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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Official: "Majority" Of Afghan Visa Applicants Left Behind; Officials: White House Plans To Shift Focus Away From Afghanistan; U.S. Officials Fear Domestic Extremist Attacks From Far-Right & White Supremacist Groups Praising The Taliban; Southern Hospitals Running Low On Oxygen; Interview With Rep. Troy Carter (D-LA); Hurricane Ida Aftermath. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 01, 2021 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Biden team looking for an exit strategy from the exit strategy.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The fallout from ending America's longest war. The White House now hoping to move on publicly from the crisis in Afghanistan, but the American citizens and Afghan allies still trapped there, they don't have that luxury.

President Biden voicing the outrage of millions today after Texas banned almost all abortions, and the U.S. Supreme Court failed to stop it.

Plus, no power, no water, no gas. Hurricane Ida knocked part of Louisiana back into the 18th century, with no relief in sight.


TAPPER: Hello and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Topping our world lead this hour, President Biden grappling with the fallout from the way the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan. A senior State Department official telling CNN that the majority of Afghans who worked for the U.S. and applied for those special immigrant visas or SIVs, well, they were likely left behind.

Pentagon officials saying that the SIV program was never meant to be used in a hurried evacuation.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The SIV program is obviously not designed to accommodate what we just did in evacuating over 100,000 people. And so perhaps this program should be looked at going forward. It is a -- it is designed to be a slow process.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Indeed it has been a historically slow process, one that a former Trump administration official claims that the Trump administration, quote, sabotaged. But that said, President Biden took office in January, and his administration failed to expedite the process to get these Afghan allies out, despite months of warnings. This as Biden administration officials tell CNN the White House was hoping to now publicly move on to other domestic challenges.

We're covering this story from across the globe, Barbara Starr from the Pentagon, Sam Kiley in Doha, Qatar.

Barbara, I want to start with you. Listening to this Pentagon briefing today, what stood out to you the most?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it was so interesting because today was not the first time Defense Secretary Austin and General Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs, had issued statements trying to reassure veterans and the troops and Americans that military service in Afghanistan in that 20-year war was actually worth it.

And, you know, nobody's exactly declaring victory here. They talked at length about the challenges, mental health challenges facing the troops. General Milley talked about pain and anger. So I asked him where his pain and anger came from.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I have walked the patrols and been blown up and shot at and everything else. My pain and anger comes from the same as the grieving families, the same as those soldiers that are on the ground. Last night I visited the wounded up in Walter Reed. This is tough stuff. War is hard. It's vicious, it's brutal, it's unforgiving. And, yes, we all have pain and anger. And when we see what has unfolded over the last 20 years and over the last 20 days, that creates pain and anger. And mine comes from 242 of my soldiers killed in action over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.


STARR: Both Milley and Austin, of course, longtime combat veterans of Afghanistan, and very much expressing their concern about the mental health of the veterans and troops who served. Both men very aware that many Afghans that worked with the U.S. troops were left behind.

TAPPER: Barbara, thanks so much.

Sam Kiley in Doha, Qatar, to you next. The Taliban, they're taking literally victory laps in Afghanistan. Tell us more.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is predominantly in Kandahar where in the last day we've seen massive parade, victory parades, frankly, at the home essentially of the evolution of the Taliban.

Kandahar is where it all began in the early 1990s. They launched their campaign and captured the country in 2001. And it's from there that they've seen to be celebrating what they are seeing as a victory with a parade of U.S.-built MRAP vehicles, those wheeled armored vehicles that have been captured from the Afghan national army. They even managed to get a black hawk helicopter into the air, all rubbing their noses of the Afghans and, indeed, the coalition veterans, of course, overwhelming majority of them, Americans, in what from the Taliban perspective is a victory.

But, Friday, Jake, they have to establish themselves as a government. And it's going to be a lot harder to establish themselves as a government in the context that they now face of an insurgency potentially from ISIS-K, continuing resistance against their rule, and a fractious warlord ethnically riven nation with not enough troops to police it.


So, they're going to be up against themselves. But they are allowing themselves a bit of a victory celebration at the moment, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sam Kiley, thank you so much.

Joining us now in studio, Craig Whitlock. He's an investigative reporter for "The Washington Post." He's author of the brand new book, "The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War."

The book builds off a 2019 investigative report that was tediously obtained through multiple freedom of information act requests and two federal lawsuits. Craig, thanks so much for joining us. Good to see you again. The war in Afghanistan has lasted longer than World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined.

