Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Soon: Biden Delivers Critical Speech on COVID Amid Delta Surge; First Flight Leaves Kabul Airport After Taliban Cleared Americans & Others to Leave the Country; CNN Finds New Campaign of Torture, Detention & Execution in Tigray; Justice Department Sues Texas Over Restrictive Abortion Law; Third Whistleblower Alleges Migrant Children Mistreated At Fort Bliss Facility. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Biden tries to give his pandemic plan a booster shot.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news. New details on president's plans to fight the pandemic, including new vaccine mandates, new steps for schools and new requirements for many American companies as President Biden continues to fail to stop the new surge.

Then, CNN is back live inside Afghanistan as the first commercial flight leaves since the U.S. pulled out. Were any Americans on board this flight? How many Americans remain stranded there?

Plus, breaking today. The new challenge to the strict abortion law in Texas. How the Biden administration says they are going to try to stop it, but do they have a case?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today in our health lead. In the next hour, President Biden will lay out his six-point plan to try to get the coronavirus pandemic under control. This is nine weeks after Biden declared independence from the virus. That was, of course, a premature declaration with deaths back up to roughly 1,500 a day in the United States and hospitalizations also rising and above 100,000.

Sources telling CNN that Biden's plan will include an executive order requiring all federal workers to be vaccinated and the Department of Labor will require all private businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure all their workers are either vaccinated or tested for the virus at least once a week. The big question, of course, is how will the Biden administration enforce this, and will these policies have any effect on the tens of millions of Americans who just refuse to get vaccinated?

Meantime, Dr. Anthony Fauci has set a goal line for the COVID end game. He says the U.S. will need to get below 10,000 daily cases a day before Americans can, quote, feel comfortable. Right now, the daily new case number is 15 times that, 150,000 new cases a day.

We have teams covering this from every angle. We're going to start with CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

And, Jeff, what are we told is in the Biden's latest plan?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we are learning some new details from the plan and President Biden is going to go beyond anything he's done to date. Yes, he's going to require all federal workers here at the White House, federal agencies, the military and government contractors to have the vaccine, but he's also going to take a step that he's not yet done during this pandemic, and that is create a rule with the Department of Labor, an OSHA rule, if you will. That's, of course, a safety rule to require any business in America with 100 or more employees to require those employees to either get vaccinated or submit negative tests once a week.

So this is going beyond the federal workforce. The first time really the government stepping into trying to not only encourage private businesses but directing them to do so. This is also going to be a series of other means including 17 million home health care workers. Any facility that gets Medicaid or Medicare funding, the workers now from home health care workers to dialysis aides to hospital workers, they also will be required to get the vaccination.

Head Start teachers as well. Of course, they receive federal funding. So some 300,000 Head Start teachers as well.

Jake, this is a specific planned program that the president will outline in the next hour. It's also going to allow the TSA to double the fines for people not wearing masks. So, a variety of small and large rules from the White House. Definitely the biggest steps this administration has yet made, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks so much.

Biden's speech comes as the U.S. is averaging more than 150,000 new COVID cases every day. As CNN's Nick Watt reports, that is nowhere near where Dr. Fauci says we need to be to put this pandemic to bed.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Today, the Los Angeles school board we're told will mandate COVID-19 vaccination for practically all students 12 and up.

TANYA ORTIZ FRANKLIN, MEMBER, LAUSD BOARD OF EDUCATION: Cases are on the rise and children are at risk from the delta variant in ways we didn't see last semester, and our responsibility to children and our communities is their safety and well-being.

WATT: Under 12s, of course, not eligible, so masks? Well, there's an update in the Florida saga. The governor banned mask mandates. Another judge just overruled him. The governor just appealed.

And what happened to the school board meeting in Tennessee Tuesday? GRADY KNOX, STUDENT: My grandmother who was a former teacher at the

Rutherford County School System died of COVID because someone wasn't wearing a mask. This is a very --

WATT: Smirking, jeering.

KNOX: This is a very --



KNOX: I just hope that they see that I -- they have given me this chance now to speak in front of the entire nation and tell about how I believe masks are something that is really essential for schools to stay open.

WATT: President Joe Biden will at 5:00 p.m. lay out his essentials for the next phase of pandemic response. Is there a benchmark for success?

