Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Interview With Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA); NY Hospital Stops Baby Deliveries After Unvaccinated Staffers Quit; Biden To Campaign With Newsom In Final Hours Before Election; Bush Compares American Extremists To 9/11 Terrorist. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 13, 2021 - 13:30   ET




ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Secretary of State Antony Blinken facing tough questions from lawmakers over the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.

Republicans and Democrats are expected to grill him on what is being done to get remaining Americans and Afghans out of the country.

And joining me now is Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia, a member of the House committee.

You will be questioning Secretary Blinken today. What is your number- one priority?

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I guess I have two, Ana. One is I'd like to hear his take on, how did we get to this place?

It didn't happen overnight. It didn't happen in late August. This was 20 years of policies gone bad that led to the fall of Kabul and the kind of evacuation crisis that we experienced.

And then secondly, I'd like to hear him engage in some self-reflection and self-criticism about how the administration could have, should have, done better in the evacuation understanding that.

You know, when you end a war, it is always chaotic. And I want to give them some credit for removing 120,000 people in the evacuation. But there are still tens of thousands left behind, and I want to know their status and what the plans are to try to help them.

CABRERA: You sent a letter in fact just last week to the secretary seeking answers, including how many Americans remain there in Afghanistan, what steps the U.S. government is taking to continue those evacuations for Americans and Afghan allies.

Have you gotten a response already, and do you know how many Americans are left?

CONNOLLY: I don't and I didn't. And I intend to pursue that today as well. As you may know, Ana, my office, I think, is the number one out of 435

congressional offices in America that submitted the most names of Afghan nationals seeking to be evacuated, 20,000 names in three weeks, and in addition to Americans or people with American residence, legal residence, who wanted to get out. And we still need a comprehensive answer.

CABRERA: When you're talking about self-reflection that you're hoping to see today, we reported at CNN recently that Secretary Blinken was sent a memo by some U.S. diplomats in July warning that the situation in Afghanistan could rapidly deteriorate and they feared a catastrophe.

Some Republicans on your committee have called for Blinken to resign. Do you think he dropped the ball?

CONNOLLY: I think he relied on intelligence and military conventional wisdom that was flat out wrong.

I mean, we had a hearing with ambassador who's a holdover from the Trump administration who led the U.S. side of the negotiations in Doha, back in 2018, who absolutely got it wrong.

I mean, in May, I point-blank asked him in questioning in the hearing, aren't we at risk of collapse in Afghanistan once we withdraw, and he flat-out said I don't think that at all, there's no reason to believe that Afghanistan could collapse.

CABRERA: So do you have confidence in the intel community then?

CONNOLLY: I think there has to be a thorough examination of what went wrong, what we relied on, what we got right. And to the extent possible to hold those who got it really wrong accountable.

CABRERA: Speaking of then, you know what comes next and whether the intel community is up for the task at hand, the Taliban police chief just said this weekend, quote, "There's no difference between the law 20 years ago or now."

With that kind of rhetoric, are you confident the U.S. will be able to keep tabs on what's happening and has a concrete counterterrorism plan for Afghanistan in the region?


CONNOLLY: Am I confident? No, I am not. I believe that with the Taliban takeover complete now, including the valley in Afghanistan, I think sources of intelligence are going dry up.

I think people are going to put themselves at enormous personal risk to cooperate clandestinely with the United States or its Western allies.

I think the country is probably going to be sealed up for a period of time.

And sadly and predictably, I think the Taliban is going to revert to the policies that it pursued 20 years ago.

CABRERA: You have been working so hard to get Afghan allies out of there. As of last week, about 60,000 people had arrived in the as part of evacuations in Afghanistan.

Can the vetting process keep up with the demand? And do you worry about anything slipping through the cracks?

CONNOLLY: There's always a risk of something slipping through the cracks.

Overwhelmingly, these people are in need. They're in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, they're families who want to stay together and want to be resettled.

There's a lot of trauma having left there under the circumstances.

So and I went out to Dulles Airport where we processed as of a week ago, 30,000 of those 60,000 and to the Dulles Expo Center where they are being sort of documented and assigned a transit position before our nonprofit community can resettle them permanently in the United States.

But I'm pretty confident that the vetting that's being done is the best we can do under these circumstances where a lot of people had to flee the country without any paperwork or documentation!

CABRERA: Congressman, thank you for being with us.

CONNOLLY: Thank you.

CABRERA: So many workers at one hospital quit over the vaccine mandate that it now doesn't have enough staff to safely deliver babies. This story, next.



CABRERA: Welcome back. A hospital in Upstate New York says it will stop delivering babies later this month, not because it's overwhelmed by COVID patients but because too many of their maternity employees are quitting over the state's new COVID vaccine requirements.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is following this story.

What is the head of the hospital saying about this decision?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, frankly, Ana, what administrators are saying is they wish more of their staff would take the vaccine. But because they're not, they're going to have to close down deliveries of babies in just a couple of weeks.

The hospital at question here is the Lewis County health system in Upstate New York, far upstate, northeast of Syracuse by about 60 miles. This is a rural part of the country. But it doesn't matter where you

work in New York, if you work in health care, according to new rules, you have to have at least one shot of the vaccine by September 27th.

This is a very strict mandate here in New York. There are no testing out options. There's not really many exceptions.

And when some of the staff at this hospital took a look at that, 30 of them quit. Twenty of those people who quit are from the clinical side of things.

And six, apparently, from the OB section of the hospital, which is why the medical leaders there, the administrators there say they're not going to have the staff available to deliver babies.

This is a big concern, obviously, for this area and for this hospital.

