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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ramaswamy Gains Traction With "New Right" Of GOP Politics; McConnell Faces Growing Questions About His Future In Senate; NYC Mayor, Biden Have Falling Out Over Migrant Crisis; Gold Star Families Seek Answers About Suicide Bombing; Women's Tennis Association Considers Holding 2023 Championship In Saudi Arabia; Doctor Leaves Louisiana Over Anti-LGBTQ Bills. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 01, 2023 - 17:00   ET



VIVEK RAMASWAMY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We fight for the truth. We stand up for the truth. That is what won us the American Revolution. That is what will win us the revolution of 2024.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Standing before a sign with one word, truth, Vivek Ramaswamy, 38-year-old former biotech exec and first time candidate is hitting multiple corners of Iowa, seeking to capitalize on a political moment --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you.

RAMASWAMY: Yes, good to see you.

LAH (voice-over): -- fueled by a Trump like populism.

RAMASWAMY: It's pretty good.

I think what we have a lot of in this country are a lot of conspiracy realists. And so, if I'm one of them --

LAH (voice-over): That some supporters prefer to the Republican frontrunner.

(on camera): Do you think he can beat Trump?

DANE WINEGARDEN, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: Yes, without a doubt. We're tired of losing. Trump lost.

LAH (on camera): It doesn't seem to make sense. How are you going to beat Trump when you have a Trump base and he is running?

RAMASWAMY: I think the way I'm going to do it is by speaking in an uninhibited way. I think I am the only candidate in this race at this point, is speaking my mind truly without running it through preordained filters. That's proving to be a competitive advantage. You know, it does draw some backlash at times, but I think that's what people in this country are hungry for.

LAH (voice-over): Ramaswamy brushes off criticism that he plays loose with the truth, even on the debate stage.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In your book, you had much different things to say about Donald Trump than you're saying here tonight.

RAMASWAMY: That's not true.

LAH (voice-over): But it is true. In his 2022 book, Ramaswamy did praise parts of Trump's record while also offering sharp criticism of how Trump handled his 2020 election defeat.

RAMASWAMY: We might as well embrace it. That is our last best chance.

LAH (voice-over): Ramaswamy takes Trump's style even further on the issues, pledging to fire 75 percent of federal workers, eliminate all affirmative action in America, and use U.S. drones to attack Mexican drug cartels, all while bucking the very party whose nomination he wants.

RAMASWAMY: Using the Republican Party as a vehicle for advancing an America first agenda.

LAH (on camera): Your fellow Republicans --

RAMASWAMY: The fellow -- I mean, I just want to stop for a second, I kind of cringe when someone says fellow Republicans, I'm not a party man.

LAH (on camera): But this is still a caucus system.

RAMASWAMY: Yes, absolutely.

LAH (on camera): A party system.

RAMASWAMY: Well, I think many people who will be caucusing in the Republican Party are like me, people who are disgusted with the establishment.

LAH (on camera): So you don't need the party structure?

RAMASWAMY: I don't need the party structure, no. We need the patriots who represent the people of this country. That's what we need.

And the Russia China military alliance --

LAH (voice-over): But the more some Iowans hear from Ramaswamy, the more you hear questions about his foreign policy ideas.

RAMASWAMY: Just do the math in your head --

LAH (voice-over): Like giving parts of eastern Ukraine to Russia.

GENE NOSCO, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: See, Iowa's the one that asks the question about Ukraine. I think he's wrong about the Ukraine.

LAH (voice-over): And whether this Ramaswamy moment is just that, a moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the new flavor of the month. I mean, we've seen this in previous presidential races, too. Someone catches on for a little bit, then they fade.

LAH (on camera): So, some of the words that have been used to describe you, political performance artist, absurd excuse for a presidential candidate, obnoxious, annoying, conspiratorial, little regard to truth, ideology, or the practicalities of American government. How do you respond to people who say, this guy is an opportunist, he's an interloper?

RAMASWAMY: I guess I'm never going to debunk somebody else's preconceived notion and nor am I going to try to. My job in this race is to tell everybody who I am and what I stand for.


LAH: After that jam-packed Iowa schedule, he is already heading to New Hampshire. He has a schedule there that includes eleven different locations and he plans on doing that over the Labor Day weekend. It is a grueling schedule, just like it was here in Iowa. He's going to come from New Hampshire home and then come right back here to Iowa. What Ramaswamy tells us is when it comes to field strategy.

