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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Evacuations Continue After 13 U.S. Service Members Killed; White House: Working with the Taliban is a "Necessity" for Evacuations; Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) is Interviewed About the Chaos in Afghanistan; Surge in COVID Cases Put Strain on Hospitals Across U.S.; VP Harris Cancels Plans to Campaign with Dem Gov. Newsom. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 27, 2021 - 16:00   ET





JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Nearly 200 people killed. And an imminent terrorist threat remains.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Top U.S. officials now fearing there could be more attacks at the Kabul airport with the clock ticking down to get Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan.

Then, masking up. A circuit court judge rules against the governor of Florida and lets schools require masks if they want.

Plus, embattled California Governor Gavin Newsom facing a recall battle. Coming up, what may give us a clue about how the recall election will go?


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

We begin today with our world lead. President Biden and his team bracing for the possibility of another terrorist attack after 13 U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans were killed by a suicide bomber outside Kabul's airport yesterday. Eleven marines, one sailor, and one soldier were among the service members killed. The military is beginning to pack up what's called the retrograde process where not just service members but their equipment are shipping out.

Still, the evacuation mission is continuing. In the past 24 hours, nearly 13,000 people were evacuated by the U.S. and allies. More than 300 of them, American citizens. In the past 13 days, the U.S. has evacuated a total of 105,000 people.

Today, the Pentagon said nearly 7,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in the U.S. and are undergoing processing. This afternoon, the White House reiterated its commitment to evacuating every American by President Biden's deadline of August 31st.

But sources involved with rescue and evacuations tell CNN that it's clear that some Americans, possibly some U.S. citizens, certainly lawful permanent residents of the U.S. who want to get out will almost certainly not be able to by then. To say nothing of the thousands of Afghan allies, the special immigrant visa or SIV applicants who will be left behind.

Of that latter group, the Biden administration is not denying reports that U.S. officials in Kabul gave the Taliban, whom they say are helping with evacuation efforts, lists of those whom the U.S. wanted to fly out, including the SIV applicants who are terrified that the Taliban will kill them for having worked with Americans.

One defense official told "Politico," quote, they just put all those Afghans on a kill list.

Let's get straight to CNN's Clarissa Ward live in Qatar. She was in Afghanistan just a few days ago.

And, Clarissa, the evacuation efforts were incredibly complicated before the terrorist attack. Now, it's impossible to describe just how challenging this has become.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hugely challenging, Jake, because the threat is still very real of other potential attacks from ISIS-K or ISIS-Khorasan as the group is known. We know that the evacuations have been continuing, regardless of the threat which is pretty extraordinary. But we're also seeing far smaller crowds. Much fewer Afghans willing to come out into the streets today and risk life and limb to try to get into that airport.

Now, I want to warn our viewers now, Jake, that some of the images they are going to see in this report are very disturbing.


WARD (voice-over): Twenty-four hours after the deadly terrorist attack in Kabul, a terrifying warning about the remaining danger around the airport.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: We still believe there are credible threats. In fact, I'd say, specific, credible threats.

WARD: This after 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghans were killed in Thursday's suicide blast.

MATTHIEU AIKENS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: We have tens of thousands of people cramming in from every angle. At the same time, this desperation pressure to get, you know, the American citizens and others out. So it was really, truly a recipe for disaster.

WARD: The Taliban now tightening security around the airport, adding more checkpoints, trying to keep crowds away. Some fighters took to beating people back, one by one. Telling them to go home and stay away from the infidels.

The airport's Abbey Gate now closed, leaving the once-packed streets around the airport eerily quiet. Inside the airport, the evacuations not stopping, nearly 13,000 people flown out in the last 24 hours. More than 300 of them, Americans, the White House says. An estimated 5,000 remain inside the airport. Still, awaiting their turn to leave.

With the U.S. deadline to cease all operations in Afghanistan just days away, it's unclear just how many Americans remain inside the country.


But the White House says they are talking to 500 who want to leave. As for the Americans who don't make it out before the end of the month --

KIRBY: The U.S. government will pursue a variety of -- of ways to help any Americans who want to get out after our military presence at the airport has ended.

WARD: But some U.S. allies, including Spain, Sweden, and Italy announcing they have ended operations. And for desperate Afghans likely to be left behind, life under renewed Taliban rule is now joined with the fear of more terror attacks.


