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Don Lemon Tonight

Administration Officials Try To Contain The Fallout From U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan; What Taliban Takeover Means To Veterans; Taliban Says Baradar Arrived In Afghanistan After 20 Years; Afghan Women Fearing For Their Lives With The Taliban's Return To Power; Texas Governor Greg Abbott Tests Positive For COVID-19; Coronavirus Pandemic In Blue And Red States; Just 33 Percent Of Black New Yorkers Are Fully Vaccinated. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 17, 2021 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST (on camera): Top administration officials try to contain the fallout from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the collapse of the government and the Taliban returning to power in Kabul. Aides say Biden takes full responsibility for what's unfolding there and is expected to address the American people again in the coming days.

The National Security advisor, Jake Sullivan, is saying the U.S. is in talks with the Taliban to allow safe passage for Americans and Afghans who helped America during the long war to leave the country.

And a Taliban claiming there will be no violence against Afghan women. But tonight, one woman in Kabul is telling CNN's Clarrisa Ward she fears for her life.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Until last week, Fasila (ph) was working for the U.N. That's not her real name and she asked we not show her face. She's petrified that the Taliban will link her to western organizations and says she hasn't gone outside since they arrived in Kabul.

(On camera): You look very frightened.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Exactly. Too much in size. It is not easy for a person to work a lot with international organization, having more than 10 years' experience of working with international, and now no one of them helped me. Just sending e-mails to different organizations that I worked with you, but now no response.

WARD (on camera): Are you angry?

UNKNOWN (voice-over): No, I'm not angry. But as a person who worked with them, now I need their supports. It is not fair.

WARD (on camera): You look very emotional as well. UNKNOWN (voice-over): Yeah, because I'm thinking about my future, my daughters. What will happen to them? If they kill me, two daughters will be without mother.


LEMON (on camera): Joining me now, CNN White House correspondent John Harwood and Mark McKinnon. He is a former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain, and he is the executive producer of "The Circus." Gentlemen, good evening. The stories are really just unbelievable coming out of Afghanistan.

John, the president is back at the White House tonight while his administration tries to contain the fallout over the chaos and the fall of Kabul. He is going to do an interview with ABC News tomorrow and he's sure to be pressed on what went so wrong. What do you think we'll hear?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I would expect that George Stephanopoulos will press him on why it was that the United States was caught so unaware by the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and security forces.

President Biden has said in his speech yesterday it was faster than we anticipated, but we don't really know why it wasn't anticipated. Was it intelligence? Was the intelligence disregarded? The other question would be why didn't you do more with the time that you had to get tens of thousands of not only American personnel but Afghan personnel who helped the United States out of the country?

Having said that, the difference between success and failure for Biden is not whether the Taliban took over the country because it was obvious they were going to take over the country in either case. The difference between temporary humiliation -- we saw those images yesterday -- and enduring calamity is whether or not you can get safely those people out.

They've now regained control of the airport. They say they can take out up to 9,000 people a day. If you do that for two weeks, you get more than 100,000 people out. It is still possible for them to salvage the situation, but all that work is ahead of them, and I would expect President Biden to emphasize that they've begun that work and will sustain it.

LEMON: Mark McKinnon, look, this is -- this is still a disaster that could really blow up at any moment. But the president is sticking to his message that it was the right thing to do to get out. The reality of this and the politics is obviously just horrible. What will the lasting impact of this be? Is it too soon to tell? Do we know?

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH AND JOHN MCCAIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF "THE CIRCUS": I think John makes a great point. I mean there is expected and reasonable hyperventilating about what has been going on the last few days. It has been a calamity, it has been a collapse. And John mentioned that the Biden response is that they hadn't anticipated this particular outcome. Well, that is inexcusable. I mean, that's what you do in military scenario planning. You plan for any outcome, any possibility. So this should have been a possibility that was anticipated and there should have been a scenario for dealing with it. So that is at Biden's feet.

But I agree with John as well. Listen, we are going to be leaving Afghanistan. Joe Biden campaigned on that. Donald Trump was going to do that. I suspect that this outcome wouldn't have been much different had Donald Trump been in a second term right now.


MCKINNON: By looking back, the real political consequences will be will Joe Biden and will this administration gets everybody out that needs to get out. Will we leave no Afghan behind? Will we leave no American behind? Because that's what ultimately we'll be judged upon, whether or not people were evacuated and whether or not people were left behind and killed by the Taliban.

