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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Today: Voters Decide Whether To Keep Or Remove Gov. Newsom; New Data: Cases In Children Jump 240 Percent In Three Months; New CNN Analysis Shows Black & Hispanic Americans Are Underrepresented In Testing And Vaccination; CNN Investigate U.S. Military Claims About Deadly Drone Strike; Video, Interviews Cast Doubt On Pentagon Account Of Drone Strike; Blinken Faces Tough Questions On Afghanistan Withdrawal; Governor Activates National Guard To Drive School Buses; Comedian & "SNL" Alum Norm Macdonald Dies. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 14, 2021 - 17:00   ET



GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: Trumpism is still on the ballot in California.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): California Governor Gavin Newsom closing the recall campaign with a clear message to the state's voters.

NEWSOM: We have someone on the other side of this that's to the right of Donald Trump. To the right of Donald Trump.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Rallying supporters alongside President Joe Biden, who echoed Newsom's effort to link the former president to leading Republican candidate Larry Elder.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you'll get Donald Trump. It's not a joke.

KAFANOV (voice-over): The decision to nationalize the race and talk about Trump aimed at boosting Democratic turnout in an off year off month election. It may be paying off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We create a stark contrast between the governor and Larry Elder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don't support him being recalled. I don't see Elder or any of the other ones as viable candidates or leadership for the state.

KAFANOV (voice-over): The question on the ballot today, should Newsom be recalled? And if so, who should replace him?

LARRY ELDER (R), CA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I can't think of any level, any front, any policy this man has engaged in that has made life better for here -- for us in California. He has been an app check failure. KAFANOV (voice-over): Elder, the conservative talk show host is the GOP front runner of more than 40 challengers on the second part of the ballot.

ELDER: Will Gavin Newsom accept the results of the election when he loses?

KAFANOV (voice-over): Not one to shy away from controversy, Elder has been borrowing a page from Donald Trump's playbook.

ELDER: We're going to file lawsuits in a timely fashion. What I believe is that no matter what they do, and I believe that there might very well be shenanigans, as they were in the 2020 election.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Questioning the results before a single votes been counted. Some of his supporters buying the baseless claims.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've heard people say that they can cheat on your mail-in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just been a lot of -- I believe there's been a lot of fraud.

NEWSOM: His closing argument is, I will file a lawsuit because of the voter irregularities in this race with no evidence whatsoever. It's act two of the big lie. That's what we're up against Democrats.

KAFANOV (voice-over): But in the Golden State where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly two to one, turnout is the name of the game. Newsom betting his political career on an energized base as he fights for survival.


KAFANOV: And Jake, we're in Orange County, which tends to lean Republican. Larry Elder will be here with his supporters watching the returns. But already more than 9 million ballots have been cast.

Of those more than half 52 percent came from registered Democrats 26 percent from registered Republicans. But one interesting thing in this election, a lot of the Republican voters we spoke to say they are waiting until today, the Election Day, to cast their ballots in person, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Lucy Kafanov up in Orange County, California, thanks so much.

Let's discuss with to California experts, CNN's Maeve Reston and Ron Brownstein.

And Maeve, you wrote this great piece, you say there are five places to watch the California recall, that not only will offer clues to Newsom's fade, but explain what the -- you know, predict what the political climate might look like next year. So, let's start with where Democrats need to perform well. MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well so, what strategists are hoping for tonight, what Newsom strategist are hoping for, Jake, is to see huge turnout in L.A. County and in the Bay Area. They believe that just in those two places that they can build up such huge numbers of raw votes, that they could potentially get to the point where they can overwhelm any possibility of Republicans making up the math problem that they have, which is that, you know, that Democrats here in California outnumber Republicans two to one.

But they also really want to see big turnout among Democrats in San Diego, which is more purplish now but increasingly bluer. And also in that Sacramento area, you know, specifically in Sacramento, the city, there's a lot of Democrats in that area who are fired up and who've been paying attention.

