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Don Lemon Tonight

Not Everyone Will Be Evacuated From Afghanistan; CIA Director Met With Taliban Leader; Six Million Americans Took Their COVID Vaccines; House Voted for President Biden's $3.5 Trillion Budget; Intel Briefed President Biden On Coronavirus Origin; No Glory Without Pain; Anti-Vaxxers Not Getting Their Shots; Unruly Passengers Given Hefty Fines. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired August 24, 2021 - 22:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST (on camera): Hello, everyone. Here we are. Thanks for joining us. This is DON LEMON TONIGHT.

And we have a busy news night ahead with major developments on everything from Afghanistan to COVID to a big win for the president on Capitol Hill. And we're going to catch you up on all of it. But I just want to begin with Afghanistan because that's where the pace of evacuations is really at an all-time high on a date the president, President Joe Biden announces that he's sticking to his August 31st deadline one week from now for U.S. troops to leave the country.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are currently on a pace to finish by August the 31st. The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops. But the completion by August 31st depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those who are transport -- transporting out and no disruptions to our operations.


LEMON (on camera): So here is what the president is saying that the U.S. has helped evacuate more than 70,000 people since August 14th, 12,700 in just 24 hours. That is the largest number in a 24-hour period so far. You see the video there, planes leaving Kabul about every 45 minutes.

But a senior administration official admitting tonight, quote, "a lot of deserving Afghans the U.S. wanted to help will be left behind. The reality is just not possible to get every single Afghan who wants to leave out of the country."

The Taliban says that the roads to the airport are now closed to Afghans but open to foreigners.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: Every day we're on the ground is another day we know that ISIS K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians.


LEMON (on camera): But in the face of this we really don't know how many Americans are still in Afghanistan. The president says that the Secretary of State Antony Blinken will have numbers tomorrow.


BIDEN: And tomorrow I've asked Secretary Blinken to give you an update and a detailed report on exactly how many Americans are still in Afghanistan, how many we got out and what our projection is.


LEMON (on camera): That is happening as we're learning the CIA director, William Burns, secretly met face-to-face with the Taliban's de facto leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The highest-level meeting since the Taliban took control of Kabul.

If that name sounds familiar, it is because we have talked about him before. Let's remember it was the former guy who secretly planned to meet with the Taliban at Camp David right before the anniversary of 9/11. It was the former guy who signed a peace treaty with the Taliban who bragged about his phone call with you guessed it, Mullah Baradar, who was released from prison at the request of the former administration, whose secretary of state met with Baradar last fall. And that is who is running the show in Afghanistan now.

We've also got news tonight on the pandemic, the White House making progress in the race to get more Americans vaccinated, six million shots in arms in the last seven days, the highest seven-day total in more than a month and a half.

That news coming on the day after the FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. So now all those folks who said they didn't want to get the shot until it was fully approved, well guess what? Now you've got no more excuses.

And here is why that's so important, because the Delta variant is spreading and we're averaging more than 1,000 new COVID deaths every single day. Hospitalizations tripled over the past month and the number of children testing positive for COVID is now at levels not seen since last winter.

Look, we know why we don't have a handle on this. It is because some people don't trust the vaccines. But they're willing to try any wacky fake cure that they read about online or see on right wing media. They don't trust vaccines but they'll take a drug meant for deworming livestock.

Like the FDA says, you are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, you all, stop it. It's because some people won't even wear a mask when it's the best protection for kids too young to get vaccinated. Five to 11-year-olds are up next for the FDA approval for vaccinations. But Dr. Anthony Fauci says that's not likely to happen before mid to late fall, maybe even Christmas. And he says we won't get a handle until next spring assuming enough people get vaccinated.


ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I would like to appeal to this country to the people in the country who are not vaccinated to realize that we have the capability among ourselves to essentially cut down the time frame to getting the end of this pandemic very, very clearly by just listening to everything you've heard on this press conference. Get vaccinated and the time frame will be truncated dramatically.