LEMON: Mm-hmm. John, there's so much news going on in the country right now. I want to turn now to the pandemic and the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, testing positive for COVID. Let's hope that he gets well, that he's okay with this. He's receiving Regeneron's monoclonal antibody treatment. But how does this look when he is supposed to mask mandates, issued an executive order banning schools from even requiring masks?

HARWOOD: Like you, Don, I hope and expect that Governor Abbott will get better and there's every reason to think he will. Not only has he been vaccinated, tested every day, but he also -- even though he has no symptoms, immediately got the gold-plated monoclonal antibody treatment, which of course is not available to most people and typically not available to people who are asymptomatic.

And I've got to say, I don't think -- for somebody who through his actions endangers vulnerable people in his own state for votes, hypocritical is not strong enough a word for that. I think the word for that is immoral. And I don't know that that reality will harm Greg Abbott in Texas. But the fact that he would carry on with the protection of the best that medicine has to offer while doing what he's doing to facilitate the pandemic in his own state is -- it's a very, very ugly thing to see.

LEMON: Mark, I want to put up the images from this event that Greg Abbott attended last night: a packed room, indoors, no masks. Do you think getting COVID may change his mind at all about masks?

MCKINNON: I would sure hope so, Don. I mean, given that photo, we know that the governor has COVID. So presumably he had COVID last night. Presumably he was spreading COVID among those who were at that gathering and presumably -- they obviously didn't have masks on and presumably many of them were unvaccinated. So, the governor himself likely was spreading the disease as recently as last night. And so, I mean, the Texas schools are about to go back into session and we're going see what's happening, we're going to see what's been happening in Georgia and other jurisdictions, where because there's not a mask mandate, they're going into school for two days and then literally everybody is going home and quarantining.

And so this notion that, you know, it's about freedom, well, nobody should have the freedom to infect other people and make other people sick. That's like saying, you know, you shouldn't have to wear seatbelts or you should be able to drive drunk.

LEMON: Yeah. Thank you, gentlemen. Be safe. I'll see you soon.

Let's bring in now Jason Kander. He is a former army captain and Afghanistan veteran who work with the Veterans Community Project. Jason, I'm so happy to have you here. I want to thank you right off for your service to this country and I appreciate you bringing your expertise to this program this evening. Thank you. Good evening to you.


LEMON: How do you feel seeing what is happening in Kabul? I mean, it's got to be painful to watch.

KANDER: Yeah. I mean, it's terrible. It's not unexpected but it doesn't change how terrible it is to actually see the Taliban take over. You know, for 10 years, we've assumed this was eventually going to happen, but there's just so many ways in which it's terrible.

I mean, in some ways, honestly, it feels like country after about, I don't know, more than a decade of completely forgetting about it, has discovered that we have been at war in Afghanistan. And even that, it's probably 20th on the list of what's frustrating, but realizing that the country is just realizing this is happening, that's frustrating.

So, there's just a lot about it that is frustrating for those of us who served there. It is upsetting. So what I have been trying to do over the last few days is make myself useful to my fellow Afghanistan veterans because that's really all I'm in a position to do right now.

LEMON: Mm-hmm. Listen, the blitzkrieg takeover by the Taliban has left many of our Afghan allies in grave danger. Your thoughts when you watch what happened with the Afghan forces and the Afghan government that you and others sacrificed so much to establish and it seems to have just -- really it just disappeared, Jason.

KANDER: Yeah. I'm not surprised.


KANDER: I guess what I don't -- I have a lot of anger in this situation, but I don't really direct any of it at anybody in particular. I definitely don't direct it at the Afghan national security forces. It seems like a lot of people in this country have chosen -- there are like a couple of paths people have chosen here. Some people who are actually at the debate have chosen to point their ire at a partisan foe.

You know, Republicans want to point it at President Biden. A lot of my fellow Democrats want to point it at President Bush or President Trump. I think over 20 years, everybody has plenty of blame to share in all of this. Some people just want to point it at the Afghan military and say, why won't they fight for their country?

And for those of us who worked with the Afghan military, there are few things and important to remember. This is not like a soldier from Texas serving with a soldier from Montana and say, we're both Americans.

