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Soon: Defense Secretary & Joint Chiefs Chairman Hold News Conference; Taliban Open Fire to Disperse Crowds as U.S. Races to Evacuate; Booster Shots Available September 20; Delta Variant Now Accounts for Nearly 99 Percent of U.S. Cases; Broward County Schools Could Face Punishment for Defying Florida Governor. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 18, 2021 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, everybody and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. A very busy Newsday, big headlines out of a White House COVID briefing that just wrapped up.

Yes, most of you will need to get a third shot some as early as next month. Plus, rage and desperation in Afghanistan thousands of Americans are still stuck in the country plus thousands more Afghans who trusted American promises to get them out.

Now, both must rely on the Taliban, if there an exit path. And the Biden/Afghanistan debacle echoes at home and on the world state failure, catastrophe flawed plan are how some Democrats describe this blunder, and that is where we begin the hour in Afghanistan. There is fear and confusion in Kabul, and for much desperation to get out at all costs.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): They're kind of running towards the Taliban and then running away from them again, almost like it's a game but you know, when there's bullets firing like that, Brianna and John, it's clearly not a game.


KING: Pops of gunfire now constant crowds of Afghans now surrounding the Hamid Karzai Airport, the Taliban standing between them and a new life. Military evacuations are running but have been painfully slow. 2000 total passengers and only 325 Americans managed to get out in the last 24 hours.

The Biden Administration admits to just now relying on the Taliban to guarantee safe passage to the airport for Americans and for Afghans. That is a dicey proposition. The Taliban insists they are not the medieval thugs of old but confrontations outside the airport suggest we should be highly skeptical of that.

A warning these images we're about to show you are incredibly graphic. A "Los Angeles Times" photo journalists snap these photos, children bloody after what the photographer calls indiscriminate Taliban violence. CNN's Clarissa Ward, capturing dramatic scenes on the front lines all day today and making clear there is still no order.


WARD (on camera): We had Taliban fighters all around approaching us shouting - one man shouting at me to cover my face or he wouldn't talk to me. He was carrying this huge makeshift whip. It was a bicycle lock that had basically been split in two.

So the heavy metal padlock was in the middle. And he's just using it to just get anybody out of his way who gets in his way. There was a consistent stream of gunfire. The most frightening moment for our team came when our Producer Brent Swails was taking some video on his iPhone two Taliban fighters just came up with their pistols and they were ready to pistol weapon.

And we had to intervene and scream and it was actually another Taliban fighter who, who came in and said no, no, no, don't do that. They're journalists.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and Yaroslav Trofimov Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal". Barbara, let me begin with you. This has been painfully slow and incredibly messy, any indication from the Pentagon that it will get better?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they hope but you know that's not exactly a strategy when it comes to Afghanistan. Today I think it is very fair to say there is a public face to all of this and a private effort behind the scenes publicly, the Pentagon completely focused on talking about processing people, how many planes are moving in how many planes are moving out?

18 aircraft in last 24 hours moving 2000 people, maybe 300 Americans, but there are thousands to go both Americans and Afghans. And that is takes us right to the private face. They are talking behind the scenes to the Taliban very continuously trying to get this situation outside the airport under control, trying to get the Taliban to pull back trying to ensure that - which promise of safe passage to the airport, so people can get to checkpoints and get into the airport because that is not what is happening.

There's a top U.S. military official continuously talking to the Taliban, lots of words exchange, but still we see the scenes outside the airport. And that is the reality today, very tough for the Afghans to get there. And we don't even know how many Americans may be left in Kabul? How many Americans may be left in other parts of Afghanistan? They cannot even get to Kabul. There's a long way to go on this John.

KING: A very long way to go and many, many questions. Yaroslav Trofimov, I was watching your video, you're an Italian national works for "The Wall Street Journal". You went on a helicopter from the Embassy compound to the Kabul airport and then got out on a flight. And you describe a very confusing process and I understand you are out now but understanding you're reporting, you're hearing from many others who are dealing with that same confusion how do I get out?

YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, CHIEF FOREIGN-AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: So you absolutely - very lucky to have an embassy that which airlift all of its citizens and do it quickly by helicopter.

I have lots of friends, lots of acquaintances and couple who are stuck there who are texting me every day asking for advice how to get out. And the problem is that there may be flights on the airport, but they're leaving empty and there was an Australian flight that left this morning with 26 passengers who can carry more than 100.