And so far, the Newsom strategists are really happy with the ballots that they've seen returns so far. So that is the first thing that they were looking for in those 801 numbers that are going to drop tonight, Jake

TAPPER: And Ron, some 64 percent of Latino voters supported Newsom when he first ran for governor in 2018. There are a lot of Latinos in Los Angeles and Imperial County that had been hit hard by the pandemic which is one of the reasons why this recalls even happening because of Newsom's response to the pandemic. How important will their turnout be for Newsom?

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, so far Latino turnout is significantly lagging other ethnic groups in the returns that have been to Election Day. Now whether that's made up to some extent on Election Day is unclear. But so far it's been lagging.

And you know, it's less of a threat to Newsom than it might have been to Democrats earlier because Democrats in California, as nationally, now dominate among college educated white voters who are probably the most reliable voters in terms of their turnout percentages year to year. So you see that on the west side of L.A., you see that when Matt Bay (ph) was talking about in the Bay Area.


And if those Democrats turnout in sufficient numbers, you know, once you start getting up to 11 million votes, 10 and a half, 11 million votes, you simply run out of Republicans in a state as democratically as California.

TAPPER: And Maeve, you also say strategists are going to be keeping a close eye on the traditionally Republican red pockets of California. Where are the Republican strongholds? What the strategists expect?

RESTON: Well, they do still want to see, you know, a huge turnout in Orange County where Lucy was just speaking to us from. And I just actually talked to the chairman of the pro recall effort, and he said that things are looking really strong for them in Orange County right now in terms of in person turnout, which is what we were expecting from Republicans. But also some of those other counties like San Bernardino and Riverside that have been getting increasingly blue because that younger, more diverse population that's moving into those areas, there still are a good number of Republicans out there, and they want to make sure that those people are getting out in San Diego as well. So, that's what they're hoping for.

He said, they are still hustling to get people to turn out who have not turned in their ballots yet. And they're feeling like it's going to be a long night. So, we'll see.

TAPPER: Ron, you say the California recall, could strengthen the push for COVID mandates. What do you mean by that?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, look at the arc of how COVID has affected this race, as you noted and Maeve have noted, it got on the ballot in the first place because of backlash against Newsom stringent policies in 2020 on COVID in the most conservative parts of the state. But the race has turned around this summer, Jake, as the governor has moved aggressively on the policy front imposing mandates for health care workers, educators, and state employees to get the vaccine and mask mandate for schools and then centering his campaign on the contrast with Republicans over those mandates.

I mean, he's running -- you know, you heard him run against Donald Trump and the Trumpification Republican Party, but he's also running against Greg Abbott, and Ron DeSantis. And he has been able to both awaken Democrats and move Independent voters by emphasizing the contrast on mandates. And that is something that could be a template for Democrats moving forward into 2022.

TAPPER: Abbott, the governor of Texas, DeSantis of Florida.

Maeve, you say that the anger at Newsom is palpable, especially in California Central Valley. Why is that?

RESTON: Well, you know, if you drive that area, those, you know, those highways that run through the Central Valley, you see signs just dotting the highways in this area that has been hit by the state's historic drought. There are a lot of signs for the recall there. There are a lot of signs blaming Newsom for the drought, even though obviously, that is a problem that it started long before he was in office.

But in those counties, Tulare, Kern and Kings County, those are places where a lot of these recall petitions were signed. And so, that is a key spot where Republicans really want to see huge enthusiastic Republican turnout in order for them to make -- to get to the numbers that they need to get to. And Newsom has campaigned somewhat there but really that is more of a -- the, sort of, one of the few remaining Republican strongholds in this state.

And it'll be fascinating to see how these drought issues play out for Newsom tonight, because a lot of people that you talk to there are frustrated. They don't think that the government has done enough on water storage and mitigating these problems. And they're ready to take out that frustration on the ballot.

