Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

U.S. Scrambles To Evacuate Americans, Afghans From Kabul; Biden Defiant, Defensive Over Afghan Withdrawal Chaos; Record Number Of Florida Children Hospitalized With COVID; Source: Pfizer Poised For Full FDA Approval; Henri Expected To Bring Flooding, Power Outages To Northeast. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired August 22, 2021 - 08:00   ET





KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST (voice-over): Crisis in Kabul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the Afghan people are crying. My country is wounded.

COLLINS: Men, women and children scrambling to evacuate as the president insists the chaos was inevitable.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I made the decision. The buck stops with me. It's time to end this war.

COLLINS: The exit testing his promise of competency and compassion.

Plus, the fight over masks in schools.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: If I wear my mask, that means I get to see my friends. I'll just wear a mask.

COLLINS: The science is undeniable, but politics are standing in the way.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We want to protect our children. We want to keep them in school.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: My view is that the parents understand what's best for their kids.

COLLINS: And Pfizer's vaccine is poised for full FDA approval. Will that win over any skeptics?

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


COLLINS: And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Kaitlan Collins, in for Abby Philip.

More than 50 million people in the Northeast are currently in the path of tropical storm Henri which is projected to make landfall over Long Island or southern New England later today.

The storm has sustained winds of 70 miles an hour just a little bit below becoming a category 1 hurricane. Hurricane-like conditions, dangerous storm surge and flooding are all expected before the day is out. We'll have more on that in a bit.

But we start with the desperate situation in Afghanistan.

The State Department is now warning Americans not to travel to the airport unless they are individually told to do so after some were beaten by the Taliban. Threats of potential ISIS attacks at the Kabul airport are forcing the U.S. military to make new ways for people to get there, adding to the complication of the efforts to evacuate thousands of people.

CNN has also learned there are over 18,000 people at the base waiting to leave.

President Biden will be briefed by his national security team in the Situation Room this morning on the latest, and he is expected to provide a public update on those evacuations this afternoon.

"The Economist" is calling this Biden's debacle. "The New York Times" headline says, miscue after miscue, U.S. exit plan unravels.

The botched withdrawal is threatening the competency and transparency that President Biden promised to bring to office.


BIDEN: We're going to do everything, everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home. To the best of our knowledge, the Taliban checkpoints, they are letting through people showing American passports.


COLLINS: Joining us now to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace of "The Associated Press", CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Vivian Salama of "The Wall Street Journal" and Heather Caygle of "Politico".

Julie, I want to start with you given what we were hearing from the president on Friday when he was giving this latest update. It kind of seemed like time and time again this week what he was describing is at odds with what we were hearing from Clarissa Ward and other reporters who are on the ground in Kabul.

JULIE PACE, AP WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: There is a significant disconnect from the Biden administration which is essentially, we've got this. We have a plan. We are getting this under control. If you want to get out of Afghanistan, you can -- and then what we are seeing on the ground, from really brave reporters who are there from a lot of Afghan civilians who are sharing pictures and images of the scene outside the airport, where, no you cannot get out if you want to get out.

It's very difficult to still get through the gates of the airport even if you have travel documents, even if you have an exit plan. It's very difficult to get through.

We see again today that there is violence, chaos outside the gates of the airport. And so, I think the onus is on the Biden administration to do two things. One, to actually get that situation under control, and then two, to be up front with the American people about what's going on. They can see it with their own eyes at this point.

COLLINS: Yeah, and it's not just typical critics of this administration who are saying this. David Axelrod who served in the Obama administration said the way it is ending has been problematic and it cuts against Biden's core perceived strengths, competence, mastery of foreign policy, supreme empathy, it is as if his eagerness to end the war overran the planning and execution.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is one necessarily been a driving force here. I mean, no one more than Joe Biden has wanted to end this war for more than a dozen years or so. But was enough thought gone into how it was going to be executed?

No one expected the Taliban to rise so quickly or the government to fall so quickly. But there are going to be some tough questions starting this week on Capitol Hill about what exactly was going on at the State Department, for example.