And one of the administrators talked at a press conference about what it's like to see staff walk away rather than take the vaccine.


GERALD CAYER, CEO, LEWIS COUNTY HEALTH SYSTEM: We would like everyone to be vaccinated, but we also understand we live in a place, in a country where you get to choose certain things.

And if you choose not to be vaccinated, then now you can't work in health care. We just simply respect. We thank for service. And then we each move forward.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: So look, administrators say overall staff at this hospital, about 73 percent of them, are vaccinated. That means a lot of people still aren't vaccinated and this deadline is approaching.

The hospital says unless some people change their minds and get the vaccine, allowing them to reopen, things like the maternity ward, if more staff refuse to get it, other things besides just birthing babies could close down up there -- Ana?

CABRERA: Wow. Wow. And to think, babies are such a vulnerable population and that staff members don't want to have the vaccine, and they're interacting with those babies.

Evan McMorris-Santoro, I appreciate your reporting. Thank you.

Well, she did it again. Pop star Britney Spears announcing she is engaged to her long-time boyfriend, Sam Asghari. To celebrate, they showed off the big ring.

This engagement comes days after Spears' father filed a petition to end his 13-year conservatorship over her estate.

During court proceedings, Britney expressed a desire to get married and possibly have another child. No word yet on a date for the wedding.

The next hearing on the conservatorship is set later this month.


California's governor fighting to stay in office. And hours from now, he'll get a boost from President Biden. A lot riding on tomorrow's recall vote. What it means for both parties.



CABRERA: Right now, President Biden is out west. Just landed there in Idaho. He's in Boise, Idaho, this hour, where he will tour damage from the catastrophic wildfires. He'll push investments in the fight against climate change.

And then later, he'll make a final stop in California to help the governor there, Gavin Newsom, keep his job ahead of tomorrow's recall election.

Here now to talk about that, CNN's senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein.

Polling shows Governor Newsom will most likely survive this recall attempt so why is President Biden making that stop?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It tells you it's mostly a turnout issue for Democrats. And they really have brought out the big guns, one after the other. President Biden, former President Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, have cut ads.

What's really striking, Ana, is the way they have turned this race around.

If you think about the arc of this contest, it got on the ballot in the first place because of the backlash in the state's most conservative regions against the measures Governor Newsom put in place to fight the COVID pandemic, crystallized by the hypocrisy of him dining at a fancy restaurant.

It's ending with him showing there's, in effect, the silent majority of the vaccinated who are supportive of tough measures, the vaccine requirements he's put in place, mask requirements.

That, I think, is going to be the clearest message coming out of this result tomorrow.

CABRERA: And what's also been so revealing in this election is Republicans are again taking a page out of former President Trump's playbook with top contender Larry Elder saying, "There might very well be shenanigans," end quote, on election night. He's thrown out claims of election rigging.

How dangerous is that, to make that claim without proof and even before first votes are counted?

BROWNSTEIN: This is very revealing and very ominous because it does suggest that claiming fraud in any election that you lose is increasingly becoming a part of the playbook for Republicans.

And that the -- you know, even though there were Republican officials who stood up against the big lie in 2020, clearly, it is advancing through the party.

And Republicans believe that it is in their interests to try to undermine confidence in elections and to raise these claims virtually any time they lose.

It really underscores what an existential choice Democrats in the Senate face in the next few weeks.

Are they going to pass legislation that would establish a nationwide floor of voting rights and take steps to kind of combat these attempts at election subversion, or are they going to give the Republicans in the Senate a veto?

That is the choice that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who are resisting changing the filibuster face.

But what Elder is showing them is exactly what's ahead unless they lay down safeguards against this behavior.

CABRERA: We're continuing to watch the live images in Boise, Idaho, as the president arrives for his swing out west.

But you know, it was the big lie, Ron, that led to the insurrection.

Former Republican President George W. Bush spoke bluntly this weekend about the growing threat of domestic terrorism in this country, and he alluded to the insurrection. Let's listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremism at home.

There's disdainful pluralism and their disregard for human life in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit and it is our continuing duty to confront them.


CABRERA: And apparently those remarks got under the skin of former President Trump because he just issued a statement a short time ago. He blamed Bush for, quote, "getting us into the quicksand of the Middle East." And he says Bush, quote, "Shouldn't be lecturing us about anything."

What do you see as the significance of those remarks coming from George W. Bush on the anniversary of 9/11? BROWNSTEIN: Yes, two-term former Republican president. They are strong

words made even stronger by the backdrop, how little of that you are hearing from other Republican elected officials. I mean, you don't hear that from Kevin McCarthy.

Instead, you hear efforts to undermine the investigation into the January 6th insurrection and to, in effect, normalize it.

You have Republicans in the House referring to those being prosecuted, in effect, as political prisoners and downplaying what happened.

Former President Bush has really underscored, I think, the clear challenge within the Republican Party, the challenge the party is facing.

You know, it's one thing to disagree over tax rates or regulation or social policy. It's another thing to kind of blur the lines between radical activity, violence, and intimidation as part of the kind of the routine political life in America.


And I think we're seeing the consequences of that. Look at the school board meetings. Look at other things that are happening around vaccines.

The question of whether Republicans are going to draw a sharp line against this kind of extremism, I think, President Bush has put back in their lap and so far the answer from most of them is clearly no.

CABRERA: Ron Brownstein, thank you so much for the conversation. It's good to see you.

That does it for me. Thanks for being with us. We're back tomorrow at 1:00. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter, @AnaCabrera.

The news continues with Alisyn and Victor in just a moment.