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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden: "I Take Responsibility For The Decision" To Withdraw; One-On-One With Biden's National Security Adviser. Ida Aftermath; Interview With U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan; CNN One- On-One With Controversial GOP Front-Runner Larry Elder; Biden: "The War in Afghanistan Is Now Over". Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 31, 2021 - 16:00   ET



CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There wasn't any recognition of the absolute desperation of the feeling of abandonment. There was, of course, a very strong case put forward about why the U.S. had to leave. And, in my experience in Afghanistan these last months, most Afghan people understand that. But there was so little sense of humility about the fact that the U.S. invaded this country 20 years ago and the toll that has taken and the lives that have been lost not just on the U.S. side but also on the Afghan side.

And I do think you will see some frustration from people in Afghanistan that there wasn't more maybe humility in terms of the tone to the Afghan people. Something to the effect of I'm sorry we couldn't help you all or thank you all for your service, because so many of these Afghans, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, have worked closely, have fought alongside and have died alongside American military servicemen and women over the past 20 years.

And so, I do think you will likely get some kind of response from Afghanistan as the news of that speech trickles out, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, Dana Bash, President Biden 13 days ago said that they would get every American out by August 31st and would stay longer if every American wasn't out. Obviously events overtook them. There was a terrorist attack, and the president said that it was the unanimous advice of his military and civilian advisers to withdraw August 31st. He said in addition in his speech just now that 90 percent of the Americans who wanted to get out would get out and the administration was still going to work on getting them out, just not through military means. How do you think politically the American people are going to respond to that?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It depends on how quickly he finds success with that promise. He said something to the effect of the deadline, the August 31st deadline was not for getting those remaining Americans out. There was one hint in their diplomatic strategy, a very strong hint, that is, he said we America has leverage over the Taliban, what he seemed to be referring to and certainly what I have heard from Democratic sources on Capitol Hill is that what they're relying on is the fact that the U.S. seized the assets of Afghanistan that are obviously now at some point going to be controlled by the Taliban.

The question is whether or not that is really leverage, and that is, again, these are some Biden allies I'm talking to, they don't know whether or not just the money. It's a lot of money, but even that is enough leverage to get the Taliban to actually make good on their promises that they are going to let some of those, all of those Americans get through.

And one thing I just want to add quickly to what Clarissa said about the way that this is going to be perceived by Afghans. What I heard from the president was maybe certainly not compassion what she said that people in Afghanistan are expecting, it's frustration and anger that all of the resources and the years and years of training and money and human cost didn't add up to the Afghan army standing up, that they just melted away. And that is the message really the one that got through the most, the only one when it came to the people of Afghanistan.

TAPPER: Ambassador Lute is with me in studio.

And, retired General Lute, let me ask you, first of all, a big question, a big-picture question. I know you don't like the term, but you were bushes, Afghanistan war czar and then Obama's Afghanistan war czar on Afghanistan. Ultimately, you think that President Biden made the right decision in ending the U.S. involvement in this engagement.

LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE (RET.), FOMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Yeah, Jake, I agree with the president's decision. I think he actually outlined the two cornerstones of his decision in his remarks just now. First of all, the laser-like focus on al Qaeda, which is the cause that took us there in 2001 and the weeks just after 9/11. He outlined the effects we've had against al Qaeda, especially the al Qaeda that could reach us in the intervening 20 years.

And then the second cornerstone is just the conditions in Afghanistan, the underlying conditions in Afghanistan that made so difficult and, at the end, impossible this notion of state building. So I think he's been clear and consistent for at least a decade on this count, that these are the two substantive cornerstones to his argument.

TAPPER: And what about the criticism that he's gotten for the way that the actual end of the war was conducted, the withdrawal and, you know, there are criticisms that he should've started withdrawing the Afghan allies, the special immigrant visa or SIV recipients earlier. The president obviously feeling a bit defensive today, talked about how the American citizens in Afghanistan had been warned 19 times.

So, I don't know if it's fair to say he was pointing fingers of blame, but he certainly was suggesting, hey, we didn't just pull out, we tried to tell people to leave.

Do you accept any of the criticisms of how this was done, or do you agree with President Biden's essential argument that this was going to be ugly and messy no matter how we did it?

LUTE: Well, withdrawals are always difficult. So, there's some substance to that argument.

But I think we have to look back beyond the past couple weeks, when we've been fixated, as we should be, one the chaos and the desperation in and around the Kabul airport.

Look, the SIV program, to bring Afghans who have worked alongside of us to safety and give them a new fresh start in America has been on the books for years and has underperformed under both Democratic and Republican administrations. In fact, the numbers since the Trump agreement in February 2020 last year, the numbers of the SIV program were at a record low. So, there are months and months when we could have been deliberately, responsibly beginning to evacuate some of these vulnerable Afghans.

