden administration is prioritizing. The State Department says that several thousand Americans and their family members are still in Afghanistan, still trying to get out.

It has not been as easy for Afghan allies who helped U.S. forces during the war and applied for what are called SIVs or special immigrant visas. They were told to stay away from the Kabul airport today. The situation outside that airport is growing increasingly desperate and dire as thousands cram together in front of the gates begging to be let in, waiting for days without access to food or water.

Now, President Biden has not ruled out keeping troops in Afghanistan past this August 31st withdrawal deadline.

But as CNN's Oren Liebermann reports for us now, the Taliban is already warning that that could lead to serious consequences.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Kabul International Airport, the end of the month is coming too quickly. The U.S. is trying to hit its self-imposed August 31st deadline to complete the evacuation from Afghanistan.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are discussions going on among us in the military about extending, our hope is we will not have to extend. But there are going to be discussions, I suspect, on how far along we are in the process.

LIEBERMANN: Taliban warning there will be consequences if it takes any longer. Tension in and around the airport is still running very high, someone opened fire on Afghan security forces Sunday killing one and wounding several civilians. U.S. and Afghan troops returned fire. The fire fight underscoring the security situation as the U.S. tries to maximize the number of people it can fly out.

The military flew more than 10,000 people out of Kabul in 24 hours, and another 5,000 on charters and other flights, and a pace that must continue.

In order to speed up evacuations, the Pentagon activating the civil reserve air fleet for only the third time, using 18 aircraft from commercial carriers like United and American to move evacuees from the Middle East onwards.

For now, though, the U.S. prioritizing getting American citizens out, several thousand have left the country already, the Pentagon says. A senior state department official says there are still several thousand more.

The pentagon acknowledging helicopters have left the airport not once, but twice, to pick up evacuees.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby hinting at more.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: On occasion, where there's a need and there's a capability to meet that need, our commanders on the ground are doing what they feel necessary need to do to help Americans reach the airport.

LIEBRMANN: For now, the U.S. embassy in Kabul is telling Afghan special immigrant visa applicants and evacuees not to come to the airport until told. With potentially a little more than a week left of this evacuation effort, fear of a totalitarian Taliban regime is growing.

The brother of an Afghan interpreter received these letters from the Taliban, a court date for helping U.S. troops and shielding his brother, and then a notification of his death sentence.

These court decisions are final, and you will not have the right to object, the third and final letter reads. You chose this path for yourself and your death is imminent, God willing.

There are still some 13,000 people at the airport and more trying to get through every day. But a new terror threat forcing the U.S. to develop alternate routes to the airport for safety, even when there is so little time left to evacuate.



LIEBERMANN (on camera): Speaking of that little time, a defense official with direct knowledge of the discussions around the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan says if the goal is to get to 5,800 troops out of the country by the end of the month, that decision may have to come tomorrow.

Jake, one of the surprising bit of information we learned -- just a short ago, we've all seen pictures of the one baby that was born on the flight from Qatar to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. We learned a short time ago, there were two other babies born during this evacuation from Afghanistan. Unclear if they were on a flight or on a base somewhere. But that is a surprising bit of news during all of this.

TAPPER: Oren, I want you to take a listen to something that White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki just said a few minutes ago about Americans still in Afghanistan.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's irresponsible to say Americans are stranded. They are not. We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home, home. We're in touch with them via phone, via text, via email, via any way that we can possibly reach Americans to get them home if they want to return home.

I'm just calling you out for saying that we are stranding Americans in Afghanistan when I said -- when we have been very clear that we are not leaving Americans who want to return home. We are going to bring them home.


TAPPER: Look, I understand that people are working long hours in the White House, the National Security Council, State Department, Pentagon and over in Kabul to get Americans out of that country. And I understand the White House wanting to reassure the nation that all Americans will ultimately be evacuated.

But there are no doubt Americans who feel stranded in Afghanistan right now.

LIEBERMANN: Yeah. Some of this appears to be, as you pointed out, a message of reassurance. Some appears to be parsing words on what exactly is stranded.