Well, Dr. Anthony Fauci has long touted a daily case count goal.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESDENT JOE BIDEN: I would say less than 10,000 and maybe even considerably less than that.

WATT: On average, more than 150,000 new cases are being reported in the United States every day.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: The delta variant is beating us right now. COVID-19 is beating us

WATT: Vaccination rates, average daily first doses dipping conspiracy- fueled hesitancy, still an issue, and in West Virginia, record numbers are now in the ICU.

GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R), WEST VIRGINIA: For God's sake of living, how difficult is this to understand? Why in the world do we have to come up with these crazy ideas, and they are crazy ideas, that the vaccines got something in it and it's tracing people wherever they go, and the same very people that are saying that are carrying their cell phones around. I mean, come on. Come on.

WATT: Tonight, just hours after the president speaks, the NFL season kicks off in Tampa. Packed stands, masks encouraged but not required.


WATT (on camera): Now on the flip side, American Express was planning to each its offices here in the U.S. middle of next month. That has now been delayed late January at the earliest and Microsoft also planning to open offices next month. They have delayed that plan indefinitely. Why? The delta variant and the rampant spread it is causing -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Watt, thank you so much.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, joins us now.

Sanjay, as I recall in July when the Biden administration announced that all military personnel and everyone he worked with at the V.A. would be required to get a vaccine, you and I discussed how they should just require them for every federal employee. What other steps do you think Biden is going to be announcing a month down the road that you would recommend that he take right now?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, right. That's a good point. Why wait for some of these things.

I think that, you know, from Nick and Jeff, you get a little bit of a preview of things that I think are important to announce now. You know, the businesses of 100 employees or more, that could make a big difference in terms of getting those folks vaccinated, but they do have this sort of pop-off valve where they say get vaccinated or get tested weekly.

I mean, look, those are two different things. They are both important, but the difference is one is preventing the infection and the other is diagnosing the infection. By the time you diagnose it, you could have spread it to other people, so if you're serious about controlling the pandemic, I think the pop-off valves like this I think are to sort of maybe ease these sort of transition of what needs to be done, but ultimately, we've got to get significant amounts of immunity into the population, and we're still not getting there.

I think the health care workers thing is huge. It's baffled me, Jake, since the beginning that 70 percent roughly of health care workers are vaccinated, you know. About a third or a little less than a third are not, and -- and there's -- that changed in long-term care facilities.

That was important because those are some of the most vulnerable patients in people. That same sort of thing will influence all institutions that take Medicare and Medicaid funding, educators who are depending on Head Start funding. Basically they are saying anywhere where there's federal government dollars dependant, they are going to mandate vaccines mostly but at least in the case of the workers allow the pop-off valve of testing which they should probably just mandate the vaccine there as well.

TAPPER: And let's talk about the Department of Labor, this new rule requiring vaccines or the testing for all businesses with is 100 employees or more. Do you think this will make a significant difference, especially with this, you know, off-ramp, this testing off-ramp so that doesn't require everybody to be vaccinated?

GUPTA: I don't know, Jake. That's the issue a little bit. If you're looking at population of people, a quarter of eligible adults not vaccinated, let's say there's 20 percent, a little less than that, who basically are saying, look, I'm not going to get vaccinated no matter what. The off ramp, the pop-off valve of getting tested every week will be likely what they gravitate towards.

And again, that just perpetuates the pandemic. I mean, it's good. We're going to get a lot of people vaccinated through some of the programs that will be announced here in an hour, but for the -- you know, whatever number of people we're talking about here, tens of millions of people still who are eligible but not getting vaccinated.


If they have other options, they are probably going to exercise those other options, and keep in mind, Jake, this is such a contagious virus that everyone is going to at some point encounter this virus.

That's just -- that's how contagious it is and we're talking about tens of millions of people still vulnerable. If you've got tens of millions of people still vulnerable, even a small percentage of them requiring hospitalizations keeps these hospital situations that we're talking about in a tough situation for some time to come.

TAPPER: Yeah. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you. Stick with us, because we're going to bring you back when President Biden comes out to speak and talk about his new policies.

GUPTA: Okay.

TAPPER: To fight the pandemic.

Now, as the first commercial flight leaves Kabul since the U.S. pulled out, CNN was able to get into Afghanistan. Nic Robertson, he's live in Kabul to tell us how he got there and what's going on.