So we should look beyond the last couple weeks and think back about the last several years.

TAPPER: CNN's Phil Mattingly is live for us at the White House. He was just in the room during President Biden's speech.

Phil, President Biden, once again, characterizing this as ending a forever war, and also saying he wasn't going to have a forever withdrawal. He also seemed defiant even perhaps a little angry. What did you make of his tone and tenor of the words that he used? Is the White House making a calculation that a forceful argument from President Biden might resonate with the American people?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, the short answer is yes. One official told me that that was intentional. And it was striking. When you were sitting in the room he was forceful throughout, he was defiant in parts making very clear that despite the barrage of criticism he and his administration have faced over the course of the last 16 or 17 days, he believes the operation writ large was, as he said, an extraordinary success. There's numbers to back up that element of things and that anything that looked chaotic or damaging or bloody was the result of things that were out of their control, to some extent.

Once again, citing the collapse of the Afghan security forces, citing President Trump, his predecessor's agreement with the Taliban, citing a number of different issues, not really acknowledging any fault with the exception of believing that the Afghan national security forces would be able to hang on for a longer period of time. I think when you really take that speech at its core, the main component of it was to get back to how he's formulated his national security policy, formulated his posture when it comes to foreign policy since the campaign and even, Jake, as you would know quite well since long before the campaign for president. And that is his view of the U.S. role in the world and what it should be and what it shouldn't be.

And without any doubt at all, he has long held the view that it shouldn't be engaged in wars like have taken place over the course of the last two decades. And I think White House officials are keenly aware that that is something that is agreed upon by a majority of Americans. There's no question about it. Both candidates in the 2020 presidential election race held that position of withdrawing from Afghanistan.

And I think that more than anything else was the message that the president wanted to get out through this speech, kind of get past everybody's micro focus on the last 16 days and focus bigger picture on what getting America out of Afghanistan for the first time in 20 years means more broadly for U.S. foreign policy, for U.S. national security posture, for U.S. military forces in particular.

I think the reality remains that while the administration has been clear that they are going to take a diplomatic track and have perceived commitments from the Taliban related to the 100-plus Americans that are still on the ground, related to the hundreds if not thousands of Afghan allies including SIV applicants, eligible individuals. While they are going to continue to pursue that, those individuals are still on the ground, and there are still a lot of questions about what the process will be to get them out.

And there were also the pledges that the president made before now. Those pledges were that every American who wanted to get out would be able to get out and if not he would extend the deadline that Afghan SIV applicants, Afghans who helped American personnel would be able to get out. That obviously did not come to pass.

The president explained and made very clear that their understanding, their kind of idea of facts on the ground was anything beyond August 31st, the Taliban would make things extraordinarily difficult. But the bottom line here when you look at the operation itself over the course of the last 16 days, Jake, is the Taliban was running security for U.S. forces, the Taliban was essentially allowing who could and could not get into the Kabul airport. And the Taliban more or less implicitly dictated when the United States left Afghanistan.

On that, President Biden is pleased and believes that withdrawal was exactly what he campaigned on and what the American public wanted. How it pertains to the last 16 or 17 days though I think is still very much an open question.

TAPPER: Phil Mattingly at the White House. And we should tell you that White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is going to begin briefing in a second. And when she does we're going to take at least the top of the remarks.

But before we go to that, before Psaki begins, Ambassador Lute, we are in a period where people are taking a look back at the 20 years. And Craig Whitlock at "The Washington Post" sued and got copies of this thing called the Lessons Learned Project that the Army was doing, the special inspector general for Afghanistan.

And you have a very potent quote in that. You told the inspector general for Afghanistan in 2015, quote, we were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan. We didn't know what we were doing. What are we trying to do here? We didn't have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.

If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction, 2,400 lives lost. You called it a fundamental lack of knowledge that the U.S. had about Afghanistan.

Did the U.S. ever really come to understand Afghanistan?

LUTE: Well, first of all, Afghanistan is an enormously complex, and for Americans, an enormously foreign place. There may not be a more complex and foreign place on the face of the earth than Afghanistan. So when we went in, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we went in with a sense of urgency because we weren't sure that the attacks on 9/11 were the last attacks. In fact, there was some intelligence suggesting that there was more to come.

So we rushed in and we accomplished our immediate goal, which was to displace the Taliban, to cause al Qaeda to flee mostly into Pakistan. And then we were left with the rest of the problem in Afghanistan. And my comments to the inspector general reflected that in my experience at the ten-year mark of personally working on this problem.

TAPPER: So 2011?