TAPPER: And Ron, even though Biden romped in California, there were two congressional districts that flipped from Democrat to Republican on that same ballot, California's 39th, which includes portions of Orange County, L.A. County, San Bernardino, and California's 48, which encompasses much of coastal Orange County, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa. What could today's vote tell us about where voters in those districts stand for the 2022 midterms?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, it's really interesting. I mean, you know, historically, obviously, Orange County was the Republican redoubt in California. As Ronald Reagan said, we're all good Republicans, go to die.

Hillary Clinton in 2016 became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win it since 1936. FDR against Alf Landon. And Biden, of course, won it again in 2020.

But in 2018, you know, it divided almost exactly in half between Newsom and Cox at a point when Newsom was winning 62 percent of the vote statewide. So there is still a lot of residual Republican strength.

And I think it will be instructive to look tonight because the Orange County has been a hotbed of kind of the most visible vocal opposition to masks and vaccine mandates. But if Democrats can, you know, basically get back to something close to a 50-50 distribution in the state, it would give them confidence about their ability to contest those two races, both of which were won by Asian American Republican women, so they present a tough demographic target for Democrats, but they are certainly on the list of seats that Democrats hope to win back if they're going to prevent Republicans from winning the control of the Congress in 2022.


TAPPER: And finally, Maeve, a few months ago, Newsom look like he was in real trouble. We still don't know what's going to happen today. But the emergence of Larry Elder as a candidate, you say that Elder is a perfect foil for Democratic Governor Newsom. Why?

RESTON: Because before Larry Elder got into the race and really took off among Republican voters, Newsom was making this kind of amorphous argument that this was a referendum on Trumpism. And a lot of Democratic strategists told me that they really felt it wasn't working.

But once he could target Larry Elder, specifically, and his policies and his past positions, he really could argue that there was a real threat to the Democratic agenda here in California. And that has made all the difference for Newsom in regaining some breathing room in this race, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes. As Joe Biden used to say all the time, don't compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.

Maeve Reston, Ron Brownstein, thanks so much to both of you for your expertise.

BROWNSTEIN: We hope for that, too, Jake.

TAPPER: Well, be sure to tune in tonight for CNN special coverage of the California Governor Recall Election. Coverage starts at 10 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Pacific.

Coming up, instead of getting a free shot, it's costing billions to care for COVID patients in just the past three months. Billions. That's next.

And new questions about the final strike by the U.S. in America's longest war. And who was behind the wheel of that car targeted in a drone strike. What a CNN investigation found. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead, kids are bearing the brunt of COVID rapid spread across the United States. A staggering 240 percent leap of COVID cases among children in just the last three months. That jump according to the American Academy of pediatrics accounts for almost 30 percent of all current COVID cases in the U.S.

Joining us now is CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, what do you think is driving the surge in cases among kids right now? Is it just back to school?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that that's part of it, but also just where we are as a country. Look there, you know, we are four times higher overall, in terms of cases at this point this year as compared to this point last year. You can look at that graph and take it back to September of last year, we're in a much better position.

So, kids, you know, while a smaller percentage of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, when you have a denominator that big, kids are going to get swept up in it. The schools oftentimes are reflective of the broader community spread. And as we've talked about, Jake, sometimes schools can have less spread than the surrounding community. We got a lot of virus spreading around right now.

Overall, Jake, you know, about 5.3 million kids have been infected throughout this pandemic, 5.3 million, but 500,000 of them happen just within the last couple of weeks. So that's the real concern here.

Quick word on vaccinations, Jake, this is becoming increasingly clear that if you live in an area, if your kids live in an area where there is high vaccination versus low vaccination, there are 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized if you are living in an area with low vaccination. So that is the herd immunity part of this, right, Jake? More people vaccinated --

TAPPER: Yes. GUPTA: -- more protection you can offer those that are not.

TAPPER: And as we know, one of the other issues in this pandemic is the fact that the virus is hitting Hispanic and African American communities harder than it is white communities. Part of this is because of traditional inequities in health care.