WARD (on camera): And the fact, Jake, that ISIS-K can hit 13 U.S. servicemen, more than 100 Afghan civilians, also Taliban fighters, raises a lot of questions about the security threat that this groups and other like it pose going forward. You remember that one of the central issues that this whole withdrawal was predicated on was the firm commitment from the Taliban that Afghanistan would never, again, become a safe haven for terrorists.

And so, the very real question looking forward is, is the Taliban going to be capable of containing groups like ISIS-K? Or could they potentially -- and no one thinks this is going to happen in the near- term future -- but could they potentially in five years, perhaps, begin to pose a much greater global threat? Jake?

TAPPER: Yeah. And, Clarissa, I mean, yesterday on this show, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Crocker, said that the problem isn't necessarily that the Taliban control Afghanistan right now. It's that no one controls Afghanistan.

WARD: Absolutely. And this is what you need to keep in mind. People assume that the Taliban and ISIS, that they're all friendly on some level. They're not. They are enemies and ISIS very much wants to hit the Taliban where it hurts, which means that the Taliban is trying to put out multiple fires, all at once.

Let's also remember that they have only been back in governance for barely over a week now. This is a tremendous amount for them to be doing on their own. And, of course, as the U.S. withdrawals, it just will not have the same level of eyes and ears on the ground in order to meet the threat posed by groups like ISIS-K, al Qaeda, and there are others, as well, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Clarissa Ward, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly. He is live outside the White House.

And, Phil, you asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki not long ago about the continued U.S. government coordination with the Taliban.

What did she have to say?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Basically, that it was a necessity, Jake. That was her exact word she utilized to basically underscore why the U.S. is so coordinated, so tightly wound with Taliban officials, Taliban military leaders as they attempt to evacuate the last Americans and thousands of Afghan allies who the Americans are trying to get out. An open question as to whether that actually occurs.

I asked Jen Psaki that question because we have heard from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Particularly, in the wake of the attack yesterday, given the Taliban is responsible for many if not all of the checkpoints outside of the airport in Kabul's perimeter. They're concerned. They're unsettled about the range of cooperation and where there was clearly a break.

And I asked Jen Psaki whether or not this was the best of bad options or the only option for American officials as nay they look today at the reality on the ground and she said probably both. And that's where things stand right now. And the White House makes clear they have been able over the course of the last 13 days to evacuate more than 100,000 individuals, more than 5,000 Americans, thousands of Afghans.

But we have heard many stories about those who have not been able to get through checkpoints, particularly, those of Afghan origin. And obviously, very serious concerns about the fact that ISIS-K individuals were able to get past a checkpoint and that close to the airport. Obviously, real concerns that are going to continue in the days ahead.

TAPPER: Well, speaking of those concerns, what is the White House saying about the fact that the president's national security team has warned him that another terrorist attack in Kabul is likely?

MATTINGLY: That it's acute. That it's ongoing. The threat is very, very real. And probably, to put in a more blunt manner, that the president was informed by his national security team, this is, by far, the most dangerous part of the operation. Not just because of the terror threat which officials have told me they have very real, very specific intelligence that is leading them to make a very public statement which you know well, Jake, is not something intelligence officials or administrations tend to do. Talking about an imminent attack in the way they are in a public manner right now.

But because of where things stand right now and because of the military starting to pull out as they are trying to evacuate more people, this is an extraordinarily complex time and also an extraordinarily dangerous time.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly at the White House. Thank you.

Joining us now, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas.

Congressman, you think the U.S. should stay in Afghanistan until -- at least until all Americans and Afghan allies who are special immigrant visa applicants are evacuated.


I'm sure many Americans look at yesterday's terrorist attack, however, one marine -- I mean, 11 marines killed, one navy corpsman killed, one soldier killed, and say, I don't want any more American service members killed in this 20-year war. What do you say to them?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Well, it didn't have to happen. And as you know, you know I talked about this. The planning was -- was so bad.

You talk about Ambassador Crocker, we did an op-ed in "New York Times" asking -- advising the administration exactly what to do. Start evacuating the Americans months before this time. Get our Afghan partners and interpreters out of there. Establish an ISR capability close to Afghanistan.

