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Biden Tours Damage Caused By Ida In Northeast; Blinken: Assurances From Taliban That Americans Will Be Able To Leave Afghanistan; Taliban Announce New Caretaker Government Amid Crackdown On Women; TX Governor Signs Controversial Election Bill Into Law; Autistic Boy Lost Three Days Found Alive In Australia. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 07, 2021 - 14:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Living with that level of anxiety and uncertainty is really, really hard.

Athena, we were just watching President Biden again. He is just touring around this street in Manville. We saw him talking to some state police there.

Now he is talking to looks like a little boy there who has come out to see the president. It looks like showing him something.

We see New Jersey's Senators and congressmen.

And there's the president hugging the little boy who we assume lives on that block or lived on that block and talking to him about everything that's happened there.

So we see, again, the various Senators and Congressmen, the governor along.

You know, President Biden is just, it seems, going from home to home and meeting with the residents who -- many of who have homes that are destroyed. It looks like permanently.

So that's what the president -- that's what the president has dedicated today to doing.

Jeff Zeleny, who covers the White House for us, is with us also.

I know that you are watching along here.

Jeff, you know, we have often talked about how the president -- all presidents are the comforters in chief. This president, you know, prides himself on being compassionate and understanding people's loss, and we're seeing the images of that.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, we are. This is something that the president, like all presidents, get fairly practiced at. We saw President Biden, of course, last week in Louisiana, but the

death toll here, as you have been talking about, really is extraordinary.

So President Biden, of course, not necessarily meeting with all of those families by any means. But certainly that is a subtext of this, how damaging and dangerous and deadly of a storm it was.

The president is also using this trip as an opportunity to make the case for his infrastructure bill and more spending on climate.

Now, this is something that could be, you know, normally when a president visits a storm zone it is pretty apolitical as much as a president can be.

But in this case, the White House and President Biden are, you know, making no apologies for the case they are making for how these storms are getting more dangerous, more deadly and something needs to be done about them.

So that is the subtext of just the timing of this trip here.

As we can see, the president right there, he spoke just a couple of hours ago about how one in every three Americans live in counties that have been recently affected by damaging storms from wildfires in the west to storms in the Midwest and south. Of course, Hurricane Ida hit so many states.

This is something that the president and the White House administration are trying to use as leverage, if you will, or an argument, if you will, to get the economic agenda and infrastructure bill unstuck in Congress.

It is a bit of a balancing act, of course, making the case for this.

As you said, perhaps first and foremost just hearing the stories and feeling the pain of these individuals.

This is something that President Biden really has done for much of his life in public office, been criticized by some family members of the Afghanistan fallen troops, who are coming back, for mentioning his son, Beau, which he often does.

But this is something that, if you see a president up close and personal, this is what you are seeing here. It is a pretty powerful moment for the president to come visit your town at any point.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Jeff, thank you for all of that.

Obviously, we will continue to watch President Biden's trip there as he continues to comfort the young people of this neighborhood as well as their parents.

He will also be going to Queens. So we will be following the president and everything that he has to say about these devastated neighborhoods and what's next for them. We are also following the latest in Afghanistan. The Taliban

announcing a new caretaker government, but they're already executing their new-found power to crack down on women, and women peacefully protesting.


And, also, Australian police rescue a 3-year-old autistic boy from the wilderness. We have his incredible story of survival for you.


CAMEROTA: Secretary of State Tony Blinken says he's not aware of any Americans currently being held against their will in Afghanistan.

While traveling through Qatar today, Blinken did confirm at least four Americans have been safely evacuated from Afghanistan with nearly 100 more still waiting to get out.

Next week, Blinken will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to testify about the administration's chaotic withdrawal.

CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood is at the State Department.

Blinken said he had assurances from the Taliban that those with travel documents would be allowed to depart. Is that happening?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they said they will allow those with valid travel documents to leave the country.

On the ground, we are seeing a tremendous amount of confusion with these planes not leaving the country.

I want you to listen to what the secretary of state said and we will talk about what Republican lawmakers have been saying is the problem. The secretary here.



ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have been assured, again, that all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave.

