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The Lead with Jake Tapper

CNN: U.S. Negotiated Secret Deal With Taliban To Escort Group Of Americans To Airport Gates; Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) Is Interviewed About U.S. Withdrawal In Afghanistan; At Least Five Killed In Storm, Louisiana Gov Expects Death Toll To Rise; Source: White House Booster Announcement Causing Frustration At FDA; Biden Faces Multiple Crises As Afghanistan Falls, COVID Surges, And Ida Causes Widespread Damage; 50k Under Evacuation At Lake Tahoe As Wildfire Nears Tourist Area. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 31, 2021 - 17:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Biden deliver on a campaign pledge that has long been popular for a country fatigued and in many cases apathetic about the war. It's still facing major questions in the wake of the unprecedented U.S. led evacuation that got more than 122,000 people out of the country, yet left more than 100 American citizens who want to leave Afghanistan still on the ground by making a point of noting the support he had across the administration and military to leave by the deadline.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Leaving August the 31st is not due to an arbitrary deadline. It was designed to save American lives.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Failing to deliver on this explicit pledge from just 13 days ago.

BIDEN: If there's American citizens left, we're going to stay till we get them all out.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): By making clear U.S. diplomatic efforts will be singularly focused on evacuating those Americans.

BIDEN: And for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But with 1000s of Afghan allies also still stuck in the country, one clear reality, the U.S. efforts in the country are far from over, even if its military is now gone.

BIDEN: I don't think enough people understand how much we've asked for the 1 percent of this country who put that uniform on.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Have fall out (ph) from a frenzy, chaotic and bloody final 16 days is just beginning. Congressional hearings and probes slated for the coming weeks on a withdrawal that has drawn sharp criticism from both parties. The administration has pledged to launch its own internal review. Biden even facing blowback from some of the families of service members killed by a suicide attack during the evacuation efforts.

MARK SCHMITZ, GOLD STAR FATHER OF MARINE KILLED IN SUICIDE ATTACK: He talked a bit more about his own son than we did. My son and I that didn't sit well with me.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The White House declining to respond to critical comments from family members. But Biden saying the 13 servicemen and women who died would never be forgotten.

BIDEN: We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude we can never repay, but we should never, ever, ever forget.


MATTINGLY: And Jake, U.S. officials say when it comes to the Americans still in the country and the Afghan allies, there are currently discussions underway about getting them out by air and also getting them out potentially through border countries by land. But the reality remains on the ground that anything they can move forward on will be subject potentially to Taliban approval.

There's no timeline on those discussions when there will actually be an endgame or a pathway forward for the evacuation of those citizens and Afghan allies. The reality right now on the ground is everything is subject to former adversary of the United States, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Phil Mattingly at the White House.

I want to go to CNN's Oren Liebermann, he's at the Pentagon.

And Oren, Pentagon officials are telling us now about a previously secret deal that the U.S. government made with the Taliban to help get American citizens to safety before U.S. troops left Afghanistan. How did this work? How did U.S. forces work with the Taliban?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the Taliban has been a part of this process since long before the evacuation, pretty much ever since the negotiations began that led to the Doha agreement that led to the withdrawal. But they became a more integral critical part of this process as the evacuation advanced. And we're now finding out just how deeply involved they were with a secret arrangement that helped bring U.S. citizens and some others from where they were to the airport.

According to two defense officials, the Taliban was in touch with U.S. forces on the ground to arrange coordination points, gathering points and muster points for those U.S. citizens for the Taliban to bring them towards the airport so they could get onto the airport and onto flights. That was previously not reported. Of course, that was sensitive information until the evacuation and the withdrawal were complete. Because if it was public and the Taliban was helping the U.S. like that, first, the Taliban might have to respond to that. And second, it would give ISIS-K another opportunity to target the Taliban and of course, to target U.S. citizens. But there was another arrangement even beyond that, special operations forces were in touch through what one defense official called call centers, to be in touch with U.S. citizens, to get them to the airport to effectively a secret gate in order to get them onto the field and get them out. Now, there still are a lot of questions about how these operations function. For example, one of the key questions, did the Taliban turn away any of the U.S. citizens that were supposed to get to the field that might still be in country?

