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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Must Decide Today Whether to Extend Evacuation Past Aug 31; House Dems' Standoff Puts $3.5T Economic Package in Jeopardy; More Vaccine Mandates After Pfizer Shot Gets Full FDA Approval. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Decision day. The president must decide whether to extend the evacuation deadline from Afghanistan. CNN is live in Kabul.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: The Biden administration at home facing new questions. Not one but two infrastructure bills in jeopardy, thanks to a battle among Democrats.

ROMANS: And new vaccine mandates are here after the FDA gave the approval of the COVID vaccine.

It is Tuesday, August 24th. It is 5:00 a.m. in New York. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world.

We have a lot to get to this morning, and we start with President Biden facing a deadline from his own military on whether to extend evacuations in Afghanistan beyond August 31st.

Now, the military needs enough time to withdraw the roughly 5,800 troops currently on the ground along with their equipment and their weapons, but complicating matters here is the Taliban, warning that staying past that August 31st deadline is a red line.

ROMANS: Meantime, the evacuations. The number of evacuations is inching upward, about 16,000 people yesterday on U.S. and coalition aircraft. But the scramble to get people out still in high gear, and this different perspective, new satellite images of Kabul's airport, huge crowds can be seen at multiple checkpoints and security gates. You can see groups of people on the tarmac waiting to be evacuated.

JARRETT: CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is live at the Kabul international airport this morning.

Sam, good morning.

CNN has new reporting, just tell us how many people exactly remain at the airport and who exactly are they? SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we

understand there's about 4,500 evacuees at the airport waiting, most of them to fly out in this 24/7 operation that has really ramped up over the last 48 hours. That means that the number of evacuees for the first time probably is less than the number of U.S. troops, number about 5,800 and also about 1,000 British troops and others from around the world.

So this is an indication that the evacuation of people from -- who are inside the airport is going well. But still, the gates to the airport are basically closed. Some are getting in through unofficial routes or because they have got contacts and being smuggled in effectively. There is now we understand a small amount of people coming in with special immigration visas in order to enter the United States.

But officially, the gates still are pretty much closed leaving we estimate here about 9,000 people in the immediate perimeter of the airport. Many, many thousands of others, including an unknown number of perhaps thousands of American citizens deeper in the city, and indeed spread around the rest of the country. Some of whom perhaps even the majority of whom would love to get out.

The problem is that there is what the national security adviser in Washington has described as a persistent and real threat coming from the so-called Islamic state known here as ISIS-K. That is a threat, generic threat. Clearly, it's a threat against the airport but also against the civilians wanting to get into it because the ISIS group is bitter enemies with the Taliban who have been trying to push the security cordoned around the airport back.

They have been trying to get a grip on it in their own weird and often potentially violent way. But they are working very closely with the United States in order to get this all done by August 31. After that, they have said, you've got to be gone or we'll consider this an extension of what they call the occupation.

ROMANS: Sam, it was President Trump who originally made that agreement with -- the agreement with the Taliban to leave the country. It is this president who is fulfilling that obligation. And the premise of that deal was that they would break with al Qaeda. Have they and how does that affect the risk of the situation on the ground at the airport if they haven't?

KILEY: Well, that is a very interesting question indeed. Of course now that the U.S. forces have withdrawn all the way into the airport, they get less and less intelligence relying on third party intelligent sources or signals intelligence to find out what exactly that relationship is.

Historically, there has been a relationship between the Haqqani Network, which is the dominant force really in this part of Afghanistan all the way east of the Pakistani border and al Qaeda, the extent of that relationship, depth of that relationship is very hard to assess, but the Haqqanis have been the most militant and hard-line forces within the Taliban structures. And then you have the wider Taliban ideology which officially -- many

of them really believe this, that they want no part in international terrorism.


They regret hosting al Qaeda back in 2001, and which, of course, led to them being driven from power 20 years ago. They are now back in charge. They are now trying to make these commitments completely saying that they would not allow international terrorists to operate from within Afghanistan. Whether or not they can make good on that promise remains to be seen.

ROMANS: All right. Sam Kiley, thanks so much for that this morning. Keep us posted.

JARRETT: All right. So, the first stop for many evacuees from Afghanistan is Qatar where they are processed and vetted before heading to the U.S. or elsewhere.

International security editor Nick Paton Walsh is live in Doha, Qatar, this morning.