Again, we intend to hold the Taliban to that. They've upheld that commitment in at least one instance in the last 24 hours with a family that was able to leave through an overland route.

And we're not aware of anyone being held on an aircraft or any hostage-like situation in Mazar-e Sharif (ph).


ATWOOD: Now, his reference there to a hostage-like situation is because the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said over the weekend that there was a hostage-like situation with Americans and Afghans on airplanes at an airport in the northern part of Afghanistan, who weren't being allowed to leave the country.

He said that was because the Taliban weren't allowing them to. The secretary of state is very clearly saying that the United States has been in touch with the Taliban. They are letting people leave.

What may be one of the problems here is the valid travel document aspect of this whole thing.

There were Afghans who were leaving the country during the evacuation efforts when the United States was on the ground who didn't have all of their documents, but they were getting Afghans out of the country at a tremendous pace.

We obviously are seeing that pace go down as the United States no longer has any officials on the ground there, no diplomats, no U.S. troops.

But it is an incredibly complicated and messy situation because everyone is really trying to do everything virtually.

We have these outside groups who are involved. You have the State Department involved. And then you have the Taliban who is beginning to stand-up their interim caretaker government.

There's a lot of factors here and we will try to track down exactly why these planes aren't taking off -- Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Kylie Atwood, thank you for that.

There's this new government in Kabul, as Kylie just said. The Taliban just announced this caretaker government, ending days of confusion over who is leading the country.

The group has already painted its flag and emblem on what was the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

So CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is in Islamabad.

Nic, what does this care taken government look like and will the U.S. government recognize the new government?

OK. It looks like Nic cannot hear me. We will work to get the audio back.

I'm told he is back.

Can you hear me?


Yes, I can hear you. If you can hear me, this is great.

There's a monsoon going on here tonight. The weather broke here today. The news broke in Kabul and the weather broke here.

The best way to read this new Taliban government, it's hardline. The most senior politician there, the prime minister, if you will, was the former governor of Kandahar.

He had a very strict interpretation of Sharia Law, the Islamic law. Under him, adulterers faced capital punishment, faced being hung. So very, very strict religiously.

The defense minister, the son of the first leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, a powerful position. Has been jockeying for this position, we know that.

I think perhaps for the international community and in particular for the United States the minister that's most going to jar is the minister of interior, the one you would deal with for counterterrorism.

It is one who is judged by the U.N. and FBI to be very close to al Qaeda. He has a $5 million bounty on his head from the FBI.

Several other of his family members also have ministerial positions in the government.

So what we are seeing here is a government that is not inclusive of non-Taliban members, which is what the Taliban had said. We are not seeing any women in this government.

We are seeing a hardline leadership and we are seeing the people in the most powerful military positions, in particular the interior ministry, of having perceived and understood hard connections with al Qaeda.

CAMEROTA: Nic, you are not kidding. The weather does look ominous behind you.

If you can hear me, you know, we have been hearing these reports of women who were formally in the Afghan government, of women journalists there.

They were trying to have a peaceful protest against the Taliban, and they say that they were beaten. They were beaten, some were arrested. The Taliban came with metal clubs and bars.

What do we know about this?

ROBERTSON: Yes, we know at the end of that protest -- this was quite a big protest by recent standards -- that some of the women were detained, journalists, were beaten. They had their camera equipment taken. After a period of hours, everyone was released.


But this is a situation with the Taliban. They don't have a sort of gray zone. They're either sort of black or white.

They can let a protest go by, but if they stop it they're going to use blunt force. They were firing and shooting in the air.

Now, in Kabul, fortunately, no one was killed. A smaller protest in Herat in the west of the country today, again, the Taliban fired in the air to stop the protest. Two people were killed, three were wounded.

The Taliban are not trained in crowd control. They're not trained in what to do with protests. So it ends up getting very brutal.

If people continue to come out on the streets in big numbers, the risk of this potentially ending up in a mass casualty event, that is a very real risk.

CAMEROTA: Nic Robertson, thank you very much for reporting from Islamabad.

All right. We are live as President Biden tours the storm damage in the northeast. He is in Manville, New Jersey, right now. We are following as he talks to residents there.