Jen Psaki appearing to say that if you want to get out, the U.S. will go to great lengths to get you out. But the Pentagon has acknowledged in a limited number of cases, according to what we've heard, that there have been Americans who are having trouble getting through Taliban checkpoints, who are having difficulties and problems getting to Kabul international airport.

And that appears to be what she's not acknowledge here, that there are Americans having issues, limited numbers, the Pentagon says. But it is certainly happening from what we've heard here, from what we heard from the defense secretary and the chairman of the joint chiefs briefing members of Congress. Maybe it's not in great number, but there are problems here even for Americans.

TAPPER: All right. Oren, thank you so much.

Joining us now, Adam Boehler. He's the former CEO of the International Development Finance Corporation under President Trump working with U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad. He has negotiated twice with the Taliban senior leadership during the Trump administration.

Adam, thanks so much for joining us.

First of all, let me just ask, because you've had this very rare what must've been odd experience. Most Americans will never set foot in a room with the Taliban. What is negotiating with them like? Can you take them at their word? What tactics seem to work with them?

ADAM BOEHLER, TWICE NEGOTIATED WITH THE SENIOR TALIBAN LEADERSHP: So, I think the key thing to remember about the Taliban is they are a militia. They're a regional militia. They're fairly well-organized. So, I think on the upside, they can keep their word. On the down side, if we don't have pressure, and I mean that from a military perspective, to hold them accountable, they won't keep their word.

And so I think a good example of them keeping their word is a year ago they said they wouldn't attack U.S. forces. The day after they said that, they kept their word and they didn't. My concern going forward is what is the accountability to hold them to their word?

TAPPER: So, let me ask you, when they say, for example -- I mean, they have a very, I would say, much more sophisticated than it used to be at least, propaganda arm. And they'll say -- the Taliban will say, you know, all is forgiven if you worked with the Americans we're not going to hold you account. You'll be fine, you won't be punished.

But that's obviously not true. Brianna Keilar earlier today obtained a document that Oren just included in his report, a death sentence to somebody who hadn't even worked with the Americans, but his brother had and he helped that person get out. So, is this a matter of the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing? Or is this a matter of they're just lying?

BOEHLER: It's a matter of there's no accountability and they think that we're leaving. And so, what I'm concerned about what I think you'll see is if we do fully depart, that will increase quite a bit. So they're going to say what we want to hear. Their view is they're taking over the country now. We're going to be gone completely August 31st. And so they're going to do what they want.

Their goal ultimately has been how do we get the United States out of the country and how do we take it over. And so, they will do anything to that effect. And so, again, if we're not there and we're not a military presence to hold them accountable, I think you can expect that they'll do what they want to do once we're out.

TAPPER: Once we're out. The White House says it's in daily talks with the Taliban. They're not planning to have President Biden negotiate with them directly. Do you agree with that decision? BOEHLER: Yeah. I don't think the president of the United States needs

to negotiate directly with a militant group.


TAPPER: So people involved with evacuation efforts tell me that the Taliban are refusing to let people through for get to the airport unless they're American citizens or green card holders. So, that means that the special immigrant visas, the SIVs, the Afghan allies can't get through. Does that surprise you?

BOEHLER: It doesn't surprise me based on this, Jake. I mean, here's my suggestion. I think there are a couple things to remember.

Number one, I don't care what political administration we're in. The United States military is the strongest and most trained in the world. Our troops know what to do. And at the end of the day, we can negotiate, but we should do it on our terms.

So, I would view that as unacceptable. You know, an American ideal is taking care of our citizens. It's taking care of our green card holders. But it's also taking care of our allies and those people that supported us.

We have a view of no person left behind. Let's hold that ideal. And the best way to do that is what the Biden administration is starting to do, which is open up a broader corridor. Don't just locate around the airport in Kabul. It's time for us to be more aggressive and take the advantage, and let's do what we need to do in order to ensure that both the United States citizens but also our allies are taken care of under any cost.

And we have the force and strength to do that. Our troops can do that. We're the best military in the world.

TAPPER: Adam Boehler, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today, sir.

U.S. officials getting worried that terror chatter could pick up as the group that hosted al Qaeda retakes Afghanistan. What are intel officials saying?



TAPPER: We're back with our world lead.