TAPPER: All right, Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us, thanks so much.

Let's discuss this with Republican Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio. He sits on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here.


TAPPER: I want to start with this report. Obviously, we're all skeptical of the Taliban and skeptical of the idea that they're any different than the nihilistic extremists that the U.S. has been fighting for two decades. But does the fact that they were willing to work with the U.S. to evacuate American citizens in such an organized way give you any moment of pause that maybe there is some hope?


TURNER: Absolutely not. You know the President completely overstated today when he said the war is over because we've left Afghanistan. You know, the other side gets to decide too.

I was in (INAUDIBLE) Afghanistan and I was there just before COVID hit. And I asked our commander, I said, is the area where the Taliban control peaceful? And he said, no, they remain a murderous and lawless group and organization. They will be that.

Now, I'm certainly there were times where that was in their best interest to assist this administration after the debacle and the chaos that unfolded with the Taliban taking Kabul where the administration was saying it was, you know, unknowable and clearly it was foreseeable. So, I wouldn't take this as a new sign of a new Taliban and the fact that they were working with United States. Unfortunately, we were forced in that situation to try to save American lives to work with them since Kabul had fallen, the government had fallen and the Taliban were at the door of the airport.

TAPPER: How do you think this would have been any different or why do you think it would have been any different if President Trump had been reelected, and they had gone through with the May 1 deadline? I mean, President Biden makes the argument and there are others who are not knee jerk, Biden defenders who say he has a point, which is that there always would have been chaos, there always would have been an ugly ending to this. And it was President Trump's administration that negotiated the exit with the Taliban at May 1. Why would it have been any different?

TURNER: Well, the President undermines his own argument when he reminds the American public over and over again that he wanted to do this since 2009, because certainly, Trump was even on the horizon in 2009. So this has been part of the basic belief system that Biden had of wanting to leave Afghanistan without understanding it abandons our allies, abandons the Afghan people. And really, you know, less than a third of the people in Afghanistan support the Taliban, they're now going to be subject to an authoritarian, murderous regime.

But there was a significant difference between what Trump was doing and what Biden is doing. Biden's doing a date certain pullout to Trump had a conditions based plan. In addition, we all know that that Donald Trump would never have let it unfold this way. Biden himself --

TAPPER: Why do you know that?

TURNER: Well, because first of all, it was so embarrassing to United States, it was so detrimental, there were so many lives at risk. And when President Biden himself said he wouldn't, if Biden wouldn't, then Trump certainly wouldn't. And Biden said, we will not run for the exits. And he did so in the middle of the night.

And he did though, that in a manner which he completely undermined the Taliban -- excuse me, the Afghan National Army making them vulnerable to the Taliban by giving them no plan, no chain of command, no even understanding of what we're doing, no passing of the baton.

TAPPER: So, one of the things -- I've spoken to a lot of experts on this before this documentary we're doing about the whole 20-year wars of Afghanistan. And one of the things that -- one of the arguments being made is that it wasn't -- that the Afghan National Army or the Afghan forces were unwilling to fight, it was -- they lost the will. They lost the will to fight in addition to some theories that that may be that there were individual corrupt generals and politicians that were negotiating deals with the Taliban separately.

And the reason they lost the will is because in this argument President Biden and President Trump both negotiated with the Taliban and headed for the exits and there was nothing left for the Afghan fighting forces to fight for in terms of a cause, because they felt like the government wasn't on their side anymore, because it was corrupt and the U.S. wasn't there to help support them.

TURNER: Sure. I understand the cause argument. I think it's more of a logistical argument, though.

You actually physically can't fight unless you have the ability to move from point A to point B, ammunition instructions, chain of command. Where you had NATO who which was then committed by the United States that was integrated into the Afghan National Military, and had that pulled out without any plan left behind. There was no plan for the Afghan National Army to be able to sustain and defend the country.

They had no choice in many situations, but to go ahead and concede. As we heard, there were Afghan military that ran out of bullets and then had to surrender.

