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White House Lays Out Plan for Midterms; Afghanistan One Year after Kabul's Fall; New York State has Polo Case. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 11, 2022 - 09:30   ET




ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, the White House is outlining President Joe Biden's plans to go on the offensive ahead of the November midterm elections.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: They just released this memo, first reported by "Axios," that President Biden will target Republicans who side with special interest groups and push a, quote, according to the memo, extreme MAGA agenda.

Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins us now.

This is very interesting. You can tell the administration is feeling good amid a lot of legislative wins in just the past few weeks. What stands out to you in this memo?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The language. The fact that the memo starts out talking about Democrats and the president beating special interests, and delivering what's best for the American people. And it goes in kind of line by line, talking about defeating big pharma, profitable companies, and even talking about the NRA. But the language that the White House is using here, clearly aimed at Democratic and independent voters, because the big feeling in the electorate, talking to just political consultants who are dealing with this every day, is frustration still with the system, with the rigged system. And that includes and is especially so when it comes to just people's everyday lives and how they have to pay a lot in money for prescription drugs. That is something that affects virtually every family in some way, shape or form. So the language that they're using in the memo with regard to that is really fascinating.

MARQUARDT: Dana, if this election is going to be - or if the Republicans want to make it about people's everyday lives, whether it's gas or groceries, or, as you say, prescription drugs, can't Democrats and the Biden administration now turn around and say, sure, let's talk about that, gas on a national average is below $4, inflation is flattening, the president is about to sign the Inflation Reduction Act. Wouldn't that be their response?

BASH: Absolutely. And should be and is. And they do have the numbers to prove it, the receipts, as the kids say, to show that the gas price situation is getting better. Is it still high? Yes. Is inflation still high when it comes to the cost for groceries and housing and things like that? Absolutely. But it is getting better. The open question, the fundamental question that is happening and being asked now, which is always asked when we are this close to an election is whether people are going to feel what we are seeing with the numbers.

Gas prices is a little bit more direct, right?


BASH: I mean you know, you can see it on the -- on the - on the sign outside the gas station. You see it when you pump your car. You see it on your credit card. Like you know how much gas prices are. So that's kind of more immediate.

Others may not be so, so the big challenge in the next three months for the Democrats, those who are on the ballot and at the White House because they know that effectively President Biden and his agenda is on the ballot is to turn the numbers that you're seeing into the way people are feeling. It's a big challenge.

HARLOW: Dana, on Monday, when I asked you, has Washington changed a little bit given all of the bipartisan legislative accomplishments in the past few weeks, given your joint interview with Lindsey Graham and Senator Blumenthal, I want to ask you that again, now, though, in the context of the Republican rhetoric following the search of Mar-a-Lago and just how extreme it has been, how dangerous it has been from some, how not fact-based it has been from other sitting even Republican U.S. Senators. Does that -- does their anger, furor over the search of Mar- a-Lago by the FBI change their willingness to work with Democrats?

BASH: Not really. It's hard to probably imagine but it's almost as if they're operating into two universes, two galaxies even, because the rhetoric, very heated rhetoric that started from the moment that the former president announced the news that his home was searched, using terminology he knew was -- was intended to get his base and get people really fired up, that is something that is going to continue. And you see it more and more. I mean even some Republicans who were a little bit more circumspect, like the day afterwards, are probably quite literally getting the memo, saying this is how you should talk about this because this is what our people expect for -- from us.


And that is sort of one bucket. And there is a different bucket, or has been, when Congress was in town doing bipartisan legislation where they can work together on policy issues. I know it may seem incongruous, but that's the reality of what is happening and not happening here in Washington.

MARQUARDT: And Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy telling his caucus, if you've been quiet, now is the time to get loud.

BASH: Exactly.

MARQUARDT: And they probably will. Dana Bash, always such a pleasure. Thank you for coming on this


BASH: You too. Thanks, guys.

HARLOW: Thanks, Dana.

Still ahead, CNN is live on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan, with a firsthand look at how things have changed from a year ago under Taliban rule nearly one year after the U.S. withdrawal. That's next.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

The former president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, is slamming the United States in a new interview saying his country was, in his words, quote, deceived, and the Taliban emboldened by a 2020 agreement that laid the foundation for the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly two decades on the ground. This withdrawal took place nearly a year ago. You'll recall it was August 30, 2021, a day where scenes like these showed desperation of some to escape after the city of Kabul fell to the Taliban just a few weeks prior. Hundreds, you'll remember, swarmed the airport, some running literally on the tarmac to get on those planes out of the country.