CNN has learned that there are up to 4,000 Afghans left inside the country who either worked for the U.S. Embassy in some capacity or are members of those individuals' families. And they have not been able to even reach the Kabul Airport, one source telling CNN most of these Afghans qualify for Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs, to be evacuated, but were -- quote -- "screwed over" by the U.S.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Doha, Qatar. Nick, why have these Afghans not been included so far in these U.S. evacuation efforts?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Well, there were extraordinary pictures of the helicopters taking U.S. diplomats, nationals out of the embassy compound when the first U.S. effort to leave kind of began, but obviously part of that were not the local Afghan staff as part of the U.S. plan.

Now, it appears that there obviously were SIV promises made to them. Many of them already appear to have qualified. Some were already enrolled. Yet these individuals who worked day to day face to face with U.S. diplomats are still in Kabul, and, of course, are, obviously, like so many SIV applicants, worried about getting to the airport through Taliban checkpoints and, until recently, the extraordinary crowd crushes at all the entry gates.

Today, in fact, it's clear from sources on the ground that SIV applicants are not being allowed into the airport, just U.S. citizens, green card holders and NATO nationals.

So the focus certainly is I think to make sure that they can get out. We have just heard Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, say that getting these people out is -- quote -- "an absolute priority."

But at the same time, weeks are going by and they are still in Kabul under threat. And these, as I say, are the people who sat next to U.S. diplomats, made their job possible every day. And despite the great scenes of coordination to pull the diplomats out, these Afghans were left behind.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Doha, thank you so much.

Back in the United States, the Taliban recapturing Afghanistan has left intelligence officials and law enforcement in the United States worried about an uptick in terrorism, given the haven that terrorist groups can now find there.

It's a threat that these groups pose right now, of course, to Americans and Afghans in that country, but the Biden administration says they can handle it.

Listen to President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, this afternoon.


JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: That we can suppress terrorism without a permanent military presence on the ground.


TAPPER: CNN's Evan Perez joins us now.

And, Evan, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is just days away. How concerned are U.S. officials about the threat here in the United States?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're scrambling, Jake, because, look, they had planned for the idea that there was a possibility the Afghan government would fall and that they would have to make up some of these -- the loss of intelligence eyes on the ground there.

All of that has been accelerated now. And as you pointed out, we have the anniversary of 9/11. There is a tremendous amount of concern about the fact that the Taliban have won, have declared victory, is going to pose a threat not only from al Qaeda and ISIS, but even from domestic terrorists in the United States, who will find some inspiration from the fact that -- of the events that you have seen on the ground there in Afghanistan.

TAPPER: So, in addition to the thousands of Taliban prisoners that the Trump administration pressured the Afghan government to free as a gesture of good faith while the Trump administration was negotiating with the Taliban, in addition to that, we know that the Taliban has been freeing prisoners as they have retaken the country.

How much of a threat to these individuals who were in jail until relatively recently, how much does that pose?

PEREZ: They pose a tremendous threat, because these are people who were viewed as hardcore terrorists.


Some of them, for instance, the -- one of the founding members of the Pakistani Taliban, the TTP, which was associated with a 2010 Times Square bombing attempt, that guy is now out of prison, released by the Taliban, as well as a concern about al Qaeda leaders who are believed to have been hiding out in Eastern Iran.

They are now back in the picture. The concerns are tremendous. We know that the intelligence agencies are now bringing resources that they had planned for elsewhere in Asia. They're bringing them into the region to deal with all of this.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

It's been called a clown show and a fraudit, but, today, a report on the sham election audit in Arizona is supposed to be due. Will it cause another explosion of misinformation?

We will talk to the Arizona secretary of state next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead: We were expecting to receive the bogus audit results of 2.1 million votes out of Arizona's 2020 election today, but those results have been delayed after three members of the five-person company, Cyber Ninjas, that is running the so-called audit tested positive for coronavirus. We certainly hope they get well soon.

The Cyber Ninjas, we should note, have zero experience auditing elections. The organization is led by a man who continues to push the big lie.

