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Don Lemon Tonight
President Biden Says Troops May Stay In Afghanistan Past August 31st To Ensure All Americans Get Out; Chaos And Violence At The Kabul Airport As People Desperately Tried To Flee Afghanistan; Right-Wing Commentators Demonizing Afghans To Stoke Fears In Immigration Debate; Vaccine Booster Shots To Be Offered To Americans Beginning September 20th; Mask Fight In FL Schools Escalates As Pediatric ICU Beds Fill With COVID Patients. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired August 18, 2021 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST (on camera): Tonight, President Biden is saying U.S. troops may stay in Afghanistan past the August 31st deadline to make sure all Americans who want to leave the country can get out, and going on the defensive, really, saying that the situation there following the U.S. troop withdrawal is not a failure of intelligence, planning or execution, and claiming there is no way the U.S. could have withdrawn without Afghanistan falling into chaos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: No, I don't think it could have been handled in a way that -- we're gonna go back in hindsight and look. But the idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens. I don't know how that happened.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: So for you, that was always priced into the decision?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Let's discuss now. CNN's White House correspondent John Harwood is here and CNN senior political analyst Kirsten Powers as well. Good evening to both of you. Let's get into it. John, President Biden claiming that this withdrawal was not a failure and there was no way to leave Afghanistan without chaos. Clearly, he is standing by his decision. What is the White House going to do about this unfolding disaster, what appears to be an unfolding disaster?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What they're going to do, Don, is focus as intently as they can on the very thing that will determine whether it is ultimately a failure, and that is the large scale evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies. The president has acknowledged that this collapse of the Afghan government security forces was faster than he expected. General Milley told us today, "I had no intelligence saying it could happen in 11 days." Our own colleague, Clarissa Ward, said this evening that nobody expected this could happen in 11 days.
So as a result, the scenes that we're seeing are shocking and disorienting and you're seeing justifiable fear and panic among people who have good reason to be concerned for their lives.
However, we have not seen evidence of large scale loss of life. We have not had casualties among American troops. They have regained control of the airport in Kabul. And the question is can they ramp up those evacuations over the next couple of weeks? Six thousand out so far, according to the White House, something on the order of 60,000 to go.
It's a very difficult challenge, especially when you're dependent on cooperation from the Taliban who are untrustworthy. The White House says they have some leverage, financial or otherwise, over the Taliban, so they're going to try to sustain that. But the question is whether or not they can. And that test is still in front of us.
As you indicated, President Biden said he was not going to be bound by that August 31st deadline if there are still American citizens who they have not yet gotten out.
LEMON: Yeah, he said he's going to extend the deadline to get out if American citizens still haven't been evacuated. But, I mean, what about all the Afghans who helped U.S. forces, John, for so many years?
HARWOOD: That's a very good question, and if many of those are left behind and suffer adverse consequences from the Taliban, that will be a stain and a mark of failure for the withdrawal, no question about it.
The president was a little equivocal on whether or not he would embrace the Afghan allies in the extension of the deadline. He sort of suggested that he would but made it conditional. So, we're going to have to see again how quickly they can round up some of those people, process them.
They say they're processing about 500 people an hour into the Kabul airport but many of those are far from the airport. They got to get to the airport. It's not clear whether they can. They're saying the Taliban said they would give safe passage. But the proof is going to be in the results.
LEMON (on camera): Yeah, absolutely. So Kirsten, if Biden thought that this withdrawal was going to be chaotic, he never really indicated that to the American people, quite the opposite. This is what he said, and then we'll talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We'll do it responsibly, deliberately, and safely. It's a rational drawdown with our allies and it is making -- so there's nothing unusual about it. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart. There is going to be no circumstance where you'll see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So listen, he's always said that he's going to be straightforward with the American people and not sugarcoat things. What happened here, Kirsten?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, there are some pretty arresting and alarming images coming out that, you know, when he's saying we're not going to see somebody being airlifted, well, we are seeing people very desperate, you know, chasing airplanes trying get out of the country.
So, you know, I do think that you can argue about whether or not they should have anticipated this or not. But the point is this is happening and I think it would be better if he just would acknowledge that it is happening.