TROFIMOV: There was a German plane left yesterday with just 7 passengers could have carried also more than 100. The issue is how to get to the airport and reality now is that the only way is if somebody comes out and picks you up, and converse you back in, and nobody's doing that for you with a few exceptions.

KING: And it's remarkable. I want to get to reiterate that point to emphasize that point more from our remarkable Clarissa Ward, who is outside the airport. Just listen to this and where people are trying to get out and the question is you know what paperwork do I need? Is there a process? Who do I talk to if I have a problem? Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: --the most of you, here?

WARD (on camera): Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're working with the American--

WARD (on camera): Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All have their documents are recommendations everything.

WARD (on camera): Right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden every day - these guys you're working with our American or what do I saw?

WARD (on camera): Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take him to the America. But they are liars. Just they take these guys, you have--

WARD (on camera): Do you work with the Americans?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, of course.

WARD (on camera): Did you try to get in? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. But they told that they didn't leave you to go in?

WARD (on camera): Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If - they did not let you.

WARD (on camera): What did they tell you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're telling us just to stay here. The American says we take these guys. You have the American passport or American or British or they have the green cards we take him. Otherwise you have to stop here to stay here. We tell them we cannot say here because every day Joe Biden says we take this all the Afghan workers here help us. We take them to the America.

WARD (on camera): Have you applied? Have you tried to apply?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, of course.

WARD (on camera): What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They tell us you have to bring the HR later update for the 2021. But it's impossible. We help the American people so - that's their jobs to help now right now here.


KING: Barbara, is there any sense? Look, this is going to be hard. We don't have a lot of experience, frankly, no country does have you're leaving, essentially, with your tail between your legs. And you're trying to help the people that you're leaving behind who you've made promises to? Is there any sense of figuring this out whether it's the Pentagon, the State Department, and I assume working with the Taliban?

STARR: Well, it's going to be a very tough road. First, many of these Afghans who worked for the United States, this has been over a great period of years. Paperwork was lost; paperwork was never given to them. There are so many circumstances that they just cannot meet, you know, U.S. government policy and regulations.

So that's the first problem. But I think underlying all of this, what is rapidly emerging is that the success of this entire operation ultimately may rest on what the Taliban decide whether they let people through the U.S. can process them.

But whether they let the people through the checkpoints, whether they can calm the situation down outside the airport where U.S. troops are not operating. It is a remarkable thing in the year 2021 after 20 years of war; we may be depending on the Taliban to make this all work.

KING: Remarkable is an understatement to that point Yaroslav, I saw you reporting today about some limited but protests in some of the more remote cities, at least three cities in Afghanistan, people marching in the streets with the Afghan flag, not the Taliban flag and facing from resistance, even some gunfire from the Taliban.

We have these photos we can show them again and I want to warn people at home they're graphic bloody children taken by "The Los Angeles Times" photographer who says that he saw indiscriminate Taliban violence. Barbara Starr gets at the question, the Taliban say this is a new Taliban we will be more moderate. We will not retaliate. History tells us to be highly skeptical of that. What is the reporting today tell us?

TROFIMOV: Well, the Taliban really tried to project this new change in a magnanimous Taliban, but the moment they were challenged today in Eastern Jalalabad and also in the - and provinces there is one with gunfire peaceful protesters just trying to fly the old - Afghanistan on the white Taliban banner.

And people were killed at least two people were killed in Jalalabad. So it clearly shows that the new sort of soft image doesn't really apply when they are challenged. When power is challenged by ordinary Africans who don't want to put up with everything they want to leave the country.

KING: It's just going to be dicey to watch it play out in over the next several days and I suspect weeks as well. Barbara Starr and Yaroslav Trofimov grateful both of you for your reporting and the insights we will keep in touch. Up next for us shifting back to the big COVID crisis the White House lays out the case for COVID booster starting in just a few weeks.



KING: The Biden White House COVID team just a short time ago making it official it wants all vaccinated Americans to get a COVID booster shot when it's your turn. The Surgeon General making the case just moments ago saying the data proves that these booster shots are necessary in part because the vaccine you've received already does wane in power over time and in part because the Delta variant is so nasty.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Recent data makes it clear that protection against mild and moderate disease has decreased over time. This is likely due to both waning immunity and the strength of the widespread Delta variant.