TAPPER: Yes, but that had been going on for a long time. I mean, the logistical challenges, the bigger argument about that. And I understand, look, in addition to criticizing the evacuation, you also disagree with the idea of withdrawing. You think that there should be a residual force of a few 1000 counterterrorism at Bagram Airbase and, you know, people disagree on that, President Trump disagreed with that. He thought that the U.S. needed to get out.

But the question about if it is -- if U.S. had been there for 20 years and the Afghan military was still relying on the U.S. to provide them with support, provide them with intelligence, provide them with air support, et cetera. How much long was the U.S. supposed to be there? What's your argument to that?

TURNER: Well, I wasn't there. I wasn't -- I didn't believe we needed to have a force there forever. And I believed that the goals of the Trump administration were incredibly important and could be achievable. With the right negotiations with the right structure, the right plan, we could exit.


Now maybe that'd be a residual force doesn't have to be a couple 1000, but it's in the issue of the Afghan National Military having the ability to coordinate and to defend the country. It's not just a will to fight. It's not just as you had said, you know, they're being concerned that they've been abandoned by the Trump administration or the Biden administration, I think it was also that they didn't have the mechanism to fight. And that's where this administration failed to give them a plan, to give them what was necessary in order to do so.

TAPPER: All right, Republican Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio, thank you. We always appreciate you coming here.

TURNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thank you so much.

He barely escaped the Taliban. He got out of Afghanistan. A U.S. ally shares his incredible journey with CNN as he arrives to hugs in the United States.

And a giant sinkhole swallowing cars is part of the frightening scenes left behind by Hurricane Ida. And the storm is not even finished yet. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, for the first time in 20 years, there are no U.S. service members, no boots on the ground in Afghanistan. But there are still more than 100 American citizens, untold numbers of U.S. legal permanent residents, and 1000s of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants desperately trying to get out of that country. At the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan today, desperate Afghans tried to cross, but Pakistan says they simply cannot cope with any more refugees.

In the last two months, the Pentagon says the U.S. military and coalition forces airlifted more than 123,000 people including about 6,000 Americans and 10s of 1000s of Afghans.

CNN's Alex Marquardt follows the story of one Afghan interpreter who served at Forward Operating Base Bostic in Kunar Province from the moment he left his homeland to the moment he arrived safely in the United States.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): As Afghan families arrived in Washington D.C. this past week, carrying the few things they could as they fled the Taliban, Josh Rodriguez was waiting eagerly for a glimpse of an old friend.

JOSHUA RODRIGUEZ, AFGHANISTAN VETERAN: We're waiting for Iqbal and his family. He has his wife and kids.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Rodriguez worked with Mohammad Iqbal Selanee in Afghanistan, where he was an interpreter for U.S. forces.



RODRIGUEZ: Yes, say hi to my family.

SELANEE: Hi. Hi, everybody.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Iqbal worked closely alongside American troops for seven years before becoming a commando in an elite unit.

As the Taliban swept across Afghanistan this month, Iqbal was in the fight, he's commander in Kandahar. They had to retreat and Iqbal and his men made their way to Kabul airport, onto an evacuation flight with their families to Qatar where we first spoke with him.

SELANEE: I don't know where they're taking us next. To be honest, sir, we have no idea what's happening next day, you know?

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Soldiers like Iqbal who helped the U.S. are prime targets for the Taliban.

SELANEE: They already started going into soldiers' houses and looking for them, you know? And asking their families to bring your son. Give us weapons, give us this, give us that.

Honestly our soldier all they were doing was serving their country, earning some money to feed their family. MARQUARDT (voice-over): Iqbal's family was safe, but tired heading to a country they knew little about. They didn't know where they were going. So a flight attendant wrote it down on a napkin, IAD Washington's Dulles Airport.

RODRIGUEZ: Iqbal, it's me, Josh.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Rodriguez immediately flew in from Seattle. But the processing took days and Iqbal's wife and son were sick.

RODRIGUEZ: They're not really explaining things to him. He doesn't know how this stuff works.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The hours ticked by, more people came out but not Iqbal and his family. So Rodriguez came back the next day.