Do you think in some ways the sheer length of the war destined it for failure?

CRAIG WHITLOCK, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, absolutely. If a war is dragging on for 20 years, by definition, it's not going very well, particularly if your side started it. So, I think this war hasn't been going well for a long time. In fact, U.S. presidents have been trying to end it for at least seven years. President Obama tried to end it before the end of his second term. President Trump tried to end it. Neither of them could do it. And if finally fell to President Biden.

TAPPER: One of the many fascinating and disturbing anecdotes in your book has to do with then Vice President Dick Cheney almost killed on purpose, assassinated by the Taliban, when he went to Bagram Air Base right outside Kabul. U.S. military officials really tried to cover it up. They claimed he was never in harm's way. And you and I have talked about this before, the Taliban told the truth about that incident and the U.S. military lied.

WHITLOCK: That's right. And at that time people took the military's word for it that Cheney wasn't a target. But in documents we obtained for the Afghanistan Papers, there was an oral history interview with an army officer who is in charge of security at Bagram Air Base, was in charge of protecting Cheney that day. He said the suicide bomber came within 30 minutes of killing Cheney before he was due to leave the base. And the only reason the suicide bomber missed is he saw the wrong armored SUV convoy coming out of the front. So they said this was a close call even though the U.S. military denied that Cheney could've been a target or that he was ever in danger.

TAPPER: I've relied on your book yesterday. I was talking to Obama and Bush's former war czar, for lack of a better term, Doug Lute, retired ambassador and retired general who is quoted in the Afghanistan papers through the lessons learned project that the special inspector general for Afghanistan did, talking about how for years and years the U.S. never had any idea what they were doing in Afghanistan. They didn't even understand Afghanistan. This is what he told me when I asked about it.


LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE, U.S. ARMY (RET): Our fundamental understanding of Afghanistan was often at the 101 college level. And we needed masters degrees.


TAPPER: And to be honest, 101 college level is a compliment compared to some of the evidence I've seen in my research about Afghanistan. I've seen intelligence reports that were based on Wikipedia.

Did the U.S. ever really understand Afghanistan?

WHITLOCK: I don't think so, Jake. And that's one reason why the war lasted as long as it did. You had troops, diplomats, aid workers, they would cycle in for six, 12 months at a time. Then the new guy would come in and they would have to learn from scratch again. Troops weren't trained in the local languages. After 20 years there was hardly anybody in the U.S. government who could speak Afghan languages. So, this was -- we were doomed to repeat the same rookie mistakes time and again.

TAPPER: The comparison to the Pentagon Papers is stark, the idea that your book compared to the Pentagon Papers. The Pentagon Papers were about how the U.S. government and military leaders knew they were losing the war in Vietnam, and yet they kept lying about it. That's the harsh term. Putting on a good face or spinning it positively or being optimistic is a more generous term.

Did you anticipate a similar reaction to your book as the harsh reaction that came out to the Pentagon Papers? They tried to stop the publication of it.

WHITLOCK: Well, the difference between the documents I obtained and the Pentagon Papers. The Pentagon Papers was a classified top-secret study that was leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the "New York Times," "Washington Post," and other newspapers. The documents we obtained were unclassified, but it took us three years to go to the courts to force the government to release them. But some of those same admissions are in there. There was one

interview with an Obama National Security Council official, someone who worked at the White House saying that throughout the duration of the war they manipulated all the metrics. He called them all the statistics and measurements that show how the war was going well or not.

He said they always manipulated them going up to the White House to make it look like things were going well. He said it was to, one, make the people in charge look good and, two, to make sure that popular support for the war didn't diminish.

So, yes, they were lying and they were manipulating public opinion.

TAPPER: Robert Gates, who was the secretary of defense under Bush and then under Obama said this in 2013, quote: The reality is that on 9/11, we didn't know jack shit about al Qaeda. Apologies for the language but I'm quoting a secretary of defense.

Did the intel improve more significantly after 9/11?

WHITLOCK: I think the intel did improve. But the problem was there was a disconnect between what the intelligence agencies were saying and what the military commanders were saying in public. The intelligence agencies were very pessimistic about how the war was going. They noted that the Taliban continued to gain strength, that the Afghan army was getting weaker, wasn't competent enough to defend their own country. But the intelligence officials who'd only appear in public maybe once or twice a year before Congress give these very brief statements.

