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Source: Taliban Representatives At Kabul Presidential Palace; U.S. Completely Out Of Embassy In 24 Hours; COVID Cases, Hospitalizations At Six-Month High In U.S.; CDC: Estimated Three Percent Of Adults Are Eligible For Booster; Nine House Moderates Threaten To Derail Biden Agenda Push. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired August 15, 2021 - 08:00   ET





KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST (voice-over): America's longest war is ending in chaos as the Taliban closes in on Kabul.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not regret my decision.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I blame the prior administration and I blame this administration for this moment we're in.

COLLINS: Plus, COVID in the classroom. An explosion of anger over how to protect our children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want my child to go to school free and unmasked!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are not doing a great job keeping our kids safe. We need to do better.

COLLINS: And a big bipartisan win for the president.

BIDEN: This bill is going to put people to work. America, this is how we truly build back better.

COLLINS: But can Democrats get the Biden agenda over the finish line?

INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.


COLLINS (on camera): And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Kaitlan Collins, in today for Abby.

We start with breaking news out of Afghanistan, and as we speak, Taliban representatives are inside the presidential palace in Kabul negotiating a peaceful surrender of the capital according to the Taliban spokesman. The group's fighters are on standby on the edge of the city.

Meanwhile, 5,000 U.S. troops are in or on the way to Kabul to assist in a complete evacuation of the U.S. embassy.

CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is in Kabul.

Clarissa, what is going on given the conflicting reports that we're hearing? Is the Afghan government still standing?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, define still standing, Kaitlan. Technically speaking, I guess they are. But the fact that you now have eight or nine according to our source Taliban representatives from the Doha contingency in the presidential palace hammering out a deal to come up with a sort of interim government, if you will, some kind of peaceful power-sharing agreement, tells you that things are changing very, very rapidly.

All of this happening at a stunning pace that I don't think anyone could have imagined. It was just a few days ago, U.S. officials were saying it might be 30 days before the Taliban surrounded Kabul, and yet here we are now, the Taliban at the gates. Their spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid releasing a statement earlier saying they don't want to enter with bloodshed. They want to come in peacefully.

He tried to reassure residents of Kabul saying there will be no revenge or reprisal attacks, simply surrender. There will be an amnesty for people who worked for the government for security forces as long as you don't try to fight us.

But as you can probably imagine, Kaitlan, that is being taken with a great deal of skepticism by people in Kabul who really are in panic mode now desperately trying to work out their next steps, if they can leave the country, if they can get to a safe place.

Same thing as well that the American personnel at the U.S. embassy are doing. We have heard helicopters all day long, nonstop. These evacuations are going on. By tonight, they should be going all the way through the night as well. The intent is to try to get everybody out by Tuesday morning.

Then they'll also be starting on the number of U.S. nationals or dual nationals and also Afghan staff working at the embassy, people with SIV passes which would allow them if they work with the U.S. military or U.S. embassy to get out of the country and into the U.S.

So a huge amount going on on the ground, and everybody, incredibly tense as well, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: And, Clarissa, I heard your reporting earlier that people are so desperate trying to flee the city, they've got luggage hanging out of their cars.

What are you seeing and how dire is the situation right now for citizens in Kabul?

WARD: So this morning we had a team at the passport office. The line there is always long. Today, it was insane. More than a thousand people, stretching multiple city blocks. People are desperate to get out of Afghanistan.

The streets are so choked with traffic, you have cars driving down the wrong side. It's a little quieter now because after the Taliban came out with this announcement and essentially urging people to stay home and stay calm, you are seeing a gradual sort of clearing of the streets.

But the road up to the airport I'm hearing, Kaitlan, is entirely impassable. It is so choked with vehicles. There is so much security there because of the U.S. evacuations that it has basically become impossible to get through there.

A lot of people also running to the bank, running to the markets. There were shots fired outside a bank earlier by security guards because so many people were frantically trying to get in and take their money out. It's that kind of panic that you see in moments like this where everybody fears the worst is about to happen.

And nobody quite knows how to deal with the situation, because we're not getting a lot of clarity from the government, not getting a lot of guidance really from many people at all.