If you're from Helmand province, you've probably never been to Mazar- i-Sharif, you've probably never met (INAUDIBLE), which is the ethnicity we were more likely to have in the northern part of the country. You're probably (INAUDIBLE). Your country, Afghanistan, is a series of lines that was drawn by people who didn't live there many years ago, right? So, it's a whole different set of questions when it comes to fighting for your country.

And then on top of that, when you -- again, withdrawal is the right thing for our country, but there are facts and consequences that come with it like the close air support, the intelligence support, the technology, the way that we trained them to fight. It's not really there for them at that point.

The government of Afghanistan has not been in many cases in a position to feed them. So, now you're starving, you're surrounded, and it's not like when you're deployed to another country. It's not a choice of do I fight to the end and give my own life, because that is what I do for the people around me.

That is not a difficult choice to make when you're trained. They train you to make that choice. It's more than that. It's if I continue to fight, I'm either killed or captured, the Taliban will know that it was me and they're going to my hometown to kill my wife and my kids and my parents. That's a very different set of decisions to make.

And so I just think that there's more nuance to the question of, did they stand up and fight?

LEMON: The best outcome for this since we are here, Jason?

KANDER: The best outcome for this is that we get as many people out. We need to be out as possible. That we continue -- look, it has sort of settled in this narrative of this is a massive failure, a massive catastrophe. This story is not over yet.

The United States military, the best military in human history, is on the ground, secured the airport. And now, diplomatically, my understanding is we're discussing with the Taliban how we can get people out who are not within the perimeter. So the story is not over yet. Is this story going end in some massive victory? No, it's not. We're not going to look back on this chapter of this war and say this was a success. I believe we'll look back on this war and say we accomplished the objectives that were set out in the first play.

We denied a sanctuary to international terrorism for 20 years. We made life better for some people for 20 years. Should we have been there for 20 years? No, but we made life better for some people for 20 years.

This last part, how we exited, did we do right by the people who did right by us? We still have an opportunity to get that less wrong, and that's what I'm hopeful for, because the people that I served with, they're good people who I admire, the Afghans, and I'm worried about them and I'm worried about their families and I want them to get here because they deserve it.

LEMON: Well, Jason, I'm so glad that you're reaching out to your fellow soldiers and folks who are there, and take care of yourself. Be well. Thank you.

KANDER: I will.

LEMON: Thank you.

KANDER: Thanks, Don. Appreciate it.

LEMON: Also tonight, the Taliban releasing this video of their co- founder, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arriving in Kandahar. It is the first time that he has set foot in Afghanistan in 20 years.

Joining me now are two people who have done a lot of reporting on this Taliban co-founder. Jessica Donati, she is a foreign affairs reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" and author of "Eagle Down: The Last Special Forces Fighting the Forever War." And Toby Harnden is here as well. He is a former foreign correspondent for the "Daily Telegraph" and "Sunday Times" of London and the author of "First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11."

Good evening to both of you. Thank you so much. Jessica, I'm going to start with you. A few years ago, Mullah Baradar was in prison. Tonight, he is back on Afghan soil and could be the next leader there. You point out that he owes his freedom to the U.S. Why did the Trump administration helped release him back in 2018? Please give us some insight on this.



DONATI: So, the Trump administration back in 2018 was looking for an (INAUDIBLE) for the Taliban that they thought would give them confidence in the decision to pull out. And so they pushed Islamabad to free him because they thought that he would be a meaningful person to negotiate with.

The other important thing to know about him is that he had actually tried to surrender before. When he was leading -- probably one of the main leaders of the Taliban back in 2001, he tried to surrender. He tried to tell the Afghan government I want to join you and this war is over, and he was turned away, which made the Trump administration think that perhaps they had a second chance at peace.

The problem was that by the time, you fast forward almost 20 years, the Taliban were in such a strong position that they no longer really wanted to negotiate.

LEMON: Hmm. Interesting. Toby, the deal with the Taliban was so important to the former president that Trump wanted Baradar and other Taliban members to come to Camp David in 2019 before the 9/11 anniversary, but it was eventually called off. Why did they set such a store by this deal?

TOBY HARNDEN, FORMER FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT FOR THE DAILY TELEGRAPH: Well, I think they decided that the war should be ended and they wanted to do it by any means possible.