Nick, just walk us through what kind of security vetting is the U.S. giving these tens of thousands of refugees it's evacuating?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: What they hope people arrive with some kind of documentation that they can match the individuals with the process, with the SIV case numbers that they have in happened. But signals that are very difficult it is not great comms. So, it is an imprecise process, certainly.

And I'd say I've witnessed and heard of simply a lot of people who once you are on the airport, you get stuck on one of these massive C- 17s and taken to a number of outlying bases.

On arrival there, the process begins to get a little bit more sophisticated. Now, there is plenty of biometric data available to the United States after 20 years in Afghanistan, a lot of these individuals had security jobs and therefore can be scanned, their fingerprints, irises, to assess that they are who they say they are. A lot of these people travel too with documentations, the forms that they filled in for the SIV process, their passports too, but also a lot traveling without any documentation. There are apparently thousands of Afghan military aged males who are undocumented who made their way on to the base during a lapse in the process who are now finding themselves on these bases.

On the bases, they want to check that these people are who they say they are. No piece of intelligence out there that mean that they could be a potential threat to the United States. It is unclear quite what happens to them if they meet that criterion. We haven't heard about people being sent back at this stage. That is definitely a gray area to be looked at.

And if people continue to meet the requirements of being an SIV applicant, then a possibility that they will be taken into the civilian airliners who are running around the world to bring them to processing centers in the United States. That is all for good news.

The problem that the U.S. faces now is the limited window they have until they have to start thinking about putting their troops back with that 31st of August deadline, 4,500 on the base I was told just a matter of minutes ago, 9,000 at the gates. That potentially suggests that they could be bringing more on we understand SIV applicants are beginning to get on but slowly and through the gates, a tiny trickle that may open up possibly, but the real question is how many do you allow in before you say this is our lid, we have to start thinking about U.S. troops.

That is the big decision for President Biden today, President Joe Biden, and a lot of pressure from his G7 allies to extend the time table. I would say highly unlikely that happens.

ROMANS: Yeah. You know, Nick, I'm wondering what are -- what are U.S. intelligence agencies doing to fill the intel vacuum created by the Taliban's rapid conquest here of Afghanistan? There is just so much we don't know.

WALSH: Yeah, I mean, look, the U.S. intelligence community has sort of been stuck in this position where it is clear to them that there is an extremist threat in Afghanistan, that al Qaeda is not gone like Joe Biden said recently. A report from the treasury said that they were growing back in January. So, it's certainly an issue of course. They have their own networks amongst the local population over 20 year, they will try to sustain.

Many of the people in the networks have been fleeing and are on the airport trying to get out. So, certainly, their intelligence gathering compromised. Their signal intelligence, their ability to hover up electronic data in Afghanistan obviously, you know, unparalleled at this stage, frankly given how long they have been there. And you have to remember, you know, since you and I were back there in 2001, counterterrorism has massively changed in terms of sophistication about working out patented behavior, finding the tiny bread crumb in data and the ability to combat people you consider to be potential threats to homeland. That's now significantly more based in drones and UVA, behavior than it has been in the past.

So a lot that they can do but the fact that you don't have people on the ground there able to work out of military bases, et cetera, is a huge impediment.


ROMANS: All right. Nick Paton Walsh for this morning in Doha, thank you so much for your great analysis and reporting during this unbelievable turbulent time. Thank you.

JARRETT: Thanks, Nick.

ROMANS: You know, we just found out too, Airbnb plans to house 20,000 Afghan refugees for free. The CEO calls this one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time. No word on how long it will last, but Brian Chesky says he hopes his decision inspires other business leaders to do the same and there is no time to waste.

JARRETT: Programming note here for you. Mass shootings, gun violence and the NRA's role in shaping America's laws. A new CNN film "The Price of Freedom", Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.



JARRETT: This morning, a House divided. A standoff between moderate Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is holding up passage of President Biden's infrastructure plan. A crucial piece of the president's agenda now hanging in the balance.

CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill for us.

Daniella, good morning.

So on the one hand, this all seems like a bunch of legislative sausage-making, but at bottom, it's really about making people's lives better and the fact that the president is having trouble getting something that he made a key priority.

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Absolutely, Laura. There is a lot of drama happening this week on the House side in this rare August session.