And that -- I think that he hasn't been committed enough and maybe it's just a matter of language and he needs to come back and commit to it, but I think he needs to be more explicit in committing to getting out all of our allies out of the region as quickly as possible.
Anybody who has followed the Taliban should understand exactly how evil they are and exactly what they will do to people who worked with the United States. And so I would say that they should -- don't try to process things over in Afghanistan. You just need to get them out and then you process them here. We still have people in Iraq who haven't been able to get out.
So this is a matter of, A, it's a moral issue, and B, how can we ever expect people to help us moving forward when we are known to leave people behind, people who have risked their lives to help us in Iraq, and now potentially in Afghanistan? That's a national security issue and it's a moral issue. And so I think that that would be my one point.
The other point I would say is I think we tend to analyze these things in very binary ways. You know, it's very all or nothing. Either you can completely leave or you can completely stay. There was a middle ground here.
You know, we could have pulled back in terms of aid, perhaps, in terms of, you know, the programs we were running, but we could have also left some troops there. If it meant to keep holding the Taliban at bay, I think there's an argument to be made that would be in our national security interest and it certainly would be in humanitarian interest. It was a relatively small number of troops. We have two groups of people fighting on these extremes rather than talking about wasn't there may be a middle ground that could have been chosen.
LEMON: Yeah. He was saying he was abiding by agreement of his predecessor but he could have made changes.
POWERS: He didn't need to do that.
LEMON: He didn't need to do that, right.
LEMON (on camera): That was my point. So, Kirsten, Mitch McConnell wouldn't say whether Biden should send more troops to -- kind of what we were saying -- if he should send more troops to help Americans get out of Afghanistan. But this is what he told CBS. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The president should leave no American behind. I'll leave it up to him to figure out how to correct the mistake that he made.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): And of course, he's saying that Joe Biden made a mistake, but he dodged talking about Trump's role in this crisis. But does he have a point that Biden is the one who needs to fix this mess?
POWERS: Well, Biden is the president right now, but at the same time, I would say Republicans should just sit down. You know, this is a problem that is not -- was not created by Joe Biden. This was a problem that's being cleaned up by Joe Biden.
And so, yes, he is responsible for it, but I don't think the peanut gallery should be the one, the Republicans who did not deal with this problem and made it worse, and then of course Donald Trump reached this agreement that they're now all trying to pretend didn't happen with the Taliban.
So I think that they should -- yeah, I think they should step back and stop acting like they're experts on this issue, and that Joe Biden hopefully can self-correct. I think that -- I don't know why he felt bound to move forward with an agreement that was reached by Donald Trump.
POWERS: That makes no sense to me.
LEMON (on camera): Thank you both. I appreciate it. Now, I want to turn to the chaos and the violence at the Kabul airport as people desperately tried to flee Afghanistan. CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the ground in Kabul with the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America's last foothold in Afghanistan is now guarded by the Taliban.
UNKNOWN (voice-over): You can see the Taliban all over. They won't allow anyone.
WARD (voice-over): We've come to Kabul's airport to see the gauntlet people must pass through to fly out.
(On camera): You can hear gunshots every couple of minutes.
UNKNOWN: CNN, CNN, CNN.
WARD (voice-over): Quickly, we are accosted by an angry Taliban fighter.
(On camera): Can I ask you a question? Excuse me. Cover my face? Okay. I'll cover my face.
WARD (on camera): What is this? He told me to cover my face. But he doesn't want to comment on that truncheon he's carrying.
(Voice-over): The fighter tells us these chaotic scenes are the fault of America. The cause of all this is America in Afghanistan. Look at these people, he says. America is really acting unfairly towards them. Why are they lying and telling them that they can go to America? Why don't they let them stay and help their country?
UNKNOWN: He doesn't want to talk to you.
WARD (on camera): Okay. He doesn't want to talk.
(Voice-over): We keep walking to avoid confrontation. A man follows us, asking for advice.
UNKNOWN: How we can enter the base?
WARD (on camera): How you can enter the base?
UNKNOWN: Yes. Because they all send me e-mail also (ph).