Ground game and energy, Jake, he is in it to matter. Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes, it's a grilling schedule, but maybe not so much if you're only 38 years old. Thirty-eight, anybody could do that but not to take away from what he's doing. I'm just saying he's young.

Kyung Lah, thank you so much.

Here with me now to talk about this all, former Obama State Department Official Nayyera Haq, Republican Strategist Shermichael Singleton and Semafor's Benjy Sarlin.

Shermichael, as a Republican at the table, let me ask you, what do you make of this guy? Is he the new face of the Republican Party?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Oh, absolutely not, Jake. I mean, remember, Rick Perry, once upon a time, was leading for a couple of weeks. Dr. Ben Carson, whose campaign I was an advisor for, we led for about 60 or 90 days. This is a part of the process where you see these flash in the pan candidates with some very unique ideas. They excite the base, if you will, during debates.

But when you look at some of the polling data, Morning Consult released a poll in particular after the GOP debate that showcased Ramaswamy's unfavorability has actually increased among likely GOP voters.

TAPPER: The only one, I think. Yes.

SINGLETON: And so I think it's exciting during the debate, but when I look at Iowa, New Hampshire and the state polling, I don't see a clear path for Ramaswamy, nor do I see voters moving to his corner.

TAPPER: And a lot of his Republican opponents, just because you're a former State Department official, I want to get your view on this, a lot of Republicans look at his foreign policy ideas, Ramaswamy's, as really Putin friendly. To be clear, he wants to -- let's look at the thing, he wants to cede territory taken by Russia and its war on Ukraine. He wants to end U.S. security assistance to Ukraine. He wants to block Ukraine's candidacy to NATO if Russia ends its military relationship with China, and he wants to end U.S. sanctions on Russia. What you make of it all?


NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR OF CABINET AFFAIRS, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Oh, you know, who else wants to do all those Putin friendly policies, the front runner of the Republican primary, Donald Trump. So in that way, Ramaswamy is very much aligning himself with Trump foreign policy. There was a moment on the stage where Nikki Haley went at it with Vivek about the fact that he's pro Putin, what he's saying is going to destroy democracy in Europe, and that he has no foreign policy experience, and neither did Donald Trump, right? And it certainly didn't hurt him in getting elected. Foreign policy is not one of the top issues that people vote on.

Economic advancement, health care, those are issues, actually, that are very much aligned with the Indian American community and the Asian American community writ large, which, with its voting population right now on the margins can make differences in states like Georgia and North Carolina. President Trump has made inroads with Asian Americans. The right wing has made inroads with this community. This is part of why we saw Asian American standard bear against affirmative action. That was part of -- this is part of the movement is bringing Asian Americans that idea of entrepreneurship into the Republican Party fold.

And it's something that is concerning to Democrats, because traditionally the coalition of people of color has voted Democrats.

TAPPER: And just to be clear for folks out there, Asian American, you're talking about India and Pakistan as well, not just China and other countries in that part.

Benjy, you know, one of the things that's interesting, I've been around for a little while, so I remember every presidential debate, especially at this point when it's like a full field, there's usually, like, one person that you can tell all the other candidates hate. I remember it was John Edwards at one point. They all just kind of thought he was a phony. There was a period '08, not '12, but '08, where it was Mitt Romney.


TAPPER: But not '12, '12, they liked him. And it changed also. It's clearly Vivek Ramaswamy in this incarnation. It is -- there -- the loathing that you can feel so many of them have for him, it's almost palpable. SARLIN: Yes. And of course, you can tell yourself a story we're at the debate. Well, of course, strategically, it makes sense to go after the person who's rising in the polls and hasn't been scrutinized as much. But I do think it goes deeper than that. For one thing, every single person on stage with him is either a current or former governor or a longtime senator like Tim Scott.

These are people who do take governing seriously. They do not like the idea of being lectured by some 38-year-old who says they have a simple answer to everything. But I also think there's an interesting thing here, which is everyone's internalized the idea you can't really attack Trump, right. Even some of his people who clearly do loathe him and disagree with him are reluctant to do it in this primary. But you are allowed to attack Vivek Ramaswamy for saying a lot of the same things.

TAPPER: Right.

SARLIN: And I think you're seeing a lot of Republicans kind of enjoying this moment. I think it's therapeutic for some of them to be like, all right, well, we're allowed to attack this guy at least and, you know, unleashing the full guns.

