Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

White House To Recommend Booster Shot Eight Months After Vaccination; U.S. Scrambles To Evacuate Thousands Of Americans, Afghans; Biden "Stands Squarely" Behind Decision To Withdraw Troops. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 17, 2021 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Average right now that's lagging, that number needs to be boosted in the case. And this is why as I said, as we continue the conversation, 99 percent of the country, Dr. Ranney, now lives in a community with either high or substantial COVID transmission. So the CDC says, even if you're fully vaccinated, you should mask up indoors, or at least in most situations.

If you look at the case count right now, that's what scares me is just how steep that hill is because we have lived this before. This is last September heading into the winter, where we got as high as 251,000 cases. One thirty-four thousand cases, Dr. Randy, the seven day average as of yesterday, and you see that line going straight up, I did not think it was possible again, but we are likely in the current trajectory to pass 200,000 cases a day again, and fairly soon.

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, BROWN UNIVERSITY: Isn't it absolutely stunning that we're back here again. I think we keep getting caught in the United States with a sense of American exceptionalism. We thought that COVID wasn't going to come to our shores. It was going to stay in China and Italy. Then we thought it was going to stay in the northeast, it was going to be a problem of New York City, of Rhode Island, of Massachusetts. And it was the south and it was last winter.

We thought Delta variant wasn't going to come it was somehow going to stay in India or England. And now here we are again, with cases rising with hospitalizations rising and with deaths not far behind. And I will tell you, John, this remains primarily a disease of the unvaccinated. I worked all weekend in the E.R. I admitted a bunch of patients with severe COVID-19 disease. Every one of them had not gotten their vaccines. This is so preventable at this point in the epidemic.

KING: That's what makes it sad is because it is so preventable. And you mentioned the hospitalizations, I'm just showing a map now, the deeper the green, the higher the hospitalizations, the change over for 100,000 residents and hospitalizations. And you see, the greatest problem is down here from Florida across the Texas in the southern part and the sub, from the Texas not southeast but from the southeast over to Texas in the beginning of the West and the plains. So this is where the biggest problem is in terms of hospitalizations right now. Guess what, it's also where kids go back to school earlier, and most of the country starts going back to school here. And guess what? It's also in many of these states, Florida and Texas above them, Dr. Ranney, where you have republican governor saying I don't want masks in schools either mandating that you can't do that or make putting restrictions in place that make it hard for communities to do that.

I want you to listen to Admiral Brett Giroir. Remember he was the testing czar back in the Trump administration. He says what he worries about as kids go back to school as hospitalization spike as cases spike, that we don't know enough about children.


ADM. BRETT GIROIR (RET.) FORMER HHS ASST. SECY FOR HEALTH UNDER PRES. TRUMP: Texas and Florida, where the cases are so high, we have no idea. The numbers of children's and hospitals talking about flying blind relative to children, we need better data. And that's got to be the basis for action.


KING: I want to come back to the masking politics question in a minute. But to that point, Admiral Giroir just raised there. What do we need to know about children and COVID? Or what do we wish we knew about children and COVID as more and more go back to school?

RANNEY: Oh, there is so much I couldn't agree more strongly with then with Admiral Giroir. There's so much that we don't know. We don't know, whether Delta variant gets kids more sick, or whether it's just that they're more likely to get sick because it transmits so much more easily. We don't know what degree of prevention measures we need in schools. We know that masks help. We know that ventilation helps. Do we also need to be doing weekly screening with Delta variant?

We also don't know what's the incidence of long COVID and of that multi inflammatory syndrome in children after Delta variant, there's just a paucity of evidence for those of us in public health, it feels like we're back in March of 2020 when it comes to evidence around kids and COVID.

KING: I went through March of 2020 with you so it knocks me back a little bit to hear you put it that way. To that point, though, you said there's no doubt that masks we do know that masks work. I just want to show you some of the politics here. Do you support masking in schools?

Axios says this is part of a poll conducted with Ipsos, seven in 10 Americans overall, seven in 10 Americans overall, 69 percent do support mask in school, but it's 92 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents, only 44 percent of Republicans. Do you see any progress in your communications in breaking this political divide or is it locked in? RANNEY: I see some progress. I think that delta variant is switching people's opinions because they're seeing their own kids get sick. And you know, we all get more ready to change when we see someone close to us who's ill. I think it's really important for governors and superintendents across the country to mandate those masks. Because let's be clear, this is not a matter of personal choice. If your kid doesn't wear a mask, they put my kid at risk.

KING: Dr. Ranney grateful, I hope, I hope, I hope, I hope that breaks through it's been too long, but I hope eventually it does break through. Appreciate your insights. Appreciate the work you do every day.