We did hear from the Afghan defense minister. He said, listen. Kabul is safe for now. Talks are ongoing to ensure a peaceful sort of transferal of power. But, again, that is not really doing a lot to assuage most people's fears, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: That is heart breaking.

Clarissa Ward, thank you for your reporting.

President Biden is sending another 1,000 troops to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of the U.S. embassy, putting a total of 5,000 soldiers and marines either there now or on their way. The president, though, is still defending his decision to withdraw, saying in a statement yesterday that if he waited one more year or five more years of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.

He said, an endless presence of American troops in the middle of another country's civil conflict was not acceptable to me.

CNN's White House correspondent Arlette Saenz joins us now.

Arlette, President Biden says he is authorizing more troops there to ensure that there is a safe and orderly drawdown. But it appears to be anything but orderly at this moment, right?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kaitlan. And President Biden may be trying to convey the sense of an orderly and safe drawdown but just as you heard Clarissa talk about there, this is a very rushed and disorderly scene on the ground in Afghanistan. As the administration has really seemed to be caught off guard over the past week at the speed and clarity with which the Taliban has made advances in the country.

Now, President Biden is spending the weekend in Camp David. His team says he is regularly updated on the developments in Afghanistan and yesterday held a secure video conference with top U.S. officials including the defense secretary and the secretary of state. And the president authorized the deployment of an additional thousand troops to Afghanistan to help evacuate American personnel.

That brings the total to about 5,000 heading there or already on the ground. The president released this really robust statement which was the fullest comment we've heard from the president since Tuesday when he was last asked about Afghanistan.

And the president said they have sent a message to the Taliban that if there is any action taken on the ground on their part that would put American lives at risk, there would be a swift and strong response from the U.S. military. That is something to keep an eye on in the coming days as the United States is trying to evacuate all of those American personnel but also trying to help Afghan allies who had aided the United States over the course of the decades-long war.

But let's also step back and remember that just a month ago, President Biden was also -- was asked about comparisons to Saigon and he insisted there would not be images of U.S. personnel being lifted off of an embassy in Afghanistan, that that was not something that was going to be happening. But as you watch the scenes of these helicopters flying into the country, it is certainly a stunning and shocking image as this administration really watched the speed with which the Taliban decided to take control of the country and it is something that caught the administration off guard.

COLLINS: Yeah, Arlette, it really seems like they miscalculated just how quickly this was going to happen. Thank you for joining us.

We'll go back to Kabul now where CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is.

Nick, the U.S. spent 20 years and billions of dollars training and equipping these Afghan forces.

How did they fall this quickly?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I think the shortest answer to that is they simply were never what the United States saw them as being. A lot of that money billions of dollars came into this country, was pocketed by corrupt officials, misspent on projects that never yielded fruit on the ground, and faced with what you have to probably accept is the very difficult task of building an army to fight for a government backed by a group of Americans who said they're eventually going to leave, with minimal cash resources, poor infrastructure.

They created such a vast chain of supply and command infrastructure around this military that it required vast amounts of assistance simply to keep it afloat. Fundamentally, too, there are 300,000, that number we've persistently been hearing, never was that in reality.

So we've seen tens of thousands of Afghan commandos working furiously to put out fires around the country but this notion of 300,000 simply doesn't tally with the events that we've been seeing over the past week. I think that's really the singular lesson of the last week and possibly the last ten years is that the single plank that America rested its departure strategy from, the Afghan security services could do their job when they needed to do when the Americans left was based on fallacy one that many looking at the forces knew was the case but the American government persistently.


Even, you heard President Joe Biden a matter of days ago, rested their policy on that.

COLLINS: Yeah, privately, officials have repeatedly pointed to that in the last 48 hours or so as what you're seeing happening on the ground. But, Nick, it has been 20 years since the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. What is life going to be like for those who can't leave, who are stuck there, who are not getting on a plane at the airport and going anywhere right now?

WALSH: There are two schools of thought on this. One is that the Taliban -- this is very popular amongst U.S. officials -- the Taliban learned their lessons in the 1990s and don't want to be an international pariah so some of their messaging right now don't worry, we're not here to cause you harm is part of trying to get international assistance as they rebuild the country possibly in the years or months ahead or simply trying to govern it despite the numerous crises refugee and otherwise that enveloping Afghanistan as we speak.