TAPPER: Oh, that's interesting. Do you think that -- I mean, that does seem to ring true, what Benjy just said because I hear Nikki Haley attacking the Ramaswamy for, as you noted, position said Donald Trump --


TAPPER: -- has espoused for much longer.

SINGLETON: But, Jake, he's not Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Right. Exactly.

SINGLETON: Donald Trump is leading right now, what, 58, almost 60 percent. I mean, after the first debate, his favorability has actually increased for Republicans thinking that he actually has a legitimate opportunity of beating the sitting president.

Now, I will say, to Vivek's credit, a CNN poll came out August 5th -- August 4th, I believe, that showcased 55 percent of Americans do not want Congress to authorize additional funding for Ukraine.

TAPPER: Sure. It's not out of the major thing.

SINGLETON: It's not. It's not. And so --


SINGLETON: -- Vivek is clearly tapping into something, Jake, people that are looking at inflation, looking at the rising cost of gas and other personal, more direct issues and saying, well, why are we sending $100 billion here and not addressing some of the issues at home? And so in that regard, I think he's found a lane. But the question is that's still Trump's lane. And are those voters going to join him or merely applaud him, pat him on the back, but still stick with Donald Trump?

HAQ: Well, somebody --

SINGLETON: And that's what I think they will do.

HAQ: Somebody on that stage needs to be, you know, the vice presidential candidate as well, right? Not every --

SINGLETON: You mean, Vivek?

HAQ: Exactly. Not everybody on that stage, especially not Vice President Pence, is going to be running for that position. That especially given the connections bringing in, you know, minority voters and representation, that narrative. And Trump so far seems to like what Vivek has to say.

TAPPER: I just want to bring you one little news update. This just in to CNN. Rudy Giuliani has officially pleaded not guilty in the Georgia election subversion case. No surprise. That mugshot's quite an image. No surprise. But in any case, that's just the latest news.

Let's change the subject for one second because Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, and I know we all are sending him our best, and he has our sympathies, as does his family. But he had another serious seeming health moment where he froze up on stage. And now the National Review put out an editorial saying that he needs to step aside. They say, quote, "Prudence and realism have been hallmarks of his leadership and now are called for in considering his own future."


Here is what the editor of National Review told CNN this morning.


RICH LOWERY, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: These incidents are not normal. And even if it's just lightheadedness, he's clearly visibly aged since his bad all back in March. And we just think it behooves him for his sake and for the sake of his colleagues to go out on his own terms.


TAPPER: What do you think?

SARLIN: Well, it's pretty shocking given the source here, you know, Rich Lowery there is an editor at National Review. We've talked a lot about how conservatism has changed in the Trump era. We're seeing it in the debates. National Review is as closely associated with what you might call McConnellism as any media outlet on the planet, that is the beating heart of it. That is their ideal version of Republican leadership, I'd say.

So for them to come out and say it is pretty serious, one thing I would mention here is that there's a big subtext of this, which is that they are all trying to attack Biden on his age in 2024. And you're already seeing some Republicans explicitly say this, jettisoning McConnell might make that easier. It's harder to make that attack that, you know, having an 82-year-old president is a bad idea when you have an 81-year-old the legislative leader who's in failing health and visibly so.

TAPPER: Ok. Let me --

HAQ: The average age of Congress is 67. It's an argument that hits back on majority --


HAQ: -- of the folks sitting there right now.

TAPPER: Thanks one and all for being here. Really appreciate it. Have a great Labor Day weekend.

From private conversations to an all-out public feud, coming up, new CNN reporting on the frustration between President Biden and New York City's Democratic Mayor Eric Adams. Plus, the statement just in from the Pentagon after CNN followed the lead of some Gold Star families and pushed for some specific answers to questions about that deadly bombing at Abbey Gate that killed 13 U.S. Service Members in Afghanistan two years ago. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Really interesting story now in our politics lead as new CNN reporting about a very public fight between two of the most high profile Democrats in the country, President Joe Biden and the Democratic mayor of New York City, Eric Adams. The fight is about the migrant crisis and the federal response or lack thereof. And it's getting ugly.

First, a little background. For months, states such as Texas have been sending migrants and asylum seekers to cities far from the U.S. Mexican border, including New York City. These migrants have flooded shelters, they have slept on the streets. The city have set up tent -- the city set up tent cities to house them and process their request. Now, in New York, Mayor Adams regularly complains about the lack of federal help for this crisis.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS, (D) NEW YORK: We're saying we must expedite work visas. It's just common sense. We need the national government to stand up. This is not a New York City issue. This is a national issue and it must be resolved by the national issue.