LEMON (on camera): We know why this is happening. We know it's a pandemic of the unvaccinated, people who won't get the vaccine, who won't mask up. What more could anyone do to convince people who, even now refuse to do the right thing? People like this guy.


UNKNOWN: Our children and your children's children will be suffocated. When we asked how many vaccines have you had, have you been a good little Nazi, hail Fauci. Hail Fauci!


LEMON (on camera): With everything we know, everything that we have seen, what can we possibly say to convince anti-makers?


UNKNOWN: That you know what is better for our children, better than the parents and the mothers who have to give birth to those children.


LEMON (on camera): Yes, the doctors who gave birth to them, who helped you give birth to them. You know, the pediatricians, the doctors who you go see when they have an issue, maybe those people know better than you. Come on. These people. Is there anything anybody can do to convince people who still won't wear a mask no matter what?


UNKNOWN: We know what you are. No more masks!

UNKNOWN: Keep it calm. Keep it calm.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON (on camera): Again, ignorance is -- I don't know if it's bliss,

but it something. People in Florida even support mask mandates in schools in spite of their anti-mask governor, 60 percent of them in a new poll. We've got to figure out how to convince people to do the right thing, to do the right thing for your own health, for your children's health otherwise we could be living with this permanently.

That as on Capitol Hill President Joe Biden notched a big win tonight. The House approving a budget framework that will pave the way for Democrats to spend up to $3.5 trillion on a sweeping economic package to expand the social safety net, a top priority for the president.


BIDEN: To win the future, we need to take the next step. Today the House of Representatives did just that. Today's vote in the House allowed them to consider my build back better agenda.

The bottom line is, in my view, we're a step closer to truly investing in the American people, position our economy for long-term growth, and building an America that out competes the rest of the world.


LEMON (on camera): That vote by the way after a tense night last night of Democrats battling Democrats which just goes to show you everything is negotiable in the Biden presidency.

And there was another big vote tonight, the House voting 219 to 212 to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. I talked to the president about that during our CNN town hall last month.


LEMON: This is important for people who look like me. My grandmother would sit around when I was a kid, fifth grade, --


LEMON: -- had a fifth-grade education. I learned that she couldn't read when I was doing my homework. She would tell me stories about people asking her to count the number of jelly beans in the jar --


LEMON: -- or the soap -- and so why is protecting the filibuster, is that more important than protecting voting rights, especially for people who fought and died for that?


BIDEN: No, it's not. I want to see the United States Congress, the United States Senate pass S1 and S4, the John Lewis Act, get it on my desk so I can sign it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LEMON: Let's hope that happens. But the John Lewis Act faces an

uphill climb in the Senate. The assault on voting rights also across this country is nothing less than a plan to give the GOP the power to overturn the next election if they don't like the results.

This is important, people. This is important. It's not about politics. It's about our most sacred right as Americans, the right to vote, a right worth fighting for. Pay attention to this one.

I want to get to CNN's chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, she's standing as a matter of fact outside the White House for us this evening. Kaitlan, good evening.

Let's talk about the news. President Biden going through with his call for -- that he wants to stick with this August 3 1st deadline, withdrawal deadline out of Afghanistan and getting as many people out as possible. But he started his speech today talking about his agenda back home including infrastructure, including voting rights. Does this tell you anything about his thinking?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, I think he actually timed those remarks to wait for the House to get through these votes given the drama that had been happening on Capitol Hill with the moderates and House Speaker Pelosi about this. Because I do think this what the White House would prefer to be focusing on this week moving his agenda.

But of course, this is what they actually are having to focus on in large part, what is happening in Afghanistan. And so, this started the president's day with a briefing with his top national security aides. Then he had that call with world leaders where he did tell them what he repeated this afternoon.


He is for now sticking by this August 31st deadline a week from today to have all U.S. forces removed from Afghanistan. And there are really two reasons behind that, Don. And one is that the president believes that the longer the U.S. stays there, the higher the threat of a potential terrorist attack becomes. And also, they worry that if they do stay past that deadline that they've been discussing with the Taliban so far, they could lose their cooperation.