And they did none of this. So now, we're down to the 11th hour. It is a crisis.

The ISIS-K threat is very real and they're the worst of the worst. A lot came out of the prisons. Khorasan, the K stands for that. I think you will see another attack.

I think our goal right now all we can hope for, the best, Jake, is to get every American we can out of Afghanistan by August 31st.

The airport is not even -- the gates are closed right now. And the only way we can get Americans out -- McKenzie, General McKenzie told me they're running JSOC, Joint Special Operation Command units to -- to get these Americans and get 'em into the airport, mostly by helicopter and by air.

With respect to the interpreters, and you know I have talked a long I'm about. I believe their fate is now -- their fate is doomed. In fact, they were not let in the Taliban checkpoints and perimeters for a while.

TAPPER: Uh-huh.

MCCAUL: They've been mistreated. And I think their fate now is certain. And that is -- that is -- they say no one left behind, well, we left them behind.

TAPPER: One of the problems, as you know, when it comes to getting these planes full of Afghans out of Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan is not a lot of countries want to take them in. I mean, the United States is accepting. Canada is accepting.

Some of the United States' allies in the Middle East, Qatar and UAE and others have -- have talked about taking some in. But they usually limit it.

There was talk of Tajikistan. There was talk of other locations. Albania has been taking some people in. But even European leaders are pushing back saying don't send people to Albania because they'll just end up in Europe.

Doesn't the rest of the world, all the people, all the other foreign countries that are -- that are tut-tutting at the United States right now, don't they need to step up and accept some of these Afghan refugees?

MCCAUL: Of course. They share the burden. And our NATO allies -- you know, I got a classified briefing and what I can say is that at the highest levels that we have 24 countries that are willing to take these Afghan partners, who can be fully vetted and, you know, that's -- we all share this burden.

But for the people that we had a moral obligation to, we said that we would protect them. And now, we're turning our backs on them. And their fate is certain. It's execution by the Taliban.

You know, for the ones we can get out and have gotten out of there, of course. And it's not just the United States that bears the burden of all these Afghan partners, all of our allies are standing up to the plate is my understanding.

But what I worried about the most, Jake, are the ones that, you know, even before this terror attack by ISIS-K, I heard numerous stories on the ground of the Taliban ripping papers, destroying cell phones, turning them away from the perimeter as the American citizens were moving in.

And I -- I think and unfortunately their fate is clear. And we are going to see this out. You've seen the horrible videos that came out from the terror attack and I think you are going to see even more of the Afghan allies of ours left (ph) in that country.

TAPPER: Yeah. Congressman, beyond the report that we saw in "Politico" and some other places that U.S. officials in Kabul gave the Taliban with whom the U.S. is trying to coordinate the evacuations -- gave -- gave them a list of American citizens, green card holders, and these SIV applicants.

We've seen this report. Biden was asked about it. He didn't deny it. Others in the administration have been asked about it. Did not deny it.

Are you aware of this happening? What do you know about this story?

MCCAUL: Yeah. And it's going to break more but I can tell you we were -- we have to unfortunately because we didn't get the American citizens out previously. Why would the military leave before our American citizens?


Seems to me that was backwards. You want to get the American citizens out, first, and then, the military and diplomats at the end.

TAPPER: Well, if I can just jump in for one second, Congressman. I apologize, but just one of the things that we hear from the administration as a response is the State Department has been out there saying we warned American citizens to leave in this warning on this date, in this warning on this date, and this warning on this date. That's how they are responding, saying we have been trying to tell people to leave.

MCCAUL: The situation got dire so fast that I'm sure American citizens in Afghanistan had no idea how fast it would happen. We know our intelligence community warned since May this administration, what would happen.

I think this president ignored his own generals, top generals, and his own intelligence community about how rapidly the deterioration was going to happen. And now, we're stuck in this really bad situation and we have to get every American out of there. We just can't leave them behind in enemy territory.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas, thank you so much for your time as always. Good to see you.

MCCAUL: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Next, what happens if Americans and Afghan allies are left behind after the August-31st deadline? We are going to talk to our experts next.

Plus, here in the U.S., running out of staff, running out of beds, running out of space in the morgue. The dramatic COVID surge, again, ahead.



