Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Keeps August 31st Deadline To Withdraw From Afghanistan; U.S. Air Base In Germany Filling Up With Evacuees; Vice President Harris Rebukes China Over South China Sea. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 25, 2021 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Still, a major concern for women's safety. A Taliban spokesman is urging women to stay home because fighters haven't been trained to respect them.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: To U.S. congressmen, Democrat Seth Moulton and Republican Peter Meyer, facing criticism for their unannounced visit to Afghanistan. The two veterans say they wanted to conduct oversight on the mission to evacuate Americans. One U.S. official calling their visit an unhelpful distraction.

ROMANS: A U.S. intelligence report on the origins of COVID-19 has been completed and shared with President Biden. A source tells CNN all the Intel agencies had low confidence in the origin theories currently circulating.

JARRETT: The U.S. Supreme Court ruling the Biden administration must reinstate former President Trump's immigrant policy requiring many asylum seekers to wait outside the U.S. and Mexico for their cases to be decided. The court's conservative majority ruling the administration had not done enough to justify changing the policy.

President Biden meets today with top leaders in tech, education, and key energy sectors to discuss tightening the nation's cybersecurity. They are expected to focus on the shortage of cybersecurity talent in the U.S.

ROMANS: Parts of seven states -- California, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana -- under air quality alerts are wildfires rage in the western U.S. In Reno, Nevada, residents are being told to stay indoors. Historically, bad air quality was reported for a second day in a row.

Bring them home. President Biden deciding to stick with his August 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The president says he's asked military leaders to be ready to adjust that timetable if necessary. He called it a tenuous situation.

The White House acknowledged that to get U.S. troops and equipment out of Kabul just six days from now, civilian evacuations will have to wind down earlier, and that depends on Taliban cooperation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm determined to ensure that we complete our mission -- this mission. I'm also mindful of the increasing risks that I've been -- I've been briefed on and the need to factor those risks in. They're real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration.


JARRETT: Now, the president has faced a fair amount of criticism for how the withdrawal has been handled but no Americans have died so far, importantly. And he's firmly defending it on the basis of American interest even, in fact, before he announced that he was sticking with that timetable yesterday.

The president celebrated the House advancing his $3.5 trillion budget plan which, of course, focuses on American jobs, social spending, family leave, and healthcare. So despite an exit likely to trap thousands of U.S.-Afghan allies under brutal Taliban rule, President Biden clearly believes the priorities of Americans are ultimately elsewhere.

CNN'S Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, Christine and Laura. With this confirmation from President Biden yesterday that he is standing by this timeline, the clock is now ticking with less than a week for the president to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan -- a timeline he said yesterday he does think he can meet despite these calls from world leaders that he had a call with yesterday to extend that deadline. Because they think they need more time for these evacuations to continue.

President Biden disagreed, citing the security threat on the ground, saying that every day U.S. troops are there longer, the higher that risk for a potential terrorist attack becomes. And that is the number- one driver behind President Biden's decision, we are told, to stand by this timeline.

Of course, whether or not it changes remains to be seen, and President Biden says a lot of that depends on the cooperation of the Taliban and whether or not they try to disrupt the United States' last few days in Kabul.

Of course, we are also hearing from lawmakers, typically allies of this White House -- Democrats like Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger who says they still don't think this is enough time.

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): We have to get American citizens out and we have to get our Afghan partners and allies out. The American people support it and their representatives in this House support it.

That can't be accomplished between now and the end of the month. This was the date that the United States set and we set that date under different conditions during a different time. Those conditions have changed.

COLLINS: Now that is something several lawmakers have pointed to, saying this is a United States-set deadline and they could move it if they wanted to. Of course, right now, that is not President Biden's intention.


ROMANS: All right, Kaitlan. Thank you so much for that.

So what happens to the thousands of people being evacuated from Afghanistan? Many of them will land at Germany's Ramstein Air Base, one of America's largest foreign air bases. It's been transformed into a temporary transit point but it's filling up quickly here.


CNN's Atika Shubert is there for us this morning. Atika, what are things like for the evacuees at Ramstein?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very basic conditions here but for many, they're just relieved to be out of Kabul and safe here. We did have access to the base and were inside one of those tent cities. Take a look.


SHUBERT (voice-over): Ramstein Air Base has rapidly transformed into a temporary refuge for Afghan evacuees.