RODRIGUEZ: Look, all these people have been through held them back. But this guy is special because he is fiercely loyal to Americans. And then he went on to, you know, command, probably the most elite Special Operations unit in all of Afghanistan.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Rodriguez tracked Iqbal down at a temporary housing facility. And after some calls, they finally reunited after 12 years.

An emotional reunion for two former brothers in arms.

SELANEE: Rodriguez, thank you.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Rodriguez brought Iqbal some clothes and a new phone. The hardest part of the journey now over, but a new life just beginning.

SELANEE: I am happy because I am safe here with my family. But I'm still unhappy because I left some of my family back there.


MARQUARDT: Lieutenant Colonel Iqbal and his family are now being processed at Fort Lee in Virginia before they move on. They are applying for a Special Immigrant Visa and it's been a complicated road for them. Former commanders have had to go to bat for Lieutenant Colonel Iqbal.

It is hard, Jake, to imagine anyone who is more deserving of an SIV as they're called. He started interpreting for American troops when he was just a teenager and was fighting until the very last moments. He told me earlier today, he's hoping his family ends up in either Washington State or in California, Jake.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt an amazing story. And there's a GoFundMe for Iqbal and his family. And I know you and I are both going to tweet out that address if anybody wants to help him get a start here in the United States.

Thanks so much, Alex. Appreciate it. Let's discuss these evacuation efforts and those left behind with Afghan National Army Colonel Abdul Rahman Rahmani. He's an Afghan pilot and former staffer at the Office of the National Security Council for Afghanistan.

Colonel Rahmani, thanks so much for being here. It's an honor to meet you. We've kept in touch on Twitter for quite some time.

You've been scrambling to get friends and colleagues out of Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Did you ever expect to find yourself in this situation after spending so many years, 19 years working for the Afghan military?



Yes, it's an emotional state for all of us. But the time the Taliban took over, I thought to not think about what's happening in Afghanistan, but think about what you can do at the moment for your colleagues, for your former pilots, flight engineers and Special Forces.

So I immediately started contacting my pilots, we are all here (ph), some of them were in Turkmenistan, some in Tajikistan, and some of them were in Kabul and Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, some in Baghlan (ph) Province from my own hometown.

So, I started contacted them. And then, I start -- I built a network, like, we call it, you know, a virtual command and start -- command and control. So, I made a WhatsApp group and also a Signal group. I put all of them in that group and then asking their certificates, their photographs, their information, all they could share. And then, I had three of them sit together and then make an Excel sheet for all of them. And I share that Excel sheet with my contacts here in the United States to the State Department and also DOD to help them get out.

TAPPER: Did any get out?

RAHMANI: Yes. One of them made to Wisconsin, I just barely heard, and two of them made to Germany. I still have around 30, 35 in Qatar, and I have 20 in Kuwait.

TAPPER: That's a lot that got out. That's good.

RAHMANI: Yes. So, this is because the collaboration and also cooperation between our team of one team and also a team of veterans, Special Forces, veterans, pilots.

TAPPER: American Special Forces?

RAHMANI: Yes, American Special Forces, American pilots, they all get to us in that group and helped us get out.

I don't know exactly how many pilots and flight engineers got out. But from the group I made, we had 82. And I think we were able to get out around 45 of them.

TAPPER: Well, 45 is a lot, obviously. You need to do more, and we'll help you however we can.

You have said that the Taliban are looking for people who worked in the Afghan military, who worked with the Americans. Now the Taliban is doing this big propaganda effort and saying, no, no, no, everyone's forgiven. We want everyone to stay here. We're not out for revenge. You don't believe them?

RAHMANI: Exactly, Jake. As you have followed by tweets, I put a tweet one of my pilots, his name is Pasim (ph). Unfortunately, we couldn't help him get out. He was -- his house was raided. And the Taliban were in his house. He had to jump from the second floor, injuring his leg. He's still in Kabul hiding somewhere I don't know but we wanted to get him out.

There is not just one Kasim. I think there is hundreds of them that are being chased by the Taliban, unfortunately.

TAPPER: Today, President Biden called the evacuation effort a quote, "extraordinary success." He said no nation has ever done anything like it.

