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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Trying to Pivot to Domestic Goals As COVID Spikes; Pandemic Unemployment Benefits Expire for Millions; Taliban Claim to Conquer Panjshir, Resistance Groups Deny it. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, this is a special Labor Day edition of EARLY START, I'm Christine Romans, Laura has the morning off. It is Monday, September 6th, 5:00 a.m. in New York, and we have reports this morning from Los Angeles, Johannesburg, Washington, Louisiana and Islamabad. But we begin in Washington where it may be a holiday, but there is no rest for a White House under pressure.

Joe Biden and his staff facing public health, economic and legislative challenges dragging down his approval numbers. Coronavirus deaths back to an average of nearly 1,600 per day, triple the number from a month ago and the highest since early March. The Delta variant still spreading among and killing the unvaccinated. Now, health officials plans to roll out booster shots has hit a hitch, Pfizer has passed its study information to the FDA, but Moderna hasn't yet.


ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: What you might see is rather than the simultaneous rolling out of the booster program of both those products, you may be sequential by about a week or two. I don't think that is a major issue there, but we would have liked to have seen it happen all together simultaneously.


ROMANS: The completely avoidable resurgence of COVID compounded by fallout from a chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, new concerns over job growth and the latest complications facing the president's sweeping infrastructure and social programs. CNN's Jasmine Wright live in Washington. You know, Jasmine, a tough Summer for the president and the country ending on a tough note.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, it's certainly not the Summer that the president and the White House wanted. And this back and forth with boosters complicates that even further because look, the White House views boosters as another tool in their toolkit to try to get a handle on this latest COVID surge. And so, without it, the question is what happens going forward? So yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION" with CNN's Dana Bash, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain couldn't say exactly when we can expect that booster rollout.

Remember, they said it would happen on September 20th, now is not so sure, and that comes after CNN reporting that health officials really told the White House that they needed more information and more time to really assess and review whether or not boosters could happen. Take a listen.


RON KLAIN, CHIEF OF STAFF, WHITE HOUSE: No one is going to get boosters until the FDA says they're approved, until the CDC Advisory Committee makes a recommendation. What we want to do though is be ready as soon as that comes. So the most important thing we can do here at the White House, what our COVID response team can do, is to make sure that we have bought the boosters and we have, and that we have a distribution plan so that as soon as the regulators, the scientists say good to go, here is who needs them, here is what's approved, they will be available.


WRIGHT: So Klain says that these booster, whenever they do approve them, they'll be ready on day one. He's saying that the administration is following the science despite reporting about the kind of confusion inside the White House that CNN has been talking about the last few days. And we just heard from Fauci that it may be Pfizer only on September 20th with Moderna coming later. But there is no doubt, Christine, that this back-and-forth complicates things, and we know that the economy as one of the examples in the last Friday, we heard from President Biden saying that the disappointing jobs number was a result of that COVID resurgence.

So, we know that getting COVID on track is something that not only this White House has staked their claim on, but it's something that allows the White House to focus on other issues.

ROMANS: Yes, this --

WRIGHT: So, yes, tough Summer.

ROMANS: Yes, this booster messaging I think is really important, Jasmine, for the White House because we have seen time and again over the course of this pandemic -- the public when you say, oh, we're just following the science that's why we're changing the recommendations, the public just sees changing recommendations and doesn't get that message. So they'll have to be very crystal clear on the messaging on the boosters. Jasmine, thank you so much, nice to see you this Labor Day morning.

Pandemic unemployment benefits have expired for at least 7.5 million people over Labor Day weekend. The benefits were, of course, were always temporary emergency aid for millions thrown out of jobs because of the pandemic, part of COVID relief that has now officially expired. Now, you've heard the criticism that these checks kept people from looking for work. Well, don't expect a surge in hiring because those checks are over. Two dozen states cut benefits during the Summer and those states did

not see a hiring surge. In fact, job growth was just about the same as states that kept the benefit. It's true businesses are struggling to hire enough workers to meet the demand of a reopening economy. You know, there are a record 10.1 million job openings in June, there are plenty of jobs for those people to apply for, but people are not rushing back to the new normal.


There are still health and safety concerns, and there are numerous child-care issues. We saw this Delta drag in the August jobs numbers after a very strong hiring in June and July, August notched the slowest job growth since January. Here is what the president said about it Friday.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: Today's report shows that the steps we've taken, passing the rescue plan and vaccinating a 175 million people make our economy capable of growing and adding jobs even in the face of this continuing Delta surge. There is no question that Delta variant is why today's jobs report isn't stronger.