And Don, that has been critical to getting Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan so far. Making sure the Taliban would actually let them come through those check points to get to the airport. And so, I do think that is a big factor into the decision that the president made, something that many in the West Wing advocated for.

They did not want to see him extend that deadline despite the pressure that you're seeing from other world leaders and other Democratic lawmakers who say that they think it's best to extend that deadline.

LEMON: Kaitlan, I want -- I don't want to get past what you said because you mentioned getting the forces out. The first U.S. troops have started leaving Afghanistan, several hundred leaving today. Again, concerns that the situation could get worse as these troops depart, correct?

COLLINS: Right. Because essentially, the thinking inside the White House is that the longer we're there, the more we have a potential terrorist attack by ISIS K or these other organizations that they have been monitoring for several days now.

And also, as the drawdown goes on, of course, the number of U.S. forces who were there gets smaller. That is a concern for the White House, as well because the smaller the forces are, the potential and greater threat that they face given there are fewer of them actually on the ground. And so, that is something that they are going to be watching as this drawdown happens.

Because yes, a few hundred troops did start leaving today but it is going to be more and more, of course, over the next seven days. There is a period where the evacuations will stop before that 8/31 deadline actually approaches. And that will be really focused on getting the troops out of there, getting the weaponry out of there, and getting the machinery out of there.

So, of course, that is a concern for the White House. That is what they're keeping an eye on. But you're hearing from lawmakers including two veterans who are Democrats who went on a secret mission to Afghanistan in recent days and they say that they do not think this is enough time, even if Biden stuck by that normal September 11th deadline that he had initially set back in April, they don't think that's enough time, Don, to actually get everyone out.

LEMON: Yes, Kaitlan, I'm not being rude but as you're speaking, I'm looking down here. Because I understand that you have some reporting as well as our White House colleagues Jeremy Diamond. The president has been briefed today on the findings of the COVID-19 origins. What do you know about that?

COLLINS: Yes, so this is a 90-day review that the president had ordered back in May. Because of course, a major question that everyone has in several countries across the globe is how this pandemic started and what led to this?

And there had been essentially a split in the intelligence community over whether or not it could have been a possible lab leak, something that you've seen pushed by several people of the former administration or if it was something that jumped from animals to humans and that is how it spread, of course and became the pandemic that we're still living with to this day.

And this 90-day review has been completed. We are told President Biden has received a classified briefing on this. The public, though, is going to have to wait to get the results of this because the intelligence community will have to prepare an unclassified document. They also have not briefed the lawmakers yet. That is something that will come before that report gets made public.

But Don, we should note that CNN we've been reporting for several weeks now, they're not expected to break a lot of ground. They're not expected to have this report come out and you're going to find out all the answers behind this pandemic.

But President Biden, we were told was frustrated that they did not have better or more solid answers on what led to this and that's why he directed the intelligence community to look into it.

But I think the thinking is the further away you get from the beginning of this pandemic, the more that you've seen the Chinese government really tried to shield a lot of the facts around what started here and how this began, the harder it is to find out how all of this got started.

LEMON: As you can see on your screen our Kaitlan Collins in her reporting and our other colleagues at the White House that President Biden has been briefed on the COVID-19 origins, as well as the other news.

Kaitlan, the White House is mighty colorful behind you this evening. Do we know what's going on?

COLLINS: It's for the Paralympics actually that have just started, I believe yesterday or today. And the White House says that's why they've lit the White House up and just started tonight. So, it looks very nice and colorful behind us.

LEMON: We cover the whole gamut. Thank you very much. Kaitlan Collins reporting --

COLLINS: Thanks.

LEMON: -- everything from Afghanistan to COVID and beyond, the Paralympics as well from the White House. I appreciate your reporting. Thank you very much. We'll continue to update you on the breaking news as well.

Time is running out in Afghanistan as we know. More than 70,000 people evacuated in 10 days with the world watching.



LEMON (on camera): President Biden deciding not to extend the August 31st deadline for withdrawing from Afghanistan. The president citing a major security risk at the airport, a risk that grows bigger every single day U.S. troops remain on the ground there.