In fact, let's listen in for a second as this resident talks to the president a little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- to see how high the water was rising. But we lived here for four years and we have never experienced a flood, so us personally, we didn't know what to expect.

But we only just left early just because we had a baby. We didn't know, but I think everyone kind of found out around 1:00 a.m. With the alarms went off. Maybe some people knew beforehand.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Is this your husband? This is the dad?


BIDEN: Hi, everyone.


BIDEN: Thank god you are safe.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the most important thing.

BIDEN: Hope you rebuild.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.

BIDEN: OK. Thanks. Appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, ma'am.


CAMEROTA: OK. You see President Biden there hugging one of the residents who just told him they've only lived there for four years so they didn't know what to expect.

Of course, no one knew what to expect with these flash floods. That's the problem, is that, though there were sirens, though we were all warned that it would be a bad storm, no one knew the level of destruction that the Tropical Storm Ida would wreak throughout the northeast.

They were just telling the president about that. They said they had a baby so they left early, and the president said, thank god you survived.

We will take you back live as soon as we come back. Stick around.



CAMEROTA: New voting restrictions are now the law of the land in Texas. This afternoon, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed the controversial bill which overhauls the state's elections with new restrictions and some criminal penalties.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us from Dallas.

Ed, we remember how the Democrats resorted to leaving their state to try to block this from becoming law. Today they officially lost that battle. Walk us through what's in this new law.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Democrats are saying that, even though they walked out and this bill has been signed, they believe raising awareness about the issue will benefit them in the long run. That remains to be seen.

This bill has been described as one of most restrictive election laws in the country.

It would restrict early voting hours from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. It blocks counties from sending up solicited mail in ballots and sets new limits on assistance that people can give to voters at the election sites as well.

There's already been a flurry of lawsuits challenging various provisions in this law.

The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, said he expected that.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): I'd be astonished if a law like there was not challenged in court. We have seen it happen whenever laws like this are passed. The first

thing the Democrats do is they run to the courthouse and try to challenge it.

I feel extremely confident that when this law makes it through the litigation phase, it will be upheld in a court of law.


LAVANDERA: That's the interesting thing about this. This law heads to court and you have redistricting that needs to be finished up here in Texas.

And primary season here for the governor is up for re-election next year in the primary season is early in the spring of next year.

These lawsuits and the redistricting fight all having to play out here in the months of ahead before voters return to the ballot box once again early next year -- Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: We'll be spending a lot of time covering Texas and everything that's happening there.

Ed Lavandera, thank you.


Australian police rescue a 3-year-old autistic boy from the wilderness. We have details on how they find him. You'll see the moment that his family got the good news.


CAMEROTA: After three days lost in the Australian bush, an autistic 3- year-old boy was found alive. Here is the moment the toddler's family learned he was found.




CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

CNN's Ivan Watson picks up the moment.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The dramatic moment police aircraft spot a missing child after a frightening three- day man hunt.

And 3-year-old Anthony A.J. Elfaiak spotted sitting on a riverbank in the Australian bush drinking water. He went missing off his family's property around noon on Friday and

wasn't found until three days later. Hundreds of emergency volunteers joined the search.

Little A.J. is reportedly autistic and non-verbal. He survived three near freezing nights in the plunging temperatures of the Australian winter.

His exhausted mother says her boy is home, warm and sleeping off the ordeal.


KELLY ELFAIAK, MOTHER OF A.J. ELFAIAK: I can't explain it. I'm so blessed. I'm so happy that he's here. He's with us. He's safe and well and healthy. That's all that matters.


WATSON: Anthony's father tells journalists his son had diaper rash and suffered ant bites but is otherwise OK.

In a statement, the family thanked everyone that helped with the rescue adding, quote, "A.J. is fine. Hold your kids close."

Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. What a story. Three days lost and three freezing nights.

Ivan Watson, thank you.

OK, almost top of the hour now. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Victor is off today.

President Biden is set to give a major address to the nation about the pandemic as he closes out a summer of challenges beyond COVID, from the chaotic exit from Afghanistan to a recent dismal jobs report.


This Thursday, he will lay out a six-pronged strategy on how the U.S. will fight the Delta variant and vaccine resistance.