SHUBERT (on camera): So it's really from this vantage point that you can see just how much this operation has grown. When we got here on Saturday morning to see those first few flights arriving, there were only a few tents over there. Now, as you can see, it's grown. And it really just goes to show what a massive operation this is to bring in thousands of evacuees.

SHUBERT (voice-over): The number now waiting here has swelled to 7,000, all of them desperate to get to the U.S.

Donia Laali says she fought her way into Kabul airport to get all of the women in her family out.

DONIA LAALI, EVACUEE: We saw lots of problems there and I just try and my family try to come out because we are all women. There is no men with us. Because we were just women and my brothers -- they are in the U.S. -- so we try to go and reach them.

SCHUBERT (voice-over): The quick transit is now taking much longer. Evacuees are tired and frustrated. U.S. citizens, green card holders, and those with approved visas are being given priority, according to the State Department.

But Nazif Mayward told us he has a visa and has been waiting for more than two days to board a flight.

MOHAMMED NAZIF MAYWARD, EVACUEE: We need shower. We need internet. The internet is not available over here. Somehow, we need to have contact with our family members -- that they are worried about us.

We're not so relaxed over here. Things are not that good over here. I know that they are trying their best.

SHUBERT (voice-over): To speed up mobilization, the Pentagon has activated the Civil Reserve air fleet, with commercial carriers such as Delta, to bring evacuees to the U.S.

In the meantime, sing-alongs and football keep the little ones occupied while their parents worry and wait.


SHUBERT: Now, a lot of the evacuees we spoke to yesterday said the conditions were very basic. The biggest complaint was that they weren't always able to be together as family. Some of them were separated in different camps and they didn't have internet connection in order to communicate with family members, either there or at home.

Having said that, a lot of the evacuees I spoke to said the conditions here at Ramstein were a lot better than they were at Doha. They complained about sitting on the tarmac for hours there.

But this is a very fluid and dynamic situation. They're really just trying to get these people to safety for the moment. And the good news is that a lot of those flights bringing evacuees to the U.S. has picked up tremendously. It's like doubled in the last day or so. Now, more than 2,500 have been flown from Ramstein to the U.S., so that is a bit of good news, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, just a Herculean effort -- 70,000 people -- civilians in these military bases -- trying to get them settled. And we know the Defense Department says they are working on making those conditions a little better.

Thank you so much for that. Nice to see you, Atika.

JARRETT: All right, to COVID now and the big question on the minds of so many parents in America. When will young kids finally get a COVID vaccine?


CRAIG MELVIN, HOST, NBC "TODAY THIRD HOUR": What's the likelihood that group is going to be able to get the shot before the Christmas holidays?


(END VIDEO CLIP) JARRETT: The American Academy of Pediatrics says there has been a four-fold increase in the number of children testing positive in the last month. And the number of kids in the hospital -- in the hospital have more than tripled since the start of July.

CNN analysis shows an additional nine percent of the U.S. population may be vaccinated against coronavirus once eligibility expands to kids five to 11 years old.

ROMANS: And now with boosters on the horizon, new CDC data shows vaccines are less protective against infection from the Delta variant but still highly effective against hospitalization and death.


DR. ALI KHAN, DEAN, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER'S COLLEGE OF PUBLIC HEALTH: This study is consistent with every -- like, three or four other studies that CDC has recently presented. The bigger point here is the vaccine is still two-thirds protective against infection and still in the 90s for severe disease. So the vaccine still works really well.


ROMANS: The vaccine works really well. You know, a way to protect kids here -- because, right, they're not eligible for the vaccine yet -- is a flu shot. Typically, the CDC suggests people get a flu shot by the end of October, but experts say you may want to do it even earlier this year.

The twindemic was avoided last year because of all of the masking, the extra handwashing, and everyone working from home. But now things have reopened and there's a real concern about what it's going to look like this fall.


JARRETT: Yes, the deadly combo.

And more big names are joining the list of companies mandating vaccination now that Pfizer is fully approved by the FDA. Among them, Disney World, Goldman Sachs, and CVS. Also, Ohio State University will require vaccines by November, and LSU will require vaccination or a negative COVID test to attend football games.

ROMANS: All right. Meantime, in the pandemic, the global supply chain is still badly tangled and the cost of shipping has skyrocketed -- a situation so extreme some companies are investing in their own cargo ships.

Walmart and Home Depot have started chartering ships in order to get products from overseas. Walmart's CFO told investors while it's chartering ships specifically for Walmart goods, some items are still out of stock more than usual.