He says that he asked for contingency plans in case forces need to remain in the country longer. Evacuations have been rapidly increasing but many Americans and Afghan allies are still desperately trying to get out.

Joining me now the former Defense Secretary William Cohen. Secretary, thank you so much. I appreciate you joining us. Good evening to you.

Let's start by talking about the president holding going steady on deadline of withdrawal a couple days, August 31st, one week left. Is it the right call?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, Don, time will tell on this for sure, but I have to say that I have mixed emotions today. I am profoundly grateful to our military and I want everybody watching here or anywhere in the world to look at that military to see what we're capable of, to see the kind of capability, the individual soldiers, marines and others have going from humanitarians to peace keepers to warriors and diplomats, all of that wrapped in one.

And so, we have to be enormously grateful to the job they're doing along with the State Department personnel who are processing these visas at an incredible speed under the circumstances and at risk to their lives, as well.


I am depressed to see that there are going to be many people who won't get to the airport, that the Taliban has said shutting down the avenues or the access to the airport, that means fewer people will be getting on those planes.

And that's something we have to recognize that not everybody that supported us are going to get out even though I think we have a moral obligation for them to get out.

And I go back and look for parallels in time and I was thinking back in 1959, the French finally recognize Algerian independence after having 500,000 troops in that country at some time.

And de Gaulle had time to recognize the independence of Algeria, and he had many advisers at that point who said but we've shed so much blood. And de Gaulle where he cynically said blood dries quickly. And I think that is something that we have to contend with, and comprehend.

Will the blood of those who have sacrificed all of the veterans who have been in Afghanistan, who have lost friends, and lost limbs, and all that they've given, will they forget this? Will there be a sort of moral amnesia?

LEMON: If I --

COHEN: I don't think so. I think anybody who's been there will not forget. But you get to be president, you have to decide. And I've been on both sides of this issue, having been serve -- having served in Congress and saying here is my recommendation, Mr. President, and then the cabinet say, the president has to decide.

Congress doesn't really make the decision. The president makes them. He's made it and we'll have to see how it unfolds.

LEMON: OK. So let me, let me say this. Because I think that, there is no denying that getting more than 70,000 people, you know, evacuated in 10 days, that is remarkable. It was a rough beginning, no doubt, right? You saw the pictures. Just, you know, what is -- what is your view of a successful threshold

for these evacuations? And part two of that question, is it really realistic to think that America can or should be, maybe they should be, but can get every single person out of Afghanistan who wants to leave? Is that realistic?

COHEN: I don't think so. I don't think it's possible, although we've seen in the past 10 days something that was seen as being disastrous go to something remarkable. So, anything is possible. Nothing is inevitable until it happens.

But nonetheless, I think trying to get everyone, every American, to be sure, but everyone who has supported us worked with us, identify them and have them get through the checkpoint to get on those planes to get out, I think it's going to be virtually impossible. But we'll have to wait and see on that. But that's why --


LEMON: But under the best situation, under the -- was that realistic, even to get everyone out?

COHEN: I don't think it's realistic. And I think that's what President Biden has tried to lay the foundation saying we'll do our best. But first comes the Americans, then come those who are in line with the proper identification visa and help.

And I think that's all that is going to be accomplished. And some are going to be left behind. And the question is, will that blood dry quick? There are people who will lose their lives. Now we have some leverage of the Taliban. We have economic leverage, and by the way, with the CIA director having gone over there, it will be interesting to find out what the nature of his conversation were. But I'm sure --


LEMON: Let me play this because you're responding to it. I want to play this because what the secretary is talking about is that William Burns met with the Taliban Mullah Baradar in Kabul on Monday, the Taliban has set a red line on delaying the withdrawal. And this is what the Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby was asked today, and then we'll get the secretary's response.


UNKNOWN: The public statements by the Taliban the same as the private statement being made to you as officials about the deadline and when U.S. should leave?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: What I can tell you is that the Taliban have been very clear about what their expectations are as well.

UNKNOWN: But the public and private statements the same?