And the strictest abortion law in the country designed to zigzag around court challenges, breaking today, the Biden Justice Department now plans to fight it. We'll tell you how.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our world lead.

For the first time since the U.S. left Afghanistan leaving the country to the Taliban control, a commercial flight took off from Kabul airport today. A source telling CNN there were 113 people on board, including Americans, Canadians, Ukrainians, Germans and Brits, and they landed in Qatar this afternoon.

CNN's Nic Robertson was able to get into Kabul. He joins us live from Afghanistan now.

And, Nic, these people were specially cleared by the Taliban to leave?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah. What's really interesting about what we've seen today, Jake, is that Qatari officials have actually praised the Taliban for doing this. It seems like they're trying to encourage them. I think in everything that the Taliban is doing has been slow. It's wrong-footing the international community. It's not going down well and I think the Qataris are really keen to burnish whatever bit of the Taliban image that they can do to make them look a little better.

So, yes, this is expected to be the first of more of these types of flights, of course. The key question will the Taliban let those Afghans go who worked for the United States and other countries even if not all their paperwork is squared away yet? Will they let them get on the flights? I think that's what a lot of countries are looking at right now, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Nic, tell us about getting into Kabul. How difficult was it?

ROBERTSON: It's a long drive, I've got to say that. It wasn't problem- free. I mean, that's the best way to frame it. You know, the Taliban are real tight on security, so when you go through their -- when you go through their towns, you kind of try to blend in so you don't hit a tripwire for the checkpoints but at least in one place they saw us and they stopped us. They didn't realize that we had permission to be traveling, you know, from Taliban officials, so running that down kind of got fraught. There were some, let me put it this way, there were some pretty nail-biting moments where, you know, the Taliban were -- we weren't in our vehicles. We were in Taliban vehicles, and that for a little while in one of those scenarios get a little bit nail-biting.

So the Taliban I would say have pretty tight security across the country. You're not going to be able to move around without them stopping you, whether you're us, international journalists or ISIS or any of those other groups, I would say. They are really watching out for their enemies. I'm not saying we fall into that category, but they don't want us wandering around without their say so.

TAPPER: All right. Nic Robertson in Kabul, stay of safe.

Joining us now is Alex Plitsas. He's an army veteran. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and he's been one of the members of Digital Dunkirk, helping to coordinate evacuations out of Kabul.

Alex, thanks so much for being here.

Full transparency for your viewers. I've tried to help your mission in various ways, including giving some names and passport numbers to you.

I want to start with your reaction to this news today that the Taliban allowing this flight from Kabul to Qatar. Does this give you hope that more evacuations might be allowed?

ALEX PLITSAS, U.S. ARMY COMBAT VETERAN, IRAQ WAR: I do. Actually I think it's wonderful. It seems to be a positive, you know, progressive step towards getting the rest of the folks out. There's really only one way out which is by air and the fact that civilians are starting to get out, the Taliban appear to be holding to their word and I think through some coordination and the Qataris and the State Department. So, it's very encouraging.

TAPPER: Speaking of coordination, the Biden administration it seems like they are coordinating even more with private individuals like yourself, part of this Digital Dunkirk. Have you talked to any members of the Biden administration? Have you

been providing all the information you have about people who need to be evacuated to the Biden administration to expedite that?

PLITSAS: Sure. I'm part of a group of folks. I did speak to the national security adviser a little earlier today.

TAPPER: Jake Sullivan.

PLITSAS: Yeah, Jake Sullivan, about 20 minutes. He was incredible. Very gracious, listening and was able to hook us up with the folks we needed to to pass information and other teammates, Joy and then Rob and Safia are busy working to make sure people are safe.

And so, between the four of us, we've been in touch with State, Department of Defense and now the White House.

TAPPER: And I don't want to obviously disclose any information that could put anybody in jeopardy, but when you're still trying to help people, who are we talking about and what kind of numbers are we talking about, American citizens, American legal permanent residents, Afghan allies who are applicants to the special immigrant visa program, what are we talking about?

PLITSAS: So, yes, across the board to all of them. There are a pretty significant number of Americans that are still left.