Obviously, more than 120,000 people did get out. A lot of them were Afghans, but a lot of other people did not get out. How do you view the evacuation effort? Do you think it was an extraordinary success?

RAHMANI: Well, I would not comment on that. I would rather stick with the humanitarian assistance that the United States people are making right now to get those vulnerable Afghans out.

You know, I have families from all around United States volunteering to help these pilots. I had a family from Oklahoma, they said, you know, we are here to help. And we are ready to take a family of six for two years. You cannot believe this.

TAPPER: Oh, man.

RAHMANI: It's an extraordinary thing that the United States people, especially veteran families, they are doing for their former colleagues. And I think that's the best part of the story.

TAPPER: They are the best of us.

Colonel Abdul Rahman Rahmani, thank you so much for being here. It's good to see you.

RAHMANI: Thank you.

TAPPER: A giant sinkhole, a gator in the floodwaters, a month's worth of rain and triple digit heat, the hell left behind as Hurricane Ida heads north.



TAPPER: In our national lead right now, Hurricane Ida is stretching north after pummeling the golf and leaving at least five people dead in Mississippi. A giant highway sinkhole swallowed seven cars, killing two people.

In Louisiana, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator near his flooded home. He is still missing.

And four hospitals packed with critical COVID patients in that state have had to be evacuated.

And CNN's Ed Lavandera reports 1 million people are still without power. And now Louisiana's governor is warning a sweltering heat advisory could last for two weeks.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The water got up just above the floorboard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, just above the floor board.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The day after Hurricane Ida wrecked Dominique Thomas's home, she's cleaning up the disaster. She says she's lived through many storms before, but this was different.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): And the emotions of experiencing hurricane Ida's fury have caught up to the 32-year-old mother.

(on-camera): Why do you think this one was so different?

THOMAS: It just was taking everything and it was so long. It could still just here, everything zipping and flying and banging and people's roofs were coming off and we just -- we prayed that we would all live.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The day after Hurricane Ida rip through Southeast Louisiana, officials are warning residents across the region, it will take considerable time to get life back to normal. There are more than a million customers without electricity. And for many, it could take weeks to get the power restored. Water systems are down as well, and cell phone communication is spotty. The coming days and weeks will be long and hot.

JACLYN HOTARD, ST. BERNARD PARISH PRESIDENT: We are a resilient group of people. This is going to be very difficult, worst disaster that we've all seen in St. John Parish. And it's going to take a long time.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): In LaPlace, residents say they were stunned by the intensity of the storms winds and the structural damage it caused.

DEBBIE GRECO, LAPLACE, LOUISIANA RESIDENT: It was horrible. It was -- the way -- I've never had wind shake the house the way it did.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Debbie and Ronnie Greco say after 4 feet of water poured into their home, the roof started to collapse.

GRECO: The ceiling started caving in. That's when I really got scared because it was like, oh my god, is the roof going to blow off and we're going to be out exposed.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Some of the hardest hit areas of Southeast Louisiana are still nearly impossible to reach. This is what Grand Isle looks like. This video was captured by one of several dozen people who didn't evacuate and are now stuck on the barrier island.

THOMAS: It was seeping in from all the doors, all the closets.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Dominique Thomas is bracing for weeks of recovery. But she can't stop thinking about the eight brutal hours her family endured through this storm.

THOMAS: The doors were rocking back and forth. The windows were shaking. It was just a matter of time before you felt like everything was just going to go right off.


LAVANDERA: And Jake, crews are beginning the long arduous process of cleaning up the disasters like this. And the real life of frustration starting to kick in. There's a family in this gas line that we met just a little while ago that says they live in New Orleans. They're trying to get to their family in Lafayette to escape all of this. They've run out of gas, and they're pushing their car to this line you see behind me. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

Coming up, a reason to hold (ph) more, Americans will snap out of their anti-vaccine mode. That's next.



TAPPER: In our health lead now, while the United States is seeing alarming increases in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations and deaths, the Biden administration is touting an increase in coronavirus vaccinations and encouraging more colleges and businesses to impose their own vaccination requirements. Our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here live with me in studio, nice treat to have you here.