Companies like Adidas, Crocs, and Hasbro have already warned about disruptions as they prepare for the end-of-the-year shopping season.

Investing in a cargo ship may be an option for big-box retailers but small businesses, of course, don't have that option, putting them in the position to deal with those higher shipping costs, longer wait times for products, and maybe passing those shipping costs on to you, the consumer.

JARRETT: So you're telling me just higher prices. That's all -- that's what we need to know.

ROMANS: Higher prices are (INAUDIBLE), yes.

And we'll be right back.



JARRETT: Vice President Kamala Harris once again taking aim at China while on a trip in Southeast Asia. Harris is challenging Beijing's claims to critical waterways in the South China Sea.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is live in Hong Kong and she's following this story for us. OK, Kristie, what is Harris saying?


Well, today in Hanoi, the U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said that the U.S. Navy will maintain a strong presence in the South China Sea in order to challenge China's -- and this is her words -- excessive and bullying claims in the region.

She held a number of high-level meetings in Vietnam today, including with the Vietnamese prime minister, president, and vice president. On the agenda, an array of items, including climate change, economic concerns like the global chip shortage, as well as security cooperation, especially the South China Sea and China's ongoing assertions of sovereignty there.

I want you to listen to what Vice President Harris said earlier today on that.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to find ways to pressure -- and raise the pressure, frankly, on Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims.


STOUT: Now, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs countered those comments. In the last couple of hours, we heard this from a MOFA spokesperson, saying quote, "China firmly opposes the U.S. of deploying maritime law enforcement forces in the South China Sea, meddling in regional affairs and disturbing regional peace and stability."

Now, also on the agenda today in Vietnam, the coronavirus pandemic. Just yesterday, China swooped in and donated two million Chinese-made vaccines to Vietnam, which desperately needs it right now. And today, Vice President Harris announced an additional gift of one million vaccines made by Pfizer. The United States had already donated five million vaccines by Moderna.

Harris, also today, launched a new Centers for Disease Control regional office in Vietnam.

The trip went ahead despite concerns about a mysterious illness. It was on Tuesday in Singapore the trip was delayed three hours when the U.S. government reported that someone in Hanoi was targeted by that mysterious Havana syndrome. That is that ailment that has afflicted hundreds of U.S. officials and personnel over the years with various symptoms like dizziness, migraines, mental -- or memory lapses, as well.

But this was a reported case. It was not a confirmed case. The trip went ahead anyway -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Kristie Lu Stout. Thank you so much -- appreciate it.

STOUT: You got it.

ROMANS: All right.

A major disaster declaration for Humphreys County, Tennessee -- excuse me -- in the wake of Saturday's catastrophic flooding. Two hundred seventy-one homes were destroyed with hundreds more damaged.

JARRETT: The death toll revised to 18, with three people still missing. Seven-year-old Lucy Lane Connor died in the floods, leaving behind a devastated family.


SAMANTHA TUTEN, LUCY LANE CONNOR'S COUSIN: She deserved better. She was just a baby.

She was the light of my family. She was the glue. Our whole lives revolved around her. I think they always will.


ROMANS: In the city of Waverly, one business is helping flood victims with hot breakfasts.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee will tour the damage with the head of FEMA later today.

JARRETT: In California, police discovering a loaded gun, drugs, and more than 300 election ballots inside a man's car. Police say they were responding to a call about a man passed out in his vehicle. As they searched his car, police say they found the stolen items, including a box of mail with hundreds of unopened, unmarked ballots for the upcoming gubernatorial recall election.

The suspect was arrested but a motive has not been determined.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Looking at markets around the world, Asian shares have closed narrowly mixed and Europe has a similar move there.

On Wall Street, stock index futures at this hour are leaning a little bit higher after broken records on Wall Street. The Nasdaq hit 15,000 for the first time ever Tuesday. Continued strength in tech stocks there. This is the sixth time the Nasdaq has crossed a 1,000-point threshold since the pandemic began.

The S&P 500 also hit a record high -- its 50th record high this year, nearing the 4,500 milestone. The Dow closed up 30 points and it's a little more than 600 points away from Dow 36,000.

More companies stepping up to help Afghan refugees. Verizon is waiving charges for calls to Afghanistan for the next week and a half. The philanthropy arm of Walmart is donating $1 million to three groups that provide aid to refugees, immigrants, and veterans. As we reported yesterday, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky pledged to provide free housing for 20,000 Afghan refugees.



