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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Taliban Wages P.R. Offensive After Seizing Afghanistan; Florida State School Board Takes Steps Against Two Districts Over Mask Mandates; House Democrats Face Divisions Over Infrastructure Strategy. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 18, 2021 - 05:30   ET




LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett. It's 30 minutes past the hour here in New York and it's time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

Thousands of desperate Afghans remain stranded under Taliban rule in Kabul. The U.S. and its allies still frantically evacuating personnel from the city's airport. One of the co-founders and top leaders of the Taliban, Mullah Barardar, has arrived in Afghanistan for the first time in 20 years.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he's doing fine after testing positive for COVID. Abbott's office says he is fully vaccinated and currently in isolation in the governor's mansion, receiving monoclonal antibody treatment. Abbott attended a big maskless fundraiser on Monday.

Two school districts in Florida could have cuts in funding to salaries. The state board of education taking steps against them for defying the governor on masking in schools. More on this in just a moment.

The TSA is extending a mask mandate for public transportation through mid-January. The mask directive was originally scheduled to expire in September. The move will require passengers on planes, trains, and buses, and other methods of commercial travel to wear masks through the holiday season.

Opening statements begin today in the racketeering and sex trafficking trial of R&B singer R. Kelly. Kelly and his entourage are accused of recruiting women and young girls for sex. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Dangerous drought conditions fueling an explosion of fires in the western U.S. More than eight million people are under red flag warnings that extend from northern California to the Dakotas. Extreme conditions are expected to last through next month.

Coming soon from a Girl Scout troop near you, their newest cookie. Adventurefuls are brownie-inspired with a combination of chocolate and caramel flavors. They will join the Girl Scout's lineup for the 2022 cookie selling season.

Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten are new parents. After a yearlong effort to adopt a child, Buttigieg says he hopes to share more news on this soon. The secretary is the first out LGBTQ cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate.

Well, first came the military offensive. Now, the Taliban are waging a public relations offensive. Ruling Afghanistan once again, the Taliban are trying to make the case that they have changed, insisting there will be respect for women's right and forgiveness for domestic rivals and longtime foreign enemies. Afghanistan's future hinges on whether these promises prove true.

CNN's Sam Kiley explains more.




KILEY (voice-over): -- promises --

SHAHEEN: Women can continue their education from primary to the higher education.

KILEY (voice-over): -- promises.

SHAHEEN: We do not want monopoly of power.

KILEY (voice-over): Taliban 2.0 -- more moderate, inclusive, power- sharing.

From 1996 to 2001, the ultraconservative Islamists imposed a form of Islam that stoned homosexuals, that shot female schools, as it took over much of Afghanistan. Women bore the brunt of this medieval ideology.

The movement was toppled by NATO and Afghan allies intent on ending Taliban rule and the safe haven that it gave to al Qaeda's plots against America on 9/11. Al Qaeda was routed, fleeing NATO into scattered exile.

For the next 20 years, the Taliban fought back, taking territories slowly and refining its public relations. Less efforts on oppressing women, more on building trust in local administrations.

But millions of Afghans, especially in the cities, were encouraged to believe in the freedoms and democracy that were stamped out by the Taliban. So when they swept back into the capital, fear took hold.

PASHTANA DURRANI, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LEARN: So if they have changed, why are they stopping women from going to work? Why are they murdering our (INAUDIBLE)? FARZANA KOCHAI, AFGHAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Do I have a space here to work for my people in my country or not? So we are risking our lives just for this answer.

KILEY (voice-over): At the Taliban press conference in Kabul, its spokesman insisted that the movement had matured, but he insisted that all human rights, freedoms, and especially the role of women would still be determined by Sharia law.

To succeed in government the Taliban may have little choice in the face of real politics. They will also need help from the international community. It's been burnishing its diplomatic credentials.


Here, the leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barardar, sealing a deal with the U.S. that's now wildly derided for shepherding the Taliban to victory.

But the movement has clearly signaled that it needs to govern rather than rule by force. The question is whether that is something the Taliban can or even wants to do.

Sam Kiley, CNN, London.


JARRETT: Sam, thank you for that.

Back here in the U.S., schools defying GOP governors on masks now being punished for trying to keep kids safe. The Florida state school board authorized legal steps against Alachua and Broward counties for requiring people in their school districts to wear masks.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is unanimously a four-zero vote.