So don't critique what we've done. Don't tell us how we could have done it better. Don't sit in the bleachers and be a detox spectator on this full contact sport call asylum seekers, get on the field and fight this battle with us. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN's Priscilla Alvarez and Isaac Dovere work together to bring us this new reporting.

Isaac, let me start with you. Some fiery words there. He probably speaks, I have to say, for a lot of Democratic mayors and governors who just don't want to be that aggressive when it comes to the Biden administration. But what are you hearing about this very tough criticism from Adams?

ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: The words are really intense. And one person close to the mayor said to me, "The White House has made the conscious decision that it's better politics to let New York suffer than to actually fix the problem." And I will tell you, Jake, in speaking with people, what they said that was not on the record, that was not even on background like this, much rougher, some of it. And both from the Biden side and the Adams side, granted much more from the Adams side, but really tough feelings about where they are feeling, like they're just completely at odds with each other.

TAPPER: And obviously this isn't a fight that he necessarily wants to have. This doesn't help Eric Adams necessarily. And what does he want that he says President Biden and the administration are not giving him?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you heard it there. He wants expedited work permits. So, current immigration law states what the work permit process is. Asylum seekers can work legally as they go through their immigration court hearings, but they have to wait at least 180 days to get that. So in that interim period, they need shelter, they need access to services.

And we should also note, Jake, that the people that we are seeing coming now don't necessarily have ties to the U.S. like we used to see with other immigration populations. So, they come here not knowing anyone or really having any sense of direction. And so, that is what's causing strain on the New York City system.

Now, of course, when you talk to White House officials, they're concerned about this because they're fighting with a high profile Democrat who is publicly very critical of them. But what they're also saying is we can only do so much without Congress. We can give you the federal funds, but the rest of what you're asking for is likely going to face legal challenges and we can't expedite the work permits without some other really important executive actions.

TAPPER: And Isaac, you learned about a never before reported moment from October. Tell us about that.

DOVERE: Well, look, remember the relationship between Biden and Adams started in such a strong way. When Adams won the primary to be mayor of New York, Biden invited him to the White House. He sort of put him forward as this great new face of moderate pragmatic Democrats. Very quickly, that devolved. But before that, Joe Biden invited Adams. At one point they were riding together in New York in the limo and he gave him half of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then, in October of last year, Adams is sitting in Ron Klain's office, White House chief staff's office with Julie Chavez Rodriguez, now the Biden campaign manager, and said to the two of them and some other White House aides, there is no leadership here. And the kinds of things that he started to say in private have now bubbled up in public. But it is a really part of this breakdown from the bottom all the way up. Biden and Adams haven't talked for the better part of a year is what we understand.

TAPPER: Bottom line, though, I mean, this frustration's real and it's based on real problems. I mean, yes, Congress needs to do more, but doesn't the Biden administration couldn't they also do more?

ALVAREZ: Well, that's the ask. And we should know, Jake, we're talking about New York City but there's other Democratic led cities who are dealing with this.


TAPPER: Denver.

ALVAREZ: Denver, Sacramento, Washington D.C. So this is a real issue for the administration as they also, by the way, see more numbers at the U.S. Mexico border. This isn't going away. The White House is having to deal with it day in, day out.

TAPPER: Great reporting. Priscilla and Isaac, thanks so much. Appreciate it. Have a great Labor Day weekend to both of you.

Last month marked two years, two years since that deadly, horrific bombing at Kabul's Abbey Gate. A deadly bombing that killed 13 U.S. Service Members during the withdrawal from Afghanistan and more than 170 Afghans. But why? What happened? Did U.S. intelligence suspect that anything was coming?

More than two years later, in fact, just minutes ago, gold Star families got a new response after CNN pressed for answers. And we'll bring that story to you next.



TAPPER: In our national lead, emotional pleas this week for help, for information, and very simply, for the truth. These pleas come from people who deserve everyone's respect and compassion. Families who lost sons and daughters and spouses in the terrorist suicide bombing at Abbey Gate in the Kabul airport in Afghanistan. This happened on August 26, 2021, roughly two years ago. And you may remember, it killed the suicide bombing, 11 U.S. Marines, one Navy Corpsman, and one soldier, along with more than 170 Afghan civilians.