Ahead for us, desperate pleas and heartbreaking requests for help getting out of Afghanistan. Just what happens for those left behind?


KING: United States is working to evacuate and relocate not only Americans but also tens of thousands of Afghans who helped U.S. forces along with their families. With the Kabul airport backup and running, officials say they hope to ramp up evacuations beginning in the next 24 hours.

Joining our conversation with important insights is Kristen Rouse a veteran who deployed three times to Afghanistan and is now in constant contact with interpreters in the United States and still behind in Afghanistan. Kristen is also the president and founder of the NYC Veterans Alliance, Kristen, thank you for your time today.


What's critical is that you're in touch with these interpreters who are desperate to get out, I saw an interview you gave yesterday in New York City about how panic they were and how there was no system and no process in place. The Pentagon, the State Department say they're going to get it, it's going to get better as soon as possible. Do you hear any signs at all of progress in at least communicating what the process will be?

KRISTEN ROUSE, PRESIDENT & FOUNDER, NYC VETERANS ALLIANCE: The process is so hard to communicate. We see -- I mean, fortunately, there are elected representatives who are stepping up saying send me the names of people who need to evacuate. And that is welcome. But I've seen at least four different lists of Afghans who are awaiting evacuation.

And right now, the only thing that we can tell them is add your name to all of the lists, because we don't know what list is going to work. There's a lot of a lot of these folks do not have visas because the process has been so bureaucratic, so problematic, so delayed and long, that they have not been able to get those visas.

Some of them are unable to get passports for their spouses for their young children. This is and they're concerned about, will they be allowed to get on a flight? Will they get the call? I have interpreters saying I am staying safe at in hiding, like you told me to? I'm still waiting on a call. When am I going to get a call? And we don't know. We don't know because there's no process. This is chaos.

KING: We don't know. And John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman said today, our Clarissa Ward is on the ground, ask him, what can I tell these people who come up to me and ask how do I get to safety? He said, we'll do everything we can to get them out, quote in the next couple of weeks. Out of the people you're in touch with on the ground in Afghanistan thinks they have a couple of weeks?

ROUSE: No, no, they do not. I am worried every day for the folks who I'm close with. I'm also messaging with people who I had never met before, but they're reaching out to me, and I'm, of course concerned about them. But my deep care is for the folks who I've worked with, and their families. And so like I'm tracking every day to see, OK, you know, is it, you know, is it daytime and Afghanistan yet? Am I hearing, you know, is there a sign of life? So to see, are they still OK? Are they still OK?

We're all worried. The Taliban is reportedly outside of the airport, there are still masses of Afghans going to the airport, desperate to get on a flight. And also, we don't know what to tell them. We do know to tell them to stay away from the North Gate to go towards where there are friendlies because there are unfriendlies who are guarding some of the gates. I mean, and this is, I mean, this is a massive airport with many different entrances.

And we don't even know if they can get in and once they get in what does that even mean? And so it's -- this is -- there's not guidance, that is clear, that any of the people I'm speaking with or messaging with have heard, there's not clear guidance. And people are in fear for their lives. And it's good news that we are hearing about evacuation flights, I want to applaud that.

But this needs to be, you know, a massive 24-hour effort. And there also needs to be guidance and a way to do this. Where people understand what's going on. I mean, also people don't have consistent internet, they don't have consistent power, and they're worried they're going to miss a call.

KING: You work in logistics when you were in the military. I heard an interview you gave us that setup in New York City, we just want to show a picture you mentioned is great that some evacuation flights are getting out. These are 600 plus Afghans crowded into the belly of a C17.

The crew decided to take off even though they were well over capacity, because they wanted to get those people, those heroes they helped -- they helped with helped us, heroes to safety. That's just one flight though, when you hear the Taliban today say hey, this is a new Taliban there will be no recriminations. I assume you don't believe that at all.

ROUSE: I wish I could believe that. I'm that spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, I've first learned who he was in 2010 when he bragged that his quote -- his comrades, the Taliban had overrun my base and had killed Americans on my base. That wasn't true. What they did was attack the Afghans who bravely defended the small base I was on Gardez. And so he's been lying at least since 2010.

And I think he's counting on the international press to either not look into all of the lies and he's told all of the atrocities he has justified, all of the atrocities he has justified, all of the killings of Afghans that the Taliban has committed that he's papered over, the more Afghans have been killed by Taliban, exponentially than Americans. And so I wish I could believe him.


KING: Well, Kristen Rouse, I appreciate your time gratefully at this very stressful period for you. And let's keep in touch as this plays out, and if you can get a message through -- if we can help you get a message to anybody through us, please pick up the phone and let us know.