In contrast, the generals, the presidents would stand up in public all the time and give a very different account, give a very positive account that things were always moving in the right direction. So, this was well known by the intelligence agencies. But they were sort of constrained by they don't talk in public very much.

TAPPER: When I asked a former commanding general about the idea that the Afghan military fell apart and was that evidence that generals had been lying to the public about how efficient the military had been, he pushed back on that, and his argument was, it wasn't that they didn't have the capability to fight towards the end, it was that they lacked the will.

And they lacked the will because, A, the U.S. was pulling out as established by the Trump administration in negotiations with the Taliban and reaffirmed by President Biden. And, B, it's also been explained to me that it's quite possible that a lot of military leaders in the Afghanistan army and a lot of Afghan politicians were cutting secret deals with the Taliban.

How do you respond to that, that it's more about the lack of will than the lack of ability?

WHITLOCK: Well, I think that's all true. There was a lack of will at the end. But part of that reason was there was an endemic corruption with the Afghan military leadership. They were pocketing the salaries of their own troops. They were stealing fuel. They were stealing ammunition.

So, if you're -- if you're a front line soldier with the Afghan army, why would you -- where is your will to fight if your commander is leaving you out to dry? But the thing is U.S. military officials have known this for more than a decade that there was not only a lack of will to fight but that they were poorly equipped, poorly trained. We see interview after interview with military trainers saying the Afghans couldn't shoot straight, they couldn't read, they couldn't count, they couldn't tell their colors.

This was an ongoing problem for over a decade. And yet the U.S. generals and public kept saying they were making progress and the Afghan forces were going to do the job.

TAPPER: And one other observation I might make is if you're a captain or major in Afghanistan, you don't get promoted, you don't get a ribbon for saying that train these soldiers. You get a ribbon for saying they're better than they were when I took over.

WHITLOCK: Well, not only, Jake, but in the documents we obtained, a lot of the trainers, the majors, the colonels were told if you don't certify that this Afghan unit is ready, is prepared to take over security for a province or a district, you are going to -- you have to sign whether you think so or not. It was almost an order that they had to certify that these troops were ready.

TAPPER: All right. Craig Whitlock, thank you so much. The book, again, "The Afghanistan Papers: The Secret History of the War". It is a must-read. It is depressing and sobering but very important for every American to know. Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.

Some far-right groups in the U.S. are cheering on the Taliban and saying that the Taliban are a model. The frightening nexus of wharped ideas. That's next.

And plotting danger from the Carolinas to New York as the misery only deepens for those along the Gulf Coast. Stay with us.


TAPPER: The political ramifications from the Afghanistan withdrawal are only beginning, even at the White House, which is hoping to transition back to a focus on President Biden's domestic agenda.

Joining us now is Evan Osnos. He's a Biden biographer. He's author of the forthcoming book "Wildland: The Making of America's Fury."

He's also a staff writer for the esteemed "New Yorker" magazine.

Evan, we'll have you back to talk about your new book, but I do want to pick your brain again on President Biden since you are his most imminent biographer. Were you surprised yesterday when President Biden gave his speech and called the evacuation an extraordinary success? EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I wasn't surprised by the thrust

of the speech. Look, I think that language particularly was over the top for some people. There were a lot of people who will say we shouldn't look at the last 18 days and describe it as an extraordinary success.

What came through for me, though, Jake, was how much this really was the accumulated moment of frustration for him to express something that has been on his mind for a long time, which has less to do of Afghanistan than it really has to do for entire American thinking, endless military deployments. And that in some ways may turn out to be the moment on the calendar that we remember when we look back on this, which is the moment when he essentially stood up and said no, no, I am going to examine and question this basic assumption that it holds a national security and foreign policy circles that we can undertake wars like this.

TAPPER: You and I both know this from reporting on then senator, then President, now president Biden. He's been a skeptic of this war for at least a decade. Dan Balz wrote in "The Washington Post" last night that this was in some ways a speech Biden had been rehearsing for years.

OSNOS: Yeah. You know, interestingly, Jake, he had sort of been giving that speech in private to President Biden going back to 2009 when he would be saying to him this is a mistake, we shouldn't be doing this. We shouldn't allow ourselves to escalate without a clear sense of the goal.

You also heard him say a version of this when we were talking about, for instance, the strike on Libya. He was skeptical of that operation at the time. He said I don't know where this goes, I don't know where it leads us.