So, right now, things are caught in a huge bureaucracy. But you have to question is the president insulated, isolated?

On Friday, it was almost bizarre, what he was saying didn't match the reality of what some of his advisers were saying. What I was struck by was the question, you were in the room, Kaitlan, when he was asked about allies, essentially suggesting that allies are not, you know, upset at the U.S. or embittered by this. And it's just not the case. So, to me he's a bit insulated or isolated inside the White House.

VIVIAN SALAMA, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I knew as soon as he said that the British defense secretary came out and said it was a mistake. He said this is going to encourage al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to really take advantage of the situation in Afghanistan.

COLLINS: And one person who might have to testify about all of this is the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. You report this had week there was a dissent cable that was sent out a month ago in the state department of people warning this could happen. We do know that you reported Secretary Blinken has received this cable. He did see it at the time.

So what do you think happened inside the State Department? Why was that warning not heeded by officials?

SALAMA: So, officials told me Secretary Blinken reviewed the cable, he welcomed the feedback he got. The administration emphasizing one part of that cable, trying to push back on it, saying even these diplomats on the ground underestimated how quickly the Taliban would move in on Kabul.

There was another element of the cable which was important, these diplomats were trying to get the SIVs, the Afghans that helped our diplomats on the ground, the news organizations, everyone else, to get them out starting august 1st in mass numbers because they believed that whenever the Taliban was going to come, even if it was going to be in September sometime, the situation was growing dire by the day and the state department needed to move faster. They started to review those applications around that time.

COLLINS: Heather, you covered the hill. There are a lot of Democratic lawmakers allies of this president have questions about how the draw down has been executed as we were saying. Some could be testifying this week. What are you hearing from Democrats about what they want to know, Republicans as well, of course, will have questions, too.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL BUREAU CHIEF, POLITICO: Well, I think there is a lot of criticism coming from the Democratic side which is pretty rare, right. Who criticizes the leader of their party in the White House? Usually they try not to. So this week the house will be back. They'll have their first classified briefing on this which is really important. They've had some unclassified briefings. They're private, but things leak. For instance, that's where the secretary of defense said there were Americans beaten by the Taliban.

So I think going into this week and this classified briefing, they will be in person. They really want to know was this a failure of the intelligence or were we deceived by the administration? We've seen some of them actually publicly allude to that question, which you know, is pretty remarkable. Again, given they are in the same party. So I think that is their line of questioning and they'll go from there.

We also have four, at least four committee hearings coming up in September where these officials will publicly testify. So this is an issue that is obviously not going away.

COLLINS: And beyond just the messaging or the logistics of the intelligence and what we wrong, the messaging has been confusing as well and surprising for President Biden, someone known for his empathy. We saw this week he did change his message Friday after he had been criticized for appearing to really dismiss some of the images we were seeing coming out of Kabul.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: We've all seen the pictures. We've seen those hundreds of people packed into the C-17. We've seen Afghans falling --

BIDEN: That was four days ago, five days ago.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What did you think when you first saw those pictures?

BIDEN: What I thought was we have to gain control of this. We have to move this more quickly. We have to move in a way which we can take control of that airport. And we did.

The past week has been heartbreaking. We've seen gut wrenching images of people acting out of sheer desperation. I don't think anyone can see these pictures and not feel that pain on a human level.


COLLINS: Was this an intentional shift in the messaging?

ZELENY: No question. I think on Friday the White House and the president were trying to sort of regain control and go on offense after really being on their heels all week. I think that's the best example. That interview with George Stephanopoulos was shocking to hear President Biden quarreling with the time frame of how many days ago it was. Who cares how many days it was? The images were horrifying. It's how defensive the president has been throughout.

White House officials were telling me as the week went on they were trying to get him off his heels. That's what he was doing on Friday, trying to show empathy. No one questions his empathy. We know he's an empathetic person. It's the policy at issue and bureaucracy he's unable to cult through.

PACE: I think the challenge for Biden right now is he firmly believes that he made the right decision in withdrawing. There are a lot of people who believe that is correct.