You know, lawmakers are supposed to be on recess but they are back to vote on these bills. On one hand, you have Democratic leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Joe Biden, who were hoping that this would be easy, they would be able to pass these bills and leave for recess and priority of course was to pass the budget resolution which is the framework to start the budget reconciliation bill. This is the $3.5 trillion bill that Democrats can pass without any Republicans that would create thousands of jobs, it would have funding to combat climate change, it would have paid family and medical leave, it would expand the child tax credit.

These are priorities of the Biden administration that they want to see passed which is why it is a priority for the budget resolution to pass. But then on the other hand, you have the thousand ten House moderate Democrats who are putting up a fight because they want the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed first. You know, the way they see it is this bill has already passed the Senate, it just needs to go to Joe Biden's desk for signature and it will create thousands of jobs on the infrastructure that the United States really needs, Americans are waiting for.

And that is why they are putting up a fight and they have a lot of power right now. So that is what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is navigating. She needs to navigate the progressives that want the budget resolution. You know, more -- dozens of progressives that want that, and then these ten House moderate Democrats that won't vote for the budget resolution unless the bipartisan infrastructure bill is put to a vote first.

You know, we were expecting a vote last night. It never happened. And now, today, we're waiting to see what happens and how Pelosi navigates this and tries to please all corners of her party to try to pass these bills, because Americans are waiting for these jobs. These are on the line.

And, you know, the House is actually, you know, in session today. Democrats will meet at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. So, we're going to see how it plays out and whether they can reach a deal -- Laura.

JARRETT: We'll see how this all plays out. We are thankful that we have you to walk us through all the morass of it. Daniella, appreciate it.

ROMANS: It is -- it is simply the Biden agenda here. When you look at that $3.5 trillion spending package, that is how he wants to remake the economy to make it for families and workers. So much of the focus since -- really since the Reagan administration is to get government out of your life and put power in the hands of the companies, this would be a game changer here in terms of I guess the priorities of the economy and that is what he --

JARRETT: And clearly, progressives are worried that they're going to lose leverage, right?


JARRETT: If they do the bipartisan one that has already passed the Senate first, that they will lose leverage. But right now, nothing is getting passed.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: So, they're just at a complete stalemate, which means nothing good for the American people.

ROMANS: Exactly. All right. Something that did get passed, right, their first full approval of the COVID vaccine, the FDA says it is safe. It is effective. What it means for the pandemic fight and for vaccine mandates nationwide.



JARRETT: More vaccine mandates are on the way now that the FDA has given its first full approval to Pfizer's two-shot coronavirus vaccine. The latest additions of places opting to require the vaccine now -- the Pentagon, New York City's Department of Education, the University of Minnesota and most public colleges in Louisiana.

Here is the former FDA chief under President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. STEPHEN HAHN, FORMER FDA COMISSIONER: We have more data about efficacy and safety than almost any other vaccine in the history of vaccination. The data are clear, the FDA has spoken. The vaccine is safe and effective.


ROMANS: Safe and effective. United Airlines has moved up its deadline for its employees to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. That deadline is now the end of September. And the head of the influential business round table says state and local government officials should support, not impede companies looking to implement vaccine mandates.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you are a business leader, a nonprofit leader, state or local leader, who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call you on now to do that, require it.


ROMANS: About 82 million Americans have yet to receive a shot that is about 29 percent of the eligible population.

The cruise industry is stepping up its safety protocols as the delta variant surges around the world. Over the weekend, Carnival Cruise Lines said all guests over 12 years old must be fully vaccinated to sell sail from ports in the Bahamas. The mandate goes into effect September 3rd. Royal Caribbean also tightened its vaccine requirements saying guests 12 and older must be fully vaccinated in any port in the U.S. Any requirements come after the Bahamas government issued an emergency order banning cruise ships from that country unless everyone on board over 12 is fully vaccinated.

Earlier this month, the police tourism board said it received a carnival cruise ship with 27 positive cases on board. That ship has sailed out of Texas. "The New York Times" reported one of those infected later died.


The Bahamas ban would be another blow to the industry that struggles to recover from the pandemic. Last week, the CDC said people at high risk for COVID should stay off cruise ships even if they are vaccinated.

Still ahead, we're going to continue this discussion we've been talking about all morning facing conflicting ultimatums. Will the president extend the deadline to evacuate Americans and our allies from Afghanistan? The military wants to know by today.


JARRETT: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett. ROMANS: It's Tuesday.