But it is very clear the Taliban want to implement Sharia law here which could result in very brutal punishments for various misdemeanors under that particular code. It is clear, too, from the last months the Taliban have been punishing those they consider to have worked for the Afghan government.

Some of those reports even suggested executions. So it is important to also be very mindful when we say the Taliban we are not talking about a homogeneous body with a single code everybody adheres to.

There are a lot of different parts of this insurgency. There are the Haqqani Network, responsible for some of the more extraordinary attacks that occurred inside of the city. They're affiliated with the al Qaeda network, they may not necessarily always feel bound by the statements from the Taliban leadership and, of course, there are many reports of various different extremists within parts of the insurgency, too. That is the fate that awaits Afghanistan in the months ahead and I think many in this city are desperately hoping it is -- it is the softer, learned side of the Taliban, that they will encounter in the weeks ahead.

COLLINS: Thank you, Nick Paton Walsh. Up next, we will consider the political and security fallout here at

home and how much the chaos happening right now in Afghanistan could hurt the Biden administration.



COLLINS: Afghanistan is spiraling toward a diplomatic and humanitarian crisis as the Taliban close in on Kabul. U.S. forces have deployed to aid in the evacuation of the embassy, but President Biden says this is now the Afghan army's fight.

Joining us now with their reporting and insights, CNN's Lauren Fox, Margaret Talev of "Axios", CNN's Jeremy Diamond, and CNN global affairs analyst, Kimberly Dozier. She was in Afghanistan in 2001 when the first American troops arrived.

So, we'll start with you. Given what President Biden was saying about the situation, what he was predicting just six weeks ago when he said he did not believe it was inevitable the Taliban would take over.


BIDEN: The Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped, as well-equipped as any army in the world, and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable. The jury is still out. But the likelihood there is going to be a Taliban over running everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.


COLLINS: How do we square that statement from just about six weeks ago with what we are seeing happening right now on the ground?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, apparently, that is what President Biden was being told by some of his top military leadership, but those who knew the Afghan army knew that because of casualties and attrition they're largely green troops prosecuting this fight. Now they don't have air cover. They're not getting backup from Kabul. They are seeing that troops that surrender to the Taliban are living not being killed, so they give up.

I mean, the U.S. military just withdrew. The Taliban beat the most powerful military in the world. Would you stay with those odds? I don't think so.

COLLINS: And, Margaret, in the same press conference the president held on Afghanistan he was asked if he was worried there could be any situation where what you're seeing happening with the evacuation in Afghanistan could look like that of Saigon in 1975. Of course, those images of people being loaded on to a helicopter.

Now, we are seeing from Clarissa and Nick Paton Walsh on the ground helicopters hovering over the U.S. embassy there.

And so, you know, when he asked about this he said none whatsoever, zero.

But now we have these lasting images of U.S. helicopters in Afghanistan shuttling people back-and-forth. So what do you make of that?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this imagery is something that first of all is being shown around the world. This is a comparison that's being made.

DOZIER: There are memes already tearing around the Arab and Islamic world of two photos side by side of Chinooks going into the U.S. embassy and pulling people out.

TALEV: And if I'm a betting woman, you're going to see some of those ads by Republican campaigns or dark money campaigns heading into the midterms and 2024 election. So, it is impossible to avoid those visual comparisons, but I think for Biden, look, you can argue whether withdrawal is the right thing to do or not. You know, I think that this is where the previous Republican president was also. You know, time to get out of Afghanistan.

But the pace at which it happened and maybe more important the expectation setting is so vital. When you are a political leader, laying the table for people to know what to expect is so important, and what you saw there and what is happening now are drastically different scenarios.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Because they miss that opportunity to expectations, you are already seeing the White House start to shift into crisis communications mode. I mean, if you look at that statement from the president just yesterday, he talks about the fact that this was a deal that was cut by the Trump administration in terms of that -- those negotiations with the Taliban for U.S. troops to leave by May 1.


So making very clear that while he owns this decision and he is happy to own it he does not want to pass on this war to another president, he is also making clear he owns it with the former President Donald Trump.