LUTE: Well, for me a few years after that. But when I had accumulated ten years, I was still learning things that were fundamental to the underlying conditions in Afghanistan. I was learning things about the demographics, about the geography, about the neighborhood, about the political culture in Afghanistan -- things that should've been instrumental in forming policy.

And so I learned myself much over that ten-year period, and yet many of our decision-makers to include many of our senior military officers, our diplomats and so forth, didn't have ten years of steady attention, steady focus on this problem.

So, there's another famous quote, not mine, that we weren't there for 20 years, we were there for one year for 20 years.


TAPPER: Right, it was one 20-year war, it was 20 one-year wars.

LUTE: Exactly. And I think there's something to that. We -- our fundamental understanding of Afghanistan was often at the 101 college level, and we needed masters degrees.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, while we're waiting for Jen Psaki to come out, which should be in about a minute or so, President Biden has been putting part of the blame for the withdrawal on President Trump and the deal that the Trump administration cut with the Taliban for withdrawal May 1st.

What did you make of that? And I guess a different question I have is even if one criticizes the deal that Trump cut with the Taliban, is Biden really that upset about bringing an end to the war? That was one thing that both Biden and Trump seemed to agree on in 2020 is ending the war.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I think, Jake, that is exactly right. That was part of that speech is this is frustration built up that president Biden has because he has been arguing for years that this war should come to an end, that the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan should stop. This is a long-held belief he has had long before he was running for president since he was vice president, an argument he tried to make while he was vice president that of course was unsuccessful at the time.

And so I think that is a major underlying factor in this decision. I think the decision that former President Trump struck with the Taliban is part of it, but I think that is an even bigger aspect of the decision-making that happened here.

And certainly he said that essentially he felt like he had to make a decision when it came to him taking office and facing that May 1 deadline. He did tell ABC News recently though that he would have found a way to pull out troops regardless because he believed that was the right thing to do and that the U.S. involvement there had long overstayed its welcome and was time to come to an end.

And that is a philosophy he's tried to explain to us multiple times and tried to break through as they've talked about the criticism.


That's different than asking questions about how this withdrawal was executed. But the fact behind the withdrawal is something he has believed in for quite some time, Jake, and an argument that he has long advocated for, at times, unsuccessfully. But, of course, now, he is commander in chief and now it is his decision to make.

TAPPER: Clarissa, President Biden says he takes responsibility for the decision to withdraw. How does that play with other leaders in the region?

Here comes Jen Psaki, Clarissa, I'm sorry. I have to interrupt. Here's Jen Psaki. Let's listen in.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I just wanted to provide you all an update on our ongoing efforts on Hurricane Ida.

The president and his Homeland Security team are closely monitoring the impacts of Hurricane Ida as damage assessments continue. He has made clear that the state, tribal, and local officials who have requests for anything have our full support, and we're, of course, in close contact.

Today, the FEMA administrator and the American Red Cross director in Louisiana to meet with the governor and survey the damage from Hurricane Ida. Administrator Criswell will travel to Mississippi tomorrow to meet with state officials. And as Ida continues to move to the northeast, we expect heavy rain to continue. There's life- threatening flash flooding that remains a threat in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, DC, and elsewhere.

In the Gulf Coast, search and rescue efforts are underway. Twelve urban search and rescue teams are currently operational in Louisiana to support state and local efforts. The Coast Guard has been doing overhead flights, including in Grand Isle, to search for anyone in need of assistance.

So far, urban search and rescue teams have assisted over hundreds of survivors, and their work continues. We're also in regular contact, which is a huge priority for people in the region, with private electricity companies to ensure they have the resources they need as they work to restore power in Louisiana and Mississippi, where more than 1.1 million customers remain without electricity. We've seen some people in Mississippi get electricity back, and we're hopeful we'll see continued improvements.

There are more than 25,000 linemen from 32 states and DC in the region racing to restore power, and FEMA has staged nearly 250 generators in the region to support impacted areas. We're going to get more generators to the area to get more power to the emergency services that need it the most. We also want to make sure that individuals in the impacted areas of Louisiana know they can apply for federal assistance.

We would encourage anyone in need of assistance to visit, or call 1-800-621-FEMA.

As of this morning, 48 shelters are open in affected areas throughout the Gulf Coast. FEMA has staged more than 4.4 million meals, 3.2 million liters of water, and more than 124,000 tarps in the region, and additional ambulance crews have been transported to Louisiana and Mississippi. The Department of Transportation also issued a regional emergency declaration for states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas, providing flexibility for transporting fuel as well as essential items like food, water, and power restoration equipment to support emergency relief efforts.

And today, we have two additional actions to announce to increase the availability of gasoline and ease price pressures.