Take a listen to what Dr. Fauci told me just a few minutes ago when I asked him about these disparities.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: We're not where we want to be with regard to the percentage of African Americans and Hispanics vaccinated, but we're doing better than we were before.


TAPPER: Is he right?

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, if you look at the numbers, specifically, over the last two weeks there has been first time initiations of COVID shots for blacks and Hispanics at a higher rate. So it has gone up.

But this is the data here. Just across the board, blacks and Hispanics versus the general -- versus white non-Hispanics, more cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths. And you know, a lot more, two to three times hospitalizations and deaths. So, it's really significant.

What I think is also interesting, if you look more specifically, and you look at data, for example, in California and Texas, if I show you -- look at California, and you say 39 percent of the population roughly is Hispanic, well, they make up 54 percent of the cases, they make up nearly twice as 50 percent of the deaths as well. So, you know, that that's the disparity that we're talking about. You have 39 percent of the population but 54 percent of the cases, and you can see how vaccinations are lagging.

So, improving, Jake, but you know, almost since the beginning, the inequities have been there, and they persist. Maybe improving a little bit now, but still definitely present.

TAPPER: And meanwhile, the mask wars in red states are still raging in Iowa yesterday, a judge ruled that masks in schools can be mandated. It's OK if school districts want to impose mask requirements. And then Republican Governor Kim Reynolds immediately announced an appeal.

Stepping away from the politics of this all, are masks in schools effective at stopping the spread, or at least slowing it?

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, I don't know at which point, it almost becomes one of these things with how much evidence do you need or how many times do you have to sort of prove the same thing. You know, there's been so many school districts now that have been masked versus those that have been not masked and you can compare those sort of as control groups. They're not perfect randomized trials but I think it's very clear now. And the CDC has come out and said, masks work, and there's no sort of downside to them.


What I think is interesting, if you look over all these now modelling studies going forward and say, OK, let's look at the various scenarios, no masking or testing, masking alone, testing alone, and see what kind of difference it makes. There's about, you know, 45 million students K through 12. As I mentioned, probably around five to 10 million have already been infected.

But look at what happens with no masking, no testing, 75 percent of the remaining 30 to 40 million students are at risk over the next three months of becoming infected. You add in masking and testing and you can dramatically bring those numbers down. So, I mean, this -- it is politics, Jake, because the science I think is increasingly clear. It wasn't clear from the very start, but it's very clear now.

TAPPER: All right, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much as always.

The U.S. claims a drone strike by the U.S. in the final hours of the Afghan war prevented another ISIS terrorist attack on U.S. troops. Is that true? Is that the full story? What CNN found after talking to residents and seeing video of the blast. That's next.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken faced a grilling today on Capitol Hill over the way the Biden administration withdrew from Afghanistan. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky pushed Blinken on the U.S. military's final drone strike in the war demanding to know who exactly the Pentagon targeted.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: The administration is of course reviewing that strike. And I'm sure that uh, you know, full assessment will be fully --

SEN. RAND PAUL (R) KENTUCKY: You don't know if it was an aid worker or an ISIS-K operative?

BLINKEN: I can't speak to that. And I can't speak to that in this setting in any event.

PAUL: So you don't know or won't tell us.

BLINKEN: I don't know because we're reviewing it.

PAUL: Well, so you think you'd kind of know before you're off somebody with a predator drone whether he's an aid worker or he's an ISIS-K. We can't sort of have an investigation after we kill people. We have an investigation before we kill people.


TAPPER: CNN's Anna Coren has been investigating that drone strike which targeted a car in Kabul just hours before the U.S. withdrew its last troops. The U.S. military claims that it hit a legitimate terrorist target, but CNNs investigation raises some very serious questions about the U.S. government's accounts of what happened that day.

We want to warn viewers in advance that this report contains images that are graphic and may be difficult to watch.


ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Screams of horror in a Kabul neighborhood on the last Sunday afternoon of August. As residents desperately trying vain to extinguish the fireball caused by a hellfire missile airstrike.