TAPPER: In our world lead with Biden's August 31st deadline just days away, the question remains what's going to happen to any Americans and Afghans with U.S. visas who are still stranded in Afghanistan after Tuesday?

According to President Biden, they may have to rely on the Taliban.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are -- will be, I believe, numerous opportunities to continue to provide access for additional persons to get out of Afghanistan, either through means that we provide and/or are provided through, in cooperation with the Taliban.


TAPPER: CNN global affairs analyst, Susan Glasser, and former CIA operative, Bob Baer, join us now.

Susan, the White House says that they have to work with the Taliban. It's the only option they have. Is it possible to trust them with this security and evacuation efforts that -- that -- that's coming?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I guess the question isn't so much trust but what -- you know, what they will deliver on. And what have they delivered on so far?

Remember, was the Trump administration who negotiated a deal with the Taliban back in February of 2020. They didn't meet many of the conditions, and yet, nonetheless, the U.S. under Trump and then under Biden continued to withdraw forces. So, you know, that's one key question is regardless of what they agree to, what will they deliver on?

Biden said yesterday he didn't trust anybody, but had no choice but to work with the Taliban. Remember, when they were in power in Afghanistan before 9/11, there were only three countries in the world that recognized their government and that definitely did not include the United States.

TAPPER: Bob, one of the things going on that we don't talk about much for obvious reasons is there are other efforts going on to rescue Americans and Afghan allies, but especially American citizens. Do you think that one of the options that President Biden will consider going forward after August 31st is just sending a special-ops team in and rescuing people?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Jake -- Jake, no way. It's too dangerous. You'd have to put too many people on the ground. You are going to have to put almost a regiment to -- to carry out one of these with all the surveillance. You just can't do it. You cannot operate in Kabul right now and neither can the CIA.

TAPPER: Susan, take a listen to former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta during the Obama years, his predictions for the U.S. going forward in Afghanistan.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE UNDER OBAMA: Bottom line is that our work is not done in Afghanistan. We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS. We are probably going to have to go back in when al Qaeda resurrects itself. I understand that we're trying to get our troops out of there. But the bottom line is we can leave a battlefield but we can't leave the war on terrorism which still is a threat to our security.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: I assume, when he talks about, Susan, going back in, he means individual counterterrorist strike teams, whether Delta Force or Navy SEALs or whatever. But do you agree that the U.S. will have to go back in, in all likelihood?

GLASSER: Well, you know, Jake, even President Biden when he announced that he was making the decision to withdrawal the remaining U.S. forces back if April. Even Biden said we will continue to maintain essentially a counterterrorism-focused mission around Afghanistan. He said that the goal was to negotiate with countries in the region to set up new bases from which counterterrorism missions can be launched. As of the collapse of the government, those negotiations had not been concluded and there were no new agreements for counterterrorism.

So, one of the questions is regardless of whether it's -- you know, President Biden's original commitment to maintain counterterrorism capabilities, what capabilities do we have now that the government that was our ally and partner in those capabilities has collapsed so rapidly? It's not at all clear. And so I don't even think that's a new piece of information.

My question remains the same which is how exactly are they set up to do that given the fall of the government on which they were relying for some of this?

TAPPER: Bob, how does the U.S. keep track of whatever terrorist developments are going on if Afghanistan -- in Afghanistan if we -- if we don't have a presence even in the embassy, then we can't necessarily even have spies working for us, can we?


BAER: No, you can't. It's too hard to do, Jake. You know, you can -- you can't beat these people but you can buy them off. We worked with the Taliban in the -- in the '90s. We set up the Haqqani Network in the '80s. You just put a lot of money and you got to buy (ph) allies in Afghanistan. That's the nature of the terrain and there is no other way around it. You cannot set up bases in Pakistan or Tajikistan. They're just not going to let us.

TAPPER: Susan Glasser, Bob Baer, thanks to both you. Appreciate it.

Just in, the results from that U.S. intelligence community investigation into how COVID-19 originated. That's next.



TAPPER: In our health lead today, for the second day in a row, the number of COVID patients in United States' hospitals has topped 100,000. We have not seen numbers this high since January. And obviously, this is putting a strain on hospitals nationwide.