JARRETT: Pressure hasn't fazed the Alachua County School Board, which voted unanimously to extend the school mask mandate for another eight weeks and not permitting a parental opt-out. Broward County also returns today with a mask mandate.

Arizona increasing school funding but promises to withhold extra money from schools with mask mandates.

All this back-and-forth over masking at a critical time here in the U.S. Eighty-eight thousand Americans are currently in the hospital. That is the highest number since early February and more than five times the levels seen in late June.

ICUs are more than 90 percent full in five states, including places like Florida, Texas, and Alabama, which is completely out of ICU beds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. DON WILLIAMSON, PRESIDENT, ALABAMA HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION: But we've never been here before. We are truly now in uncharted territory in terms of our ICU bed capacity.

GINGER HENRY, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, BAPTIST MEDICAL CENTER SOUTH: It's unlike anything I've seen in my career. We have patients who require ICU-level care that I can't get into an ICU bed every day.

DR. JENNA CARPENTER, PULMONARY CRITICAL CARE PHYSICIAN: It was a very hard week here at the hospital. What we're dealing with now is completely different than December and January. Once you get them on the ventilator, I put my hand on their chest and literally just cry. It's very hard.


JARRETT: In Houston, the Texas Medical Center has the highest number of coronavirus hospitalizations since last summer. In Florida, 75 percent of hospitals are expecting critical staffing shortages in the next week.

And a growing number of students are being forced back home after just starting school in person, especially in the south. In Florida, more than 14,000 students and staff are now quarantined. The state's two biggest school districts, Miami-Dade and Broward, haven't even returned yet.

Across Mississippi, 20,000 students are quarantining. Schools in some Texas counties have shut down because there are so many teachers quarantined at home.

In Quincy, Illinois, public schools are making the choice on masks very simple.


ROY WEBB, SUPERINTENDENT, QUINCY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Students will be offered a mask if they come in without one. If they just refuse to wear a mask, then they're going to be sent home.

We want to keep talking with the parents. We want to hear what they have to say. We want to talk with the students. So, we're not looking to discipline.


JARRETT: The Delta variant now accounts for nearly 99 percent of coronavirus cases in the U.S. And as more schools restart, children 12 to 17 years old have accounted for about one in five new vaccinations over the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, state test scores have begun showing what was always feared about doing school at home online -- learning loss. Students scored far lower in state education tests this spring, particularly in math, than before the pandemic.

We'll be right back.



JARRETT: The death toll in Haiti still climbing this morning, now close to 2,000 people, as the country digs out from the weekend's huge earthquake. About 10,000 people injured, overwhelming hospitals there. Other countries and humanitarian organizations ramping up efforts to help but the aid can't come soon enough.

CNN's Matt Rivers has a closer look on the ground for us in Haiti.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, to get here to Jeremie, which is one of the harder-hit areas as a result of this earthquake, it was very difficult to get here in the sense that you can't just drive here. It is a relatively remote part of Haiti made more so by this earthquake. And so to get here, we actually took a ride with the Coast Guard -- the U.S. Coast Guard bringing us up here.

When we arrived, it didn't take us very long to see this damage. You can see some of it here. Every block, more or less, that we drove through here in Jeremie had some sort of varying degrees of destruction, including this scene which was a grocery store.

There are food shortages here now -- here in Jeremie where supplies for many people are thin at this point. And so, what we saw here -- ordinary people clearing out debris from what was a grocery store to see if they could get supplies from underneath that rubble. It gives you a sense of what's happening out here.

We also managed to visit the main hospital in this part of the country. Went into the emergency room there and it was a scene that was, at times, difficult to bear witness to because of what these people are having to go through.

RIVERS (voice-over): As soon as we arrived to the hospital, so did this man, on a stretcher. First responders brought him to the main hospital in the city of Jeremie -- a facility that, in reality, has no room for him.

Inside, Haitian doctors and nurses are doing what they can to manage an influx of earthquake victims. So many have come in, every single bed is full -- so some are simply laid on the floor. There are broken arms and legs and crush wounds from falling debris. And in the case of 22-month-old Evenson Dorvil (ph), a shattered femur.

"My daughter is suffering," her dad says, "and I don't want her to lose her leg. I'm so sad she is going through this."