That the United States should not be in this war any longer, that there is no good to be gained from spending 3, 5, 10 more years in Afghanistan. But he's so wrapped up in I think making that point right now that he is losing sight of the other piece of this, which is just the fact that, as the U.S. with draws, there is chaos on the ground and people are trying to get out. He's struggling to focus on that piece of it right now.

COLLINS: Unsurprisingly, you're seeing Trump officials are trying to rewrite history. If he was in office everything would have been handled perfectly and refugees would have been out immediately. But a former homeland security adviser to Vice President Pence at the time is disputing that, saying that actually that is not how things went down, and that Stephen Miller and other officials tried to undermine the program to actually help these refugees or, excuse me, the interpreters who worked alongside the U.S. military be able to get these visas to get out of there.

Olivia Troye tweeting over the weekend Trump had four years to put this plan in place to start evacuating the allies. Do you think we'll see more of this from the former Trump officials? PACE: I think we are going to see finger pointing in all directions

over the next couple of weeks and months. And some of this did start under the Trump administration. Obviously, Trump is the one who set us on this time frame.

But Biden also had an ability to change the time frame and he knew that he was inheriting from Trump a whole slew of policies that were not, you know, necessarily like the top policies. He should have gone through and made sure this is what he wanted, the evacuation and drawdown look like.

SALAMA: Important to remember, by the way, that under President Trump, 5,000 Taliban prisoners were released as part of the withdrawal. Some of the Taliban fighters were commanders that took over the cities and led the onslaught. We have to remember there is blame to go around.

COLLINS: Yeah, weirdly, none of those officials, Secretary Pompeo or Nikki Haley have mentioned that fact.

But up next, we'll talk about what is going on in Kabul, they are scheduled to leaf Afghanistan by the end of the month. It remains to be seen whether that is enough time to get all the Americans out.



COLLINS: Over 17,000 people have been evacuated from Kabul in the last week, and some evacuees are already arriving in the United States. Others have landed at a U.S. base in Germany, where yesterday an Afghan woman gave birth in the cargo bay of a military plane just moments after landing.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is ramping up efforts to get Americans and their Afghan allies out of Kabul. And the Pentagon has just ordered 18 commercial flights to transport those who have already left Afghanistan. This is only the third time in history that this program has been activated according to the Pentagon.

But for those who are still in Kabul, it is becoming more dire by the day. A former translator for the U.S. told "The New York Times" her toddler was trampled to death while her family was in the mob outside the airport.

President Biden has offered this reassurance to the Americans who are still there.


BIDEN: We're going to do everything, everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners, and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States. Let me be clear. Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: Lawmakers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan say that's not enough and the U.S. owes more to the nearly 300,000 Afghans who helped the U.S. and served alongside them during the war.


REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): There certainly was never going to be a positive outcome, but we could have prevented it becoming this nightmare scenario.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Now we're in a position where we're disgracefully begging the Taliban for basically permission to save Americans.

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): This is a harrowing situation, because in many ways we are relying on the Taliban to not start massacring people today.

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Our moral authority is at stake here. We made promises 20 years to these men and women.


COLLINS: Again, that's pretty scathing and I know the White House says right now they are doing everything they can to get people out. And they just had the Pentagon activate these 18 commercial flights to try to get people who -- they're not in Kabul. These flights aren't going into Kabul, but they're going to be picking these people from other airports where they are being temporarily held.

What more do you know about that program and how much the White House is now doing to try to get these people onto there?

SALAMA: The Biden administration has been trying obviously to get as many people out as they can, but the airport has become increasingly inaccessible to definitely to commercial flights, but even just for people coming in and out. A lot of these bases where people are going are becoming overcrowded and unable to take any more people.

So, what the U.S. has been trying to do to speed up processing is, a, try to get third countries to take these people temporarily until they can be processed and maybe brought to the U.S. or sent to a third country. And B, have commercial airliners help ferry them back and forth because there is no way to get them around and they want to free up space in these places. So, a lot of different moving parts, but the airport is the focal point because getting people to the airport is tough.