KIRBY: Without getting into details, I'm not saying much dissonance. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON (on camera): OK, secretary, you are speaking about that on that issue, Taliban calling the shots there. Please go on. Sorry for interrupting but I just wanted to play that for you.

COHEN: They are calling the shots, but we have some leverage with them as well. After we leave, we're certainly going to have an intelligence capability, not as great as it has been, but nonetheless, and I won't predict this, but speculate about it, the Taliban may be calling upon our intelligence services to help save them from ISIS K, and from Al Qaeda.

I'm not predicting that, but nonetheless, they are going to be in trouble economically, and I think there will be assaulted from the extremist groups, more extreme than they are, they will have to fight that war as well.

So, I think the CIA director was probably sending a message about what our capabilities are, what our expectations are, and what will happen in the event that they don't abide by the agreement to date, and if they don't, give us a little leeway after August 31st.


I don't know that, but I'm delighted that Director Burns went there, opened a line of communication, and it's better that comes from the CIA than the State Department. That would give them too much legitimacy, and we are not ready and prepared to do that at this point, if ever, a lot will depend upon how they behave in the next month, weeks and year before we have any sort of formal recognition, if any.

LEMON: Secretary, the Trump administration helped release Baradar from prison. This is back in 2018. Pompeo met with him in 2020. Trump spoke with him on the phone in March of 2020 after making a deal with the Taliban. Did all this give the Taliban more clout than we bargain for?

COHEN: I think it absolutely did. The former president said and boasted on television at a rally, I boxed in the military. I boxed in Biden. I did that deliberately so he would have little move or they would have little room for maneuver. And so, President Biden comes in. He has little room for maneuver but extended it somewhat.

People can argue whether he should have extended a lot further at that point but nonetheless, I think he's pretty much boxed in as president -- the former president put him in that box to begin with.

But I want to come back to this. This is not something that, say, political decision on the part of President Biden in the sense of it being partisan or political in motivation. This is philosophical for him. He's absolutely opposed to our continued presence in Afghanistan and was opposed, I think, pretty close to the beginning once he saw that we expanded the mission to nation building. And I've said this on this network. If you're going to engage in

nation building in a foreign country, you better be prepared to be there not 20 years but 40 and 50 and maybe even 100 years to try and change the culture. We're still trying to change the culture here in this country and the notion that a foreign occupation force would come in and try and change our culture in a 20-year period I think is pretty ridiculous.

So, we have to get a little more conscious of cultural sensitivity, a little more cultural intelligence as our generals have said in the past. We're not aware of the tribal nature of Afghanistan. We weren't aware of it. We shouldn't take it into consideration. We thought that we could actually in a 20-year period build something resembling a western style democracy, almost impossible to concede.

So, I think we've learned, I hope we've learned this lesson again that we have to have a real focused mission and not expand that mission beyond our capabilities and if we're going to do that, do it from the outset saying we're going to be there a long time and we're going to spend more and more money and risk more and more lives. But I don't think the American people want that.

I think that this, again, a philosophical decision more than a political or partisan one and I think we'll have to see how it unfolds for the president. He made the decision. We're going to have to live with it as best we can. I think a lot of people will suffer as a result. I think the Afghan people are going to suffer. I think the women certainly are going to suffer as a result of Taliban rule.

But we'll have to see whether we have any leverage to persuade them and maybe they've learned to see that their society changed at least in the urban areas and with the society now having access to technology.

I don't know the answer to that. I don't think anybody knows but we're in a position like a python squeezed them economically and diplomatically, and ultimately from an intelligence point of view, certainly not bringing any assets to bear that might help them in the future that they may need.


COHEN: And one final thing, we haven't talked about COVID. We talked about COVID here in the United States. We haven't talked about COVID in Afghanistan. I don't know how many coming in, I hope they're all being checked for COVID coming in to our country. But if COVID is spreading in Afghanistan, they're not going to be able to carry on as a society if they are dying.

So, we have some leverage to be sure, some help to be sure that they're going to need in order to survive as a functioning government. And we'll have to wait and see how that plays out.