WARD (voice-over): Do you have paperwork to enter?
WARD (voice-over): Show me.
UNKNOWN: They're calling me.
WARD (voice-over): Was this an Italian company?
UNKNOWN: Yeah, Italian company.
WARD (voice-over): Okay. I don't want to discuss it (ph) with you.
UNKNOWN: Okay. Thank you.
WARD (voice-over): All right.
Others crowd around us to show their documents.
UNKNOWN: I'm a translator.
WARD (on camera): Yeah. You were a translator?
WARD (on camera): Okay.
They're all saying they all worked at American camps as translators for the Americans and they can't get into that airport. These Taliban fighters are a little upset with us.
(Voice-over): We decide to leave and head for our car.
WARD (voice-over): The fighter takes the safety off his AK-47 and pushes through the crowd.
UNKNOWN: Stay behind him, stay behind him.
WARD (on camera): You can see that some of these Taliban fighters, they are just hopped up on adrenaline or I don't know what. It's a very dicey situation.
(Voice-over): Suddenly, two other Taliban charged towards us. You can see their rifle butt, raised to strike Producer Brent Swails. When the fighters are told we have permission to report, they lower their weapons and let us pass.
Okay, now we're going. Get in the car.
(On camera): And Don, I should emphasize that while the airport has been exceptionally chaotic, most of the city has been relatively calm. Again today, we saw people starting to come out on to the streets, stores were open, traffic was moving, and traffic policemen were out, government workers.
The Taliban understands that this is their moment, that the world is watching, and that they need to provide some semblance of law and order which makes those images from the airport all the more stark.
And of course, the real worry now is that the airport, Don, is becoming like a powder keg, and that just one incident, one wrong move, could risk everything exploding into a much more serious conflagration. Don?
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LEMON (on camera): Clarissa Ward in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thank you very much, Clarissa.
Joining me now is Fareed Zakaria. He is the host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS." Fareed, it is good to have you here to discuss about this. You just Clarissa's very powerful story about what's unfolding on the ground there. The president is saying that it's not a failure. What do you think?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: I think you put it very well, Don. The way the president described it in the last three months was completely different from what unfolded. Obviously, it's a screw-up. I think rather than trying to justify the unjustifiable, what the administration should do is try to get phase two of this withdrawal right.
ZAKARIA: They botched phase one. There is simply no other way to describe it. There was no contingency planning. There did not seem to be a process -- they should have pre-planned so that the airport was secure, roads to the airport were secure, lists of Americans were available, lists of Afghans were available, people have been pre- cleared for visas if they knew these people were going to have to be evacuated.
They now say we knew we wanted to evacuate, but we didn't want to evacuate them for the last three or four months because we didn't want to cause a panic. You knew who you were trying to evacuate, that means you could have had visas, you could have had a plan, and that could all have been put in place. Obviously, that hasn't happened. Phase one was a failure.
ZAKARIA: Phase two could be a success if they really work on the evacuation not just of the Americans, obviously that's priority number one, but of the Afghans. I think, again, your guest said it very well. This is not a humanitarian or moral issue. Of course it is that, but it is way beyond that.
ZAKARIA: How are you going to get people in Taiwan, people in Ukraine, and people in every place that you are fighting terrorists just to work with Americans if they think that they're going to be left hanging out to dry when the Americans decide to leave?
LEMON: Look, obvious question, Fareed. After 20 years of war, did you ever think that we would be in a situation where the United States was forced to rely on the Taliban to evacuate people?
ZAKARIA: No, because I thought we had established enough of a security presence in Afghanistan that even if we left, we would be able to leave in a way where we would secure the airport, secure certain roads, secure certain perimeters. And it's puzzling and bewildering. Frankly, the military collapse of the Afghan army is a historic collapse that needs to be studied and examined. People used to talk about the fall of France. France fell to Hitler's armies in 1940. That was about six weeks. This was about six days.
ZAKARIA: It's breathtaking. And it suggests, again, that the Taliban had made deals with all these groups, with all these Afghan army contingents in various towns and provinces in Afghanistan, because the Taliban would enter, very quickly, almost instantly, the army would surrender and would hand over its weapons, meaning we're not going to try to do any kind of new operation, regroup, nothing. It's over.