First, the department will extend and amend an emergency declaration that offers temporary flexibility to how many hours a truck driver can drive the supplies nationally to goods that support the COVID-19 response, and will now include gasoline and other types of fuel, building materials, medical supplies, and food. Because the hurricane is hitting a region that is a key center of the nation's oil production and refining infrastructure, this waiver should help reduce the risk of gasoline shortages or price increases stemming from the hurricane. DOT's top priority remains safety, and this waiver is accompanied by additional safety-related reporting requirements to allow the department to monitor driver working hours.

And second, EPA has approved emergency fuel waivers for Louisiana and Mississippi, effective immediately, which will expand the supply of gasoline that can be sold in these two states and increase availability at this critical time. We are continuing to assess, and we'll continue to provide you all updates.

Why don't you kick it off, Josh? Good to see you.

REPORTER: Good to see you. Thanks, Jen. Two subjects. First, on Afghanistan, the president said that any

additional evacuations will go through diplomatic channels, and that the United States has leverage over the Taliban. Can you tell us what those channels look like, and what kind of leverage the United States has?

PSAKI: Absolutely. Well, first I would point you to the remarks that the secretary of state provided last night, but let me give you some highlights of that.

We have enormous leverage over the Taliban, including access to the global marketplace. That's not a small -- it's not a piece of leverage. And in order to gain access to the global marketplace, we're going to be watching closely, as will the global community.

I would note that yesterday, the UN Security Council also passed a resolution that made clear to what the expectation is in terms of safe travel and evacuation or departure, I should say, of individuals who want to leave Afghanistan.


And nearly half of the countries in the world have also signed on to a statement making clear that is the expectation.

That's the diplomatic side, and the other diplomatic components that our secretary of state will be focused on include establishing a presence in Doha, which is already underway, which is a place where we will be able to operate from diplomatically, so we can have access with consular officers and diplomats who can engage with American citizens or others, our Afghan partners who want to depart. We're working to set that up now.

The other piece is engagement with the Taliban, which will continue through our ongoing channels that we have with the Taliban on the diplomatic front.

The other piece of this, which is very important, is operational, which is opening the airport and regional airports, and also ensuring that there is overland travel that is possible, which means being able to leave across borders.

And the president touched on this in his statement. On the airport front, the more specific piece we're working on with the Qataris and the Turks, who are important partners here, is getting the civilian side of the airport up and operational again, so that we can use that not just for flights for people to depart, but also for humanitarian assistance, which we would work through programs like the World Food Programme and others to distribute.

So there are a number of channels. This is a priority the secretary of state will be leading. They'll continue to provide updates, and we're hoping to make progress in the coming days.

REPORTER: And secondly on the economy, you were asked the other day about the explanation of the extended unemployment benefits. We know the Black unemployment in this country is above 8 percent. It's above 7 percent in New York, Nevada, Illinois, California.

With the expiration, how do you ensure that people in those places still get the support they may need?

PSAKI: You're right, Josh, it's vitally important to look at the fact that there are different circumstances in different states. So if we just take a step back and look at the national landscape on these benefits, in about half of all states, 24 governors have already made the decision to eliminate pandemic unemployment benefits. That's a choice they have made. In the remaining 26 states, unemployment levels vary pretty widely, from 3 percent to 7 percent, and half of these remaining states have unemployment rates that are already less than 5 percent.

So there are differing needs in different states, and governors are making different decisions. What we're trying to do, and what we announced about two weeks ago, but obviously there was a lot of news going on, is our effort to put new tools in place to help states that choose to further extend pandemic unemployment benefits because of those needs, because they're states like those you have mentioned, or because they have higher rates of unemployment among African Americans or other groups that need additional assistance.

So the secretary of treasury and the secretary of labor sent a letter to Chairman Wyden and Chairman Neal underscoring and affirming that states can use their allocations of the $350 billion of state and local fiscal relief funds included in the American Rescue Plan. That is funding that can be used. The Department of Labor has also made $90 million in career grants available to support comprehensive reemployment services for all Americans, and $146 million in reemployment services and eligibility assessments.

And the Department of Labor also sent a letter just last week to states with information about how to leverage existing U.I. program infrastructure, to deliver ongoing support to unemployed workers. We have also been engaging directly with states. We've been engaged now with about 30 states and counting to talk about what their specific needs are and how programs that are available can be eligible to people in their states.

Go ahead.

REPORTER: First, on Ida, thank you for all that information. You still tracking that he might go to the region at some point?

He certainly is open to that. What he does not want to do is interrupt rescue and recovery efforts, which as many of you may or may not know who've covered hurricanes before, people leaving their homes and going to evacuation centers, that can increase in the days ahead. It isn't always just in the day after. And certainly, there are ongoing efforts on the ground as I just noted.