ROMANS: Sure, 17 million jobs have been added since the jobs crash in the Spring of 2020. The economy still down, the deficit still about 5.3 million jobs since the pandemic began. All right, at least 50 deaths in the northeast from Ida. New video of the NYPD literally diving into basement apartments trying to find survivors, officials say, rebuilding will have to factor in the climate reality.



ROMANS: Welcome back. Parts of New York and New Jersey still struggling to recover in the wake of Hurricane Ida. At least, 50 deaths in the northeast are now being blamed on the storm.


MAYOR LOU MANZO, HARRISON TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY: There is no denying that weather events have become more intense in recent years. And so, I do think that it's important for leadership at the federal level and then down at the state and local level to take this into account as we plan our infrastructure, how we build our towns, the density, speculation and so forth, because this is the new norm. Regardless of -- you know, I really get kind of impatient over the conversation of what it's rooted in. It's real, it's here and we have to deal with it.


ROMANS: Yes, from the destruction come heartbreaking stories of victims who could not escape those raging waters. A mother, father and son, 72-year-old Rose Espanol(ph) and her 71-year-old husband Jose Toris(ph) and their 38-year-old son Jose drowned when more than 12 feet of water filled their apartment in Elizabeth, New Jersey. About 20 miles to the north, rescue workers are searching for two childhood friends, 18-year-old Nidhi Rana and 21-year-old Ayush Rana, witnesses say they were swept into a storm drain in Passaic.


MAYOR HECTOR LORA, PASSAIC, NEW JERSEY: It's such a challenge because there is no moving forward. It's almost like grief limbo. You don't know what's going on. You don't know whether you're grieving a loss or you're still concerned whether missing individuals can be found.


ROMANS: Here in New York City, the NYPD has released video from the height of the storm, officers trying to dive under water to rescue three people trapped in this basement apartment including a toddler. They had to pull back because of live electricity. President Biden is scheduled to visit the hardest hit areas of New York and New Jersey tomorrow.

Global warming is making people sick and health officials need to address the climate crisis now, because it cannot wait until the pandemic is over. That warning from the editors of more than 230 medical journalists -- this is the first time so many publications have united like this to deliver the statement to world leaders. They say heat-related deaths among people older than 65, up 50 percent in the past 20 years.

Police say a former Marine is now in custody after shooting and killing four people in Lakeland, Florida, including a mother, a grandmother and a baby. They say, the suspect 33-year-old Bryan Riley was wearing body armor when he went on his shooting rampage early Sunday morning. Riley's girlfriend told police he was troubled after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.


GRADY JUDD, POLK COUNTY, FLORIDA: She said he had PTSD, I've seen him depressed, I've never seen him violent. She said, but a week ago today, meaning last Sunday, he did security at a church in Orlando. And he came home and he said, you know, God spoke to him and now he can talk directly to God. And she said I'd never seen that kind of behavior.


ROMANS: Police say Riley also shot and killed his victim's dog and wounded an 11-year-old girl who was airlifted to a Tampa general hospital. She is thankfully expected to recover. Breaking overnight, the Taliban claiming victory over the last pocket of resistance in Afghanistan as questions swirl about who is and is not able to depart the country.


ROMANS: All right, breaking overnight. The Taliban raising their flag over Afghanistan's Panjshir Province claiming they have completely conquered the last territory held by the opposition. Resistance forces say that is not true, that they still control strategic positions. International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is in Islamabad, Pakistan. Nic, are the Taliban any closer to forming an actual government here?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They seem to be edging in that direction. They said it was going to be inclusive, everyone, of course, waiting to see how inclusive it will be. Indications are it won't include any women in ministry positions, and it probably won't include any former senior politicians in important positions either. What we know, we know a little from Pakistan's Intelligence chief went to Kabul, met with the Taliban on Saturday, Pakistan sources have told us that the Taliban, sort of supreme leader, their commander of the faithful, Hibatullah Akhundzada will remain the chief.

There is a dispute over who might run the defense ministry because there's several powerful Taliban factional commanders, you know, who want that post. And they're also saying -- the Pakistan sources are also saying that don't expect a Taliban minister who is under U.N. designation for connection to -- for connection to terrorism. So that kind of rules out key figures, Sirajuddin Haqqani, but all of this is still in play. And frankly, the Taliban has shut down any communications about precisely when and precisely the nature of the government.

ROMANS: Right, Nic, also we've seen over the weekend, also we saw this last week, the small groups of women protesting in Afghan cities, protests that were met with violence from the Taliban. Listen to those women who were involved.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Together with a group of our colleagues, we wanted to go near the former government offices for a protest. But before we got there, the Taliban hit women with electric tasers and they used tear gas against women.