Did that all happen entirely spontaneously or were these a series of deals that had been made over the last two years? And if the latter, how come we didn't know anything about it?
LEMON: His message, the president's message to U.S. allies has been America is back. He repeated it on almost every stop of his first foreign trip. What do you think those allies are thinking right now, Fareed?
ZAKARIA: We know the person who is going to succeed Angela Merkel most likely as chancellor of Germany, the most important country in Europe, called this the biggest crisis in NATO since its founding. The European allies from -- the Brits who are visibly upset and talking about it in a way that Brits very rarely do, you know, they treasure the alliance with the United States and they rarely criticize Washington, they're openly criticizing Washington. The Germans are doing the same. You're hearing it from NATO members.
Look, nobody -- very few people at that level particularly are contesting the basic decision that the United States had to end a 20- year war in Afghanistan that frankly was not working. The Taliban -- we were not able to defeat the Taliban. The Taliban has resurgent over the last several years. But the manner in which it was done seems extraordinarily poorly planned.
And the way in which, frankly, the president is defending it is cavalier and callous. He should know better. It sends a message that he doesn't seem to care about the humanitarian crisis, he doesn't seem to care about the Afghans, the tens of thousands of Afghans who put their lives on the line to work and fight with the Americans.
And as I say, what signal are you sending to every human being who the United States is going to try to recruit? The United States is going to have to recruit many, many people in, you know, Asia, in the Middle East, in Europe to work with us. What are you saying to those people?
LEMON: Yeah. Fareed, I always enjoy your perspective. You're so right most of the time, 99.9 percent of the time. Fareed, thank you, sir. I really appreciate you joining us. Thanks. For more with Fareed, you can tune in to "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays, 10:00 a.m, 1:00 p.m., right here on CNN. Thousands of Afghans are in mortal danger now because of what they have done for our country. And it's despicable that some on the right are demonizing them now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK MILLEY, UNITED STATES ARMY GENERAL, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We intend to evacuate those who have been supporting us for years and we're not going to leave them behind. And we will get out as many as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So what some on the right are doing to demonize Afghans who are in danger now because of what they've done for our country, well, it's just plain ugly. I want you to listen to some of the top-rated personalities over at the Fox propaganda network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: If history is any guide, and it's always a guide, we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country in coming months, probably in your neighborhood. And over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions. So first, we invade, and then we're invaded.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Is it really our responsibility to welcome thousands of potentially unvetted refugees from Afghanistan? All day, we've heard like we promised them. Well, who did? Did you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Okay. And then there's a former Trump adviser, Steve Cortes, tweeting, "Raise your hand if you want this plane landing in your town."
LEMON: So here so discuss, CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem and Craig Whitlock is here as well. He is the author of "The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War." I'm so glad to have both of you on this evening. Thank you so much.
Juliette, I'm going to start with you. Look, it didn't take long for the right-wing anti-immigrant Fox hosts to seize on the Afghan disaster, portraying people in crisis as invaders, stoking fear. I mean, they have no shame.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL, PROFESSOR AT HARVARD'S KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: No. And actually the history that they relate is actually quite wrong. The integration of refugees in particular has been a great American success story. We're actually quite good at it here in America. 50,000 Afghan refugees in a nation of over 300 million is not even a drop in the bucket.
But I think that they are presenting a fiction also about the process. So people should understand the process. These are Afghans who have applied through the Department of Defense program. They are then approved because someone in the Department of Defense says yes, in fact, this person helped us or someone in the media will say that for people who helped journalists.
Then it goes to the Department of State for the visa processing. Then they're flown over. The Department of Homeland Security has a rigorous immigration review. Then they are sent to non-profits and volunteers who will take them in. And then that process is thoroughly vetted for months and years to come.
So the idea that we're like flopping them into American cities shows their ignorance. This is all a scare tactic to, I think, deflect from a larger discussion that they -- basically to just be racist. Let's be clear. I don't know why I wasn't going to say that word.
LEMON: But they're showing people who just jumped on planes, who jumped on military planes.