SAMIA, DAUGHTER OF ZAMARAI (through translator): I thought this is an attack on the whole of Afghanistan. I did not know the attack was only on our house.

COREN (voice-over): The target, a white sedan that had been under U.S. military surveillance for the past eight hours according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the operation. It had just driven into the residential compound with father of seven and NGO worker Zemari (ph) Ahmadi behind the wheel.

SAMIA (through translator): I saw my father lying in the car, it was shrapnel in his chest, throat everywhere. Blood was flowing through these ears.

COREN (voice-over): But the strike didn't just take out the 43-year- old father. According to the family, two other men were also killed along with seven children, three of whom were toddlers.

Our children were in such a state that we tried to identify them from their hands, ears or nose, says Zemari's cousin. None of them had their hands and feet intact and in one place. They were all in paces.

Shot (ph) body parts, pieces of skull with chunks of hair and a foot melted into a sandal were among the remains taken to the morgue.

Zemari's two-year-old nephew lies on a gurney as a relative gently strokes his face.

Ten coffins filled with only partial remains. Their names written in black marker, the only distinguishable feature.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had very good intelligence.

COREN (voice-over): U.S claims to have intelligence, there was explosive material inside the car that was to be used in an imminent attack on Hamad Karzai International Airport by ISIS-K.

Just days before an ISIS-K suicide bomber had blown himself up at Abbey gate. Thirteen U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans were killed. But for the past two weeks, CNN has been investigating the U.S. military's claims about the drone strike. Interviewing more than two dozen people, family members, neighbors, NGO staff and multiple bomb experts that paint a very different version of evidence.

We've also been given access to the CCTV hard drive of the NGO office that day and reviewed all the footage.

For 15 years, Zemari worked as a technical engineer for Nutrition Education International, a U.S. based NGO that introduced soybeans to Afghanistan in 2003 to help feed the poor and reduce malnutrition.

STEVEN KWON, FOUNDER, He is always a caring for the people who are in need and has compassionate heart.

COREN (voice-over): The organization's founder says the Toyota Corolla Zemari was driving belong to the NGO and he was responsible for picking up colleagues distributing soybeans to Afghans in refugee camps and running operations.

U.S. military officials have told CNN, they had been monitoring chatter from an ISIS safe house in Kabul for 36 hours, when a car pulled out of the compound around 9:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. It was from that moment U.S. surveillance aircraft began following the car, not knowing who the driver was.

But in an interview with one of Zamarai's colleagues who was with him all day, he claims Zamarai picked him up at about 8:45 a.m. And around 9:00 a.m., they stopped at the country director's house to collect a laptop to take to work.

KHAN, NUTRITION & EDUCATION INTERNATIONAL: Because he forgot his laptop bag there and we took his laptop bag.

COREN (voice-over): The U.S. has told CNN there was intelligence that the car was being directed from the safe house on a route around the city, instructing the driver to meet a motorcyclist and that it did.

Zamarai's colleague says after collecting the laptop, they picked up another colleague and then stopped at a busy cafe to get breakfast, claiming they did not come into contact with any motorcyclists on their journey to the office. The only motorcyclists they did talk to was the security guard at the NGO office seen here with his bike on CCTV.

For the next few hours, Zamarai and his colleagues carry out various tasks, visiting Taliban security stations for permission to resume operations since the Taliban takeover. They also visit a bank and return to work for lunch at 2:00 p.m. Around 2:30 p.m., Zamarai begins filling water containers to take back home to his family who have no access to running water, a task he'd been doing for months according to his colleagues. They say they then helped load the containers into the car before leaving around 4:00 p.m.

The U.S. military says around the same time, drone footage showed the driver loading heavy packages with other men into the car, which they suspected were explosives, possibly for the imminent attack. Colleagues says Zamarai dropped them off before he drove to his family compound. Also home to his three brothers and their families.

Around 4:45 p.m., the U.S. says the car arrived at a residential location and another male approached the car. The military claims it had reasonable certainty that they had a legitimate ISIS-K target and took the shot. It was only afterwards that the U.S. realized there were three children within the vicinity of the car. The family says there were actually seven.