And also today, a major ruling in Florida over school mask mandates. But as CNN's Nick Watt reports, today's legal decision likely will not be the final say in this growing fight.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: And these school districts are saying no.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Slap to the often un-masked face of Governor Ron DeSantis. A Florida judge just ruled his office cannot outlaw school mask mandates.


WATT: Many districts were defying the ban, enforcing mask mandates as, nationwide, a record number of children are in the hospital with COVID-19.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We have seen outbreaks in schools that are occurring now in the context of not following these layered prevention strategies.

WATT: Like masks.

This week, Missouri's attorney general sued a school district over its mask requirement. The lawsuit states, the cure should not be worse than the disease. It's not. One thousand two hundred ninety-two people were reported killed by COVID-19 yesterday. No one reported killed by a mask.

In San Antonio, Texas, the school district wants a mask mandate. The governor does not. That state's Supreme Court just backed him.

Just outside Austin at a school board meeting this week, this happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At work, they make me wear this jacket. I hate it.

WATT: A parent got nearly naked to make a pro-mask mandate point. Here go his pants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's simple protocol people. We follow certain rules for a very good reason.

WATT: Pants for decency. Masks for safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. We appreciate that.


WATT (on camera): Now, Governor Ron DeSantis has called that judge's ruling incoherent. Says he is going to appeal immediately. Meanwhile, there are more than 16,000 Floridians in the hospital fighting COVID- 19. That's near an all-time high.

Over in Alabama, they have deployed freezer trucks to morgues for the first time. In Texas, they are deploying two and a half thousand extra workers to hospitals and nursing homes.

But there is a ray of sunshine. Here in California, after a delta- driven surge, officials tell CNN they are hopeful that cases are now plateauing in some regions -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Watt, thanks so much.

I want to bring in CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, a new CDC report out today might underscore the need for masks in schools. And unvaccinated elementary school teacher took off the mask to read to students, and ended up infecting nearly half of those in the group. It's really incredible, how easily this virus spreads, especially the delta variant.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, and we've said that this virus is very unforgiving. And as we show you the specific story here of what happened, you -- you -- be reminded of that. And I will also add that this was back in May of this year when this happened. So, you know, Delta was just a few percent of overall cases at that point. Delta variant, obviously, even much more transmissible.

So, unvaccinated elementary school teacher in this case having symptoms, comes into work, takes off mask to read to the children and infects 12 of the 22 students there. Eight of ten students who were sitting closest to her or this -- this person, this teacher, became infected as well. Kind of incredible. And again, that may have even been pre-delta, Jake.

So, we describe this as unforgiving. We have talked a lot about kids potentially transmitting to adults but this is very much an example of an adult transmitting to kids, and how quickly and how easily that can happen.

GUPTA: Sanjay, the U.S. intelligence community is back today with its report ordered by President Biden on the origins of COVID. Their assessment has been deemed inconclusive. Officials are divided over the lab-leak theory, or whether, maybe, the virus originated with an animal.

The biological window, we should point out, to learn what might be happen -- what happened. That window might be closing.

GUPTA: Yeah. I mean, what they mean by the fact that the window's closing is if there are animals that, you know, may have been intermediary animals, they may no longer be available for study, the blood work of lab workers who may have had antibodies to this virus.


Those blood samples may no longer be available. So that's where the window is closing.

But you're right. I mean, I think most people in the scientific community didn't think that they'd have a conclusion within 90 days. It took years to figure out the origins of SARS, for example, back in 2003. So that -- that -- that 90-day, you know, sort of time period was pretty short.

What I think the most important thing that came out of this -- this report was the fact that the idea that this virus was bioengineered in some way. That possibility seems to really have been eliminated. But still, as you point out, Jake, lab leak versus just simple, natural origin of animal to human. They say they have low evidence to really conclusively rule in either one of those.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about this drug some people are taking for COVID treatment. A lot of people in conservative media have been talking about it and -- and advocating for it. Take a listen.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: We know that our FDA has, in many ways, failed us by not allowing for the use of ivermectin.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Weinstein discussed the benefits of a drug called ivermectin which can and is used around the world used to treat and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.


TAPPER: Ivermectin, what do we know about it, Sanjay?