LEMON: That these people are going to somehow end up in communities in America and they have been unvetted. Is there any truth to that?
KAYYEM: No. In other words, the only thing that has changed is both the speed of the vetting and sometimes the vetting is taking place wherever the plane is landing.
LEMON: Got it.
KAYYEM: But all of these people are known. Let me just explain. I know everyone is very emotional about those pictures this weekend and what we saw. The reason why the airport had to be closed was because we lost control of the airport. The people that you saw running towards the airplane were likely not the people that were being processed through a more formal process.
So you just have this horrible -- everyone is very upset and I recognize that. Part of what's happening is, stabilize the airport and get a process moving. It is chaotic. It looks horrible. It's tragic.
LEMON: Okay. Got it.
KAYYEM: But this is what happens when we lose a war.
LEMON: I want to bring in Craig. Craig, thank you for standing by so patiently. Look at these scenes. This is from outside the airport. We did make a commitment to people who helped U.S. forces. So talk about what they've done for our military. I mean, many veterans credit them with saving American lives.
CRAIG WHITLOCK, AUTHOR: Well, you're right about that, Don. A lot of the advocates to bring the Afghans to the United States and resettle them somewhere safe are military veterans who served in Afghanistan, who relied on them as interpreters predominantly but, you know, also -- just all sorts of help during the last 20 years.
There are an awful lot of people in Afghanistan who cast their lot with the United States. And there are a lot of military personnel in the United States, current active duty and veterans, who do feel an obligation to take care of those folks.
LEMON: What should people know before making some sort of judgment about these people or, you know, demonizing them in any way, Craig?
WHITLOCK: Well, you know, look, I mean, this is a very fluid, chaotic situation there. And the Taliban, you have to remember, has just a long record of brutality, particularly taking it out on religious minorities, the Shia in Afghanistan, the Hazara ethnic group. There are a lot of people with good reason to have real fear for their lives from the Taliban. It's across the board that way.
And now that the Taliban actually controls the entire country, they're more powerful now than they were back in 2001. At that point, when we invaded, the Taliban controlled most of the country but not all of it. So for the Taliban, they're better off now than they were 20 years ago. So I think in Afghanistan, people who remember those dark days when the Taliban ran the government, they're very scared and understandably so.
LEMON: Yeah. Listen, I just want to say, Craig has a book. It is called "The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War." You should all check it out. Thank you very much for that, Craig. Listen, before -- thank you for joining us, Juliette.
I just want to put this up because this was just something that was just beyond the pale today.
LEMON: After the former Trump advisor Steve Cortes tweeted this, this is an anti-immigrant commentary of -- iconic image of the full American military plane with Afghan refugees, his tweet was inundated with responses of people saying that they would gladly welcome these Afghans into their communities. It is probably something that he did not expect. And good for the folks who said they would welcome them in. We'll be right back.
LEMON (on camera): The rollout of booster shots for fully vaccinated adults here in the U.S. is set to start on September 20th. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot. These booster shots are free. We will be able to get the booster shots at any one of approximately 80,000 vaccination locations nationwide. It will be easy. Just show your vaccination card and you'll get a booster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): But it's all going to depend on the FDA giving the green light.
Joining me now to discuss is Dr. David Rubin. He is the director of policy lab at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Thank you, doctor, for joining us. So cases are up 36 percent in just the last week. Today, we got new data from the CDC showing immunity from the vaccine is dropping as the months go by. But experts are split on this third dose. What do you think? Is this the way to keep folks safe?
DAVID RUBIN, DIRECTOR OF POLICYLAB, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: You know, I think it's a little bit premature to think that everyone in the country needs a booster dose yet. I think certainly there are elderly folks and there are folks who are immunocompromised, people who have cancer, who have not been able to boost a response against the vaccine. I think it certainly makes sense to try to get the booster out to those people as soon as possible.
But, you know, I think the controversy is really whether people suspect we're seeing more severe disease among those who have been vaccinated. Thus far, there hasn't been pervasive evidence that there have been severe breakthrough infections of a magnitude that we should be really concerned.