Forty-five U.S. Service Members, furthermore, were wounded in the attack, some of them grievously. It was the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in roughly a decade, and it came during the frenzied, chaotic U.S. withdrawal as service members were working to evacuate civilians and others at the airport. This week, many of those Gold Star families brought some pointed questions to Washington, D.C. and we wanted to try to help them get some answers.


MARK SCHMITZ, FATHER OF U.S. MARINE CORPS LANCE CPL. JARED SCHMITZ: Two years has gone by and where are we? To be frank, we're knee deep in bullshit.

TAPPER (voice-over): An emotional hearing on Capitol Hill with testimony from Gold Star families of the 13 service member killed in the Abbey Gate bombing in Kabul two years ago. There was understandable anger.

SCHMITZ: I identify as a father, a husband, a pissed off, fed up American patriot, and now, thanks to this administration, a Gold Star dad.

TAPPER (voice-over): And passion.

DARIN HOOVER, FATHER OF U.S. MARINE CORPS STAFF SGT. TAYLOR HOOVER: I want to know why this current administration isn't able to take responsibility for their actions in the days, the weeks, and the months leading up to this fateful day.

TAPPER (voice-over): Gold Star families still desperately seeking answers about what happened to their loved ones on that day.

CHRISTY SHAMBLIN, MOTHER-IN-LAW OF U.S. MARINE CORPS SGT. NICOLE GEE: Our people, our armed services request for air support, multiple military personnel saying this is not a good idea. Our snipers asking for permission to engage. Every one of them ignored. These are red flags. Why were they ignored?

TAPPER (voice-over): Some of the families pointing to previous testimony given by another Marine who was on the same mission, Marine Sergeant Tyler Vargas Andrews, who said he and other Marines believe they saw a man who fit the description of the suicide bomber but had been denied permission to engage him.

SGT. TYLER VARGAS-ANDREWS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We asked him for engagement, authority and permission. We asked him if we could shoot. Our battalion commander said and I quote, plain and simple we were ignored.

Our expertise was disregarded. No one was held accountable for our safety.

TAPPER (voice-over): How much did the Marines know about the pending attacker? A review of witness testimonies from a Pentagon investigation reveals conflicting recollections. One saying, quote, "All of the Marines on the ground were aware of the threat and what to look for, a man dressed in black with a shaved head." Another saying, "Occasionally Marines would say a guy is matching the description and look suspicious. You would go look at the guy and think maybe."

A third saying, quote, "It's possible we saw him, but we don't have a solid description of who he was. It's all speculation."

Marine Tristan Hirsch also told his local newspaper, quote, "We knew about him two days prior to the attack. We knew what he looked like. The CIA let us know. He looked exactly as they described him." CNN could not get in touch with Hirsch.

How solid was the US. Intelligence? CNN sought to get some of those answers this week.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Marine Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews has testified that Marine snipers at Abbey Gate spotted someone who they said matched the description of a suicide bomber, but were denied permission from their superiors to engage the threat. Do you know why?

BRIG. GEN. PATRICK RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It was a very challenging situation. Military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan made the best decisions and provided their best military advice based on what was known at the time.

TAPPER (voice-over): Another looming question whether U.S. Intelligence knew of an ISIS-K cell staging ground at a nearby hotel, but either was not given permission to strike them or ask the Taliban to do so, and they did not. ISIS-K later claimed responsibility for the attack on Abbey Gate.

HOOVER: You're telling me that we couldn't have precision dropped on those ISIS-K members? This was all actionable intel that we sat on. Nothing was done. Why?

TAPPER (voice-over): A new book by one of the Republican Committee staffers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, journalist Jerry Dunleavy, notes that in two different Pentagon reports, U.S. Intelligence wanted to strike the hotel, but, quote, "determined it was infeasible due to the negative response from the Taliban." Another says General Chris Donahue also asked the Taliban to conduct an assault on the hotel where ISIS-K was staged, but the Taliban never did. General Frank Mackenzie denied these claims at a Senate Armed Service hearing in September 2021.

SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): General Mackenzie, is it true that U.S. forces had the ISIS case cell under surveillance prior to the August 26 and could have struck them before the deadly terrorist attacks at Kabul but were not given the authority to strike?

GEN. FRANK MCKENZIE (RET.), MARINE CORPS: No, that's not true.

TAPPER (voice-over): This week, CNN followed up.

LIEBERMANN: It was said military officials were denied permission two days before the Abbey Gate attack to conduct an airstrike against an ISIS-K cell in Afghanistan. To your knowledge, is that true and why were they denied if so? RYDER: At the tactical level, the assessment was that the Abbey Gate attack was not preventable without degrading the mission to maximize the number of evacuees and that the leaders on the ground followed proper measures and procedures.