So he's open to that. I don't have anything to announce at this point in time. Obviously, the president of the United States going to a region takes a lot of resources. REPORTER: On Afghanistan, is there any sense of if and how many Americans might've left today? Is there even a way to track that from the US government at this point?

PSAKI: Well, I will say we remain in touch through a range of means of communication: email, text, WhatsApp. That's something that we could certainly do from here, but also having a presence in Doha and diplomats in the region will enable that to happen locally or close by as well. I don't have an update for you on the numbers, but that's something the State Department would have the best assessment of.

REPORTER: We have asked --

TAPPER: That was White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

I want to bring in President Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan who joins us now for an interview.

Jake, thanks for joining us.

So President Biden, I think it's fair to say he took something of a defiant tone in his address to the American people this afternoon.


Why is that? Is the criticism he feels unfair? What exactly is going through his mind?

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: You know, Jake, I see it a little differently. Obviously, everyone's going to, you know, make their own interpretation. I don't think defiant is the right word. I think he was speaking with absolute passion and conviction about his decision to end the war. And it's a decision that operated out of his gut, his heart, and his head.

And he wanted to communicate to the American people why he did it. And he wanted to do so with the sense of deep emphasis and to walk through it painstakingly so that people really understood the rationale for his decision.

And I think he summed it up in the end when he said the argument for staying in Afghanistan is being made by people sitting quite comfortably and saying, we can do this in a low-grade or low-cost or low-risk way. And he felt very strongly that he wanted to communicate to the American people that there is nothing low-grade or low-cost or low-risk about war. And certainly not about this 20-year war in Afghanistan that has caused so much death, wounded so many people, and left so many people with invisible injuries and so many families suffering.

So, that's what he wanted to communicate today. I think it was a speech that really reflected Joe Biden's heart, and a speech that he feels was the ultimate delivery on a commitment he made to the American people to end this war.

TAPPER: We had former Bush and Obama war czar Doug Lute on before you came on, and he was talking about how this is -- this is a position that then vice president, now president Biden has had for more than a decade wanting to end the U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan. The war is over, but of course involvement with Afghanistan's not over because as President Biden just acknowledged, there are up to 200 American citizens who want to leave Afghanistan and didn't make it out before the deadline.

I've been told some U.S. citizens who showed up to the airport before the deadline were left standing outside the gates. They were unable to get in.

How are you going to get those Americans out? And what was the reason that some citizens could not get in? Was it entirely because of terrorist threats to Hamid Karzai International Airport?

SULLIVAN: Well, Jake, I think it's really important to answer your question. We start with the fact that we gave 19 messages starting in March to Americans to leave the country. We offered them financial assistance to leave the country. And then for more than two weeks, we gave them specific instructions for how to come.

Ninety-seven percent of the people we communicated with got to the airport and got out on planes. There's a variety of reasons for why those remaining folks didn't. Some changed their mind at the last minute. Some wanted to bring very large extended family who were not Americans, who couldn't get through checkpoints.

Some may have shown up at the airport, although I have to tell you, I'm not familiar, and General McKenzie spoke yesterday and said he was not familiar with anyone being turned away at the gate last minute. So, I had not heard that particular report.

But the fact is that we went out of our way for two full weeks to create the circumstances for any American who wanted to get to the airport and get on a plane to do so.

And the question the president ultimately faced was, how long do I keep U.S. Marines in harm's way with threats escalating hour by hour? How many more days do I do that?

He ultimately decided it was right to end it and to shift to a diplomatic mission. And we have plenty of leverage with the Taliban to help effectuate the safe passage of any further Americans who want to leave Afghanistan.

TAPPER: How are you going to get the Americans and U.S. legal permanent residents, how are you going to get them out?

SULLIVAN: There are two primary ways that obviously people can leave Afghanistan. One would be by air and we're working closely with other countries to get charter air flights going in the short term, and then to get American citizens who want to leave the country or legal permanent residents onto those flights and out.

The second is by ground. We are working with neighboring countries to be able to accept American citizens or legal permanent residents traveling by ground across borders to get them processed and then get them safely out of the country.

We will work through any American who's still in the country just as we did for the last two weeks. We'll call them, we'll email them, we'll WhatsApp them. They can talk to us about how to create a plan and execute on that plan. We'll do it person by person, case by case, by air or by ground anyone who wants to leave the country we will make that happen.

TAPPER: What about special immigrant visa applicants, ones who actually have SIV numbers? How can they get out?

SULLIVAN: Same way, same exact way. What we have gotten from the Taliban is a commitment both private and public that any Afghan who has valid travel documentation including a visa, a special immigrant visa, or other form of visa from the United States shall be allowed safe passage.