The airport closed twice already. There is a security threat outside the airport because, think about it, clusters of people gathering by the tens of thousands outside the airports, I've covered warzones for years. That is a key prime target for any terrorist who wants to go out there and blow them self up, a lot of concerns, a British official telling me we're on watch for suicide bombers at this point.

COLLINS: Yeah, that's a big concern. They're coming up with alternative pacts getting to the airport. Getting to the airport is one big issue.

One big question people had for the White House, why the military, we're not seeing them go get Americans in Kabul and bringing them to the airport since the State Department says we can't assure safe passage. We know they've done this at least once because President Biden told us about it on Friday.


They went over the wall to get Americans. I think it was 169 and bring them back.

Do we think that that is going to happen again? Because the Pentagon yesterday seemed to hint that could be underway.

ZELENY: It certainly could be underway. This is one of the questions facing the Biden administration. Are they going to send more troops to bring things under control or expand the mission?

The president, of course, is very mindful of the safety and security of troops. As you said, suicide bombers, this is a massive dangerous effort there. And the target is huge. But we will see to the extent, obviously the administration, the president does not want to expand things much more. Or go out -- never mind the rest of the country. We were just talking about Kabul. There are the Afghan allies and partners across the country.

This is one of the things the failure of imagination would include this, that it fell so quickly. But what was the evacuation plan? This is a failure of the government across multiple administrations.

When you talk to some military members and they've been trying to get their interpreters out for years, almost a decade or more. And the blame certainly rests on members of Congress, all administrations for not getting this going. Now it's the Biden administration's problem.

So we'll see how much they speed it up if they can.

COLLINS: And one thing that this president promised when he was taking office is that he wanted to restore the United States' image on the world stage because of what happened and how much it deteriorate when had Trump was in office. And he even has said this when he was just overseas, not that long ago.


BIDEN: We're going to make it clear that the United States is back, and democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges, and the issues that matter most to our future.


COLLINS: He's got another summit with world leaders coming up in November. Is that message going to resonate just as much then as it did at the G7? PACE: I think this is the bigger picture backdrop to what we're seeing

here right now. You know, Biden was very warmly welcomed on the world stage by European allies, in particular, other traditional U.S. allies during the first couple of months of his administration. He was seen as somebody who was much more familiar to them, who would restore American leadership and competence.

I do think now the rest of the world is looking at this and saying, oh, wait a second. Maybe this isn't going to be the type of administration we thought it would. He does, of course, have an opportunity to pivot that back if they can get this situation under control.

But I do think it is very clear the world is watching right now. And you know, I think it is important to remember that the world, even though they were happy to have Biden back on the world stage as the head of the United States, has still been a little skeptical, not sure which direction this country is going in. Was Trump an aberration or are we going back to that place?

Biden has a lot of work ahead of him, I think, with those allies in the next couple weeks.

COLLINS: And do you think those allies -- how have they responded to this? The president doesn't think they have been shaken by this, hasn't undermined the relationship. Do you think that is the case?

SALAMA: A lot of concern right now and I'm hearing it from all sides, allies in Asia, in Europe, you name it how this withdrawal took place. Keep in mind we had NATO forces on the ground, a lot of them scrambling to get their people out as well and they believe the U.S. was largely responsible for the chaos that's happened right now.

And they're only leaving because the U.S. is leaving. And so they're worried about their situation. They feel that this was poorly executed.

And they're really concerned if Biden was supposed to be the guy coming with extensive experience, kind of reversing the narrative post Trump, and this is where the U.S. is going. Like Julie said, a lot of people are saying, wait a minute, there's a lot of skepticism moving forward.

COLLINS: And, Heather, Republicans don't know how they're going to be talking publicly about resettling so many of these refugees. A lot of people said they're looking at it from a humanitarian perspective. There is a pretty big split how they're talking about this publicly.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The idea that you can move people from one completely different country completely different language and culture and history on the other side of the globe to our countries in large numbers, and everything will be fine is insane.