I think the State Department is really at the mercy of people registering to let them know they are in country so we encourage everybody if you're listening, if you're in contact with an American or someone else in Afghanistan to please register with the U.S. State Department. They are the official U.S. government representative. And we -- we have been working with them and they've been absolutely fantastic.


TAPPER: And we're talking hundreds, thousands, how many people?

PLITSAS: Hundreds into thousands I would say all together when you take the categories together. When you put it all together it's in the thousands.

TAPPER: What if you remove Afghans from it? If it's just American citizens, and legal permanent residents, what kind of number are we talking about?

PLITSAS: Between the different groups and states trying to deconflict, to make sure, I think we're probably around 500, north of there to 1,000.

TAPPER: Five hundred to a 1,000?


TAPPER: I know there's a lot of groups doing what you're doing, and it's incredible work, admirable work. I want you to listen to what Secretary of State Antony Blinken said about these charter flights that individuals are trying to arrange to get people out.



ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: While there are limit to what we can do without personnel on the ground, without an airport, with normal security procedures in place, we are working to do everything in our power to support those flights and to get them off the ground. That's what we've done. That's what we will continue to do.


TAPPER: What is the process like right now in terms of trying to get people out?

PLITSAS: So, it's extremely difficult. So, I think it's very public now. There were six planes in Mazar-i-Sharif that were manifested by NGOs who were paying for them and at one point after the evacuation operation was complete the State Department even put on their website people, you know, need to find alternate means to try to get out while they were still working through the process, and so it seemed to be a bit of bureaucratic kind of back and forth, believe it or not.

And the Taliban's new. They are still getting their foot set as a new government there. There is an official recognition and then the airports basically were no longer functional once we left -- once all the controllers, air traffic controllers left. So the Qataris and the Turks have come in and provided technical assistance in Kabul and then it becomes a question of clearing the manifest. The airline has to get clearance for people to fly out. Third countries have to clear airspace, some has to agree to receive them.

And so, you got multiple foreign governments involved, the U.S. State Department and the Taliban kind of working together and with a nascent government that's popping up as we speak.

TAPPER: Right. People who have no experience governing at all.

PLITSAS: That's what I'll say.

TAPPER: Last, Alex, you're not getting paid for this.


TAPPER: Why are you doing this?

PLITSAS: You know, I think there's a broader coalition and we all kind of ascribe to the same philosophy from our time in government service in one capacity or another, and that's we don't leave people behind. And, you know, the evacuation operation was done. President Biden issued a lawful order and, you know, we support it had through 8/31 and at the end of it, they acknowledged there's still people left. And so, to the extent that you can help during wartime just like people did to hide folks in attics like my grandmother, I feel like we have a moral obligation to help and we put everything on hold to take care of those folks.

TAPPER: And how did you get involved. Who -- what was the phone call that got you involved?

PLITSAS: Actually, kind of bizarre, an interpreter who confused me for his Special Forces attachment commander. Wasn't an officer, wasn't a Green Beret, but we had the same first name, similar last name, and we looked alike. Connected, got the paperwork straight, was able to get him to Kandahar to Kabul and get his family and get them out, he is now in Texas and is able to speak about it.

And then a CIA officer and a friend from college, Perry Bladstein (ph), had reached out and said, hey, I'm working with Digital Dunkirk and would you be interested in joining and when I got in, connected with a group of folks who had the ability to provide sensitive logistics and then it became an operation to support the State Department.

And they were telling Americans or anybody rather for that matter, citizens, LPRs, whatever you happen to be, you need to be at this place at this time with this paperwork. And so, naturally, chaos in a war zone, how do you fill out paperwork, how do you navigate to these gates, where are these places, what do you do? And so, that's what we were helping with.

And just to support the official operation. Nobody was trying to do any crazy cowboy operations. We were supporting the U.S. government. We were happy to do it.

TAPPER: You were trying to rescue people.

Alex Plitsas, thanks so much. Best of luck to you. I'm sure we'll be talking and thank you for your service as always. Really appreciate it.

PLITSAS: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Be sure to join me this Sunday for a CNN special report. "America's Longest War: What Went Wrong in Afghanistan?" I sat down with most of America's commanding generals in Afghanistan who oversaw the 20-year war to talk about the errors and the mistakes and the successes and the failures. That's this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, new evidence of genocide being committed right now. An important story you will only see on CNN. That's next.

Stay with us.