And ultimately he finds himself in the position of bringing this to an end.

And what he was sort of saying was putting himself in opposition to the unexamined assumption that it is okay to have a war that goes on longer than the age of the people who are fighting it. All of us looked at these young men and women, the service member who's died last week. These were people who weren't even born in some cases when this war began. That is not a stable state trait. Not how we've done it throughout our history, and Biden is trying to say, we need to get back to something more recognizable.

TAPPER: So, look, Americans left behind, Afghan allies left behind, horrific terrorist attack that's obviously the fault of ISIS-K, but still it happened under President Biden's watch. Do you think that President Biden secretly acknowledges or believes that this could have gone better? Or do you think he feels like in his heart I hate this war and withdrawing was always going to be ugly and we needed to get out? OSNOS: You know, I think he is -- he's got some pretty fine tuned

political instincts. Meaning, look, he knows this was very ugly. He has to recognize there is, you know, the fact is he made a promise to bring home every American before the final flights went out. They didn't achieve that goal. He's proud of what they did accomplish.

But there are Afghan allies, by some estimates 200,000 of them who helped the United States who are still not there. But fundamentally, this is -- if you were going to make a list, Jake, of the things he cares about why he ran for president, why he believes this matters, getting out of Afghanistan and trying to change this culture of how we think about deploying precious American lives and assets, that is really something he believes is at the top of the list.

So, he will, I think, take what he knows is the political damage right now. And it's real not only from Republicans but also from Democratic critics because he believes in the long run this makes the United States stronger. And I think that's -- that's the long-run calculation here.

TAPPER: President Biden, as opposed to the two previous presidents, or three previous presidents really who had remarkably strong egos. Biden has a strong ego but he also has a degree of humility.

Do you think that -- I'm inclined to think that he thinks he did something that was tougher than just kind of, like, managing a stalemate the way that both President Trump and President Obama did. I think that he probably thinks, you know what, what I did was the tough call.

OSNOS: Yeah, I think in his heart of hearts he believes that he was up against significant political pressure. It would've been convenient for him to do things like say we're going to extend the deadline. To his mind, he was doing something that was, and people will disagree with this, but we're saying what is in his mind was the courageous thing to do.

And, look, the reality is he has watched for years as America. As he said yesterday in his speech America has spent about $300 million a day on the war in Afghanistan. It reminded me, Jake, of comments by somebody in West Virginia a few years ago, in Afghan and Iraq War vet, saying, why is it we're spending all these millions of dollars overseas and we're not spending the money here at home, where the people who built this country and where the people who defend it? After all, they do tend to give more than their share to military commitments?

So there is a feeling as if he wants to say now let's swift the focus. I know we didn't agree on how the pullout went. But let's invest in ourselves. That's what the moment calls for and that is ultimately what is going to put this country on a better footing. That's how he would put it.

BLITZER: Evan Osnos, always a pleasure to have you on to try to understand the mind of the current president. Appreciate it. In his new book -- it comes out later this month. We'll have him back to talk about that.

Turning to a worrying development, a new CNN reporting shows that white supremacist groups are lauding and celebrating the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan. Some groups going as far as to suggest that the Taliban should be seen as a model for executing a civil war here in the United States.

CNN's Evan Perez joins us now.

Evan, U.S. officials are legitimately worried about domestic violent extremism from these groups that are praising the Taliban?


Look, I mean, it's worrying enough that John Cohen who's a senior official over at the Homeland Security Department had a call with law enforcement, state and local law enforcement, Geneva Sands obtained details on that call. And on that, he described some of the concerns that they're seeing in some of the messaging that you hear from white supremacist groups that are celebrating what the Taliban have done.

Cite one of the things, for instance, that monitors some of these extremist on telegram and other forums, and I'll cite you just one of the things they found on a Proud Boys Telegram channel, for instance. There's discussion about if white men in the west had the same courage as the Taliban, we would not be ruled by Jews currently. Again, these are the type of anti-Semitic, anti-government sentiments that we know these groups thrive on.


And they look at what the Taliban were able to do with 80,000 or so men fighting against a much larger, much better equipped Western military and thinking that they could do the same thing in the United States against the U.S. government, Jake.

TAPPER: It's hideous. Evan Perez, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

He has no food, he has no clean water, he has no roof. The plea from one victim of hurricane Ida. When will more help be on the way to him?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead today: What's left of Hurricane Ida is now to blame for a death in the Northeastern United States.