GOV. KIM REYNOLDS (R), IOWA: We need to uphold our end of the bargain that we made to them when they agreed to work with our men and women who are fighting on our behalf.


COLLINS: What are you hearing from Republicans on this?

CAYGLE: I think by and large on the Hill, rank and file Republicans actually do support bringing in the refugees and resettling them. Mitch McConnell has come out and publicly said that. Back in July, the House voted on a bill to raise the refugee cap and get rid of some of these restrictions on processing the visas. Only 16 Republicans voted against it.

So there is definitely a split, but the far-right flank and the talking heads on some of the other shows are much louder right now than the rank and file. I think when the House gets back this week and the members are all together and they've had this classified briefing, I think we will hear some from the members who want to say let's bring the refugees in, let's resettle them and they will take more of the conversation over.

COLLINS: But, Jeff, this isn't a monolith. We've seen such a difference in the range of how Republicans are approaching this.

ZELENY: We absolutely have. And I think it will be interesting to see.


The former president, exhibit A, I mean, he has definitely shifted his tone on this. We have seen Republican governors who are supportive of bringing in these Afghan -- we call them refugees, that's true, but also it diminishes a little bit what they are. They worked alongside our forces for so long.

So it will be an interesting thing to see if Republicans completely shift on this. That would be unusual. I think, as you said, Heather, most are still supportive. And this is our responsibility, it's clear.


Up next, we're going to talk about why some Florida school districts are risking funding and defying Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.


COLLINS: The rate of children with COVID is surging across America and a record number are so sick, they are being hospitalized. The situation in Florida is probably more dire than almost anywhere in the United States. A record number of new cases overall and a record number of kids hospitalized, 203 as of Friday.

All of that is creating a new uncertainty as schools in the state have started to reopen and at least six counties are requiring all students to wear a mask, openly defying Governor Ron DeSantis' ban on those mandates.

DeSantis is also threatening to withhold state education funding, but President Biden is pushing back and promising to make up for any shortfall.


BIDEN: Unfortunately, as you've seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures, that is, children wearing masks in school, into political disputes for their own political gain.

DESANTIS: He is obsessed with having the government force kindergartners to wear masks all day in school.



COLLINS: The rate of children with COVID is surging across America. And a record number are so sick they're being hospitalized.

The situation in Florida is probably more dire than almost anywhere in the United States. A record number of new cases overall and a record number of kids hospitalized, 203 as of Friday.

All of that is creating a new uncertainty as schools in the state have started to reopen and at least six counties are requiring all students to wear a mask, openly defying Governor Ron DeSantis' ban on those mandates.

DeSantis is also threatening to withhold state education funding but President Biden is pushing back and promising to make up for any shortfall.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unfortunately, as you've seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures as children wearing masks in school into political disputes for their own political gain.

GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS (R-FL): He is obsessed with having the government force kindergartners to wear masks all day in school. In Florida, we believe that that's the parents' decision. Joe Biden thinks the federal government should come and overrule the parents.


COLLINS: Florida has had more COVID cases than any other state in the past six months, and the school issue has become so divisive it is tearing communities apart.

So how is this working politically for Ron DeSantis, given he is clearly seen as a very likely potential 2024 nominee?

HEATHER CAYGLE, CO-CONGRESSIONAL BUREAU CHIEF, POLITICO: Well, you know, I think every other Republican who wants to be a potential 2024 nominee is watching and seeing how this plays out. Right now these school districts are defying him. Like you said, six counties. It's covering, I think, a million kids will be under a mask mandate now which is huge. It's five of the largest school districts, most of them are in blue areas. One recently was a Republican-leaning county that came out in the last few days.

But the interesting thing is, if these mask mandates go into effect and are successful, we'll have less kids in the hospital, less kids that are getting sick.

And on the other end of that, DeSantis would potentially be able to say being look, my restrictions or lack thereof worked. Like people, you know, it's working out. When in reality it's the mask mandate that kept these kids from getting sick, right.