MARQUARDT: And since then the situation on the ground in Afghanistan has deteriorated quite quickly. Human Rights Watch is saying that more than 90 percent of Afghans have been food insecure during that time and the economy really has crumbled.

So, there is also startling new findings from Save the Children confirming the impact. Afghan girls are almost twice as likely as boys to frequently go to bed hungry. Nearly half of girls say they are not attending school compared to just 20 percent of boys.

We find our CNN's Clarissa Ward on the ground in Afghanistan. She was there, of course, a year ago. She is back there today.

Clarissa, it is great to have you back there.

Tell us, first of all, what strikes you most in terms of what has changed in that year.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you can't deny the obvious change on the ground, which is that things are quieter, they are calmer, you can move around with much higher degree of freedom than you could before. And there is largely a state of law and order. There is an insurgency being waged by ISIS-K. But, for the most part, people are going about their daily lives.

As you mentioned, and this is critical, the economy is crumbling. It is in free fall. And if you ask people here, there's a lot of anger about the fact that the United States has essentially frozen Afghanistan's central bank's reserves. And there's a lot of desperation to get that money flowing.

But, on the other side, there's a lot of anger from the international community, not just from the west, from many Muslim countries as well, that the Taliban continues to refuse to allow young girls, anyone over the age of 12, to go to school, despite frequent promises that this was a temporary measure, and also that women have been really pushed out of public life. They are still allowed to work in the healthcare sector. They are still allowed to work in some humanitarian roles and in education to some extent. But in other sort of more visible roles, they have been largely pushed out. And there is a sense here for women that the situation is only getting much worse.

But, for a lot of people, the primary concern right now is putting food on the table. And that is a very challenging situation. Sorry, someone's just trying to talk to me. (Speaking in Foreign Language). Sorry.

Look, we have permission. It's an onerous process to get it. But we have permission to come out on the streets and talk to people.

Other journalists, particularly local journalists, do not have that privilege and that luxury. There has definitely been a tightening of the noose when it comes to civil society. According to the International Rescue Committee, more than 70 percent of women civil society organizations have been forced to shut down.

So you are looking at a very mixed picture and a very desperate situation here on the ground in terms of hunger. As you said, the U.N. says more than 50 percent of this country now in a state of acute hunger. You can see the market behind me. People are selling food. There is food to sell, but people don't have the money that they would need to actually buy this food. And that is making it a very difficult situation indeed, Poppy.

HARLOW: Clarissa, you brought up the reality for women and girls on the ground there. And that is despite the numerous promises the Taliban made a year ago about what it would allow women and girls to do in terms of continuing education, et cetera. It was a lie. And this was the question posed to the Biden administration and so many lawmakers over and over again at the time of the withdrawal, what will you do, what can you do for those women and girls? And isn't the reality, there's nothing that they really could do and now that it's back to where women and girls have almost no rights and very limited education under this regime.


WARD: There's no question that there is a limit to the amount of pressure the international community can put on and the amount of leverage that it has. The Taliban supreme leader came out and made a rare address recently in which he said basically, stop trying to impose your will, we're going to do what we want. And while I do think that many in the Taliban want to see girls educated, there is nonetheless this hard-core stalwart part of the group that is at its very heart, that is at the very highest levels of power, who clearly have a very conservative fundamentalist mindset and cling to this idea that women's education will be allowed once the proper Islamic conditions are met. But they won't be drawing on what those specific conditions are and what the holdup is.

I don't know if you can see behind me, you can't see it so much now, but there are women on the streets. And there are women on the streets who are dressed not dissimilarly from me. The Taliban has said that all women outside should now cover their faces even and should be accompanied by a male escort. But on the streets in the capital here in Kabul, you see women dressing pretty much as they did before. And they're not being met with a huge amount of resistance from the Taliban for doing that. So, there is a sense that the Taliban is trying to be pragmatic in some of the ways in which it chooses to implement its very extreme version of sharia law, but the fundamentals have not changed. And so the fear here on the ground is that the situation is only going to get worse as the Taliban continues to consolidate and centralize its authority that you are going to see more, and not fewer, restrictions imposed on women and girls here.