[16:28:43] TAPPER: In our world lead now, a CNN investigation has uncovered evidence of torture, mass detention and execution in Ethiopia's Tigray region. It's a story we've been covering for months here on THE LEAD. Tigray is a region in northern Ethiopia. It's been rocked by conflict for almost a year. Ethiopian government troops and their allies have been clashing with local fighters. The Ethiopian government says its operation in Tigray is a law enforcement campaign.

But the reality on the ground is frankly quite different. But now, bodies are turning up again, carried down the river that flows through the Ethiopian town of Humera, and into the neighboring country of Sudan.

For much of the conflict the United States, United Nations and the international community have failed to hold high-level Ethiopian officials to account for their role and atrocities committed in Tigray, and now, CNN's findings point a renewed campaign of ethnic cleansing, one which bears all the hallmarks of genocide as defined by international law.

We must warn you that Nima Elbagir's investigation which we're about to bring you right now contains graphic and disturbing imagery.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the River, a source of life for the people living along its banks. For weeks, the river has been bringing with it dark secrets from the Ethiopian region of Tigray. Mangled corpses are mysteriously appearing here downstream in Sudan.


We just got a call that three bodies were found down at the riverfront, so we're running down to see what we see.

Gerbretnsae (ph) is down ahead of us. He's Tigrean but has been living here for years. He's a key point of contact for Tigrayans driven to Sudan by the conflict.

Fishermen usually spot them first and call Gerri. On both sides, and Tigrayans keep a close at all of those believed to be executed by Ethiopian forces found in the river.

This is an awful job but one Tigrayan say is their duty. We reach the first body on this small island. We must warn you the images you're about to see are very disturbing.

From the binds still biting into his skin, it's clear this man suffered a tortured death. This Tigrayan has been helping to recover the dead. He holds up the body but the image is too gruesome to show you, his eyes betray the horror in front of them.

They pull the body out and the stench was immediate. It clearly had been decomposing along the river for a number of days and he was tied back with a plastic wire clearly restrained and part of the skull was collapsed in. Just a horrible, horrible sight.

They move to pick up somebody else. Gerri make notes of their bodies and the markings. He's trying to piece together this mystery for his people. He doesn't want just anyone to do it for them. Among the flotsam, another body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His legs were amputated.

ELBAGIR: Sudanese authorities take photographs as evidence. This is a crime scene, but the potential perpetrators are far from here in Ethiopia.

The second body is put into the same body bag. They have such few resources but are determined to maintain a certain dignity. They are buried near the river in a shallow grave in hope that one day they will be exhumed and reburied in their homeland.

But now though there are only two shovels and a pick. Others join in pushing, the earth with their bare hands, laid to rest on unconsecrated ground the Christian Tigrayans desperately trying to give respect to their dead. Marking the grave with a makeshift cross held together with a single face mask.

A new dawn rises. Witnesses and local authorities say it brings with it 11 new bodies. For months now, we have been investigating atrocities committed by Ethiopian and allied forces in Tigray. It's clear this marks a new chapter in the ethnic cleansing of the region.

But here in Sudan, there are survivors. The living speaking on behalf of the dead, escapees, eyewitnesses from the Ethiopian border town of Humera describe to us a renewed campaign of mass incarcerations and executions.

The numbers they are telling us are extraordinary. We're talking about possibly over 10,000 people detained just for being Tigrayan, they say. We begin to piece together the puzzle. We are here in Sudan. Upstream in Ethiopia, we're beginning to piece together the puzzle. Upstream in Ethiopia is Humera.

Based on descriptions from multiple escaped detainees, Humera area and its surroundings have become a mass detention facility. We were able to pinpoint the locations, Enda Vilbarek (ph), a storage facility, electrical goods warehouse Nay Kedem Mebrat Hayl (ph), where electric wire is stored, Bet Hinsot (ph), the old prison, Endi Goona (ph), the sesame warehouse. The list goes on.

Via eyewitness testimony and satellite imagery, we've verified the existence of at least seven mass detention facilities in Humera where torture is rampant and two outside the town including a military camp Enda'kuwaja (ph).

These are pictures of Tigrayan victims, husbands, fathers, sons. Many show victims restrained using the same small gauge yellow electrical identified by eyewitnesses as having been stored in the electric goods warehouse in Humera.