LEMON: We're smarter for having spoken with you as we always are. Thank you, Secretary C. I appreciate it.

COHEN: Good to be with you.

LEMON: Thank you.

So, he's dealing with a pandemic, evacuating Afghanistan and making huge multi-trillion-dollar deals in Congress. We're going to look at President Biden's strategy for them all after this.



LEMON (on camera): The CIA director William Burns meeting face-to- face with a top Taliban leader in Afghanistan on Monday, the highest- level direct exchange between the Biden administration and the militant group since the fall of Kabul. And it's another example of the president using his powers to negotiate.

The president's negotiation shops on display at home today too, with the passage of key part so his agenda in the House. So, will this meet in the middle strategy payoff for the president?

Time to talk about it now with CNN contributor Evan Osnos, author of "Joe Biden: The Life, The Run, and What Matters Now." Evan, good evening. Thanks for joining.

So, let's start by taking a step back. Yes, there is, we have now a crisis in Afghanistan, but the administration has evacuated tens of thousands in just days, the battle against COVID and getting vaccines out in higher numbers, now with FDA approval, infrastructure and the budget on track. All while battling a right-wing that is -- the right- wing's main strategy is to seek and destroy. What underlies all of this for President Biden?


EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, at the core of it, Don, is this idea that has been with him for 50 years, as long as he's been going into politics is this idea that scorched earth is generally not the answer.

That usually, if ever possible he wants to try to get around the table, get across from the table, and as he will tell you, I don't get to choose who I sit across the table from on any given issue. I have to contend with the reality as its presented. Sending his CIA director Bill Burns is a classic example of that.

Here we have somebody very seasoned intelligence customer consumer as it's known in the government now, obviously head of the intelligence community going over there and sitting down with the Taliban. And this is not a case in which this is, you know, two sides saying OK, what can we give each other? This is as much an information gathering episode, this is about him saying to them in no uncertain terms we have something that we both want.

As strange as it sounds, Don, the United States and the Taliban in this moment share one goal, which is that both of them want the United States out of the country.

Obviously, the schedules are different. Obviously they have different details in mind but what he is trying to signal to the Taliban here is instead of us talking about the 10 things that we don't agree on, let's talk about the one thing we do agree on and figure out a way so that we can get out of here on the schedule we've identified.

So that, the chance to sort of get there and actually get in the room and do it we'll see he is not putting too much faith in the Taliban as he said to us today, we will judge them by their actions. But this was getting in the room and sitting across from the table and figuring out what in fact is the point of common ground and can we meet it?

LEMON: Are you judging them by their action but you say the one phrase that comes up again, again in your conversations with the president is quote, "getting in the deal."


LEMON: Is that his core motto?

OSNOS: Yes, it really is. You know, it's been one of his basic principles going back to when he first ran for office, you know, in 1972 running for the Senate. He represented the state of Delaware as we all know, which is as he describes it to me it's very much a place that is both of the south and of the north. It was very much split politically.

He had to figure out a way to sit down at the table. That's how he sometimes found himself sitting down and making deals with people who he disagreed with on everything else. But his view was that if we allow those things to get in the way, we can never make a deal on anything.

LEMON: So, I asked before, is this meet in the middle strategy working? Is it working, Evan?

OSNOS: Well, on some things it may and on some things it won't. Look, take for example, what's been happening in Congress this week. Look, what we just saw today was a tentative step forward for his build back better plan as we all know how he calls it, which is in order to get not just physical infrastructure but also get child care investments and get all kinds of other sorts of, as he puts it, soft infrastructure in place. You had to figure out a way to get multiple players to sit down.

Mike Donilon who is one of the president's top advisors once said to me that he feels that the president feels as if a lot of Washington negotiates upside down. They focus on what they disagree with first rather than what on they might be able to get -- get into agreement.

So, these things are not over the goal line yet. The United States is deeply and very seriously still engaged in Afghanistan. This is the hardest problem he's faced since coming into office, and he has yet to accomplish these infrastructure plans but he's further along in that process that I think people might have assumed at the outset. LEMON: Evan Osnos, thank you, sir. I appreciate it. I'll see you

soon. Thank you.