They also hit women on the head with a gun magazine, and the women became bloody. There was no one to ask why?

AZITA NAZIMI, JOURNALIST & WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVIST (through translator): The purpose of our gathering today was to get our rights. The right to education and the right to work. We gathered yesterday and today to defend our right to education and our children, and to do something. This gathering was not just for ourselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Last week, we saw some women protesting, saying, look, we'll

-- here's -- we'll make a deal with you, we'll wear the full burka if our little girls are allowed to go to school and learn to read. What are Taliban officials saying about women's rights in these protests in particular.

ROBERTSON: Well, here is one of the fascinating things about the sort of Taliban mindset if you will. The biggest problems in the country are economic, you know, shortages of hard cash, people wanting, you know, job security and that is absent in a lot of areas. But what are the Taliban focusing on? They're focusing on implementing their strict interpretation of Sharia law, Islamic law, they are saying that all women who go to colleges, universities, higher education, should all wear a sort of a covering, all covering black niqab, so just the eyes can be -- just the eyes can be seen.

Not only that, they will have to go into separate classrooms from men, they will have to enter the school at a different time from men and boys. Go in five minutes early, leave five minutes later. So already, the Taliban are putting these very sort of strict and onerous conditions on all parts of life. It's not just in schools. At the borders where there used to be one line of people allowed at the border, the Taliban now splitting people into men and women.

How this solves their real problem for the people, the economic issues, well, it's hard to see that connection at the moment. Their priority is --

ROMANS: Yes --

ROBERTSON: This enforcing strict Islamic law.

ROMANS: I can tell you, it will hurt the economy. It will hurt the economy if you sideline half of your population and you don't have the same rights for all of those people. You grow an economy by inclusion. There is just no question. And so that right there is a fatal flaw I think in the Taliban ideology. But again, we see it has won out here in the end. Let me ask you about this, Texas Republican Congressman Mike McCaul made this pretty surprising claim yesterday about Americans and allies in Afghanistan. Listen.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): We had six airplanes at Mazar-i-Sharif Airport, six airplanes, with American citizens on them as I speak, also with these interpreters and the Taliban is holding them hostage for demands right now. They -- state has cleared these flights and the Taliban will not let them leave the airport.


ROMANS: He used this word "hostage". What do we know for sure about what's going on there?

ROBERTSON: We know the Taliban are allowing domestic flights around the country from Kabul to Mazar-i-Sharif, so we know the airport has been opened technically for planes to fly in and out. They haven't got the airport in Kabul up and running for international flights yet. From what we understand, they're working with the Qataris, working on sort of building up a security system for screening people to get on flights to make sure no one is carrying a suicide vest.

Obviously, their enemies ISIS-K would like to put a suicide bomber on any sort of big target, and that would be a big target. But we know that they've been allowing these domestic flights, they've been allowing passengers on domestic planes, specifically about these people who want to leave Afghanistan that are in Mazar-i-Sharif. There are a number of empty aircraft sitting on the runway there. We do know from sources that there are a number of people in Mazar who want to get out. The notion that they are hostages is something that's hard to nail down at the moment.

What we know for sure is that the Taliban have a list of people, this is not something they're making public, but it's something that is widely understood, that they have a list of people they are not going to want to let get out of the --

ROMANS: Yes --

ROBERTSON: Country. People that -- people that they want to make sure don't become part of a resistance network in the future. Do they have the procedures in place to check everyone coming and going from airports or at the borders? I don't think that's clear. But that seems to perhaps underpin part of what is happening in Mazar-i-Sharif.

ROMANS: All right, Nic Robertson for us clearing up a little bit. Thank you so much, nice to see you in Islamabad this morning. All right, to sports now. The World Cup Champions with their biggest battle is happening off the field. Hear from the players fighting for equal pay and women's rights in the film "LFG" tonight at 9:00 on CNN.



ROMANS: Good morning, this is EARLY START, I'm Christine Romans. It's just about 30 minutes past the hour this Labor Day Monday. Intensive care units are filling up again as the more contagious Delta variant spreads across the country. Healthcare workers in areas with low vaccination rates are returning to a crisis they endured last year when hospitals struggled to handle the crush of patients. Dr. Anthony Fauci warning the U.S. is perilously close to confronting some very tough choices, and he noted the effect of the Delta variant on kids at schools start to reopen in the northeast.


FAUCI: The way you protect children who because of their age cannot get vaccinated yet, is to surround the children, be it friends, family, school, teachers, personnel in the school, surround the children with vaccinated people.