Mullah Baradar is a very interesting character. As Jessica mentioned, the fact that he tried to surrender in 2001 really points to sort of a moment in time very early on when we achieved considerable success in the first few weeks of the campaign, toppled the Taliban almost as quickly as the Taliban toppled the Afghan government this year.

At that point, if we'd kept to our narrow war aims of pursuing al- Qaeda and denying sanctuary in Afghanistan to al-Qaeda, we could have ended the war, incorporated a small element of the Taliban into the Afghan government, which would have been per Afghan tradition. But we chose not to do that. And so here we are 20 years later in a much, much worse position and perhaps more importantly a much, much worse position for the people of Afghanistan.

LEMON (on camera): Days after the administration signed the deal with the Taliban, Jessica, then-President trump spoke to Baradar on the phone. Here's what he said about it at the time.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I spoke to the leader of the Taliban today. We had a good conversation. We have agreed there's no violence. We don't want violence. We'll see what happens. They're dealing with Afghanistan, but we'll see what happens.

The relationship is very good that I have with Mullah, and we had a good long conversation today. You know, they want to cease the violence.


LEMON (on camera): That was back in March of 2020, but clearly the violence never ended. Was giving Baradar this kind of credibility a big mistake?

DONATI: I think that Baradar had the credibility to negotiate on behalf of the Taliban. The problem was that he never actually guaranteed or even suggested that he was prepared to reduce violence.

The Trump administration negotiators tried really hard for a year to get the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire, to get them to agree to negotiate with the Afghan government, but it didn't get very far. The only thing they got them to agree to was to give the Americans safe passage on the way out, to not attack them on the way out. They never agreed to not attack Afghan forces.


DONATI: And they never agreed to reach a settlement with them, which is why the whole thing that has happened these past few days, which is incredibly fast, is not that surprising.

LEMON: Toby, in 2020, Baradar met with then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Doha. What can you tell us about their negotiations?

HARNDEN: Well, it wasn't a party to them, but as Jessica said, there were no meaningful negotiations because the Trump administration and the United States were deciding to run for the exits. And even the relatively lax conditions that they laid down, the Taliban clearly had no interest in abiding by.

I think another important point to make about this is alongside Mullah Baradar, you have a man called Mullah Fazl (ph), who was part of the Taliban negotiating team in Doha and reportedly travelled with Baradar to Kandahar after the collapse of the Afghan government.

LEMON: Yeah.


HARNDEN: Now, while Mullah Baradar has regarded or has been relatively moderate figure, as jarring as that term might seemed, juxtaposed with the word "Taliban," Mullah Fazl (ph) is absolutely not and he was another figure who was present in 2001 and was cited by the United Nations as being guilty of genocide, massacres of Hazaras in Bamian province, and the CIA believes he was responsible for the massacre of 10,000 or even 20,000 Hazaras across Northern Afghanistan.

He spent 12 years in Guantanamo Bay and he was released by the Obama administration in 2014, one that Taliban find in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl. Now, if Mullah Fazl becomes the true heart of the new Taliban government, we don't know exactly how that's going to be composed. That is very, very ominous indeed.

LEMON (on camera): We learned a lot in the segment. Toby, Jessica, thank you both very much. I really appreciate it. Be well.

Overnight, the women and girls of Afghanistan have lost 20 years of progress, and now they're terrified about what the Taliban might do next. Next, exclusive audio from inside Afghanistan.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): If we stay here for one more hour, there is going to be a massacre. I'm telling you that there is going to be a massacre. Everybody will be killed here.





LEMON (on camera): The U.S. sold the women and girls of Afghanistan on a dream of education and greater quality. Now, the Taliban take over, threatens to turn back 20 years of progress. And even though the Taliban is promising more tolerance -- quote -- "within the framework of Sharia law," experts who work in the country warned of atrocities to come now that American troops have left.

Joining me now is Kimberley Motley. She is an international human rights attorney and civil rights attorney. Kimberly, thank you so much. I appreciate the conversation that we're going to have and that you are here to discuss. Good evening to you.

You work in the Afghanistan for years with women, helping champion their rights. You're in touch with one Afghan woman in Kabul who worked with you and is hiding right now. I want to play some of what she sent you over the last two days and then we'll talk about it. Here it is.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): I'm done, my life is over, and I don't know like -- I'm not sure if I can keep you messaging anymore. Thank you so much for everything, Kim, but I think it doesn't going to work out, and then you guys were super late to control things. It was -- it was way too late to control the situation. I'm sorry but your efforts don't mean anything anymore.