TAPPER (voice-over): Shortly before the hearing with Gold Star families, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley put out a statement saying in part, quote, we owe Gold Star families everything. We owe them transparency. We owe them honesty. We owe them accountability. We owe them the truth about what happened to their loved ones.

JACLYN SCHMITZ, STEPMOTHER OF U.S. MARINE CORPS LANCE CPL. JARED SCHMITZ: They are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, that were pawns in some agenda, and we deserve some information and collaboration from all political parties.


TAPPER: Now, for the last couple of days, we've been reaching out to the Biden administration to get reaction and for a guest, anyone who would be willing to answer some of the questions that we posed in this piece on camera. They declined. But minutes ago, the Pentagon did give us an extensive statement, too long to read the whole thing right now. We will put it all on

But here's the bottom line, according to the statement on whether snipers could have taken out the suspected bomber, the Pentagon says on the record, quote, we did not have intelligence that identified an individual by description or otherwise of the bomber. The preponderance of the intelligence indicated a complex attack like a car bomb. The statement goes on to say, quote, furthermore, descriptions of the bomber depicted in media included in this recently released book, do not match the actual description of the bomber. So it's possible that if a sniper had taken the shot on this individual whom he claims was the bomber, he very well could have been killing an innocent person. But according to the rules of engagement, any service member can use lethal force if they determine there is a threat to themselves or coalition forces, unquote.

On the second question we raised here, the allegation that there was an airstrike denied on a specific ISIS case, staging ground at a hotel not far from the airport. The Pentagon statement says, quote, according to the commanders in Kabul, there were not any vetted strike targets denied. We just never had that precise intelligence. It is accurate that we did ask the Taliban to raid or search several areas. They searched some and did not search others, unquote.

We will continue to press for answers on these questions. Let us turn now to Alicia Lopez, her son, U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Hunter Lopez is among the 13 service members who were killed in the bombing. First of all, Ms. Lopez, thank you so much for joining us. Tell us about your son. What do you want our viewers to know about him?

ALICIA LOPEZ, MOTHER OF U.S. MARINE CORPS CPL. HUNTER LOPEZ: Thank you, first of all, for having me, Jake, I appreciate your time and in telling our children's story. My son, as well as the other 12 are nothing short but heroes. They went out there and did their job knowing that there was an intimate danger, and they still continued to try to get as many people out of Afghanistan as much as they could.

TAPPER: The Pentagon statement about these two questions that we raised that were brought up in the hearing earlier this week among gold star families. The Pentagon statement seemed to suggest that there was not any actionable intelligence when it came to the suicide bomber in order for a sniper to get him, to take him out before the bombing, and that there was not any vetted intelligence that would have merited an airstrike on that hotel. So that's their basic answer, and I'm wondering what you think about that and if you heard anything new in what the Pentagon sent us today.

A. LOPEZ: This is the first I hear that the pentagon even responded. But --

TAPPER: Yes. Just happened, I agree with you, it just happened minutes ago. We'll put the whole statement on. But you're right, they have never -- this directly addressed these two questions.

A. LOPEZ: Yes. Well, if their statement that they released today is anything like the DoD report that we received at our homes, it's short of accurate information. They failed to speak with people that were there. Important people like Sergeant Tyler Vargas, who had his -- the bomber on his sights, and they did not speak with him.

There were several marines that were injured that were not spoken into. So their statements that they release is short of incomplete and not correct. And it's been two years. And so I don't really believe them.


TAPPER: You and your husband attended the roundtable that Congressman Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, held last month. What answers were you looking for there, and have you gotten any answers at all since then?

A. LOPEZ: Sadly, we have not received any answers. We have requested true accountability and validation of the stories that the Marines that were injured and that were there have told us. We've requested numerous times to have my son's property returned to us. That, again, has been ignored, and they have not turned that or given that to us. Just accurate statements of where my child was at the time of the bombing, where he took his last breath, all that, we have no information on any of that.

TAPPER: I want to play something that your husband said during the August roundtable.


HERMAN LOPEZ, FATHER OF MARINE CORPS CORPORAL HUNTER LOPEZ: We find ourselves reading sanitized letters from the White House on this anniversary of this tragic day. Letters seemingly authored to appease gold star families with an overall tone of indifference to not only gold star families, but to all the veterans who fought in Afghanistan and all who were injured during these two decades of war.