A U.S. official tell CNN there was a significant secondary explosion, possibly caused by a suicide vest or explosives in the car that may have killed the children. Two bomb experts we spoke to who both view (ph) the same footage CNN film from the scene, say there is no evidence of a significant secondary explosion, stating there would have been major structural damage to the surrounding buildings and vegetation and that the nearby SUV would have overturned.

One of them noted if a secondary blast was seen from U.S. surveillance, it most likely was the vehicle gas tank exploding.

BRIAN CASTNER, SENIOR CRISIS ADVISOR WEAPON AND MILITARY OPS, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: This over the horizon, having incomplete information, but conducting the airstrike anyway, this is the modus operandi for the U.S. military now. And there's just so many risks and harm to civilians that comes with that.

COREN (voice-over): A U.S. military investigation into the drone strike is underway.

GENERAL MARK A. MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: That at least one of those people that were killed was a ISIS facilitator. So, were there others killed? Yes, there are others killed. Who they are? We don't know. But at this point, we think that the procedures were correctly followed and it's a righteous strike.

COREN (voice-over): A Pentagon statement released over the weekend defended the strike based on good intelligence, preventing an imminent threat and that no other military works harder than we do to prevent civilian casualties. But many questions are being raised as to whether they got the wrong target.


COREN (voice-over): How do you know from the sky what is here says Zamarai's brother. There were children in and around the car and you targeted them. Isn't it a crime? You came here and shattered our hearts into pieces.

The following day, ISIS-K launched a rocket attack towards the airport from a Toyota Corolla. The attack was countered by the missile defense system. That same day, Zamarai's family buried their dead.

Ten graves on a desolate hillside overlooking Kabul, belonging to a family demanding answers and justice.


COREN: Jake, we're obviously in touch with the family who are suffering, not only are they grieving 10 family members, but they're also scared for their safety. They've had to move house because of these links to the terrorist network, ISIS-K.


Now, Zamarai, he was the breadwinner. He financially supported the entire family. His brothers used to work for the former Afghan government and military, they are now unemployed when Taliban controlled Afghanistan.

And, Jake, I think it's really important to note that Zamarai through his company, this California-based NGO, had applied for a P-2 visa to the United States for him and his family just days before the drone strike. This was a man who wanted to flee Afghanistan and start a new life.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Anna Coren with a very sobering investigation. Thank you so much for that. Appreciate it.

One of the senators who questioned Secretary Blinken earlier today is here to respond to that report that you just saw from Anna Coren. That's next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Tapping our world lead right now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken facing more tough questions today on Capitol Hill, shedding some new light on the administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan. Joining us live, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He questioned Secretary Blinken today.

Senator, I want to start with the CNN investigation from Anna Coren looking into the drone strike in Kabul just hours before the U.S. finally withdrew from Afghanistan. Secretary Blinken told your colleague, Senator Rand Paul today that he did not know whether the target of the strike was indeed an ISIS operative or if it was an aid worker, which also seems possible. Don't you find it alarming that the U.S. government, the Biden administration does not know?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I do and I wish that this was unrepresentative of our drone campaign in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, parts of Africa over the course of the last 20 years. Studies of our drone strikes have suggested that maybe eight out of 10 times we are hitting the wrong target, we have killed thousands of civilians. And a bunch of good research suggests that in places where we utilize drones in order to target terrorists, we end up recruiting more terrorists than we kill because all of the bad publicity that comes from the United States killing civilians from the sky ends up as bulletin board material for many of these terrorist groups. So, I have not received a briefing from the administration on what they know about this particular strike. But unfortunately, it would be par for the course if there was significant collateral damage from our -- from a drone strike in Afghanistan.