GUPTA: You know, I -- we don't know much because there is not a lot of data on this. There's been a couple of studies out there that have not really shown benefit. Maybe, one study out of Egypt that possibly showed benefit. But even Merck, the manufacturer of ivermectin says there's not the evidence, overall, to support the use of this.

The FDA says it could be dangerous to use ivermectin either to treat or to prevent COVID. So, you know, these big scientific agencies and even the drug manufacturer have weighed in on this.

I think it is worth pointing out the obvious here, Jake, which is that the vaccines have had these huge clinical trials all over the world. Tens of thousands of people enrolled, months of follow-up. That's real data.

Ivermectin doesn't have that. It just -- it boggles the mind why people would say, hey, look, we want to take ivermectin because we don't trust the vaccines which have all this data and ivermectin really has none.

TAPPER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Next, we have a look at one of these hospitals in crisis mode. Overwhelmed with COVID patients with not enough staff to help.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our health lead, as COVID cases skyrocket, U.S. hospitals are in the grip of the highly contagious delta variant. In Mississippi, one of the least vaccinated states in the U.S., the health-care system is in crisis mode. Hospitalizations there are reaching new highs with just a handful of ICU beds still available.

CNN's Miguel Marquez goes inside now. He goes inside one overwhelmed hospital in southern Mississippi that is sounding the alarm.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dolly Monceaux is being moved from the COVID ICU to a regular COVID bed. The 82-year-old thinks she got the virus from a family member.

DOLLY MONCEAUX, COVID-19 PATIENT: You don't know you're going to get it and then you get it and you sick. And you don't know if you are going to live or die.

MARQUEZ: Unvaccinated, she says she was on the fence about getting vaccinated. Today, her mind is made up.

MONCEAUX: All my family wasn't going to get the shot. But now we are.

MARQUEZ: All of your family?

MONCEAUX: All my family.

MARQUEZ: Fifty-seven-year-old Ronnie Terrell has been in the hospital for more than two weeks. Breathing, still a chore. Also unvaccinated, he just didn't think he needed it.

RONNIE TERRELL, COVID-19 PATIENT: I just never got around to it. I've been healthy for 40 years and I hadn't had a cold in 40 years.

MARQUEZ: He thinks he got the virus at an outside event.

Did you think COVID was not a serious illness?

TERRELL: I didn't give it that much thought because at the time it wasn't that big a deal, you know, when it first started, you know.

MARQUEZ: And what's your thought on it now?

TERRELL: It's a big deal. It's a big deal.

MARQUEZ: Mississippi suffering its biggest spike in cases, yet. Hospitalizations, more than ever. So many cases so quickly, the trend line nearly vertical. The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, all among the unvaccinated.

DR. IJLAL BABER, DIRECTOR, PULMONARY AND CRITICAL CARE, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM: I think what's most interesting is the detachment. The complete lack of connection in what you see out in the community with what's happening in this hos -- in these hospitals.

MARQUEZ: Pascagoula Singing River Hospital can't expand COVID capacity fast enough. It's cleared beds to serve more COVID patients but doesn't have the staff to open it. The beds sit empty.

BABER: It's exhausting, both mentally and emotionally. I think the most difficult think emotionally that we are having to deal with now is what do we do with these people who have been on the ventilator for weeks and weeks and weeks and aren't getting better?

MARQUEZ: It also has a monoclonal antibody treatment site for outpatients who have the virus but don't yet need a hospital bed.

Amanda Dunning, 35, was unvaccinated. Thinks she got it from a friend while shopping. Now, she'll get vaccinated as soon as possible.

AMANDA DUNNING, COVID-19 PATIENT: I'm convinced. Please, just get the vaccine.

MARQUEZ: You have gone 180 on this in.

DUNNING: Absolutely. I did a 180 and it is a because of getting COVID.

MARQUEZ: Edith Jordan, 64 and unvaccinated, thinks she got the virus at a family event. Okay with an IV drip for an antibody treatment, she still doesn't trust the vaccine.

EDITH JORDAN, COVID-19 PATIENT: I'm just not trustful of the data.


MARQUEZ: Which data?

JORDAN: I'd rather not say. It was just a personal choice.

MARQUEZ: Vaccine refusal sickening people throughout the South, ripping through south Mississippi.

What is COVID doing to your community?