Police say a 19-year-old man was killed after this, floodwaters rushing an apartment complex overnight in Rockville, Maryland, right outside Washington, D.C. And much more rain and possibly even tornadoes are in the forecast from Virginia up through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, while, down in the Gulf Coast, power is still out for nearly one million American households. Gas is becoming more scarce as lines get longer for food and water. Today, the White House announced that President Biden will toward damage in Louisiana on Friday.

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

And, Brian, the hunt for people trying to find critical resources is getting worse by the day.


Just three days now out from the storm, people still just desperate for the basics. Take a look at this long line for gas. This is a long line among motorists waiting for gas here at a station in Metairie, Louisiana, but then swing it around here.

Mark Biello, our photojournalist going to show you. Look at this long line among people on foot waiting for gas just to fill up their tanks of. A $30 maximum, they're being limited to here. And in another neighborhood we went to near here, people are desperate just for someone to come and check on.


TODD (voice-over): Days after Hurricane Ida made landfall, conditions now dire for those left in its aftermath.

We went through a neighborhood in Kenner, Louisiana, where roofs were completely torn off houses.


TODD: Patricia Carter's house in that neighborhood has been without power since the storm. Her food is rotting and she's worried about running out of water.

Carter is 72 years old. She says she has high blood pressure, arthritis and migraines. But she's also worried about elderly neighbors and wants to know when the cavalry is coming nuts.

CARTER: Nothing whatsoever. You don't even see a FEMA truck come down. And me and (INAUDIBLE) we thought you all was FEMA, because some kind of assistance his should be out. I mean, what we had to do, get 10 feet of water to get help?

LYNDELL ALFORD, LOUISIANA RESIDENT: Katrina was bad. But this is worse, way worse than Katrina

TODD: Residents quickly running out of food and water.

ALFORD: We already ran out of food. We have a little water.

TODD (on camera): Are you worried about where you're going to get it?

ALFORD: Yes, we are. We really -- don't really know where we're going to get it at. TODD (voice-over): Across Louisiana, nearly one million people are still without power. The heat index continues to top 100 degrees in parts of Louisiana, with no relief for many, parts of the state bracing for weeks without power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our first priority as city government is getting the power restored.

TODD: Only a few lights spotted in New Orleans with power restored for a small number of residents in parts of the city today. Louisiana utility company Entergy telling customers full restoration will still take time, given the significant damage across the region.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You lost eight transmission lines that power the entire city. We are keeping the pressure on so the energy goes up.

TODD: Basic necessities scarce, half of the gas stations in New Orleans and Baton Rouge nearly out of fuel desperately needed to keep generators running. Officials in hard-hit Plaquemines Parish enacting a complete lockdown of the area today, after losing water service due to a failed generator. Only those involved in recovery efforts are allowed in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never seen it look like this. It's decimated.

TODD: The destruction in Grand Isle, Louisiana, widespread, some houses reduced to piles on stilts. One official says nearly half of all homes have been destroyed, estimating it will take up to five years to restore the town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people have lost their homes talking about they don't know whether they will be able to go back or not because they don't have the money to go back, can't afford to go back.


TODD: And this is all compounded by the COVID crisis, which remains acute in Louisiana and shows no signs of letting up.

While only two people have been confirmed dead from the storm, the governor just said over the past four days over 220 people in Louisiana have died from COVID-19 -- Jake.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Brian Todd, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Troy Carter, who represents much of the greater New Orleans area in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

President Biden is going to visit your region Friday. You have been out touring damage all week. Describe what you're seeing and what you're most worried about. REP. TROY CARTER (D-LA): Well, we had the opportunity on yesterday to

travel the state via helicopter with the Coast Guard, witnessing much of the horrendous sights of homes that have been demolished, homes that -- neighborhoods that are underwater, trees that look like they were snapped like pencils.

The devastation is dire and it's deep. We're very happy that the president will be joining us on Friday to see firsthand the conditions, which demonstrates his commitment to rebuilding and, quite frankly, building back better.


TAPPER: I am sure you have heard this yourself firsthand, but I want to share with our viewers people in food and water lines tell us that they are running out of options for these critical resources.

Take a listen.


QUESTION: What is the water situation? Are you getting water at all?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. No. No water, no power.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, there's no more food. The water is tasting kind of funny. I don't know what's going on with the water. But my roof is caved. My furniture is all messed up.