COLLINS: Yeah. Officials have repeatedly said they felt backed into a corner by that decision that Trump made.

DOZIER: The thing is right now we're hearing from multiple Afghan officials that the U.S. peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, is surrendering -- is negotiating what they consider a surrender deal. It's being called an interim government.

And the departure of people like President Ghani and his national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, those people are going to get outside the country and start talking about the fact that the U.S. administration, the Biden administration, dismantled the democracy that it built. COLLINS: Lauren, what are we hearing from lawmakers? We know they're

getting briefed by the top national security officials virtually this morning I believe they'll have an in-person briefing when they get back to Washington next week, but what are they saying, what is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying about all of this?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Look, the fact they are having a briefing when they're on recess on a Sunday morning is extraordinary. I think that really speaks for the moment we're in. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's statement yesterday was very vague. She said that she supported the president's resoluteness, that his decision making, he was sticking with it. She also talked a lot about protecting women in Afghanistan from the Taliban.

But one thing that I thought was remarkable is she wasn't really making a clear point was she for this or against this? And I think in part it is because the Democratic Party is going to be really struggling with what to do from here and I think, you know, she is protecting her members in a way from the attacks that she knows are coming from Republicans.

We should note this briefing this morning is going to include Democrats and Republicans and there's going to be questions about why no one was prepared for this scenario or why they weren't better prepared for this scenario, but also questions about we've been giving money to this conflict, billions of dollars, for two decades.

What happened? Why were we there this entire time? I think there is a bigger story to talk about among members of Congress. Where were all these resources?

TALEV: That is going to be part of Biden's point which is to say, look, if it fell this easily it was never there to begin with. What would another five years do? What would another 20 years do?

When you get to this question of polling which is so important does the public support the withdrawal or not I think those numbers look like the public is ready to go, but Americans don't like to lose and that is going to be kind of the flip side of the politics here.

COLLINS: Well, I think that's the big question. Is that American people have, why did we spend all of this money if it didn't actually achieve anything and it is not actually putting in place what we thought? I think part of the White House's -- how they are going to message this is depending on public polling.

We know now that a lot of Americans wanted to get out. If you look at this, how it changed from one to 2021, what the response was.

But is that going to shift when they are seeing what is happening on the ground and the reports we are seeing about how quickly this is happening and what is going to be left behind?

DIAMOND: I think the White House has been confident the public is on their side with this decision. What changes now is the way in which this exit is happening. Because it is clear both parties' basis, there is a lot of anti-war sentiment, a lot of support for withdrawing from Afghanistan. We saw President Trump -- he campaigned on that in 2016 and then again in 2020.

But now it shifts to how this is actually happening and you already see some former Trump administration officials including the former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talking about the fact that this would not have happened this way under our watch. Who is to say that is actually the case?

But now again it is about the way this withdrawal is happening, the fact that they were so caught off-guard, and that is what Republicans are going to season going into the midterm.

COLLINS: One aspect of this I know you have written about a lot are the translators and the Afghan nationals who were so critical to U.S. response there and the question I think I'm hearing from administration officials a lot is not just evacuating the embassy as we're seeing under way right now and the time limit there but the question of how do they get all of these applicants for visas out of there in time to make sure they are safe?

And so, you've written about how much the United States owes these people. What is their thinking in all of this?

DOZIER: Right now, they have thousands of those people and their families at the airport trying to get out. And some of them haven't finished processing paperwork, et cetera.

The other thing that we're going to start seeing is right now the Taliban's military wing has asserted pretty strong control over the rank and file. They've mostly stayed at the outskirts of Kabul. They mostly haven't engaged in atrocities and revenge killings across the country, but that is going to start wearing off. And those reports are going to start getting out.

And the American public are going to see that they are being held responsible for that by the people in the region.


That's going to sting and people are going to blame President Biden for making this decision.

COLLINS: Yeah, and U.S. soldiers who found their help so critical to their time over there and, of course, what happens to them is incredibly important.

Coming up, we're going to talk about why President Biden is now taking on Republican governors when it comes to their COVID-19 response as we are seeing the delta variant fuel surges all across the United States.