We have U.N. Security Council resolution reaffirming that. And we have signed a hundred countries up to work together to hold the Taliban to their commitments. We also have considerable leverage to hold the Taliban to their commitment. So, that applies to the Afghan Special Immigrant visa holders who have stood with us. We intend to work to ensure that they too can get on planes or get across land borders to come to the United States.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: When asked about the leverage, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, just referred to access to world markets.

I don't take that very seriously as leverage. Afghanistan doesn't export anything at this point, other than opium. Other -- is there other forms of leverage that you're talking about?

SULLIVAN: I think Jen was using a general phrase around economic leverage because, Jake, we're not going to negotiate on TV with respect to the forms of economic leverage we have over the Taliban.

We will deal with them directly, and they well understand the extent to which the United States plays a central role in the fundamental functioning of any basic Afghan economy.

TAPPER: So, you mean like access to the World Food Program, relief, relief of sanctions against the Taliban?



SULLIVAN: Not the World Food Program. We're not going to hold food hostage from the people of Afghanistan. In fact, we will support humanitarian assistance going directly to individuals in Afghanistan.

But when we're talking about Afghan reserves, Afghan access to the banking system, Afghan access to any kind of fundamental operation of the economy, think about the fact that the United States has basically been the steward of this for the last 20 years. That doesn't change overnight. And the Taliban well understand that.

So, they understand the extent to which their ability to deliver anything for their citizens in the way of a functioning economy rests on the international community. It rests on the United States.

Now, I'm not going to stand up here and make specific threats. I would rather deal with the Taliban in a direct and decisive way privately. And we believe they fully understand the extent to which, should they choose to go back on their commitments with respect to safe passage or their counterterrorism commitments or others, there will be a significant price to pay, and it is in their self-interests not to do that.

TAPPER: Jake, about 13 days ago, I believe, President Biden told ABC News that the U.S. military would stay in Afghanistan past the August 31 date if American citizens who wanted to get out remained in country by the deadline.

Now, I understand, between that pledge and August 31, there was a horrific terrorist attack that killed 13 American service members, wounded at least 20, and killed scores of innocent Afghans.

Is that what changed his mind and caused him to go back on that pledge?

SULLIVAN: I think there were two major factors in the president's decision to leave on the 31st.

And, by the way, that was a decision that was backed up unanimously by every one of his civilian and military advisers, including the commanders on the ground, including his entire military leadership and his secretary of state.

Everyone stood behind that decision because they believed, not only was there going to be increasing risk to force, which is to say the likelihood that more American Marines could die, the longer that we stayed, but there was increasing risk to mission as well, because the United States' presence at that airfield was creating a greater magnet for terrorism, instability and violence than us transitioning from a military to a diplomatic mission.

He ultimately made the judgment that we were more likely to get more Americans out of that country and more Afghan allies out of that country by leaving than by staying on an open-ended basis.

That was a judgment he made as the dynamic situation evolved over the course of the 13 days from the ABC interview to the 31st. And it's a judgment that he very much stands behind.

TAPPER: Jake, I'm told that I need to wrap it up. But I just have one last question for you.

A local journalist north of Kabul tells CNN that the Taliban dragged an Afghan folk singer from his home and killed him. We have heard many stories like this in the last few weeks. There was an Afghan comedian. We are told about abuses of Afghan women and girls, other individuals who worked with the American people.

What happens to these people? Is the response of the Biden administration basically just thoughts and prayers?

SULLIVAN: Jake, the president spoke to this in his speech today.

He said that the United States is going to stand up in a variety of ways, including with our economic tools, our diplomacy, rallying the rest of the world to fight for human rights in Afghanistan on behalf of women and girls, on behalf of the people of that country who deserve to live in peace and dignity and security.

But, no, he's not prepared to have the United States military fight a third decade in a civil war to do that, just as he's not prepared to send the U.S. military in to solve for human rights abuses of a similar kind to the ones you just described in many other countries around the world.


But it's not just thoughts and prayers. We have plenty of tools to be able to fight on behalf of human rights and human dignity in Afghanistan, just as we do in other places.

The president said today he is determined to do that, and he's a man of his word.

TAPPER: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, thank you so much.

We appreciate you coming on and taking our questions.

SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: Coming up: dangerous heat now blanketing New Orleans, and power may not be back on for a month.

More on the brutal aftermath of Hurricane Ida ahead.


TAPPER: In the national lead: Hurricane Ida is now to blame for at least five deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi.

And the governor of Louisiana said today he expects that death toll to go up. Two days since landfall, several major roadways and highways are still underwater, cutting off paths to towns. More than one million people in the United States do not have power right now, most in Louisiana.

Some were told today that their electricity could be out for a month. The power situation is then having a ripple effect, with many gas stations closed because the pumps don't work.


The Department of Energy says the outages could delay getting nine refineries back online.