The news of the COVID cases comes from a statement from the Arizona State Senate president, who says they're instead receiving a portion of a draft report. This comes one day after House Democrats in the Capitol sent a scathing letter to the Cyber Ninjas, accusing them of obstructing their investigation, pushing the big lie and hindering election integrity.

Let's talk about this with Arizona's Democratic secretary of state, Katie Hobbs.

Secretary Hobbs, I'm sorry to even ask you about this, but are you surprised that the Cyber Ninjas did not provide any results today?

KATIE HOBBS (D), ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, this whole entire exercise has been plagued by delays, which is one of the things that we highlighted in the report that we just put out that covers all of the problems with this exercise.

It's not an audit. And delays was one of them. In a real audit, you would see time frames that were laid out well in advance. And we haven't seen any of that here. So, no, this is not a surprise.

TAPPER: So, you have long been saying that this organization, the Cyber Ninjas, aren't credible, the audit is incredible, none of this should be considered even an audit.

Explain why.

HOBBS: Well, as the report highlights, it's been plagued by lapses in security, lack of transparency, the delays that we just talked about, not adhering to any type of regular procedures that has led to many errors.

And over and above all of that is the fact that it's being run by folks with a partisan agenda who have promoted the big lie and who have no credible -- not even credible, no experience at all with elections or any post-election auditing.

TAPPER: So, Arizona is a legitimate swing state. You have a Republican governor. Both of your senators are Democrats. So I imagine it's important to have good relationships with Democrats and Republicans and vice versa.

Have you spoken to your Republican colleagues in the state Senate, in the legislature there about the legitimacy of this bogus audit? Do you think that, no matter what happens, they're going to -- they're going to peddle it to push the big lie?

HOBBS: Oh, I certainly -- we have certainly tried to reach out to them. If you saw our report, there's a detailed timeline of the

correspondence back and forth, or maybe most of it was one-sided from us to them, outlining their concerns and what should happen for it to be a credible situation. But that hasn't helped matters at all.

And they seem intent on continuing to push this not to bolster election confidence, but to continue to sow doubt.

TAPPER: And do you fear that it's going to get even worse in your state when it comes to believing these deranged election conspiracies?

I mean, we all saw the images of some of the Cyber Ninjas holding up ballots to look for bamboo traces because of the insane theory that China or some Asian country was sending in ballots.

HOBBS: Right.

I mean, what we're seeing through all of this is that our leaders are focused more on conspiracy theories and governing by conspiracy theory, rather than leading and standing up for what most of them know is the truth, and they're unfortunately misleading a lot of their constituents.

This is one of the reasons I'm running for governor, because Arizonans are tired of being led by conspiracy theorists.

And folks can join me there at

TAPPER: But hasn't Governor Ducey, who's a Republican, hasn't he been decent on this issue?

I mean, he allowed the election to be certified. He has -- as far as I know, he hasn't spread any of these election lies. Am I wrong?

HOBBS: He certainly hasn't touted the election lies, but he's not refuting them either.

And in regards to this particular exercise, he's continued to say, let's wait and see, when he knows there's no there there. He knows there was no election fraud. He knows they're not going to find any. And he just keeps saying, let's wait and see.

TAPPER: All right, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, thanks so much for your time today. Appreciate it.

More than 20 people dead, others missing. We're live with the devastating flooding that wiped out communities in the U.S. in just minutes.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our "Earth Matters" series, scientists say that one effect of the climate crisis is that warmer air can hold more water, which sometimes results in a deluge of rain and catastrophic flooding. This past weekend, about 90 minutes west of Nashville, a storm predicted to dump six inches of rain around Waverly, Tennessee, dropped instead 17 inches.


The resulting flash floods claimed at least 21 lives.

CNN's Nadia Romero saw the damage firsthand.



NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this intense cell phone video, Amanda Maples shot from her roof the moment she had been waiting for.

MAPLES: Over and over, I saw them pick up our neighbors and our family risking their own lives, you know, for us and seeing that moment of my mom surfacing because I didn't know if she was alive in there was something I'll never forget. I was sitting on that roof all day if I had to as long as she got okay.

ROMERO: Maples looking and screaming for her mother who she thought was swept away in floodwaters. Amanda Maples' mother clinging onto a kitchen island, worried about her daughter Amanda across the street.