COLLINS: The U.S. is now leading the world with the highest rate of new COVID cases. This was the level of spread a month ago on July 15th. And here it is today. 98 percent of Americans living in communities with a dangerous level of transmission.

With students returning to school across the U.S., we are watching in real time how fights over wearing a mask in the classroom are tearing communities apart. One example is a school board meeting in Tennessee where anti-mask demonstrators threatened doctors.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can find you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will never be allowed in public again.


COLLINS: Zolan Kanno-Youngs of "The New York Times" joins our conversation now.

Jeremy, I want to start with you, given July 4th we saw President Biden talking about what an amount of progress that the United States had made. And now for the first time we're seeing a significant backslide given just the level of transmission, those who refuse to get vaccinated.

How worried is the White House about this spinning out of control?

DIAMOND: They are very worried. And you've seen that play out over the last couple of weeks in the ways in which they have shifted their response and the way that the president's rhetoric on this issue has changed.

I think back a lot -- I have been thinking a lot over the last week about early spring when a lot of these Republican governors were prematurely, according to public health experts, removing these mask mandates or banning mask mandates outright.

You heard a little bit from the president back then saying, essentially that this wasn't in keeping with public health. But you didn't hear him call out those individual governors specifically and really engage in these battles.

The White House was very mindful, very much trying to avoid direct confrontations because they felt it played into people like Governor DeSantis' hands.

And now you're seeing Biden do exactly that. He's going after DeSantis. He's going after Abbott in Texas over these policies. And part of that is because the delta variant is at least two times more transmissible, so they see this as a bigger threat.

Another part of it is just frustration. They are frustrated that we can't emerge from this pandemic because of a handful of states where the vaccination rates are so incredibly low and where you also have some governors who are acting against very clear public health guidance.

COLLINS: And not only is he being much more critical of these governors, he is going out of his way to thank those who are standing up to them.

Listen to what the president -- what President Biden was saying just a few days ago about those administrators, those educators who are pushing back on their governors.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To the mayors, school superintendents, educators, local leaders who are standing up to the governors politicizing mask protection for our kids -- thank you. Thank you as well. Thank God that we have heroes like you.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They are basically saying that we are all just subservient to medical authoritarianism.

It is probably, Tucker, the most significant threat to freedom in my lifetime, certainly since the fall of the Berlin Wall.


COLLINS: And Zolan, I think we know what DeSantis' calculation here. It's widely speculated he'll try to run for president in 2024. What is the White House's calculus in targeting these governors much more sharply?

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I mean, the calculus is one -- as you were saying for DeSantis he is trying to appeal to, you know, a base of maybe also maybe also Trump supporters by trying to tout this as being about freedom.

But for the White House, in targeting governors like DeSantis, it is not just about a political calculus but also seeing a real hindrance to a central theme of the Biden presidency, right.

He has made so many speeches, made it such a priority. He said when he would come into office that I would be the president that they would try to get the pandemic under control. You'll have a summer of independence. It was just a month ago where he said that we were going to claim independence over the pandemic.

These governors present a real challenge to accomplishing that. My question, though, Kaitlan, as well, is you know, we've heard the president support local school officials who are going out of their way to implement mask mandates and what have you.

What actually is the White House going to do here to possibly try and push back policy wise against some of these directives? We heard the president earlier this week say that they were looking into any sort of action they could take. We know that they're going to try and have local officials use unspent COVID funds as well to support some of those schools. But is it just going to be rhetoric or are we going to see some concrete action?

COLLINS: It's a national policy pushback.

Margaret, a lot of these states that you're seeing low vaccination rates, high case rates are states with Republican governors who are making the decisions as kids are going back to school, and as things are starting to return to normal about mask mandates, you know, these vaccine requirements that you've seen them push back on.

What is the calculus here? Is there a chance that even though it is Republican governors making these decisions that if there is a backslide of progress on the pandemic that President Biden gets the blame for this from voters?

TALEV: Of course. He is the president of the United States, like the buck stops here, right?


TALEV: And COVID rates in places like Texas and Florida have massive implications on the tourism industry, the agriculture industry, business, you know, which is why you have many businesses with large foot prints in Texas saying whoa, hey, what's going on here?