TAPPER: No water, no power, no food. In Baton Rouge, only half of gas stations have fuel if they're open at all.

How long can the people of your district survive like this?

CARTER: Listen, it's dire. And it's very difficult to survive this way.

We know that the power that's out, nearly a million people without power. And the month of August, it's sweltering. It's very difficult to survive inside a home or anywhere with the heat being as much as it is in the month of August.

But we have Red Cross on the ground. We have got National Guard on the ground. And we have got individuals going into the neighborhoods with search-and-rescue missions. We have got food, water, ice on the way. We've got generators coming.

It's one of those things that it's never fast enough. And it needs to be faster. We recognize that. We know that people are really hurting. And as fast as we can get out, we need to even be faster. We're very, very, very understanding of the issues and are very aware of it.

We have got people on the ground in all of the parishes. I represent 10 parishes in Louisiana. All of our local, state and federal partners are engaged. I'm at the EOC right now in St. Charles Parish, where we're meeting with all the officials, working on execution of getting resources out to the people.

TAPPER: Are you satisfied with the degree of urgency that Entergy, the main utility company in your district, is bringing to this crisis?

And they say they have restored power for about 11,000 customers. But some customers have been told to prepare to go as long as a month without electricity.

CARTER: Jake, when you have a storm the magnitude of Ida, and you look at the level of damage that was caused, it's never fast enough for the person that's at home in heat, and we understand that.

But the power companies have literally 25,000 line men from all over the country working around the clock. Obviously, we'd like it to be faster, but we understand that they're working under extreme conditions; 25,000 line men throughout the state of Louisiana working 24/7 is something that that's horrendous.

We know how big it is. We know how necessary it is to get power back on. But we wish it were faster. But I think they're working within strict confines. And there's a lot of boots on the ground.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Troy Carter of Louisiana, thank you.

Please stay in touch with us. Let us know if you need us to bring attention to anything, to light a fire under the federal government. Sometimes, it works that way.

CARTER: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: As unvaccinated Americans cram hospitals across the South, oxygen to treat these patients is running critically low.

That story next.



TAPPER: In our health lead now: There is growing alarm about a potential oxygen shortage in hard-hit Southern hospitals, where intensive care units are packed with COVID patients.

As CNN's Athena Jones reports for us now, this comes amid worries about the virus spreading in schools and during the Labor Day travel rush.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This Labor Day weekend, the message from federal health officials is clear.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: First and foremost, if you are unvaccinated, we would recommend not traveling. JONES: And given the surge and COVID-19 infections, with the U.S. now averaging more than 160,000 new cases a day, the CDC says even those who are vaccinated should take precautions.

U.S. air travel hitting a 15-week low Tuesday, according to the TSA, travel experts citing COVID concerns. With more than 101,000 people hospitalized nationwide, the Biden administration now closely monitoring oxygen supplies, hospitalizations in Georgia up tenfold since the beginning of July.

Idaho's governor warning, his state has only a handful of intensive care unit beds left.

GOV. BRAD LITTLE (R-ID): Our hospitals have converted other spaces to be used as contingency ICU beds. Those are filling up too.

JONES: The toll on the nation already steep and rising, average daily COVID deaths now topping 1, 300, more than doubling since mid-August.

And there are growing concerns about rising cases among children, who are already being hospitalized with COVID at the highest rate in more than a year, according to CDC data.

DR. NANCY TOFIL, CHILDREN'S OF ALABAMA: Most either unvaccinated or under the age of 12 and unable to get vaccinated. The numbers have been three or four times what we were seeing last winter at its peak.

JONES: School districts in two counties in Northern Florida shutting down for several days, either due to a spike in COVID cases or quarantine-related staffing shortages, or both. Neither district mandates masks.

Governor Ron DeSantis has banned school mask mandates in the Sunshine State. Still, Volusia County School Board, over fiery objections, voting late Tuesday to join a dozen other counties in implementing mask mandates, meaning they could lose state funding.

NIKKI FRIED (D), FLORIDA COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE: This governor time and time again has shown a complete depraved indifference for human life, especially for our children.


We are seeing cases the largest section of cases in our state last week were those under 12 years old.

JONES (voice-over): Meanwhile in Vermont, 75 percent of eligible children have received at least one dose of vaccine. The first state to reach that threshold.

The state has the highest overall vaccination rate in the country, and, as a result, the lowest COVID hospitalization rate.