Evenson's dad says he pulled her out of the rubble himself. "I love my daughter very much and I almost lost her. I'm very grateful to these doctors working with their bare hands. It's horrific for everyone."

At the hospital, there is only so much these doctors and nurses can do. On a normal day, officials say they treat 10 people here. When we were there, 84 people were waiting for treatment and more were coming in.

"We are totally overwhelmed," says the hospital director. "The patients keep coming in and we don't have the means to take care of them all."

A doctor on-scene told us at least a third of these people need to be moved to better-equipped facilities. If they're not, they could lead to everything from losing limbs to losing lives.

It's what Evenson's dad fears the most. He's doing his best to just keep it together because he doesn't know what else to do.

RIVERS (on camera): Obviously, the solution to this is outside aid, which is not something that has really reached here yet for a number of different reasons -- roads being blocked, violence along certain roads makes it difficult to travel. And we simply have not seen the kind of government response here, at least so far, that is clearly needed.

It's not just this part of Haiti it's affected, it's other parts as well. This is a microcosm of what we're seeing as a result of this earthquake -- Laura.


JARRETT: Matt Rivers, thank you for that report from Haiti.

In Washington, House Democrats are moving forward with floor votes next week on both the bipartisan infrastructure plan and their budget resolution for human infrastructure. But moderate Democrats are balking and party infighting could torpedo the president's agenda on this issue.

CNN's Daniella Diaz has the latest on all the twists and turns from Capitol Hill. Daniella, good morning. Lay out for us what are the sticking points causing all of this infighting.

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is signaling, Laura, that she's not going to be backed into a corner by these moderates who are saying they will not back this budget resolution next week unless there's a vote on this bipartisan infrastructure bill first.

You know, these nine House moderate Democrats are saying that they are -- they want the infrastructure bill vote first because they're communities need this legislation passed and put -- of course, Biden -- put on Biden's desk for him to sign because this is a bipartisan bill. These are moderates that believe that this should be a -- they should pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill before anything with this budget reconciliation bill. But the bottom line here is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is really facing a divide in her caucus. She can only afford to lose three votes on the budget resolution bill and these are nine House moderate Democrats that are refusing to back this. And so, the math does not add up.

So she has actually said that she is moving forward with a two-track -- two-track deal for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. But first, the budget resolution next week when the House comes for votes. But this is not enough for these House moderates who want the budget -- excuse me, the bipartisan infrastructure bill for a vote first before this budget resolution.

Now, a little bit on the budget resolution. It's the framework for this budget reconciliation bill that is filled with Democratic priorities that the Democratic leaders wants to pass this Congress. It would include funding to combat climate change, paid family and medical leave, expanding the child tax credit. These are policies that President Joe Biden has promised the American people that he will pass this Congress.

And that is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is listening to progressives in her party who want to see this framework pass next week. But, she's not going to be backed into a corner by these moderates about this budget resolution. She's daring them to vote no next week.

So, unclear right now what it's going to look like when they come back to session, but it could be messy -- Laura.

JARRETT: Messy is always an understatement on Capitol Hill.

Daniella, thank you for being there for us -- appreciate it.

All right, now to this. The county clerk in Grand Junction, Colorado accused of helping leak secret election machine passwords that ended up in a QAnon video is not out as local election supervisor. And now, the fight is over who will replace her on the job.

Last night, the all-Republican Mesa County Board of Commissioners rejected a move by Colorado's Democratic Secretary of State to appoint a new election supervisor. The board voted to install its own election chief, setting up a likely court battle.

The FBI and local authorities, meanwhile, investigating that security breach.

Also, a legal battle here in Texas. The Texas Supreme Court ruling that Democratic lawmakers who left the state to black passage of a restrictive voting bill, you'll remember -- well, they can be arrested to compel their attendance in the chamber. The decision lifts a lower court order blocking civil arrest warrants for 52 Statehouse Democrats.

The lawmakers flew to Washington last month to raise awareness about Texas Republicans' bill that tries to make it harder to vote, and to press Congress to pass national voting rights legislation.


All right, A's pitcher Chris Bassitt carted off the field last night after he was hit in the head by a line drive.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, a pretty scary situation.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Laura. This is always so terrifying. These line drives come right back at pitchers. They're sometimes going more than 100 miles per hour.