TAPPER: Well, so given that that is the reality, the Biden administration claims that U.S. counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan will be fine even if there's no U.S. presence there. I know you support the withdraw. They call it, you know, over the horizon capabilities, which means outside of the country. But here you go, possibly another debacle with the U.S. killing innocent civilians. And the U.S., by the way, was in Afghanistan at the time.

I'm not saying that this proves we need to have troops in Afghanistan, but doesn't disprove that our capabilities are nowhere near where we are presented them to be by the government?

MURPHY: Well, I think the point you made in the middle there is maybe the most important. We were engaged in significant drone strikes in Afghanistan when we had 100,000 troops there.

TAPPER: Right.

MURPHY: And the evidence is, is that that didn't really benefit our targeting, we were still hitting lots of civilians. And so, yes, I just think we have to understand the limitation of drone technology that has nothing to do with whether, we should have troops on the ground in Afghanistan or not. But it does mean that an awful lot of times we're hitting the wrong individuals, you just have to be very realistic about the limitations of that ability to protect America and to target bad guys.

TAPPER: One of the reasons why Republicans and Democrats have been criticizing the Biden administration for the way the withdrawal happened, not necessarily the withdrawing itself, is because of all the Americans, not to mention Afghan allies, left behind. Today, Senator Romney pressed Secretary Blinken on the Americans left behind in Afghanistan. Take a listen.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): In terms of legal permanent residents, is your priority just as high to get them out as it is to get out citizen?

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Senator, our number one priority is American citizens. And that is, I think, long been the case.

ROMNEY: I didn't realize as a secondary level of priority than for a legal permanent resident. If that's the case, but how many legal permanent residents are we convinced they're still in Afghanistan?

BLINKEN: We don't have an exact number, but it's in the --

ROMNEY: But a round number?

BLINKEN: It's in the thousands.

ROMNEY: Pardon?

BLINKEN: In the thousands.


TAPPER: In the thousands. Legal permanent residents of the United States, thousands of them in Afghanistan who wants to get out who can't. Why were these thousands of Americans not prioritized as highly as citizens? And why have the -- why is the public not been presented a plan for how the U.S. plans to get them out?

MURPHY: Well, I didn't hear Secretary Blinken say what you just said. I heard him say there are thousands of legal permanent residents in Afghanistan. But I didn't hear him say all of those individuals want to leave the country. These are citizens of Afghanistan who have temporary legal status in the United States. Many of them want to stay in Afghanistan, because that is actually their primary citizenry.

So well, it is true, there are potentially thousands of Afghan citizens who have green cards, right, who could legally live in United States, they likely have not exercise those rights. They've been in Afghanistan for a reason. Many of them want to stay. I'm not saying that's every single one of them, but I think we're talking about a much smaller number of green card holders that desire to get to the United States.

And remember, they had the ability to come to the United States during the entire time that they've held that green card. They probably stayed in Afghanistan for a reason.


TAPPER: So, what's the number of legal permanent residents of the United States who are stuck in Afghanistan who want to get out? Do you know that number?

MURPHY: No, I don't know that number and I didn't hear him say that.

TAPPER: Should we not know that number at this point?

MURPHY: No, I'm certain that the administration knows that number. I don't know it off the top of my head. And I don't think that Secretary Blinken was asked that specific question today. I think that number is far less than the thousands he referenced in his answer to Senator Romney.

TAPPER: Why would you be certain that the Biden administration knows that number, this entire thing has been a mess? I mean, the whole -- they're all these articles and media coverage of Digital Dunkirk, private citizens using their connections, getting people out of Afghanistan. And it's wonderful that all these amazing people are doing this. It also is a huge condemnation of the inability of the U.S. government, don't you think? MURPHY: Well, again, I don't know how you ultimately, you know, argue with getting 130,000 people out of Afghanistan. That's a pretty stunning number that the United States was able to get out. I understand that doesn't encompass every single person that we would want to protect. But in a two-week period of time following the unexpected overnight collapse of the Afghan government and military, I still think that's a pretty impressive number.