But you're looking at -- look what you're looking at. In Florida -- 151,000 new cases last week, surges in the 20 to 39-year-old age group, who guess what, also have kids who are also going back to school. who are also, you know, in the middle of this politicized debate about whether they can, should, must wear a mask, under what circumstances.

So this is like a highly, highly-politicized debate with massive implications for life, Supreme Court challenges in Texas. You're seeing all this energy with top state officials now asking the Texas Supreme Court, you know what Supreme Court comes after Texas, right?

So you can see where this is all going. This is so political and very hard to actually exert like public health control over this issue.

COLLINS: Yes. And such a central aspect of this is schools. And now that they are reopening and there are questions of what does your student do, what does their teacher do is becoming such a political issue. You're really seeing lawmakers not just governors but lawmakers on Capitol Hill delve into this.

What is their calculation here? You know, they're saying it is an infringement on parental rights to make students wear masks. What are you hearing from lawmakers of how they're trying to weaponize this?

FOX: Well, when you talk to Republican strategists who are planning what the campaign message is going to be in the midterms, they will tell you that they are seeing people resonating with the issue of education in a way they have not seen in decades. And part of it is the fact that people are sick of their kids not being in school.


FOX: And the other issue, of course, is this question of does your child have to wear a mask? Does your child have to have a vaccine to go to school?

And I'm getting the sense they think this is going to be a very powerful campaign message because it sends this message to voters in suburban districts, we care about you. We're thinking about you.

Now, there is the debate, of course, about masks in this country but I think for some parents they view this as an issue that is galvanizing for them. And Republicans are starting to think that they might be able to win back some voters if they talk more and more about schools.

Now, you know, the question will be if kids aren't back in school or if kids have to get pulled out of school because there aren't mask mandates, that's going to have a backlash effect for Democrats as well. So it's a really delicate balance here of how to message this.

COLLINS: Yes. And we'll wait to see how that plays out politically.

Up next here, we are going to talk about a surge in COVID cases in children as some hospitals say they are being stretched to capacity.


JUDGE CLAY JENKINS, DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS: In Dallas we have zero ICU beds left for children. That means if your child is in a car wreck, if your child has a heart -- congenital heart defect or something and he needs an ICU bed or more likely if they have COVID and need an ICU bed we don't have one. Your child will wait for another child to die.




COLLINS: The FDA and the CDC say it's time for some Americans to get a third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. We're talking about a very small group of people though, about 3 percent of Americans who are immunocompromised. Health officials say no one else needs a booster for now.

CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore Health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen joins us. She's also the author of the new book "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health".

Dr. Wen, thank you so much for joining us.

Why right now are health officials in the U.S. so sure that people do not -- the general population doesn't need another booster since we are seeing places like Israel say that everyone over 50 does need to get one?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I don't think that our health officials should be so sure at this point. Look I think that the FDA and CDC definitely made the right decision this week in saying that those who are severely immunocompromised need to get a booster. That group clearly needs a booster because they didn't mount enough of an immune response the first time around.

But then there are a lot of other people who may not be severely immunocompromised, may have some degree of immunocompromise, and may be in high risk conditions. For example they live with somebody unvaccinated. They are essential workers. Maybe they should be getting a booster as well.

And then I also think that we in the U.S. just don't have the kind of data collection that Israel, U.K., Germany and others have. So I really hope that there will be a concerted effort to look at other countries' data in addition to our own in making the decision for the rest of the population.

COLLINS: Yes, I think a lot of people want to know if this is going to change, should they be prepared for this to change?

There are also a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to children given what we are seeing play out across the U.S. now.

I mean we have this father here, listen to him what he was saying about his one-year-old child.


KYLE BUTRUM, FATHER OF ONE-YEAR-OLD IN HOSPITAL WITH COVID-19: The only thing you can do to prevent someone else from doing this is to get your vaccine so that another child doesn't have to do this and another family -- doesn't have to send their kid away. So another father doesn't have to stand at the back of an ambulance and wonder if that is the last time you're going to see your son.


COLLINS: It's so hard to listen to parents talk like that about their own children. And I know you've said you believe this is the most dangerous phase of the pandemic when it comes to kids. What is behind that statement?