Kim, the thing is that if we stay here for one more hour, there is going to be a massacre. I'm telling you that there is going to be a massacre. Everybody will be killed here. Please, we are under attack. There is a big, big mob. They are attacking us. They are -- maybe there are some Taliban fighters among them. And they are armed. And there is like thousands of them. It's not just a few hundred. It's thousands of them.

I'm really scared. I don't want to be here anymore because I'm really scared. I'm scared for my life and my family's life. And also I'm dying of anxiety and also stress. It is really stressful. It's really, really, really stressful. I don't know what to do.


LEMON (on camera): So listen, Kimberly, while CNN can't independently verify what she is seeing, it is heartbreaking to listen. Clearly, she's terrified. I know that you can't disclose much about her, but how dangerous is it for these women and others like her?

KIMBERLEY MOTLEY, INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ATTORNEY AND CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Thank you for having me on the show, Don. I mean it's an extremely precarious situation of where women are today compared to literally last week. I mean there are so many women that are just completely terrified for their lives, including my friend that you've heard on the audio recording.

I mean women are being turned away from going to school. Women are being turned away from going to work. There are literally people that are painting over women's faces in public spaces. You know, it's extraordinarily just heartbreaking and terrifying what a lot of the women are going through now in Afghanistan.

LEMON: She mentioned an attack or perhaps a mass advance. CNN doesn't really have any reporting of mass reprisals or massacres in Kabul, but there's no question that women have real good reason to be afraid there. You're calling this a human rights nightmare. Talk about everything women will lose, you believe, under the Taliban.

MOTLEY: Well, I mean this is definitely a human rights catastrophe. I mean this is a human rights nuclear bomb. And so what I'm concerned about is what we're seeing in real time, that we're seeing that women are being restricted with their movements.

I know that there are women journalists there that are being targeted. I know that there are high-profile women right now that are currently under house arrest that you are not hearing from anymore that are not allowed to move.

So, you know, women are -- there's schools being closed. There are women being turned away from work. Those women that are going out, they're being stopped at checkpoints and asked to look through their phones to see what they have in their phones and some are being detained, and their electrics are being taken away. I have had reports of women being beaten in the streets already.


MOTLEY: So if this government wants any level of credibility, they need to allow women right now and show the world that women do have equal rights, that they do have the freedom of movement within Afghanistan and outside of Afghanistan.

By land and air, they need to release the high-profile women that are currently under house arrest and allow them to have freedom of movement. Freedom of movement without a male guardian, which is, you know, consistent with human rights. That can happen right now in real time.

If this current government of Afghanistan wants to show the world and wants to have legitimacy, they can do these things and we can see how serious they are in protecting women's rights as they said today in their press conference.

LEMON: Kimberley, I appreciate you bringing light to this and informing us. Thank you so much. Please, keep us updated and let us know what happens to the women, your friends who you were speaking to in Afghanistan. Thank you.

MOTLEY: Thank you for having me.

LEMON: Texas Governor Greg Abbott testing positive for COVID after battling local officials over mask mandates. Will it change anything as the virus is ravaging his state?




LEMON: Texas Governor Greg Abbott testing positive for coronavirus. That after he has been fighting the people of his state and local officials to keep them from implementing public health measures like mask mandates.

Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Megan Ranney, a professor of Emergency Medicine at Brown University, and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Hello to both of you. Thank you for joining.

Dr. Ranney, you first. We've got video of Governor Abbott at this packed public event full of maskless people last night in Fairview, Texas. That's a high transmission area. Even though the governor is vaccinated, the CDC recommends masks indoors, public spaces for vaccinated people. He is now isolating and taking Regeneron, which is antibody treatment, and his office says that he's not showing symptoms. Give me your reaction.

MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, BROWN UNIVERSITY: Obviously, my first reaction is that I hope he's okay. Chances are he will be because he's vaccinated and we know that the vaccines prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

My second reaction is, oh, the irony. I mean this is why we have been recommending masks in these high transmission areas, because the delta variant does spread and it can spread even to vaccinated people. I just hope that he didn't get anyone sick last night at that event.