And, of course, that was supplemented by the efforts of all of these private sector individuals. I think we're incredibly grateful for their help, but we shouldn't diminish the accomplishment of the administration. Obviously, there were mistakes made, obviously, it could have been better. But that is not a small thing to do to get that number of people out in that short amount of time.

TAPPER: Senator Chris Murphy, Democratic, Connecticut, thanks so much for your time today.

MURPHY: Thank you.

TAPPER: The school bus drivers' shortage is getting so bad that one state now has a creative solution. We'll explain who might be driving your kids to school. That's next.



TAPPER: In our national lead, more fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. School districts across the country are having a hard time finding bus drivers. In Massachusetts, the shortage is so bad. Governor Charlie Baker is activating the National Guard to help drive school buses.

CNN's Pete Muntean has more on that as well as what other places are doing to attract drivers.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the latest and maybe most extreme approach to curbing a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers. 90 members of the Massachusetts National Guard trying to protect their country are now training to transport school kids.


MUNTEAN (voice-over): Superintendent Almi Abeya of Chelsea schools near Boston says two weeks into the year and she's still short 15 drivers, meaning, one in every five buses has run late. Now the guard will drive 10 passenger school transport vans in her district and three others.

ABEYA: We worked so hard to get our kids back. We want our students back on time and ready to learn. MUNTEAN (voice-over): Schools returning to in-person classes say coronavirus fears pushed more drivers to retire. It is the worst shortage ever say administrators in Fairfax County, Virginia outside Washington. The district is now paying new bus drivers a $3,000 sign on bonus.

NICK ROCHA, FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOL BUS DRIVER: We're definitely looking forward to having more kids come in. And with that, we need more drivers coming in.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Other schools are turning to parents to pick up the slack. One charter school in Delaware is paying them $700 for each child they drive to and from school this year. Philadelphia parents in a similar program are getting up to $1,500 for the school year.

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R-MA): For the sake of the kids, we need to have them in school.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Republican Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker says the best tactic is using citizen soldiers already called on during the pandemic to get behind the wheel.

BAKER: The goal here is to try to make sure if we have vehicles, we put people in them who are qualified to drive them and do what we can to make sure kids can get to school because, obviously, the driver shortage is creating some real issues.


MUNTEAN: This is a problem everywhere. School transportation officials across the country were just surveyed about this. And Jake, two-thirds of them say this is their number one issue.

TAPPER: Same (ph). Pete Muntean, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

It is that time of the year Apple hoping you'll fork over a few $100 to upgrade your iPhone. We'll show you what it was just announced. That's next.



TAPPER: In our tech lead, a slew of announcements from Apple at its big annual event today, the tech giant unveiling four versions of the new iPhone 13 and lots of under the hood updates including longer lasting batteries, which it says will add an additional two and a half hours of usage. The new phones go on sale next week. And for current iPhone owners, the latest software update is one you'll probably want to do soon. Apple says it's just fixed a critical vulnerability for iPhones blocking spyware that easily allows hackers to access your phone.

Finally today, some sad news in our pop culture lead, comedian Norm Macdonald has died of cancer at age 61. He will be remembered for many, many, many funny moments including the years he spent on "Saturday Night Live" in the mid-90s.


NORM MACDONALD, COMEDIAN & SNL ALUM: Mr. Vinels (ph), what are you doing

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I found this at backstage, an oversized hat. Funny?

MACDONALD: No, it's not.



TAPPER: Macdonald appeared in skits such as this spoof of Jeopardy and spent several seasons hosting the show's "Weekend Update". Among his fans, a guy Norm spoofed on SNL former senator and 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole who tweeted, "Norm was a great talent, and I loved laughing with him on SNL. Bob Dole will miss Norm Macdonald".

We will miss Norm Macdonald. May his memory be a blessing.

I'll see you tonight for our special coverage of the California Recall 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Pacific. You can follow me on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, on the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. And if you ever miss an episode of the show, the lead is also available as a podcast. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts.

For now, our coverage continues with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I will see you later tonight.