TAPPER: It sounds like you feel as though or your husband feels as though the Biden administration would rather just forget all about Afghanistan and the pain caused by what happened during the withdrawal.

A. LOPEZ: Absolutely. We have requested numerous times to speak with somebody from the White House, the President, anybody that was there and that made the decisions that they made. However, none of them have responded to our invitation. Again, we sit with reports that they came to our house and said that this was a true and accurate investigation of what happened and it's fall short from the actual truth.

TAPPER: Alicia Lopez, thank you so much. May Hunter's memory be a blessing.

A. LOPEZ: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: Coming up, the controversial vote next week for the Women's Tennis Association that could put one of its major tournaments in a place where women are not exactly respected, Saudi Arabia.



TAPPER: In our Sports Lead, as tennis fans pack the stands during the first week of the U.S. Open in New York, there appear to be some rumblings happening behind the scenes over reports of the Women's Tennis Association contemplating flirting with the idea of partnering with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A country where women obviously do not have the same rights as men, to say the least, and a country whose questionable human rights record is practically being glazed over through what is called sports washing, lucrative cash grabbing deals being the shiny object thrown at famous athletes and sports organizations from around the world to make the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seem more palatable. Now, the WTA may decide to have its season ending final in Saudi Arabia.

Joining me is former professional tennis player Patrick McEnroe. Patrick, is there any possibility that this potential move is not about the money?

PATRICK MCENROE, FORMER PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: Well, I think it all is about the money, Jake. And it's interesting how this has all come about, because this started because the WTA championships were originally being played in China. And then in 2020, of course, a pandemic hit. And then what happened after that? The WTA made the moral decision not to go back to China because of the situation with the tennis player, Peng Shuai, who, as you may remember, accused a high ranking official in the Communist Party of sexual assault. So that started this stance a couple years ago. So what's happened since, Jake, is that the Women's Tour finals have gone to various countries, even here in the U.S., in Mexico. It's on the table. Now, one of the places it could go is Saudi Arabia. But I've just been told by a source very close to the decision making process that is not going to happen this year, but it's still on the table for potentially happening next year and in years down the road. So the quick answer to question is, of course, Jake, it's always about the money.

TAPPER: And as you noted, we saw the WTA in April walk back its stance against holding any tournaments in China. And, of course, then, you know, they first they took this moral stance, and then they didn't. Here are images of star Chinese player, Peng Shuai, who, as you noted, accused a top Chinese official of sexual assault. I guess the biggest question I have is, how do the individual players feel? Because, you know, Saudi Arabia is a country where, I mean, to say the least, you know, women just the right to walk down the street dressed like a woman's tennis player in the United States would want to walk is nonexistent.

MCENROE: Well, I think let's take a step back for a second here, Jake, because I think the Women's Tennis Association has been at the forefront of many, many positive things.

TAPPER: Right. Of course.

MCENROE: In fact, they're celebrating, yeah, 50 years of equal prize money at the U.S. open, being celebrated this year, and honored what, of course, was, of course, Billie Jean King. Michelle Obama was there as well, on opening night. But I also find it a little disconcerting that all of us in the media and those of us in the sports world as well, take shots athletes, professional athletes, individual players, as you rightly point out, for participating in a sport that they're paid to do.


Whereas, you know, the U.S. government is still very much involved with Saudi Arabia. I have many friends, as I'm sure you do, Jake, in the financial world who they always say, well, the money is in that part of the world. We need to go there to raise money. So I do find it a little bit off putting, I guess is the way I would describe it, that we're always picking on the athletes for doing this.

Yes, it's about the money. I think the individual players understand the dilemma that they face, but at the end of the day, it's their professional reputation. It's they're -- it's what they do for a living. And I don't see anybody in the business community not going to certain countries in the Middle East because they're going there and chasing the money. It's just that we're not talking about it on television.

TAPPER: So that's a totally fair criticism. I will note that we are pretty vicious when it comes to the way that Biden, Trump, Obama and on and on have acquiesced and bowed down sometimes literally before the rulers of Saudi Arabia. And we're pretty critical of the LIV Golf Tournament as well.

And then let me make just one other note, which is about what the WTA and all that they've done. I guess that's why it's so disappointing, because they have fought for something -- for so much to elevate women and girls, not just in tennis, but in society. And that's why this stings a little for those of us who are fans.