ROUSE: Thank you so much.

KING: Thank you.

Ahead for us, the rapidly unfolding chaos in Afghanistan threatens to become a permanent stain on President Biden's legacy.



KING: News is reported in the moment history is written with the gift of time and perspective. Afghanistan is a stain on the Biden presidency today. The President is hoping the reviews get better with time.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will conclude our military withdrawal will end America's longest war. After 20 long years of bloodshed, no amount of military force, whatever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan, as known in history is the graveyard of empires.


KING: CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley is with us. Doug, you know, the President still says he made the right call today. Today, today it's messy. It looks like they did not have a good plan. There are competence and credibility questions. What will we say 10 years from now?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It's all going to be dependent on how many of our Afghan allies, friends, people that work with humanitarian groups, translators, how many we can bring into the United States and other Western countries. I mean, right now it's looking like we might be trying to bring 30,000 in. If we can get 30,000 Afghan friends and we tried to show this as a moment of freedom that we went 20 years, we tried to promote democracy, we did the best we could.

I say this job because Gerald Ford, that ladder in Saigon embassy was seen as this symbol of failure. But a guy named a friend -- the guy who ran a grocery chain in Michigan ended up bringing that ladder back to the United States. And today it's in Gerald Ford's Presidential Library in Vietnamese from, you know, Houston, in New Orleans, and once that were evacuated out, go to that ladder and see the ladder is a symbol of hope.

Maybe someday the C17 cargo plane will be seen as a symbol that America doesn't leave its friends behind. And we did the best we could promoting democracy there.

KING: One of the things the President tried to do is to say that he was the one making the tough call that three presidents before him have had the same decision and they would not make the call, I just want to go back in time. This goes back 15 years to American presidents saying any day now the Afghans will be ready.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The governments in the fight and the armies in the fight. Again, national security forces are increasing in strength. There's about 110,000 Afghans now defending their nation.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This year will mark another milestone Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country. And by the end of next year 2014, the transition will be complete. Afghans will have full responsibility for their security. And this war will come to a responsible end.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our military is as you know, over there right now and doing really an incredible job more of leadership than fighting. We're leading a lot of wonderful Afghan troops who are fighting very hard. We were just discussing that. And a great progress is being made.


KING: You know Douglas Brinkley that the Biden legacy piece of this, we really won't know for some time, it's messy today we shall see. Is it a fact? Is it not a fact for the history books that three American presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, at a minimum misled, if not lie to the American people about the state of Afghan forces, Afghan corruption, Afghan politics?

BRINKLEY: Absolutely, George W. Bush gets low marks in history for his foreign policy. He after 9/11 that week after the bullhorn moment, everybody was behind George W. Bush. We went into Afghanistan, ostensibly looking for Osama bin Laden, but bin Laden had fled into Pakistan. And then we took our eyes out of Afghanistan moved to Iraq, Rumsfeld, and Cheney were after Saddam Hussein. And it all became a mess in a muddle. Barack Obama inherited it. And actually, Obama teams credit they went after Osama bin Laden and got them. And that probably is the high water mark, John, the Operation Neptune Spear with Admiral McRaven and the seals. But nevertheless, Obama started getting into drones and surges and we've just been stuck in Afghanistan.

And it is a sinkhole, I mean, the British were there in the 19th century and got nothing much out of it, or Russia, tried to save it and lead in some ways to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The 1980s was another failure for the Soviets.

So the Afghanis know how to survive and fight but they're going to face problems with climate change, they're going to have to deal with the sharks in the water of Iran and China and Russia around them. It is a mess over there.


And so Biden was probably right to find a way to extract us from Afghanistan. But the way we did it without a proper contingency plan was chaotic and is very disastrous, and the only way he can make up for it now is doing what Operation Frequent Wind with Gerald Ford did after the fall of Saigon, after the fall of Kabul here, we've got to bring in as many Afghanis as possible and show that we do care about human rights. I don't know what we do with the women in Afghanistan many now are have been professionalized, westernized, and I'm terrified about down on them.

KING: We'll keep our eyes on that certainly as things go forward. Douglas Brinkley, grateful for your time and perspective today, we will return to the conversation as we learn more.

Coming up for us next, tropical storm, you see the pictures here batters Haiti that on the heels of the earthquake that killed more than 1,400 people.


KING: You see pictures here of tropical storm bringing high winds and heavy rain to Haiti that in the wake of an earthquake that killed more than four 1,400 people, that number expected to rise as search and rescue operations continue. The United States are trying to help by sending a disaster response team.


Thanks for your time today and inside politics. We'll see you tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up right now.