LEMON: Ron, I mentioned that Abbott has been one of the most vocal Republican governors fighting local mandates. The tension has been high between the governor and democratic-leaning cities in his state, states like Austin -- in his state, I should say, like Austin. You have a great article out on and it talks about the fight between red sates and their blue cities. What is behind it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I mean, Don, I think what we're seeing now is, as I said in the story, a breaking point in the tension between red states and blue cities. The long arc of how we got here is that virtually, every metro area in the Sun Belt, from Atlanta in the east through Dallas and Austin and Houston all the way to Phoenix, has been growing more democratic in recent years.

And as that has happened, Republicans who still control statewide power in all of these states, largely through their dominance of rural areas, have gotten more aggressive about overturning the decisions of those local Democratic officials and everything from regulating plastic bags to police budgets.

We saw that in big force last year when governors like Ducey in Arizona and Kemp in Georgia, DeSantis and certainly Abbott, all overrode decisions by local officials to limit business hours, to require masks, and to have lockdowns.

What we've seeing now, really, I think for the first time, is a full scale uprising in states like Florida, certainly in Texas and in Phoenix. We have multiple local governments and school districts who have said they are going to impose mask requirements because they believe it is necessary for public health as cases explode in those states. And now we have battles that are barrelling ahead in courts in all of those states.

Ducey, DeSantis and Abbott all took actions today to punish local governments that were mandating either masks or vaccines. This is not yet over. There will be questions about whether the federal government, the Biden administration needs to intervene more aggressively.

LEMON: Dr. Ranney, we are seeing these red states putting politics over public health, but you are warning vaccinated blue states are at risk of their own deadly delta surges in the next few months. Why is that?

RANNEY: It's for two reasons, Don. The first is that even in highly vaccinated blue states, vaccine rates are not universal. You still have large pockets of folks who are unvaccinated.

And I will tell you, working in the ER, that I am seeing increasing numbers of people who are unvaccinated coming in really sick with COVID and getting hospitalized despite living in Rhode Island, a very blue state with good vaccination rates. That is the first thing.


RANNEY: It will still spread among those unvaccinated folks in our communities.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

RANNEY: The second thing is that every hospital in the country is short-staffed. And so even if small COVID surge right now is going to put us over the edge. Our emergency departments are bursting at the seams. Our intensive care units are bursting out the seams across the country even without increases in COVID hospitalizations and ICU stays.

I'm really worried about what is going to happen when kids go back to school, especially in those districts that don't have mask mandates and when we all move indoors which we're bound to do as the weather starts to get colder. So we are set up for a potentially very scary fall if we don't start seeing some changes in those public health measures and of course if we don't see more folks getting vaccinated.

LEMON: Ron, why is that -- if you look, seven in 10 Americans support masking in schools. That's an Axios-Ipsos poll.


LEMON: Why is it such a fight over this if seven out of 10 people agree?

BROWNSTEIN: Seven out of 10 even in Texas support masking in schools, according to another Ipsos poll released today. The answer is because the republican base opposes it and we are talking about officials in DeSantis, in Kemp, in Abbott who are following the Trump strategy of kind of winning elections by mobilizing their base at all costs.

But, you know, as I pointed out in my story, the republican heartland, the rural areas in the states, stagnant or shrinking. The metros are providing all the population growth in states like Georgia, Arizona, and Texas. And Republicans have to remain competitive in those places.

I think by pursuing such an ideological stand on masks, by reflecting the kind of the priorities of their very conservative, rural, in many cases evangelical base, they're pushing a lot of those suburban voters about as far as they can, and it will be fascinating to see whether they stand with them if we start to see as the doctor said, caseloads rising when school resumes.

LEMON: It got to be the last word. Thank you both. I appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

LEMON: Vaccination rates among some communities of color still alarmingly low in some areas of the country, including in places you may not expect.




LEMON (on camera): Tonight, as a highly contagious delta variant spreads across the country, the CDC says nearly 30 percent of Americans eligible to get the vaccine are still not vaccinated, and it's a particular problem in communities of color here in New York City, where community leaders are battling hesitancy myths and misinformation, trying to convince folks who are unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves. Here's Athena Jones.


ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the streets of Queens, New York --

UNKNOWN: We want to talk about the vaccine. Have you been vaccinated?

UNKNOWN: No, not yet.

JONES (voice-over): These vaccine advocates are on a mission.

TINA BURKE, JOSEPH P. ADDABBO FAMILY HEALTH CENTER: We ain't preaching. We're just teaching.