TAPPER: Sanjay, let me ask you. A new poll of unvaccinated Americans shows that 43 percent of unvaccinated Americans say they will get a shot if their boss forces them to do it. Now that same new poll shows a decent sized drop in the number of people who say they will not get vaccinated. The number was 34 percent in March, it's down to 20 percent now. So I guess the question I have is, if you're a policy maker and you look at this, do you think, I guess we need to start having more vaccine requirements? That's our way out of this.

GUPTA: Yes, I think it's going to make a huge difference. There's no question. I mean, we saw when the vaccine was approved about a third, roughly 20 percent, 30 percent said that they would go ahead and get it now. That it was approved 43 percent you mentioned after mandates.

A couple things to keep in mind. One is that it's going to take a while, right, for these vaccinated people who are now being vaccinated to have an impact overall on transmission and hospitalizations and deaths, because it just takes a while for the vaccines to kick in. Two shots from these vaccines.

Also, in the meantime, the idea of masking ventilation, all the things that we talked about still end up being really important. But of the 80 million people that are the eligible unvaccinated right now, I think those things will make a difference. Slower roll than I think any of us would have like, but it will make a difference.

TAPPER: You said two shots. We had Dr. Hotez on yesterday and he said this booster shot --


TAPPER: -- that people are talking about for Pfizer, and I guess theoretically for Moderna as well, he doesn't think it should be called a booster. He thinks it should just be called a third shot that the protocol actually should just be three shots. You're hearing the recent White House announcement about what they're calling booster shots and you're hearing that it's causing some frustration at the FDA.

GUPTA: This is not a slam dunk. It may have been presented that way and even flying up here, Jake, people coming up to me in the airport and saying, hey, I got my third shot. People are telling me that bragging about it.

TAPPER: Yes, more than a million people have gotten it.

GUPTA: More than a million people have gotten it. But I think we're going to have to hear from the FDA and the CDC on this. And there is a lot of back and forth on this mainly saying, hey, look, what does it accomplish exactly? We know that it increased antibody levels, but does it actually offer more protection? Will people be less likely to transmit? Will people be less likely to get sick? They're not sure about that yet. So that's why the FDA wants to look at this.

And those two people resigning or saying that they're going to resign by the end of the year, who knows if how big a deal it is, but it's a signal I think that there is some concern within the FDA. Jeff Zients was asked about this, this what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We've been also been very clear throughout that this is pending FDA conducting an independent valuation and CDC's panel of outside experts issuing a booster dose recommendation.



GUPTA: So to be fair, they have been -- they've always been saying that this is pending FDA and CDC approval. But at the same time, they also said, hey, September 20th, this is happening. So I think there's been some frustration. He has the White House sort of getting ahead of the FDA in this. There's the CDC getting ahead of the FDA in this. And I think that's what's causing some of this frustration at the FDA.

TAPPER: Yes. Well, I mean, the FDA is they're scientists and doctors and --


TAPPER: -- the other people are politicians.

GUPTA: Right, right. And they need to look at data. They got to make the case. I mean, this isn't just about, hey, these shots should go to other places in the world. Do we need them? I mean, that's going to be the question they really need to answer.

TAPPER: Yes. The -- A new study estimates that masking and testing in schools could help prevent COVID infections, masking and testing. What does the sign say?

GUPTA: Well, so this is looking at all the observational studies and other modeling studies that you and I talked about last week. And they basically saying, OK, when we put this all together, what is the modeling show? If you do nothing at all, they say about 75 percent of students will be exposed to this virus and get these infections. So that's really significant, obviously, concerning.

If you start to layer in the strategies, that's when they say that 24 percent to 50 percent with universal masking, will still be exposed. It's not perfect, it makes a difference. If you add in testing as well, you take it down to as low as maybe 13 percent exposures.

So, what they're saying is that there's enough data now, not randomized trials of masking but enough data where you say, hey, here's districts that masked, here's districts that didn't masked, here's ones that also tested. When we put it all together, we see how much of a reduction they can get an overall infection rates. It's a model. That's what this is. But it's based on a lot of data not only from the United States, but around the world.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much. Good to have you in studio.