CNN spoke to multiple eyewitnesses and international and local forensic experts. Most of the victims were tortured, executed and piled on top of each other most likely in a facility or mass grave before ending up in the river. After examining the bodies, experts were able to pinpoint one of the techniques used. Victims had their arms tied back at the elbow in an excruciatingly painful torture position.

In the last few weeks, Tigrayans say the bodies of over 60 victims have floated into Sudan from Ethiopia, evidence of a methodical campaign, one which bears all the hallmarks of genocide as defined by international law. Up in this remote corner of Sudan, this is evidence that the world was not meant to see.

Gerri takes us to see the first person he laid to rest. The water will eventually reclaim the body, but this was the best Gerri do. Already beginning to fall apart, the body couldn't be moved, an image which still haunts him image which still haunts him.

GEBRETNSAE "GERRI" GEBREKRISTOS, TIGRAY COMMUNITY LEADER (translated): Leaving the body here hurts my heart, but what can I do? To leave your people by the river? Your sister, your brother, not laid properly to rest. When you see that it hurts you, hurts your heart, but what can you do? This is what we have been condemned to.

ELBAGIR: Gerri stays vigilant and looking out towards his homeland. As long as this conflict continues the threat of more executions, more bodies floating downstream is ever present.


ELBAGIR (on camera): The Ethiopian government has responded to our findings via an American PR firm saying they -- they are investigating but that -- because as they put it serious inconsistencies in our reporting they said they are going to be working with the relevant authorities to investigate and hold those that they find responsible to account -- Jake.

TAPPER: Powerful report. CNN's Nima Elbagir, thank you so much as always.

Breaking news on the abortion fight in Texas, including what the Biden administration says they're now going to try to do to try to stop the state's new six-week abortion ban.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We have breaking news for you in our politics lead. The Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas over the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Attorney General Merrick Garland this afternoon said the law which bans abortions after six weeks before many women know they are pregnant is clearly unconstitutional.

As CNN's Dianne Gallagher reports for us now, the Justice Department says it is prepared to sue any other state which follows in Texas' footsteps.



DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas over its new abortion law, alleging it violates the U.S. Constitution.

GARLAND: The act is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent.

GALLAGHER: The Biden administration hoping the lawsuit will eventually overturning the law that makes it illegal to have an abortion after six weeks before many people know they are pregnant, even in cases of rape and incest.

GARLAND: The United States has the authority and the responsibility to ensure that no straight can deprive individuals of their constitutional rights through a legislative scheme specifically designed to prevent the vindication of those rights.

GALLAGHER: While the administration waits to see how the case plays out in the court system. On the ground in San Antonio, there's a growing sense of urgency. Makayla Montoya has been busy. The hard part, she says, is finding a way to help the surge in pregnant people reaching out to her organization that need abortions that are no longer legal in the lone star state.

MAKAYLA MONTOYA, BUCKLE BUNNIES FUND: We got at least double the request for assistance since this has passed. I mean, it's desperation.

GALLAGHER: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the new law from going into effect. It's enforced not by state officials but private citizens empowered to file civil suits with a minimum $10,000 payout against anyone who assist a pregnant seeking an abortion in violation of the law, which could be doctors or any staff member an abortion clinic. Three of the four abortion facilities in San Antonio have temporarily stopped the procedure for anyone. The final days of August were like nothing Planned Parenthood's South Texas CEO Jeffrey Hons has ever seen.

JEFFREY HONS, CEO, PLANNED PARENTHOOD SOUTH TEXAS: On the days that we provide abortion, which is not every day, but on those days, we might see somewhere between, you know, 15 to 25 patients on that day to provide apportion care. We had days where staff were working 12 and 13-hour days. We had days where we saw more than -- provided abortion care to more than 100 people in one day.

GALLAGHER: It's not just providers. Lawsuits could be filed against family, friends, drivers, even people like Montoya and Camila Factory who advocates for and assists sexual assault survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm afraid that organizers like me will be targeted for believing in the future of the autonomy of our bodies, our minds and our spirits.


GALLAGHER: The strategy right now seems to be getting people in need of an abortion out of state.

HONS: Do you think you could get to Albuquerque? Do you want to be connected with an abortion provider in Denver? Some people are eager to hear that and make those plans, but many people are -- you know, this is just -- the idea seems insurmountable.