OSNOS: My pleasure.

LEMON: They may be the minority but they are the loudest voices in the room. Why conservatives are making sure everyone knows just how against masks and vaccines they are. You don't want to miss it. It's next.



LEMON (on camera): Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that the U.S. could get the COVID-19 pandemic under control by next spring if more Americans get vaccinated. But tens of millions are choosing not to. And they are loudly fighting mask mandates, especially in schools.

Why are some Americans, many of them Republicans, opposed to measures that could stop the spread of COVID and save lives? I want to bring in now David Graham, a staff writer for The Atlantic who has a new piece with some possible answers. David, good evening. Welcome. Thanks for joining.


LEMON: So, David, you write this. You say the best way to think about the Republican opposition to COVID-19 precautions might be as another manifestation of the surging feeling in the American conservative movement that it represents an embattle minority that needs to use the power of government to defend its independence. Why is the right so angry?

GRAHAM: I think they are angry because they see on a lot of fronts they're losing, and this is one. You know, most Americans support mask mandates in schools, even in public places. They support vaccine mandates on the job. And they are mostly vaccinated. But there is a loud minority that are now vaccinated. And they are angry that people are telling them to get vaccinated. They don't want to be told what to do by coastal elites or whoever it is, and they are fighting back.

LEMON: I spoke to a parent this month who was harassed after speaking in favor masks at a school board meeting in Tennessee. Here is what he told me.


MICHAEL MILLER, PARENT HARASSED AFTER SPEAKING IN FAVOR OF MASKS AT SCHOOL BOARD MEETING: All of the school board mentioned this that they have received hundreds, if not thousands of e-mails the last several weeks about this issue. Better than 70 percent of them were in favor of the mask mandate.

In the other room the other night the parents are screaming, take a vote, we'll put it to a vote, we are the majority, we are the majority, screaming. Yes, they were the majority in that room, because most of the parents are too scared or unable to go to a meeting like that where, quite frankly, probably was a super spreader event.



LEMON (on camera): So, he is echoing what you say about this noisy minority. And you say the gap between what the public overall wants and what its noisiest members demand in opposition is not new. So, is there any recourse?

GRAHAM: Yes, I mean, even looking back in last summer and last spring, we saw most Americans supported social distancing, they supported closures of businesses, they supported these things. But you still have Republican governors who are fighting back.

You know, the question is, what recourse is there in the system? And what we see is sometimes minorities are able to hold power. And that's true when you see parents railroading school boards. That's true when you see the filibuster blocking legislation in the Senate. Across the board the system of American government gives a lot of power into the minority. But it's important to recognize where they are the minority and to point out that most Americans support these things.

LEMON: Yes. I want you to look at this polling in Florida. Sixty percent of residents support requiring student -- students, teachers and staff to wear mask in schools. So, what does that say about Governor Ron DeSantis who is leading the charge against these mandates?

GRAHAM: Well, I think it says that DeSantis has a fairly keen political knows among other things, maybe a cynical one, too. You know, we see Republicans are upset that they are being told what to do. They are upset at sort of being bossed around they feel by people.

And so, you see DeSantis picking up that banner, he knows that voters will respond to that. He is also in a tiff with the Associated Press this week. Same situation. He sees an opportunity to stand up -- to be seen as standing up for people and he knows that that is politically potent in today's GOP.

LEMON: Yes. My colleague Donie O'Sullivan went to a Trump rally in Alabama this weekend. This is what he heard from some supporters.


VICKEY SIMS, TRUMP SUPPORTER: No, I'm not getting that vaccine. No, no, no, no. Those vaccines are not good, on.


JERRY RAMSEY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: No, but I have a lot of hydro chloroquine in my house.

O'SULLIVAN: Have you got your vaccine shot? LAURA ADAMS, TRUMP SUPPORTER: No, I don't want.

O'SULLIVAN: No? Why not?