GUPTA: OK. TAPPER: Coming up, a Republican who will not stop pushing the big line, he's now openly suggesting Civil War. That's next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, President Biden now has three major crises on his hands, the withdrawal from Afghanistan and trying to go back and rescue Americans one way or another, the worsening COVID surge and the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. All of these are putting the Biden administration to the test as the world watches to see how President Biden response.

Let's discuss. And Olivier, in addition to talking about comedy, comedy and getting along and being bipartisan, one of the things that was a central promise, I think, of Joe Biden's presidency was a return to competence, just basic competence. And how are the American people taking this all in?

OLIVIER KNOX, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you could throw in the wildfires as well among the other tests --


KNOX: -- are testing the federal government at every single level. I think your list is really important, because I think that his biggest problem right now is actually COVID and the economic knock on effects of COVID. I think that has a much more long term consequential effect on his political fortunes going forward, including into the midterms. We can, of course, say there could be things that happen in Afghanistan, around Afghanistan, that come back up, flare back up between now and November of 2022. But I really do think that the more consequential thing right now is 1,200 Americans dying today, hospitals filling up, states being unable to say filter water. All those kinds of problems, I think, are just looming, enormous in large.

And remember, one of the problems with the Afghan withdrawal is that he was going to be traveling this last couple of weeks around the country promoting his infrastructure.

TAPPER: Right.

KNOX: So it's not just the handling of the withdrawal, it's also that it eats up all this bandwidth, where he wanted to be selling these extremely ambitious domestic policies and instead --

TAPPER: And popular policies.

KNOX: Popular (ph). And is instead defending a popular withdrawal and an unpopular execution.

TAPPER: And Laura, you and your colleagues wrote in a piece today in Politico, "The cold political calculation is based on a belief inside the White House that Americans by and large will ultimately process the withdrawal from Afghanistan as unnecessary, albeit difficult, act, even if they harboured lingering doubts about its execution". So I don't disagree with this theory at all. And, you know, the American people have not really been paying attention to Afghanistan for 15 years.

Generally speaking, is the feeling that in a year, nobody in the administration -- I mean, nobody in the Congress is even going to be talking about this, even his opponents.

LAURA, BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's what the White House is thinking is. That's what they hope, you know, that's their big bet. Because again, things can happen between now and 2022. A lot can happen whether things get worse in Afghanistan or not.

But right now, the White House is hoping that in this next month, they're going to pass the infrastructure package, they're going to pass the reconciliation package, which will include the money for elder care, childcare, all these things that they see is very popular that poll show are very popular, as Olivier said. And that by doing that, they're going to be able to refocus on their response to COVID, their response to the economy, and that that's actually what voters want.

When I was talking to some Democrats yesterday, you saw this -- these two worlds that are happening, which is that one Democrat who is in a safer blue seat was saying that all I'm hearing about is COVID. All, you know, mothers and fathers are concerned about whether their kids are going to be safe in school with mask mandates, no mask mandates. And then there was a Moderate Democrat that I spoke too, and a lot of those frontline Democrats are feeling more pressure than the others on Afghanistan, on the execution of the withdrawal. And they were saying that that they are going to be pursuing those answers relentlessly and they've had to create more distance with the White House then the safer blue Democrats.


So this is going to continue for Biden. Investigations are going to be happening. I wouldn't be surprised if some of those Moderate Democrats start to say that they want -- they potentially want some resignations, or they want to see someone take the fall for what happened because they are raising those questions already.

TAPPER: Do you agree, Bill? You've been fairly supportive of President Biden, but not of the execution of this withdrawal. I think you also -- you prefer a residual counterterrorism force left in the country, right?


TAPPER: But what do you think the political effects of this will be? You've been a foreign policy guy for a long time, enough to know that the American people don't actually really care all that much about it.

KRISTOL: They don't unless things really go bad.

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: And suddenly it -- and if it becomes part of a broader narrative of, you know, not being up to the job. And so --

TAPPER: That's what happened with George W. Bush towards the end of his second term, right?