GALLAGHER: And though anti-abortion activists outside Planned Parenthood are celebrating the law, claiming it will save lives --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm super excited. This is great stuff.

GALLAGHER: -- advocates tell CNN unless the courts step in soon, they feel the opposite.

The concern is that --

HONS: The concern is that if they don't and they have moved to desperation to do something with self-managed abortion, health care providers need to be ready that some of these women may show up on their doorsteps needing emergency help.

GALLAGHER: Is that a real fear that you guys have?

HONS: I think about it regularly?


GALLAGHER: Now, we just got a statement from Governor Greg Abbott's spokesperson in reference to that DOJ lawsuit. It says in part, quote: Unfortunately, President Biden and his administration are more interested in changing the national narrative from their disastrous Afghanistan evacuation and reckless open border policies instead of protecting the innocent unborn. We're confident the courts will uphold and protect that right to life.

Jake, one more thing, in talking to those providers and those advocates on the ground here in San Antonio, they said the strategy of getting patients out of state is simply not sustainable and currently, it doesn't work for everyone. There are people with family responsibilities, financial difficulties and, of course, people who are undocumented who can't leave the state at risk for themselves there, too.

TAPPER: All right. Diane Gallagher, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, a whistle-blower opens up about horrific conditions for some children on a U.S. military base. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, a new whistle-blower complaint against the Biden administration alleging gross mismanagement and disturbing treatment of children inside the migrant facility at Fort Bliss, Texas. A person who volunteered at the site said kids were scalded with hot water among other horrors.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez joins me now.

Priscilla, these allegations by the whistle-blower, they are just all of.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, and this is not the first time this facility has come under heavy scrutiny. So, a volunteer who is at the site details what he or she saw at Fort Bliss facility and these allegations include starting May 1 to May 6, shaking of the beds to wake children, only scalding water available for bathing, threatening deportation, a lack of underwear and inadequate clothing. All of these troubling conditions at a facility that is supposed to serve and care for migrant children who arrived at the U.S. that are waiting to be located with a sponsor in the United States.

TAPPER: And we should note, this is the third whistle-blower complaint from recent months coming from just this facility in Fort Bliss.

What do we know about any of these investigations by the Biden administration into these claims?

ALVAREZ: We repeatedly asked the Health and Human Services Department what they intend to do about these allegations, and they tell me that the care and well-being of the children is of top priority and they went out to say that they, quote, act quickly to address any concerns and proactively close sites that didn't meet our standards.

But as this whistle-blower complaint notes these allegations have come up before and they persist, and we should also note that the Health and Human Services inspector general has launched a review in ft. Police but those results have not yet been released.

TAPPER: Very disturbing.

Priscilla Alvarez, thank you so much as always for staying on top of this important story.

Any moment, President Biden is expected to address the nation, laying out a new plan to try and fight the COVID pandemic. We'll bring it to you live.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, it's come to this again. Fences about to be reconstructed around the U.S. Capitol as Team MAGA prepares to rally in support of the insurrectionists from January 6th. And the nation's second largest public school district could be giving eligible children another homework assignment. Get vaccinated. Are more vaccine mandates for eligible kids come your way?

Which brings us to our lead this hour. President Biden just moments away from a major speech laying out the new COVID plan of attack as he so far has failed to get the country out of the pandemic. Deaths are back up, averaging roughly 1,500 a day. Hospitalizations rising and back up over 100,000.

The president today will push more vaccine requirements to go to work and boosters for those who already have had their shot and the delta variant dims the light that we all saw for a while at the end of the tunnel.

Let's get right to CNN's Jeff Zeleny live outside the White House.

Jeff, you asked the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki about the president's own frustration level given that this is largely a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and he's preparing to give, yet, another speech on fighting COVID. What did Psaki have to say?

ZELENY: Jake, she made clear that the president is frustrated by this. He is frustrated by a lack of progress. Of course, he had hoped to turn the page beyond that, but it simply did not happen. So, yes, he is delivering another speech. We've heard him deliver many bore, but this will be unlike others, largely because of the actions that he's doing.

For the first time, this government, this administration is going to mandate not only federal workers but tell private businesses what they should do with their employees as well. Jake, this is the biggest step President Biden has made so far.