JONES (voice-over): To talk to anyone and everyone about getting vaccinated.

BURKE: You're hesitant, too.

JONES (voice-over): But not everyone is ready for a shot.

UNKNOWN: It is just my personal and spiritual belief --

BURKE: Absolutely.

UNKNOWN: -- that God will take care of me.

JONES (voice-over): It's about listening, being seen, and making the case for a lifesaving vaccine.

BURKE: We are a part of the community, and we want to understand what their concerns are.

JONES (on camera): The neighborhood with the lowest vaccination rate in New York City is right here, Rar Rockaway. Nearly half the population of the zip code is Black and about a quarter is Hispanic, but just about 35 percent are fully vaccinated.

UNKNOWN: If you don't have COVID, why take the shot?

JONES (voice-over): To prevent you from dying and being hospitalized.

UNKNOWN: Like the flu shot. You don't have to take it. That's my feeling on it.

JONES (voice-over): Citywide, just 28 percent of Black New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 44 are fully vaccinated.

JONES (voice-over): You're worried the about the vaccine itself.

UNKNOWN: Right because it's going kill people off.

JONES (voice-over): The vaccine?


JONES (voice-over): The stakes are high. Far Rockaway is one of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic. One out of every seven people here has been diagnosed with the virus.


JONES (voice-over): Shaun Mohamed hasn't gotten the shot because he says he doesn't know how it would impact his Crohn's disease.

You're not that worried about getting COVID even with the delta and all that?

MOHAMED: I mean yeah, of course, I am, yeah, because any second, you know, I could get delta and I'll be in the hospital, but there's no information online. I rather get information online than have a doctor talk to me.

JONES (voice-over): For some, it's financial.


JONES (voice-over): A home health aide?

LEWIS: Yeah.

JONES (voice-over): Viola Lewis is worried about getting sick from the shot and missing work.

LEWIS: I don't want take the vaccine and go back to work immediately because if I take sick day, my client have no way to get aid.

JONES (voice-over): Reverend Clitton Mullings will let his church be used as a vaccination site, but he is not getting a shot himself.

CLITTON MULLINGS, FAR ROCKAWAY RESIDENT: I'm doing good without the vaccine. I believe the emphasis should be on people boosting their immune system.

UNKNOWN: Can I ask you what's your hesitance of taking it?

UNKNOWN: I'm scared of being chipped.

UNKNOWN: Scared of being what?

UNKNOWN: Chipped.

JONES (voice-over): Fighting lies and other misinformation is key.

MIRIAM VEGA, CEO, JOSEPH P. ADDABBO FAMILY HEALTH CENTER: It's extremely challenging fighting the misinformation. We're fighting Facebook, we're fighting Twitter, but we're also fighting people's misperceptions and distrust of the system as a whole.

JONES (voice-over): Efforts like these here in Far Rockaway have gotten thousands of people vaccinated.


[23:50:00] JONES (voice-over): But there are many more lives to be saved.

VEGA: One-time messaging is not enough. We have to go back. And I myself have three success stories personally lately, and I spoke to these people maybe a minimum of 10 times each.

JONES (voice-over): So the work continues.

UNKNOWN: (INAUDIBLE) over there.

JONES (voice-over): Athena Jones, CNN, Far Rockaway, New York.


LEMON: I live here in New York, and I hear it all the time. People stop me on the street and we have these conversations. Why get it? I tell them, to boost your immune system. They say -- that guy said I think people should be boosting their immune system. That's what the vaccine does.

And the guy who said they'd rather get information online than a doctor? What are the credentials of the people online? There are no credentials. There's no fact checking. It's a free-for-all. The other person who said, why get the vaccine if you don't have COVID, so that you don't get COVID.

So come on, people. Let's get real. Get vaccinated.

Perhaps the best thing to do is for people who want to do things that vaccinated people do, they should be vaccinated. And if they don't want to do those things, if they don't want to get vaccinated, maybe they shouldn't be allowed to do those things. That's where we're headed if more people don't do that.

Get informed, people. Get vaccinated. Save your life and someone else's. We'll be right back.




LEMON: Before we go, I want to make sure you know about "We Love New York City," the homecoming concert. Make sure you join us for this once-in-a-lifetime concert event, Saturday, starting at 5:00 p.m., exclusively on CNN.

Thank you for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.