MCENROE: I think that's very valid. And I think, by the way, I wasn't taking a shot at you and --

TAPPER: Oh, I know, I know, I know.

MCENROE: But yes. No. And Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert have spoken out against the WTA going there. And you know what? Maybe they won't go there. I personally don't think they should go there. That's just me personally. But when you've got other sporting organizations going there and other people going there for business reasons, to me it's a little tough to take a shot at the WTA.

They've got to deal with the reality, the pragmatism of the business they're trying to run. And the other interesting twist to this, Jake, when you think that sports and politics don't mix, one of the other venues that they're talking to is in the Czech Republic, and there's some rumblings that the Czech government will not let in Russian and Belarussian players of which there are many at the top of the women's tennis tour get into the country. So yet just another wrinkle in this whole situation that's ongoing.

TAPPER: It's all fascinating and always great to talk to you about it. Former professional tennis player Patrick McEnroe, thanks. Good to see you, sir. Hope you have a great weekend.

MCENROE: Have a great weekend.

TAPPER: He was one of Louisiana's only pediatric cardiologists in the entire state. The silencing attempt that led him to leave Louisiana, that's next.



TAPPER: In our Health Lead right now, there are LGBTQ parents in the United States trying to figure out how their kids can talk about their home lives at school because multiple states are considering or passing laws to ban any official instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Louisiana, in the southern United States, is one of those states. CNN met a family there who is concerned enough to leave. The problem with this family is one of the dads is a doctor with a desperately needed specialty, a medical specialty that Louisianans need. CNN's Meg Terrell spoke to him about uprooting his family.


TOM KLEINMAHON: Yes, I mean, this is what we called it, our wall of love.

MEG TIRRELL, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When Jake and Tom Kleinmahon moved back to New Orleans, the city where they met and fell in love, they planned to raise their two kids and retire here.

T. KLEINMAHON: We built this house honestly to live here forever.

TIRRELL: A pediatric cardiologist, Jake returned to be medical director of the pediatric heart transplant program at Ochsner Health. The only program like it in Louisiana.

TIRRELL (on camera): What do you love about being here?

DR. JAKE KLEINMAHON, PEDIATRIC CARDIOLOGIST: I feel like I really make a difference here. And before I came, any complex patients were having to be sent out of state for heart transplants. And I felt like the kids of Louisiana deserve to stay in Louisiana.

TIRRELL (voice over): But now Jake and his family are leaving the state after a set of bills passed the legislature this summer that they say make them feel unwelcome.

J. KLEINMAHON: The part that really solidified it for us was when we were watching the Senate Education Committee hear the -- about the Don't Say Gay Bill.

REP. DODIE HORTON (R-LA): HB 466 prohibits teacher-led discussions on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-12.

J. KLEINMAHON: To think that if our kids went to public school and they were made fun of because they had two dads, a teacher would not have been able to step in and make a learning experience about different types of families.

TIRRELL (voice over): HB 466 and another bill, which sought to require permission from parents for school employees to use certain names or pronouns for students were vetoed by Louisiana's governor in June. And a third bill banning gender affirming medical care for most minors overcame the governor's veto and is expected to take effect in January.

J. KLEINMAHON: I'm really sad to leave, but I feel like I don't really have a choice. But the way that the political landscape in Louisiana is going, it's pretty clear that these laws are going to pass eventually.

TIRRELL (on camera): Jake's departure doesn't just mean there's one fewer specialist like him here in New Orleans. He says it leaves just two heart transplant cardiologists for kids for the whole state of Louisiana.


J. KLEINMAHON: There is going to be a hole that's left when I leave.

TIRRELL: How much is that weighing on you? J. KLEINMAHON: By far the hardest part of this decision was thinking about my patients.

TIRRELL (voice over): The Kleinmahons will move to Long Island, New York, where Jake will start a heart transplant program, and the whole family will start a new life.

J. KLEINMAHON: We teach our children about kindness, about celebrating differences, and we hope that they recognize this as us doing something so that they can live in an area where they can be free, they can be kind, they can celebrate our differences, our different type of family.

TIRRELL: Meg Tirrell, CNN, New Orleans.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Meg Terrell for that piece.

Coming up Sunday on State of the Union, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, fresh off her trip to China. Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, as his party confronts questions about the health of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Plus, a revealing profile on Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina. That is Sunday morning at 9:00 and again at noon only on CNN.

Coming up next in "THE SITUATION ROOM", 2024 Republican Candidate Asa Hutchinson, his take on the now questionable leadership status of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.