MARQUARDT: Clarissa, on a diplomatic level, you are there right after the U.S. has taken out the head of al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri, in the city where you are standing. That, of course, was condemned by the Taliban. The U.S. said that the Taliban was violating what's known as the Doha agreement when they agreed that they would not shelter terrorists.

So, do you have any sense of where those -- I don't want to call it a relationship -- but where those discussions stand and how this assassination, this killing has impacted the discussions that do happen between the U.S. and the Taliban?

WARD: I think that there's no question that this has had, you know, a dramatic effect on the nature of that engagement. And it's been a major setback because it's clear that the Taliban has not abided by its promises to not give safe haven to al Qaeda and other terror groups.

Now, leaders of the Taliban have said that they didn't know that Zawahiri was here in central Kabul. Many others, including officials in the U.S. government, will tell you that's nonsense, it's not possible, and that actually people at the highest levels were aware of it.

And, similarly, from the Taliban's perspective, this very clear and stark demonstration of the capability of U.S. intelligence and of these over the horizon attacks puts them under a lot of pressure with their domestic hardline following who say, how on earth can we possibly have any relationship with the U.S. when they continue this kind of aggression. And there were protests the day after that news was made more public.

So, it puts everyone in a very difficult position. And it raises serious questions about how the U.S. can navigate this relationship going forward. Both sides do seem to accept, on a fundamental, pragmatic level, that that engagement needs to happen, but there's no question that the killing of Ayman al Zawahiri, right here in central Kabul, dramatically complicates that effort. MARQUARDT: All right, Clarissa Ward, on the ground there in the Afghan

capital. It is great to have you back there. Looking forward to more of your terrific reporting. And we'll be in touch.

Now, still ahead, a senior CDC official calls a case of polio in New York state, quote, the very, very tip of the iceberg. Why vaccination rates differ in some communities and what officials are advising.

That's coming up next.



MARQUARDT: A senior CDC official is sounding the alarm after a rare case of polio is identified in Rockland County in New York last month. It's the first one in the U.S. in almost a decade.

HARLOW: And it's scary for a lot of folks to just hear that.

Let's bring in our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

You spoke with an official about this. Of course, as a parent, with fully vaccinated children against polio, my key question is, if children, especially, are fully vaccinated, are they now at risk of polio?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dr. Jose Romero, the CDC official I spoke with, he said, yes, if your children are fully vaccinated, so your son would have had three shots at two months, four months and six months, and that leaves him fully vaccinated against polio. So that's good.

The fear here is for the children who are unvaccinated, and there are quite a few of those, unfortunately, in the United States whose parents refuse to vaccinate them. Also, for anyone who's immune compromised, the polio vaccine is an amazing vaccine. Like 99 to 100 percent effective. But if you're immune compromised in various different ways, you might not be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated.

So, let's take a listen to Dr. Jose Romero from the CDC.


JOSE ROMERO, DIRECTOR, CDC NATIONAL CENTER FOR IMMUNIZATION AND RESPIRATORY DISEASES: We're definitely concerned. You know, finding polio in a country where we've had high levels of vaccination, haven't seen polio cases for over four years, is significant.


Remember that this is just the tip of the iceberg, right? The very, very tip of the iceberg because it's the rare case that causes paralysis. So that means that there must be several hundred other cases in the community circulating before you see this one case. It's not just this community, it's any other community that's

surrounding it that has low vaccination rates that's also at risk. So, the spread is always a possibility because the spread is going to be silent.


COHEN: So, let's take a look at vaccination rates in the communities that Dr. Romero mentioned. In Rockland County, New York, it's 60 percent. Nationally it's 92. So that is incredibly low. Orange County, the neighboring county in New York, 58 percent. And, you know, apparently these folks who refuse to vaccinate, they're just forgetting history, to put it bluntly. Children who are paralyzed, children who end up in -- ended up in iron lungs, I mean it is just horrible what polio can do.

HARLOW: It really is. You just think back to those images, the (INAUDIBLE) images of people in iron lungs and what it can do.


HARLOW: If you're not vaccinated for this, get vaccinated for it. That's the message.

COHEN: Yes. Absolutely.

HARLOW: Thank you, Elizabeth, very much.


HARLOW: Well, still ahead for us, the stunning amount of violent rhetoric online from pro-Trump sites after the FBI's search of Mar-a- Lago. What experts are warning and how the FBI is responding, next.