DR. WEN: Well, this is heart breaking to see and I have a one-year-old as well and so I definitely feel for this father in this case. I mean we, as a society, have failed our children.

It is up to us as adults to all get vaccinated because there are children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. So it is our responsibility. And we have failed our kids in this.

And the reason why it is the most dangerous time right now for children is we have COVID-19 surging. We have the delta variant that is more contagious. But we also have a lot of irresponsible people, frankly, who are going around unvaccinated, unmasked.

There are schools reopening against the advice of public health officials who are saying -- who are saying, we can do this safely. But there are politicians who are specifically saying we're not going to follow that public health guidance. We're not going to do masking which is one of the few tools that we have to protect our children.

And as a result, we have made it harder for schools to stay open. We have made it more likely for children to be infected. And I think this is a really sad reflection that children are having to pay the price for irresponsible adults and reckless politicians.

COLLINS: And some say well, even if kids get this disease, it is usually pretty mild. But is that really still the case?

DR. WEN: I never thought that this was the case even with the original strains of COVID because even before delta we had tens of thousands of children hospitalized, hundreds of children who were dying. Children shouldn't be dying. It is just -- it's I think what people have been doing is to say well children don't get as sick as adults.


DR. WEN: That is not the right comparison. If this were a disease that only affected children, we would be saying oh, my goodness hundreds of children including many of whom were previously healthy are dying.

The delta variant is even more serious because it is much more contagious and may be more deadly including in children. And so we really have to do everything we can to protect our kids.

And the thing is we know how to do that. Ventilation, being outdoors, increased testing, and very importantly, indoor masking.

COLLINS: So given all of that, do you think it's safe for schools to reopen? What should that process really look like for concerned parents?

DR. WEN: Well, schools can reopen safely even when there are high levels of coronavirus in the community. We have demonstrated that in the last year and a half. Plenty of studies showing that this can be done.

Of course, I strongly believe that indoor masking should be the case including really in all schools in this country at this point. But even in schools that don't have masking, parents can still do their part and take matters into their own hands.

For example, talk to other parents in your child's class. See if the majority of parents would agree with you to also put masks on their kids. Also make sure that your child is wearing at least a 3-ply surgical mask not a cloth based covering because that helps to protect your child better.

Try to get the school to also disclose all positive cases and increase testing. That is something that there is still funding for, for schools around the country. Schools really should be implementing testing protocols that can also protect kids as well.

And just make sure that you also watch out for social, extracurricular activities because risk is cumulative. You don't want to be so careful during school only to have your child let down their guard in play dates and after school sports and other activities.

So I think parents, yes, our schools should be taking more responsibility but parents can still do our part, too.

COLLINS: Dr. Wen, thank you for answering our questions. I'm sure we will have many more for you in the weeks ahead.

Up next we're going to talk about why a handful of moderate House Democrats are threatening to undermine their party's agenda.



COLLINS: And President Biden's week began with a triumph after 19 Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to pass his infrastructure bill but it did not end that way.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Taliban claimed every major city except for Kabul, at least for now they say it's under their control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are seeing more heated clashes over face masks for students, even as the delta variant has sent COVID cases soaring in every part of the country.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: July was the busiest month for illegal border crossings in 21 years.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: And inflation up 5.4 percent. You saw a similar increase last month so that's two months of really hot inflation numbers.


COLLINS: And remember that Biden victory? Now even that is in doubt. Nine moderate House members are now telling House Speaker Pelosi that they won't vote for the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint until the Senate-approved infrastructure bill passes the House and is signed into law, pitting them against their progressive counterparts.


REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Let's just get this great thing done for the country, show that we can operate and move forward. Let's get shovels in the ground and jobs moving. And then of course we can also work on the reconciliation package.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: Margaret, it kind of seems like now President Biden's big win that he started the week out with is really in hindsight given everything that's going on.

TALEV: Yes. This is the big time right when you're president, your honeymoon only lasts as long as the rest of the world and life allows it to.

It is pretty stunning reversal of fortunes for Biden. And I think now that what's happened is particularly in Afghanistan is going to complicate that push for $3.5 trillion.

I think it gives Republicans an alternative narrative to say, why are we talking about this when this is what we should be talking about?