KING: What the White House says is look at your vaccine card and then count forward eight months. So let's go back to the beginning. Vaccination started back in January of 2021 about 4.3 million Americans first in line people in nursing homes elderly first responders.

They get vaccine next month, September 20th. It starts for them. So just think of it this way January, September, February, October, November, December, January, February, March and look at the numbers right?

This means you have to boost vaccine supplies 19 million here 30 million here almost 50 million here. Let's bring into our conversation at this point to discuss this Dr. William Schaffner. He's Professor of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center Dr. Schaffner grateful for your time on this important day.


KING: I want to show our viewers, the White House says they looked at three different studies that showed them that over time, especially at about the six month mark, you start to see the efficacy of the vaccine, the power of the vaccine weaken a little bit.

So they said number one, you see that about six months out, you see some weakening, and then they said, so you could think OK, is that weakening? How much is it weakening? Do we need a booster shot? And then they say you look at the nastiness the strength of the Delta variant and it left them convinced do this. Does it make sense?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR, VANDERBELT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, it does make sense. We always anticipated that a booster would be necessary. It was a question of when? Now we should be clear, these vaccines still prevent serious disease. But increasingly, we're seeing these milder breakthrough infections, not serious enough to get you into the hospital.

But people are concerned that over time war of these breakthrough infections might indeed get more serious. So let's get ahead of that. Let's plan right now, a booster campaign so that all of us can get our protection increased when it's our turn.

So we look forward to doing that. While at the same time getting our reluctant friends who haven't had their first dose yet, please, let's get with the program, because that's where the virus is being transmitted most seriously, at the present time.

KING: Alright, so if you go through this, number one, they made clear at the White House briefing, if you get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine one shot, you have to wait a little bit because they didn't start distributing those in the United States until March. They say you're likely to have a booster too, but to wait a little bit.

But as I went through this calendar here, it's essentially eight months after your shot you get in line this is for adult Americans over 18. But you make a critical point Dr. Schaffner, in the case of this is the vaccine percentage of fully vaccinated right now.

And as you can see, it's pretty much a flat line. This has been the challenge for the administration convincing the vaccine hesitant, especially as you watched the case count with a Delta variant. Get your shot. If you haven't already, those numbers are not increasing at the rate anybody would like. So this announcement it protects those of us who are vaccinated maybe gives us more fortification, but it doesn't deal with the unvaccinated problem. DR. SCHAFFNER: Yes, that's exactly right. So we have two issues going forward. Those of us who are vaccinated are going to get a boost and enhancement in our protection eight months later when it becomes our turn. On the other hand, our unvaccinated friends and neighbors, they really need to get started with their first dose this afternoon, because that's in - it's in their population, among them, the unvaccinated that this - that this virus is still being transmitted.

KING: I want to just walk through the case count and to your point about the unvaccinated that is what is driving this. You look at where we are, you know a month ago, 37,000 new COVID infections we were reporting. Tuesday 138,000 new infections is the new seven day average. And you see the steepness of this climb.

Again, it reminds you of the steepness of this climb. And Dr. Schaffner we were at 138. Now again, I never thought once the vaccines there were no vaccines widely available back here that we could get up to 200,000 new infections a day. But that is a possibility.

Is there - I guess this is a psychology question not a medical question per se. But is it possible that the more talk of the booster shots, the more talk of you know, these this case count will that get that - is that one way to get the hesitance in line?

DR. SCHAFFNER: I have no idea how that's going to work because the people who've been hesitant, reluctant or downright stubborn, have really been quite resistant, even in the face of inflammation that 95 plus percent of the people who are being hospitalized today are unvaccinated people.

So the risk is huge among the unvaccinated still, fortunately, very, very small among the vaccinated.

KING: Right. And you make - you made the hospitalization point again, I hope to never go through this again watching the steepness of the climb. 88,344 of our fellow Americans hospitalized with COVID yesterday. And at the White House briefing they were making the case that even if you didn't get a booster shot, your vaccine that you have protects you against serious significant COVID meaning hospitalization and the risk.

500 Americans are still dying every day because of COVID. These are preventable, right largely?

DR. SCHAFFNER: Absolutely preventable. The great sadness is as we see patients who are unvaccinated being admitted to the hospital as I said 95 percent of them. Essentially all of them are preventable, that they needn't have happened all this tragedy could be prevented if people who are currently unvaccinated would this afternoon begin their first dose of the vaccine.