RUBIN: But that said, the CDC has data that they're just beginning to share and there are other countries that are also reviewing those data. So planning ahead to have those booster shots in place makes some sense.
LEMON: I want to ask you about this concerning rise in COVID cases among kids, doctor. One hundred twenty-one thousand new pediatric cases were reported just last week. In just the past few days, we've heard of a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old dying from COVID complication. I mean, this is not the same COVID that we encountered back in 2020.
RUBIN: You know, someone who is following the pediatric issues very closely, I think we have to be careful not to overstate as well what we're watching here. Certainly kids are being represented more among those who are being infected. Large numbers of unvaccinated children mixing in casual gatherings with unvaccinated and vaccinated adults, in areas with low vaccination rates, we're seeing a lot more kids getting infected. But when you actually look at the hospitalizations, they've been very concentrated in the south. And the risk of hospitalization once a child is infected has not really changed that much. I think people would be surprised to recognize that only about 50 to 60 kids have been hospitalized in the entire northeast region this past week in terms of the hospital census.
So this has been very localized. You'll see at children's hospitals, because kids centralize there, you'll see a few kids in the ICU and on ventilators, and certainly you'll see deaths from time to time. That's reason enough to vaccinate kids. But I think we have to be careful not to overstate how much severe disease we're seeing in kids. It's still a lower risk for kids.
LEMON: As you said, you've got more kids circulating. Before, they were sort of isolated because we were in quarantine. Now, they're out and about and they're among people who are not vaccinated and who may have COVID, understood.
So let's talk quickly about masks in schools. Florida's governor put up some legislation in place disallowing school districts to require masks. The state now has more than 19,000 students and staff in quarantine or isolation. One district that has only been open just a week has 10,000 students in quarantine. Can schools realistically remain open without masking?
RUBIN: I think that schools have to be very pragmatic this year. Certainly, you know, there's a lot of interest in mask-optional policies and there will be a time for that, but during periods of surging transmission, our goal is to keep kids in school and keep them healthy. Our goal is to keep capacity at hospitals at a level where we can see both COVID and non-COVID patients have the kind of access they need.
And so wearing masks indoors, particularly in our schools during periods of surging transmission, is a practical solution regardless of where you sit on the debate on whether kids should be wearing masks, so we can keep our kids in school and not have to quarantine so many kids.
LEMON: Dr. Rubin, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
RUBIN: Any time.
LEMON: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis locked in a battle with school districts over mask mandates. Neither side is backing down. The kids are caught in the middle. Why is he doing this? We're going to discuss.
LEMON (on camera): Republican governors in Arizona, Texas and Florida going against basic public health protocols that would help stem the surge in coronavirus cases like masks. I want you to listen to Governor of Ron DeSantis today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Politicians want to force you to cover your face as a way for them to cover their own asses. That's just the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): So I want to remind you the thousands of peoples, including students and teachers, have now tested positive for coronavirus in Florida.
LEMON: Almost 20,000 are in quarantine or isolation as the delta variant surges in that state.
Joining me now is CNN political commentator Ana Navarro and Scott Jennings. Hello to both of you. So, Ana, since we are talking about Florida, that is your state, this is your governor. He is not only speaking out against masks but he is putting executive orders in place now, punishing schools that are trying to require students and staff to wear masks. Do you blame him for the rhetoric and surge because of rhetoric in policies? How do you see it?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think it's highly political. He's running for reelection next year and we all know he's already posturing to be the Republican nominee in 2024 should Trump not run.
And I think what's happened with Ron DeSantis is, it's almost, you know, it's almost something that they inherited from Donald Trump, which is that when you make a mistake, you double down. You don't admit the mistake. You don't ask for forgiveness. You don't say you regret it.
Look, we're seeing in Arkansas, for example, the Republican governor there, Asa Hutchinson, saying he regrets having signed a law banning mask mandates, because of the delta variant. The delta variant is something nobody was expecting, nobody was predicting.
So I think it gives him a reason to change his rhetoric, change his course of action. But because of what Trump supporters and the people he's trying to play to in the base, Ron DeSantis, what they want is him to continue the same way, double down on his mistake. He won't admit the mistake.