And I think that combined with the consumer confidence concerns, you know, the inflation concerns, that it's just going to put real pressure on that $3.5 trillion part of the infrastructure push.

COLLINS: Yes. And Lauren, how do you -- how serious are moderates here? Are they actually going to tank this if they do not get their way here?

FOX: Well, time will tell. I think the big test is going to be when lawmakers return the week of August 23rd. That is when we expected a vote to happen on this budget resolution.

You know, nine moderates signed on. There are many more moderates who have concerns about the price tag, about the fact that they aren't voting yet on this bipartisan infrastructure plan.

But I thought it was interesting that just nine signed on. That is enough to tank the budget resolution -- we should be clear. But it also really speaks to the fact that even the moderate caucus is not completely united in a strategy here.

You know, some moderates that I talked to said I didn't sign on to the letter because I do want the bipartisan infrastructure bill to become law. And my fear is that if we start going up against our progressive colleagues they're not actually going to see that resolution.

COLLINS: Yes. And there is so much arguing happening inside the Democratic Party over how to proceed here. You saw Congresswoman Ilhan Omar saying, quote, "We recognize that what just happened in the Senate was tremendous progress, but progressives are trying to make sure we have a bill that meets this moment."

Given that progressives, some of them are losing primaries, what is their role going to be going forward in shaping their agenda?

KANNO-YOUNGS: Yes. They're really in the spotlight right now particularly in the house, right? I mean they're going to be focused on that more vast social spending reconciliation package.

And also there is a concern among progressives in the House that if you raise the infrastructure package immediately then some of that support may dwindle for the reconciliation package.

Meanwhile, moderates when you talk to people close to them they're saying, look. We've got our chips right now. Let's cash it in, you know.

So it really now poses this question that has come up before for the president. How do you unite and keep your party together to really pass these agenda items you've touted and made a central point of your presidency?

COLLINS: So House Speaker Pelosi is known for her strategizing. What is she going to do here?

FOX: Well look, I think, you know, she has about a week to figure this out. And I wouldn't underestimate her ability to try to find a way forward with the progressives and the moderates to sort of make them play nice here.

Because at the end of the day, her job is that she has about a three- vote margin. She never brings something to the floor if she knows it doesn't have the votes.

And I think, you know, she is arguing that she's not freelancing in her strategy here. That is what she told Democrats privately. This is the consensus of the caucus. And if you talk to other aides they make it clear that the votes aren't there for this bipartisan infrastructure bill right now.


FOX: The fact that they are tied is because she needs members of the progressive caucus and the moderate caucus to find a way to kind of have a trust fall (ph) together.


FOX: We'll give you this piece if you give us that piece. And I think that that is her strategy right now.

Now, there's plenty of moves she can make procedurally to maybe move this along but I think time is going to tell over the next week what she can do.

COLLINS: And for the White House, inflation is now something that is popping up, becoming a bigger concern for them even if they say, you know, we don't think this is a long-term thing but the perception of it is real.

If you look at polls, 86 percent of people are concerned about inflation and higher prices. Just 14 percent say they are not concerned. So what is the White House's plan here?

DIAMOND: I mean the White House is correct in many ways that it is not necessarily their policies that are leading to this inflation but ultimately it is something that is going to fall on their plate and that is falling on their plate both politically because of the polling that you just mentioned.

Inflation is one of the things that Americans feel most directly, most immediately. And that's going to feed into their decisions as they look at the slate of candidates in the 2022 midterms.

And it is something that the White House says that they are on top of, that they are working to address. But the question is how much can they actually do? And how much is it just kind of public relations management here in terms of what the public perception of that inflation actually is?

TALEV: Gas prices and groceries, right?

KANNO-YOUNGS: Yes. and what is fascinating is you actually saw the White House -- the president's language when he spoke just this past week reflect kind of the sense of urgency and really anxiety in the White House over Republican seizing on the inflation concerns.

I mean it's not just the inflation but it's what the Republicans are going to do with that issue.

DIAMOND: That's right. And the president responding to it.

COLLINS: And we'll stand by to see how they handle that messaging.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Join us back here every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern and the week days show as well at noon Eastern.

Up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Jake's guests include Secretary of State Antony Blinken and New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us.