CNN's Brian Todd is live for us in the New Orleans area right now.

And, Brian, that storm also knocked out several cell phone towers. Have you seen any sort of urgency in the effort to get some of the critical services and infrastructure backup and running?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the cell phone companies, the power companies are saying that they're approaching this with urgency.

But they're just not giving timetables as to when some of these services are going to be restored. So that's a big level of concern here. Going to give you a visual now of the level of concern regarding just getting the basics and in some cases the level of desperation.

Food and water, people all over this neighborhood of Algiers in Southern New Orleans really worried about where they're going to go to get their food and water. Well, this is one place where they can get it, at least for a limited time. This is a food and water distribution station in the neighborhood of Algiers.

People been lining up in their cars here all day. We will take you down to this line. Now, this line here was much longer earlier. It was snaking down the street and around the corner as people just lining up for food and water, trying to get more information also as to where else they can go to get supplies like this.

This coming today, as officials continue to warn residents about the dangers in their neighborhoods, two days after the storm hit.


GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D-LA): Please don't come home before they tell you that it's time.

TODD (voice-over): Millions of residents along the Gulf Coast who survived Ida's wrath now facing new threats. More than a million people are still without power, officials warning that could last as long as a month for some customers.

EDWARDS: I'm not satisfied with 30 days. The Entergy people aren't satisfied with 30 days. Nobody who's out there needing power is satisfied with that.

TODD: This as heat advisories are in effect for the entire region where Ida made landfall.

EDWARDS: The heat index, it will be 100 degrees for the next two weeks. Now is really the most dangerous time over the next week, couple of weeks. And so we're asking people to be patient. We're asking people to be careful.

TODD: Add to that limited drinking water, a lack of cell service, shuttered grocery stores and gas lines that are three hours' long, making the situation dire. MITCH LANDRIEU (D), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: The deck

is stacked against us at the moment. We're going to dig our way out of it. We always do. But people shouldn't underestimate how tough this is going to be and how long it's going to take.

TODD: In a lower-income neighborhood of the Algiers section of New Orleans, residents are on edge.

LEA MACK, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: The biggest failure is this colossal failure of Entergy Corporation. They are the only game in town. Nine parishes or counties without power? Nine? Really?

TODD: The Entergy Corporation has given no specific timetable for when power will be restored, saying it's still working to assess the damage and that residents should be prepared for the recovery to take some time.

This line at a food and water distribution center in Algiers snakes around several blocks.

RONALD PEGUES, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: The food issue, the water issue, I don't think that they have these things out quick enough.

Yolanda Teague lives with her eight children, her mother and others in this house, where the roof and ceiling were damaged by Ida.

YOLANDA TEAGUE, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: When it rained last night, it was water all over.

TODD: With no end in sight to the power outage, just getting basic supplies is a huge concern.

(on camera): What's your biggest worry right now, Yolanda?

TEAGUE: We're already running out of food and beverages. And I have a son with a heart condition. So that's my biggest concern is him.

TODD (voice-over): Teague is concerned that the oppressive heat that's set in following Hurricane Ida will make her son's condition deteriorate even more.

(on camera): How worried are you about how bad that's going to get as the days go by with no power?

TEAGUE: Eventually, people -- it's going to get rough. You know what I'm saying? No electricity. People don't know what's their next move. So it's probably going to get rough.


TODD: Yes, there's a real concern about people doing some looting or other things like that as they get more desperate for food and water the longer these power outages go on.

We did have some word just in that two employees in Alabama who were working to restore power in that state were killed in some kind of an accident there, so just giving you a sense of some of the danger that people are involved in here.

Jake, one other thing about Yolanda Teague's son. She is worried about his medication running out. She says that she's contacted an ambulance service, though, down the street from her who says they may be able to come and help her out if he's really in desperate straits.

But this is the kind of thing, Jake, that people now are having to figure out on their own. They're not getting a lot of personal help from local authorities.

TAPPER: And, Brian, the power situation is obviously impacting the nation's fuel supplies, since a great deal of it comes from that region.

What's the latest news when it comes to the refineries?

TODD: Right, Jake, we're getting word that most of the oil and natural gas production is still down, is still offline.

They have got 90 percent of the oil production offline still off the coast of Louisiana; 90 -- more than 90 percent of the natural gas production is offline; 278 production platforms remain evacuated. Nine oil rigs remain evacuated.

That is a huge concern. We have been seeing really, really long lines at gas stations, people getting more on edge, more desperate. If these oil rigs and other production platforms can't get back online, it's going to be just more trouble.

TAPPER: All right, Brian Todd in the New Orleans area, thank you so much.

Coming up, controversial opinions. CNN sat down with the leading Republican contender who might replace California's Democratic governor after the recall election. That's next.