And Don, let me tell you this, between my husband and I, there are nine children under the age of 12 in our family, and one on the way. It is criminal, what these parents are living under. These children are not Republicans or Democrats. They are schoolchildren. They are Florida's children. For Ron DeSantis to be playing dictator with school boards and teachers and superintendents, it is so anticonservative. And Scott knows this.
LEMON: Before we run out of time, I need to get Scott in, Ana.
NAVARRO: Republicans believe in local control. We believe in local states --
LEMON: Scott -- we don't have that much time, Ana. Go for it, Scott, please.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDNET TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah, I tend to think that the local school boards and superintendents are the best equipped to make decisions. I've got four kids in three schools ranging from preschools to seventh grade, so I'm dealing with a lot of different circumstances.
I would trust the people running those schools more than a governor, whether that's a Republican or a Democrat governor, to make the right decisions. So I don't like the top down mandates. I also don't like prohibiting a local school from doing what it thinks is right for that school in that particular community.
I would also just say this. All the parents I know, their number one overriding issue, Don, is we've got to keep the schools open, and whatever we have to do to keep the schools open because everybody knows the damage that was done when the schools were closed.
And, you know, I'm a conservative. I tend to resist mandates. If wearing a mask is the price of admission to keep the schools open, I want to keep the schools open because I think closing them again would be a huge disservice to our children.
LEMON: Just real quickly, the biggest district in the state, right, the Miami-Dade School Board, saying today they're going to enforce masks even after the state board voted to punish other districts for just that.
I mean, Ron DeSantis just responded. Let me give you his response. He said forced masking of all schoolchildren is not consistent with protecting parents' rights to make health and education decisions for their own children.
I mean, come on, Scott, I think you just answered it in your previous answer, but it's ridiculous.
JENNINGS: Yeah. My general view is that the best answer here is to let these local school districts do what's best. Again, there may be school districts where they don't need to do it and there may be places where they do.
Republican orthodoxy for my entire career has been local control, especially in schooling, is the best control. And I tend to think consistency here would be good.
LEMON: So the president of the United States said earlier today that he believes that politicians should get out of the way, that they're actually putting politics ahead of children's lives, and he is looking for the possibility to see if the government can step in, if there's anything legally he can do.
Ana, I'll give you the last word. Is that the right way to go?
NAVARRO: Look, if you have got a governor who is threatening with withholding funds and the federal government wants to come in and step in and say we will make up those funds, I think that is the right way to go. But, Don, let's just -- you know, when it comes to school children and let's talk about Florida, okay, because Florida --
LEMON: I have, like, 20 seconds, Ana.
NAVARRO: Some are small. Some are large. Not all Florida counties are the same. And it -- leave it up to the teachers, the superintendents, the school boards, the scientists, the doctors, not some political guy running for office.
LEMON: Got it. Thank you, both. I appreciate it. Ana, I wish I was there with you. I'm jealous. Hawaii.
NAVARRO: White Lotus.
LEMON: White Lotus.
JENNINGS: You don't want to come to Louisville?
JENNINGS: Louisville is easier to get to.
LEMON: Only if I could lose weight like you have lost, Scott. Thank you, both. I will see you soon. We'll be right back.
LEMON: Okay, everyone, look at your TV right now, not at my ugly mug, because -- ah, there it is. I am thrilled to announce the CNN family is growing and my colleague is shrinking. I'm sure she is happy about that but she's gorgeous, anyways.
Our colleague, senior political correspondent, Abby Phillip, is a new mom to Naomi Angelina Richardson. Baby Naomi is coming in to the world on Monday weighing just about 7-1/2 pounds and measuring a little more than 20 inches. Look at the -- look at those big, beautiful eyes. Big hugs to Abby, her husband Marcus, and Naomi. Last time I saw Abby was in the airport. She was ready for this to happen, so congratulations.
And before we go, I want to make sure you know about the "We Love New York City," the homecoming concert. Make sure you join us for once-in- a-lifetime concert event. It is this Saturday, starting at 5:00 p.m., exclusively on CNN. Again, congratulations to Abby and make sure you tune in on Saturday.
And thanks for watching our program tonight. Our coverage continues.