DARLENE TOUNGETTE, SURVIVED FLOODED HOME: The guy came in and he hollered "Anybody in here?" And I said, yes, me. And he came back there and said, are you okay? And I said, yes. And I said, what about Amanda across the street? He said, she's okay, she's on the roof.

And as a parent to see your child on the roof it's heart-wrenching, but it's like, oh, yeah, my child is saved.

MAPLES: I would say I saved my mom.

ROMERO: Record-breaking rain sent floodwaters surging through rural Tennessee Saturday, devastating several communities within the county.

At least 21 people have been killed, hundreds of homes now completely uninhabitable. John Thornton (ph) lost everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You wouldn't think this would happen, but it's total devastation.

ROMERO: A massive surge is underway for the missing in communities where the water rose the fastest.

SHERIFF CHRIS DAVIS, HUMPHREYS COUNTY, TENNESSEE: Our people need help. We're going to be overwhelmed for the next probably 30 days at least, overwhelmed.

ROMERO: Of those reported dead, two were seven-month-old twins, a family member says the rushing water swept the babies out of their father's arms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has been a huge impact to this small community. The town will wear these scars for many decades.

ROMERO: As the search continues, families tackle the question of how or even if they should rebuild. Not much to salvage in Maples' home.

MAPLES: That's when I called 911.

ROMERO: John Thornton losing his house and rental property, wondering what to do next.

UNIDENTFIED MALE: I don't know, man. I don't know what we're going to do.


ROMERO (on camera): And that number of people missing has been fluctuating since right after the storm, we were at about 50 people. Today, that's been downgraded to about ten people still missing and here's why -- electricity went out, still out for some 2,000 homes and cell service was down.

Take a look at this hour behind me. This house was picked up off its foundation from two blocks away and came crashing into this gas station before it came to a stop. And there's the car that was inside picked up with the house.

The neighbors tell me they were worried about the woman who lived inside. They didn't know if she was in the car trying to get away or if she was somewhere in the house crushed by the home. And so they reported her missing.

But I spoke to that woman just about 30 minutes ago, and she said she's fine. She was staying with her daughter at the time of the storm. She survived and she's just thinking about everyone else who's still missing -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. CNN's Nadia Romero, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, we're live in Kabul as thousands are still waiting for a way out of Afghanistan. Stay with us.



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

This hour, a milestone in the fight against COVID. The FDA fully approves Pfizer's vaccine. Will more people in the U.S. get the shot now?

Plus, standoff. This hour, House Democrats are meeting as moderate Democrats go up against Speaker Nancy Pelosi and threaten President Biden's agenda.

And leading this hour, thousands of Americans and Afghan allies are still trying to escape the Taliban's grip. The pace of evacuations has thankfully reached a new high. But the U.S. is up against a deadline to leave the country in just eight days.

President Biden has suggested that deadline could be extended if the Taliban says extending it would be a, quote, clear violation and to complicate the violations further, President Biden's national security adviser says there are very credible terrorist threats from groups such as ISIS in Afghanistan not only against the airport but also the areas around it.

As CNN's Sam Kiley reports from Kabul, the U.S. military is now setting up alternate routes to the airport because of those threats.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One of four Afghan soldiers wounded in a fire fight after an unknown sniper killed a comrade who was guarding Kabul's airport. The attack followed warnings that ISIS posed a threat to the evacuation of thousands of foreigners and Afghans from the capital.

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The threat is real, it is acute, it is persistent, and it is something that we are focused on with every tool in our arsenal.

KILEY: This was the first recent attack on the airport, and it came as the state department said that Afghans who've been issued special immigration visas would no longer be allowed into the airport. Thousands of others already inside are being evacuated.

This is the penultimate stage for evacuees before they get on an aircraft and get out of the country to safety. They're down to about the last 10,000, having moved 10,500 the last 24 hours. But the problem is, the thousands of people left outside the gate with no real prospect now that the special immigration visas have been suspended of getting in and getting out to safety.

The re-opening of the gates to the airport is likely to depend on how long U.S. and coalition forces can stay on to run evacuations. President Biden has said troops would remain until all Americans are out.