And that was the case in the second inning between the A's and the White Sox. Brian Goodwin hitting the line drive right back at Chris Bassitt, striking him in the head. The 32-year-old immediately falling to the ground and remained there for several minutes before trainers eventually helped him up and onto the cart. As you can see, everyone very concerned.

The team said he was conscious and aware on his way to the hospital. A's manager Bob Melvin said Bassitt required stitches and that further tests will be done to determine whether he suffered any fractures.

All right. If the post-season started today, the Yankees would be a wild card team. New York sweeping the double-header yesterday against the Red Sox and now have won five straight. Just an incredible turnaround. The Yankees were 10 1/2 games back of the Sox on July sixth.

They've got the best record in baseball since the All-Star break. That's despite having multiple players out with COVID along the way.

Rookie Luis Gil making some MLB history. He threw another four and two-thirds scoreless innings yesterday, giving him 50 and two-thirds scoreless in his first three appearances. He's the first pitcher to ever do that.

The Yankees going to go for the series sweep later tonight.

All right. Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins is speaking out about his scary battle with COVID-19. He told reporters yesterday that he had essentially every symptom and feared he was going to die after spending four days in the hospital.


DION DAWKINS, OFFENSIVE TACKLE, BUFFALO BILLS: I don't want to -- want to, like, scare anybody but, like, there was moments that I was like -- you know, like, I don't know if I'm going to make this. Like, I was down bad. I was down bad where I could barely move and I was just -- I was just hurting. But, you know, like, you keep pushing.

Shoot, life can be over and before -- and you know it. And regardless of what you made in life and what you did, you just got to just keep stepping and just do -- and what's right because like you never know what tomorrow brings, really.


SCHOLES: Yes. Dawkins said he was nearly fully vaccinated when he contracted the virus. He had received his second shot but got sick less than two weeks later.

All right, Tim Tebow's attempt at a comeback to football is over. The Jacksonville Jaguars releasing the 34-year-old former quarterback turned tight end yesterday. Head coach Urban Meyer called the decision tough but necessary.

The former Heisman Trophy winner played in the Jag's preseason opener on Saturday and didn't make a catch. It was his first appearance in an NFL preseason game since 2015.

All right. And finally, one man's trash is really another man's treasure. According to multiple reports, the tissue used by soccer star Lionel Messi at his tearful farewell news conference from Barcelona has been listed on an international auction site for $1 million.

The seller reportedly sitting -- was sitting in the front row and managed to scoop up the tissue after it was left behind. According to the individual, it's so expensive because it contains Messi's genetic material. And Laura, they claim it could be used to clone Messi in the future.

JARRETT: Is nothing sacred? I mean, the man -- the man can't even have a tissue left alone?

SCHOLES: You know, I don't know if anyone's actually going to purchase this for a million dollars, but we don't know what the future holds. Maybe we will be able to clone someone out of a tissue.

JARRETT: OK, I -- let's pretend for a minute you had a million dollars. Would you ever pay a million dollars for a tissue? What -- or I should say what would you pay a million dollars for, right?

SCHOLES: I don't know. Laura, there are many very, very wealthy soccer fans out there and big Messi fans. Who knows? I wouldn't put it past this thing actually selling. We'll have to wait and see.

JARRETT: I guess so. A lot of super fans out there for Messi, for sure.

All right, Andy, thank you.

SCHOLES: All right.

JARRETT: Appreciate it, my friend.

Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, August 18th. I am Brianna Keilar along with John Berman on this new day.

And the exodus from Afghanistan is accelerating this morning. U.S. military flights evacuated more than 1,000 people on Tuesday, including 330 American citizens and permanent residents, and another 770 family members. Administration officials believe up 15,000 Americans may still be in Afghanistan, meaning that the U.S. must now rely on its adversary, the Taliban, to exit its longest war.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And this morning we're seeing new graphic images of the scene outside the airport in Kabul. Remember, that's the only way out.

A "Los Angeles Times" photographer captured what appeared to be a brutal crackdown by Taliban forces. He spoke to Anderson Cooper overnight.


MARCUS YAM, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT AND PHOTOJOURNALIST, LOS ANGELES TIMES: I think a lot of them read on Facebook that the Americans were taking Afghans and taking them out of the country, so they didn't just want to try their luck.