Jamaican bobsled NFT.


ROMANS: Back in 1988, the Jamaican bobsled team struggled to qualify for its first Winter Olympics. Now the team is thinking outside the box again to raise money to qualify for the 2022 Winter Games through NFTs or non-fungible tokens.

Chris Stokes, who was a member of the '88 bobsled team and the author of "Cool Runnings," is working with NFT experts to raise money for the team to be used for training, equipment, housing. The NFTs will include designs of six Jamaican bobsleds and are scheduled to drop later this year.

JARRETT: That's very cool.

The first full day of competition at the Paralympics in Tokyo now underway. Coy Wire, just back from Tokyo, has more in this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Laura.

These athletes did not let some sort of impairment get in their way of chasing their dreams and watching them compete on an international stage is inspiring to all of us. More than 4,400 athletes from 183 countries are competing -- the most

ever for a Paralympic Games. More than 500 medals will be awarded in 22 sports. And just like the Olympics now, fans won't be able to attend due to COVID-19 concerns in Tokyo.

Around half of Team USA's 240 competitors took part in the opening ceremony. Afghanistan's flag parading into the ceremony as well. Two of their athletes were supposed to come to Tokyo but weren't able to make it due to the Taliban takeover.

Two-time Paralympian cyclist Shawn Morelli brings home Team USA's first medal, capturing silver in the women's C-4 3,000-meter individual pursuit. The 45-year-old from Pennsylvania won a pair of golds at Rio in 2016. She's a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the war in Afghanistan.

All right. Back in the states, a historic alliance could bring major change to college athletics. The ACC, Big 10, and PAC-12 say they're ready to work together on a number of key issues and agreed to give each other priority when it comes to scheduling football and basketball games.

This is in response to the growing strength of the SEC, who will be adding Big 12 members Texas and Oklahoma in the year 2025. Losing those two college athletics bluebloods and not being part of this alliance could mean big trouble for the Big 12. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby declined to comment on the alliance.

ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips says they want and need the Big 12 to succeed.

The Yankees are on their longest winning streak since 1985. They had a 4-2 lead in the fifth when Atlanta's Austin Riley singles. One run would score.

But watch this perfect relay to the plate. What a throw and tag, barely getting Freddie Freeman at the plate, preventing that tying run from scoring. The Braves would challenge but the call would stand.

Then, in the final inning, superstar Freeman at bat again here with the bases loaded. Braves down one but he flies out after a tense nine- pitch at bat. Yankees win 5-4 securing their 11th straight victory.

Giants' first baseman Brandon Belt hit two home runs and two singles in the Giants' 8-0 win over the Mets last night.

Earlier in the day, he wasn't even sure he'd be able to play having just found out that his grandmother had passed away. He says Grandma Margaret Peterson played a major role in his career helping to pay for playing showcases in high school. And Brandon's dad told him she would want him to play, so he did and dedicated that game and the season to her.

She -- you know, he said once he made it to the Majors and is a two- time World Series champ, he used to sign baseball cards and give them to grandma so she could pass them out at work. ROMANS: Oh, that's so sweet.

All right, thanks for that. Nice to see you, Coy.

JARRETT: Thanks, Coy.

WIRE: You, too.

ROMANS: All right.

Rock and roll fans paying tribute to legendary Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.


Rolling Stones singing "I Can't Get No Satisfaction."


ROMANS: With a distinctive style, many viewed Charlie Watts as the true heartbeat of the Rolling Stones. Elton John called him the ultimate drummer.

Watts first joined the band back in 1963. The Stones had announced earlier this month he would not perform on an upcoming U.S. tour after an emergency medical procedure.

Charlie Watts, truly legendary, was 80.

JARRETT: Certainly (INAUDIBLE) his family today.


All right, thanks for joining us this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman alongside Brianna Keilar.

On this new day, the final countdown in Afghanistan begins. What the U.S. needs to do in six days before the deadline to get out of the country.

Plus, the secret trip to Kabul by two U.S. congressmen. One official calls it an unhelpful distraction.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And President Biden briefed on the Intelligence Community report on the origin of COVID. So what is the conclusion?

And the story behind the delay on the vice president's trip. The potential case of a mystery illness that grounded Kamala Harris for hours.

BERMAN: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, August 25th.

Events are moving at a breathtaking pace --