I just quickly in closing I want to come back to this calendar showing just to show the enormity of it. You know, 46 million doses were distributed in April 30 million in March.


KING: The White House team makes the case Dr. Schaffner that they have enough supply for every American to get a booster shot for every American who has not yet been vaccinated to get in line and get their shots and to keep supplying the shortages around the world. Is that right?

Is the supply line up to speed that you feel comfortable that getting a third shot for most Americans is not denying somebody out there who desperately needs a first or second shot?

DR. SCHAFFNER: John, I believe that's correct certainly for our country. We've got plenty of vaccine in the refrigerators and more coming but vaccine in the refrigerator never prevented disease. It's got to go into arms.

KING: Amen, Dr. Schaffner grateful for your time and your insights. All right, ahead for us he's been one of the loudest opponents of mask mandates now, the Texas Governor Greg Abbott has tested positive or COVID.



KING: The Texas Governor Greg Abbott has Coronavirus adding another wrinkle to the Lonestar states contentious debate over masks and other COVID mandates and restrictions. You can see right here this is video of the governor at an indoor political event Monday mingling in a mask-less crowd in a community with a high COVID transmission rate meaning contrary to current CDC guidelines.

Governor Abbott has consistently mocked those federal guidelines and has led the charge against mask mandates in his state. Now the governor's staff says he's fully vaccinated and that he has no symptoms. They also tell us he is receiving monoclonal antibody treatment. CNN's Rosa Flores joins us now live in Dallas with more Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John, as you said, Governor Greg Abbott is fully vaccinated. We understand that his first shot was back in December, and that he is doing well he's feeling well, he's actually isolated in the Governor's Mansion.

He says that he's taking care of business he can care the business of the State of Texas. Now this is a governor who issued an executive order last month banning mask mandates and we have no indication that he has changed his mind since his infection.

We do know that his attorneys continue to argue against mask mandates in schools across this state. What's very curious is that the governor has been pushing this monoclonal antibody treatment that he's taking.

Last week he announced that nine infusion centers were going to be launching across this state and cities like Lubbock and San Antonio and Corpus Christi. And so John at a time when COVID-19 is raging in this state, the number of cases is increasing the number of hospitalizations are increasing process this with me.

The governor continues to say no to mask mandates in schools. And yet he's promoting this monoclonal antibody treatment, which is a treatment that's after the fact after people have gotten COVID-19. So it's difficult to reconcile that when the solution can be wearing a simple mask John.

KING: yes, we know that masks works other steps work, but we'll watch this moment play out. The governor believes he's right. He believes toughed it out is part of the Texas tradition. We'll see what the people of Texas think? Rosa Flores thank you and Texas is once again in familiar company at a time of a dramatic COVID surge.

We can show you the numbers. Texas second to Florida and the number of new Coronavirus cases reported this past week. COVID hospitalizations also surging in both states nearly three times the national average in Florida and a little more than 1.5 times the national average in Texas both Republican governors are fighting school districts that want to mandate masks.

Two Florida school districts for example, now could face punishment for defying Governor Ron DeSantis in saying all students and staff must mask up. CNN's Amara Walker is in one of those places Broward County where children students head back today first day of school Amara?

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First day of school that is right John. Class is actually in session right now here at Bayview Elementary School and nearly 260,000 students across Broward County Public Schools were expected to return to their classrooms as of today and as you said masks are required in this district.

That means parents are not allowed to opt out their children from wearing masks. And this morning we're standing by the carpool line. We saw a lot of children coming out of the cars wearing the masks as they are required to do.

But as you know, John, there has been a lot of drama leading up to the beginning of the school year over mass mandates between Governor Ron DeSantis and at least two public school districts that include Broward County Public Schools and Alachua two districts that are defying the governor's executive order that bans mask mandates in school.

And a lot of this came to a head last night during a Florida Board of Education meeting where they voted unanimously to take steps to punish these districts. And these penalties are unclear at this time. It could mean that some district officials could be removed or funding could be withdrawn. Take a listen now to the Interim Superintendent of Broward County who talked about why she is so worried about the surge?


VICKIE CARTWRIGHT, SUPERINTENDENT, BROWARD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: We're also very concerned about the number of cases that are happening here within Broward. As of this morning we only have five ICU pediatric beds available. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WALKER: So Broward County Public School officials saying look this is about the safety of the students. They have a right to be safe in their classrooms. They are digging in on this mandate.