TAPPER: In our politics lead, we're exactly two weeks away from California's recall election, and all eyes are on Larry Elder, the controversial conservative radio host and Republican frontrunner who is set to replace Governor Gavin Newsom if Newsom is recalled.


CNN's Joe Johns sat down with Larry Elder to address controversies. And he got a window into how elder might lead.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the man who could set off a political earthquake in California.


JOHNS: Larry Elder, a 69-year-old conservative talk show host turned political candidate has become the Republican frontrunner --


JOHNS: -- in the race to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom.

ELDER: My agenda is crime. My agenda is homelessness. My agenda is the way the state was shut down by --

JOHNS: That agenda, says Elder, includes rolling back the state's COVID restrictions, vowing to repeal mask and vaccine mandates for California state workers.

Will you follow the science?

ELDER: I'm going to follow the science. I'm going to -- I don't believe the science suggests that young people should be vaccinated. I don't believe science suggests that young people should have to wear masks at school. I'm not sure the science alone has said that at all.

And young people are not likely to contract the coronavirus. And when they do, their symptoms are likely to be mild and not likely to be hospitalized and they're certainly not likely to die.

JOHNS: The science says he's wrong on two counts. Millions of children have tested positive for COVID-19, and masks are proven to prevent the spread of the virus.

A California native, Elder was raised in south central Los Angeles, made his way to Brown University, and received a law degree from Michigan.

ELDER: Larry Elder here, from south central --

JOHNS: For 27 years, he was the voice of conservative rage on the radio.

ELDER: Blacks exaggerate the significance of racism. Affirmative action is wrong.

JOHNS: Some of his most controversial comments over the years were about things like systemic racism and policing.

ELDER: Studies do not show that the police are pulling black people over just because they're black. The studies do not show that police are killing black people just because they're black. It is false.

If I had known there would be so many people, I would have prepared something to say.

JOHNS: Many of Elder's views after a career in talk radio are extreme. But at least on two policies, Elder tells me he would not try to implement them if elected governor.

ELDER: Am I opposed to the minimum wage? Yes.

JOHNS: Are you going to get rid of it?

ELDER: Am I going to do anything about it? Absolutely not. That's not even close to anything on my agenda list.

JOHNS: On immigration, Elder suggested in a 2010 column a constitutional amendment to deny citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants. A politically explosive position in a state rich with immigrants.

Are you going to do things like deny medical care and education to undocumented immigrants in the state?

ELDER: Again, not even close to anything on my agenda.

JOHNS: As elder's political star rises, his decades of comments on race and women mocking sexual assault and saying women know less than men about politics are drawing fresh scrutiny.

ELDER: I've always felt that minorities and women complain too much about racism and sexism.

JOHNS: For instance, Elder tweeted that women have no right to maternity leave in addition to other sexist comments.

ELDER: I have great deal of respect for women. My mom was a woman. I had her on my show every Friday. Only you bring up these kinds of issues.

When I'm on the campaign trail and I meet a lot of women, nobody says to me, you know, Larry, I'm concerned about what you're going to do women, just you guys.


JOHNS: I talked to Larry Elder at one of his favorite restaurants here. I asked him if he wanted the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. He said he was indifferent and had not asked for it, a source close to Trump told me no decision has been made about whether to support Larry Elder.

Back to you, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Joe Johns, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

President Biden calls the military evacuations from Afghanistan a, quote, extraordinary success. But what about the American citizens still stuck inside the country who want to get out?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. This hour, a rogue gator attack, dangerous heat and no relief in the

near future. The misery on the bayou after Hurricane Ida tears through the Gulf Coast.

Cancer diagnoses are down, but that's a bad thing. The danger of patients putting off checkups and screenings during the pandemic.

But, first, leading this hour, the last U.S. service member has left Afghanistan, but the final U.S. citizen who wants to get out has not. President Biden minutes ago seeming defiant and defending his decision to leave and to do it now despite the U.S. evacuating more than 123,000 people from Afghanistan over the past month. Critics are slamming President Biden for going back on a promise he made that U.S. troops would stay until every American who wants to leave Afghanistan gets out.

As CNN's Phil Mattingly reports, the White House is now laying out exactly how it believes Americans stuck in Afghanistan will be able to escape.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden moving to mark an end to the most acute crisis of his administration.

BIDEN: I refuse to continue a war that was no longer in the service of the vital national interest of our people.

MATTINGLY: As the country after two decades, thousands of lives and trillions of dollars seeks to turn the page on America's longest war.

BIDEN: I was not going to extend this forever war. And I was not extending a forever exit.

MATTINGLY: Biden delivering on a campaign pledge that has long been popular for a country fatigued and in many cases apathetic about the war.