ADAMS: They haven't tested enough from my opinion.

SIMS: I don't trust the government. I don't trust CDC. I don't trust none of them.


LEMON (on camera): That woman at the end saying I don't trust the government, I don't trust, you know, the CDC. I don't trust none of them. But you point out that the resistance to precaution isn't really anti- government sentiment when enforcing bans on mask mandates and vaccine requirements. Often requires the government. We see that in Texas and Florida.

GRAHAM: That's right. What these people are doing is not reducing government. What they are doing is, you know, using the force of government on somebody else. For example, punishing businesses that want to institute vaccine mandates, just in their private business so that they don't have to be exposed to people who are unvaccinated.

That's sort of imposition on private business is antithetical to what we used to see from the Republicans Party. This is in small government. It's red tape for thee, not for me.

LEMON: Thank you very much, David. Be well.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

LEMON: I've enjoyed the piece. Thank you so much. I'll see you soon. We'll have you back.

So, unruly behavior doesn't fly. That's the FAA's message, with thousands of people being cited for ugly, I think the ugly behavior gets worse than that on planes. So, what is going on? We are going to look into it next.



LEMON (on camera): This number is hard to believe, but so far, this year, nearly 4,000 reported incidents of uncivil and violent behavior by airline passengers. It's gotten so bad that the FAA is out with a new message for air travelers. Unruly behavior doesn't fly. And it is slapping those passengers with steep fines.

More tonight from CNN's Pete Muntean.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Thousands of ugly, unruly passenger incidents reported just this year are putting not only flight attendants in danger.

UNKNOWN: We've got a disruptive customer in the back.

MUNTEAN: But also, are distracting pilots, according to a new public service announcement by the Federal Aviation Administration.

UNKNOWN: An unruly passenger we need to get off the airplane.

UNKNOWN: Do you need authorities on the ground?


MUNTEAN: The just released video features recordings of actual radio transmissions between flight crews and air traffic control when confronted with what the agency calls issues that have climbed to intolerable levels. Flight crews have reported just shy of 4,000 incidents this year, with nearly three quarters involving the federal transportation mask mandate. And many passengers drinking alcohol illegally brought on board.

UNKNOWN: By law, you must follow all directions from your attendants.

MUNTEAN: Traditional warnings from the agency have become more creative, including memes, in hopes of going viral on social media, and even turning to kids to send a message.

UNKNOWN: They should know better if they are like adults.


MUNTEAN: American Airlines Captain Dennis Tajer of the Allied Pilots Association says flight crews are tired of distractions and abuse. Just last week, the FAA fined one passenger $45,000 after he was accused of throwing his luggage, grabbing a flight attendant and putting his head up her skirt.

TAJER: An unruly passenger is not just creating havoc and violence in the space that they live in. They are spreading that out through the airplane. And they are distracting the pilots.


MUNTEAN (on camera): The FAA has slapped a total of more than a million dollars in fines on unruly passengers just this year. But that is all. It cannot bring criminal charges. That's why some airline unions are calling on the Department of Justice to get involved. They say that prison time would really send this message. Don?

LEMON: Pete Muntean, thank you very much.

The president says that we're going to be out of Afghanistan in a week. Stay with us.



LEMON (on camera): President Joe Biden saying tonight that the United States is on pace to finish its evacuation mission in Afghanistan by the August 31st deadline, as long as the Taliban cooperate. But he will have contingency plans at the ready if the timetable needs to be adjusted.

The president saying more than 70,000 people have been airlifted out of Kabul's airport since August 14th and that the sooner the U.S. can finish its mission, the better, because of increasing threats of attacks by ISIS terrorists.

Also, tonight, the Taliban moving to block any more Afghans from leaving the country as the first group of U.S. troops at the airport have started pulling out.

Meanwhile, here at home, two big wins tonight for the president's domestic agenda on Capitol Hill.


Joining me now CNN's White House correspondent John Harwood, and CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein.

Gentlemen, so happy to have you. Good evening to both of you.


LEMON: It's top of the hour now. We're glad that you're here.