KRISTOL: Right. So, Ira, dovetailed with Katrina, at this time, actually of the first year of Bush's second term. And suddenly the failure to change course in Iraq, he'd gotten re-elected, we didn't find the weapons of mass destruction, he still got re-elected. But the failure to acknowledge reality and react in Iraq plus Katrina, with devastating devotion, I don't think we're at that stage anything like it.

But I say two things, the range of outcomes of what could happen in Afghanistan, in the world as a result of Afghanistan, in terms of terror, in terms of other radicals being inspired or not, it could be just a kind of an unfortunate situation, a setback, not a disaster. That's a big range of outcomes over the next year. We don't know what how the hell that will look, obviously.

2014, you know, 2015 -- by October 2015, it look, the world looked unbelievably dangerous and refugee flows and et cetera. And the second point I like to say, voters don't separate out these individual issues quite as much. But I do think, and I've instructors talking to people near me who voted for Biden that there were some swing voters. Gee, I'm glad I voted for him. I'm glad it's not Trump, but I don't know, I don't think I could vote for him again.

And also maybe at the congressional level, we need to check some of this stuff, because he doesn't -- I thought the speech today was very indicative. It was not the speech he should have given at the end of 20 -- not because of the substance, leave that aside, I agree with it, but at the end of a 20-year war, you should give a presidential speech, you should reflect on what it meant, you should pay tribute to the people who worked, your predecessors, obviously the troops, the civilians over there, and talk a little bit broadly about your hopes for the world. And instead, it was a very kind of legalistic defensive -- defense of debating points in a way what he had done over the last few weeks.

And I think you see stuff like that, most people didn't watch the whole speech, obviously. But the impression is, he's not quite meeting them at the moment, I think. So that would be a -- what I would worry the most about, if I were in the White House.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's going to depend on what happens from here on out and what other opportunities he has to face the American people. I do think he was defensive, but I think he did a lot of what you talked about. He talked about the narrative of why they were getting out. And I think their argument and their deal, I think, is that they believe the American people are going to remember two things, the massively heroic airlift of 120,000 people out of Afghanistan in a couple of days, and the fact that they ended this 20-year war. That essentially, you know, the majority of American people are still behind that.

But that is not a given that that's going to be everything that it's going to take in order for him to be OK politically. COVID, the economy, I think all of those things are going to be front and center and the fact that they want to get back to COVID and want to get back to the infrastructure bill, which are two incredibly difficult issues shows you just how much they want to turn the page on.

TAPPER: And --

KRISTOL: Just on COVID, and your discussions with Sanjay, the FDA, I think a lot of people don't understand why they're going through regular procedure. We have to have all these studies for five to 12 year olds, that's a reputable epidemiologist and others think, you know, we can speed this up a little bit. And also, there's no head of the FDA. There's no actual permanent head of the FDA --

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: -- who's been confirmed by Congress. President Biden, and I say this is someone who supported him, obviously, I support him, but he's been president for eight months, it's kind of important to have someone at the FDA. I worked a little with them and push them when I was in the government ages ago. They are a bureaucracy. They can take their time, they have their procedures.

Someone on top who knows what's going on, who's a serious scientist, that isn't just some political hack, but who says, wait a second, this one is kind of important for schools, for the economy, to get people more comfortable with getting things going again. I don't know, I just feel like there's a little too much business as usual kind of on some of these issues.

TAPPER: Not enough urgency, you're saying. All right, thanks, everyone. Really appreciate it.

Coming up next, the flames closing in and now tens of thousands of people escaping what's normally a picturesque vacation spot. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Earth matter series, everybody out. That's the order to some 50,000 people as a wildfire inches dangerously close to Lake Tahoe. This is along the California-Nevada border and usually a popular tourist attraction. But now, heavy smoke and haze from the Caldor fire covers the region. The fire has already destroyed nearly 700 structures since it started two weeks ago and crews believe it will take another week to get it fully contained.

State officials are monitoring 13 large fires burning across California right now. One fire official is calling these fires what they are not an anomaly, unprecedented or extreme. But instead, unfortunately, yet another clear trend of a changing climate. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. We actually read them. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer who is, if I'm not mistaken, right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you tomorrow.