JENNIFER MCDAVID, EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT RN, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM: It's killing us. It's killing our residents. It's killing our demographics. It's killing the staff, emotionally. It's a complete overwhelming situation.

MARQUEZ: Miguel Marquez, CNN, Pascagoula, Mississippi.


TAPPER: Miguel Marquez, thank you so much for that report.

California's governor, Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, is facing a tough recall battle. What the returned ballots are telling us? That's next.



MARQUEZ: In our politics lead, growing headaches for the major players in the California governor's recall.

Let's go through things with CNN's Kyung Lah.

Kyung, because of the horrific terrorist attack in Kabul, Vice President Kamala Harris had to cancel her plans to attend a campaign rally with embattled Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom today. Newsom faces this recall vote in just over two weeks.

How much of a problem does this create for him?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the last thing that this governor, California Governor Gavin Newsom, wants us to talk about Afghanistan while he is trying to fight for his job, a recall election that is as you point out just two weeks away. What he wanted is an enthusiastic optimistic rally standing beside one of California's favorite daughters among the Democratic base, Kamala Harris.

That's an image he wants. He wants to juice the Democratic base. It's just something he is not going to get right now because of her duties as vice president.

There's concern in Democratic circles that Democrats just don't care. That they're just not that excited.

But I want you to take a look at this data, Jake. This is some numbers that we're getting from political data incorporated early data. It is a Democratic tracking firm with 13 percent of the ballots returned, again, very early.

Fifty-five percent of those ballots have been returned from Democrats, 23 percent from Republicans, 22 percent from independents. It is a reminder that Democrats here when it comes to voter registration outnumber Republicans 2-1. So this race should be Governor Newsom's to lose, Jake.

TAPPER: Now, tell us about the latest headaches for Larry Elder. He is the talk radio host who is the front-runner in the field of the other candidates, not Newsom, 40 some candidates hoping to replace him.

LAH: Yeah, 46 candidates who hope to replace him, and Elder is leading that pack. He is a Republican.

And this is stemming from a police report that was filed with the LAPD. The LAPD confirming that a domestic violence incident report has been filed with them. They would not detail those allegations.

But we have spoken to Elder's fiancee. This recent report that was just filed is in regards to an incident from 2015. She says that during their breakup in 2015, that he brandished a weapon. She put in the police report that she filed just a few days ago, that he pushed her.

And, you know, she also says that their relationship -- in an interview with CNN -- was volatile. That it was abusive.

But at this point, the Elder campaign says that these are salacious, they are untrue. And they want to focus on the recall and trying to replace Governor Newsom -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kyung Lah with the lay of the land in California. Thanks so much.

President Biden today warned that another terrorist attack in Kabul is likely. The latest on what could be the most dangerous stage of this mission at the Kabul airport. That's ahead.



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

This hour, a major court ruling today shutting down Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's order, and clearing the way to let schools require masks.

Plus, fears of more violence at the U.S. Capitol. Law enforcement officials preparing for a right-wing rally in support of the insurrectionists.

And leading this hour, the fragile and dangerous situation in Afghanistan. Officials now say it was just one suicide bomber, not two, who killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans outside the Kabul airport yesterday.

And now, intelligence is warning of more possible attacks. The Pentagon today saying there are still specific, credible threats. And yet, the evacuation efforts persist as the U.S. tries to get remaining Americans and Afghan allies out in the next four days.

So far, the U.S. has evacuated 105,000 people from Afghanistan since August 14th.

Let's go straight to CNN's Sam Kiley. He's live in Doha, Qatar.

And, Sam, today, the Pentagon said the U.S. military is still in control of Kabul airport.

What does it look like on the ground, though?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the Taliban have pushed out a more efficient, they hope more structured perimeter around the airport in order to filter not just foot passengers but also prevent the possibility of a vehicle-born device, a car bomb that could punch through the perimeter walls. That ultimately a penetration of the perimeter is what would really worry military officials running this evacuation which continues, Jake.

But let's take a look at what the Taliban are doing on the ground. I should warn viewers that this video, this package that we are doing does contain some pretty upsetting content.


KILEY (voice-over): Crowd control, Taliban style. A day after 13 American service members, two British citizens, and at least 170 Afghans were killed by a suicide bomber, Afghans are still trying to get to Kabul's airport and to freedom.