JONES (on camera): And there is good news when it comes to vaccinations. About 14 million people got their first COVID-19 vaccine dose in August. Nearly 4 million more than in July -- Jake.

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

Tens of thousands evacuated, hundreds of homes swallowed up. We're live on the ground with the growing fire near Lake Tahoe. That's next.



TAPPER: In our "Earth Matters" series today, a worst-case weather scenario is not helping firefighters in California right now. The winds kicked up around the Caldor Fire. On top of that, the air is dry allowing those flames to spread even more quickly. Both conditions are a result of climate change, fueling what is now California's 17th largest fire on record.

CNN's Dan Simon is along the deserted main drag in South Lake Tahoe.

And, Dan, have firefighters been able to at least keep the flames at bay up against these strong winds?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Jake, the fire is getting dangerously close to the South Lake Tahoe community. It's just about a couple of miles away. And at this point, crews have been able to keep those flames in check.

And at certain times, they're actually getting assistance from some of the local ski resorts that have set up their snow-making machines. But at the end of the day, there's only so much that can be done. You cannot control the wind.

Now, one piece of good news, the winds last night were not nearly as bad as predicted or feared. The bad news, strong winds this evening. I spoke to a fire official just a short time ago about the current threat assessment.

Take a look.


DAVE LAUCHNER, CALFIRE PIO: You don't want to assume you're completely out of the woods yet. There's still a lot of fire fight ahead of us. There's a lot of things this fire can still do. This fire's been going for almost three weeks now. Firefighters are getting tired, they're getting drained. They're busy at their home departments and then they're coming out here on top of this. They're definitely getting fatigued.


SIMON: And you just feel for all those firefighters, many of whom are working 24-hour shifts. You can see that things remain very smoky. It's also deserted. Most of the people who live in those communities did heed those evacuation orders. Of course, it's having a devastating impact on tourism, just another ripple effect with climate change. The Caldor Fire has been and remains the number one fire-fighting priority in the nation -- Jake.

TAPPER: OK. Dan Simon, stay safe. Thank you so much.

She once led a now famous 11-hour filibuster against abortion restrictions. Wendy Davis is here to react to the new abortion law in Texas, almost a complete ban.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, no power and no escape. The extreme danger as temperatures soar and gas stations tap out after Hurricane Ida slams the Gulf Coast.

And after the exit from Afghanistan, the Biden administration pledges to fight any terrorist threats there from over the horizon. Is terrorist chatter picking up? I'll ask Republican senator and veteran, Joni Ernst.

And leading this hour, a controversial six-week abortion ban in Texas is now in effect after the U.S. Supreme Court failed to rule on emergency requests to halt the law. This law blocks women and girls in Texas from getting access to a safe abortion before many even know that they're pregnant. Even in cases of rape and incest. This law of course is not just about Texas, given that other states are seeking to impose similar restrictions and bans.

A 2017 analysis from the Guttmacher Institute which supports abortion rights finds that nearly one in four women in the U.S. will have an abortion by age 45.

And now, as CNN's Jessica Schneider reports, President Biden is condemning the new law and calling it extreme and he call it's a blatant violation of the constitutional rights under Roe versus Wade.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time since the early 1970s, a law banning abortion at six weeks has gone into effect. At the stroke of midnight the Texas SB-8 became law. It prohibits abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat is detected. And there is no exception for rape or incest, only for medical emergencies.

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, PLANNED PARENTHOOD FEDERATION OF AMERICA: Most people don't know that they are actually pregnant by six weeks, 85 percent of abortion happens in Texas after six weeks. So, there could be people waking up today or this week finding out that they are pregnant and not having a full range of options to make the best decision for themselves or their families. SCHNEIDER: In a twist intended to make it harder to challenge the new

law, the Texas bill does not impose criminal penalties. Instead, it authorizes private citizens anywhere in the country to bring lawsuits against anyone who assists a pregnant woman seeking an abortion and provides for penalties of $10,000 or more. That is fueling concern that lawsuits could be filed against not only medical professionals but also family members or even Uber drivers who take women to abortion appointments.

Anti-abortion activists are already preparing to sue anyone who violates the six-week ban.

JOHN SEAGO, LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR, TEXAS RIGHT TO LIFE: We are collecting information. We are open to, you know, any informants. We've been working with a network of pro-life attorneys and pro-life activists around the state. And so, if necessary, we will bring these suits against the abortion industry if they decide not to comply with the law. And that's what we're closely monitoring.