So you know, I think both sides are kind of looking and seeing how the politics will play out right now.

COLLINS: And President Biden from the White House is weighing in on this more than we had seen at the beginning, you know, really going after DeSantis and calling him out publicly at White House events and trying to use the levers that he has to stop DeSantis from trying to do some of the measures that he's imposing to stop these mandates from happening.

ZELENY: It's true. And it is, you know, a potential window into the future ahead.

A lot has to happen though for Ron DeSantis. A, he has to win re- election himself. He's in the ballot next June.


ZELENY: But, you know, he's pretty strong. So, I think that the -- one thing we've seen from the White House is initially they were really trying to not politicize or make this political or even weighed in there. I mean that is over.

I mean the reality is that they're now trying to use every lever. And the president clearly sees it as his political benefit and they're really, you know, just trying to, as a substantive matter, you know, trying to call out these governors here.

I'm not sure it's had any effect or not.

PACE: Well, it certainly hasn't had an effect on Ron DeSantis.

ZELENY: Right.

PACE: He is doubling down on his positions on this as well. I think, you know, what you're seeing basically is the choice from a purely political standpoint, the choice before voters here.

You know, Joe Biden embracing mandates, putting mandates back in place as we've seen the cases pile up, you know, particularly in unvaccinated Americans. And then Ron DeSantis, who is just leaning into where he was at the beginning of the pandemic. Even as caseloads in his state rise, he believes that ultimately his voters support the idea of being able to make their own choices.

Even if that means that they get sick, even if that means that we're going to see schools closed over and over and over again throughout this school year as people have to quarantine, in part, because they're not wearing masks.

COLLINS: Well, and the Associated Press has had some really fascinating numbers on this. And bid has tied really the success of his presidency to how he handles the pandemic. He knows this is top of mind for voters more than any other issue. And getting it under control, obviously, has been a number one priority.

But in an Associated Press poll in July, out of all voters, it had 66 percent of people approved of the way he has handled it. But in a poll that was conducted August 12 to 16, that dropped to 54 percent. The biggest and most alarmin drop I think for the White House is this number among Independents. Over 72 percent in July, now it's 44 percent.

PACE: Those numbers were really striking to us when we got this poll back. You know, Biden's approval rating on COVID has been ahead of his overall approval rating and it's in part, as you point out, because Republican and Independents had supported him.

As that number falls we're seeing two things in that group of Independents. There are some who are just disapproving because they see the overall situation in the country starting to worsen -- caseloads going up, the vaccination rate being stalled.

But then there are others in there who disapprove of things like mask mandates being put back in place, CDC pushing for additional guidance. So he's sort of fighting this on multiple fronts here.

But to your point, this is the issue. More than Afghanistan, more than almost anything else that the White House thinks that the Biden presidency will rise and fall on.


And of course, we have former President Trump, a lot of criticism has gone his way for the way he has messaged on vaccines, of course, declining to get his own shot publicly, all of those things.

Last night, he was actually at a rally in Alabama. And this was the crowd's reaction when the president told people -- the former president told people to get vaccinated.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe totally in your freedoms, I do. You've got to do what you have to do.

But I recommend, take the vaccines. I did it. It's good. Take the vaccines. No, that's ok. That's all right. You've got your freedoms, but I happened to take the vaccine. If it doesn't work, you'll be the first to know, ok?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you know, Heather and I were just talking before the show because we were both just in Florida. And saying President Trump still looms large in Florida. He's definitely a major force.

But he's also kind of contradicting what Ron DeSantis is going out there saying. And so, it is, to an extent, going to be interesting to see how that message plays out, whether or not this difference in President Trump insisting that people, you know, go get vaccinated. It's a good thing. Versus Ron DeSantis saying everyone is free to do what they want and kind of pushing more for the freedoms of it.

It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out and who kind of comes out on top in this debate.

COLLINS: And I think one big question with the school debate being brought back into this, I mean look at some of these headlines that we are seeing. 20,000 Mississippi students in quarantine for COVID-19 exposure. In Hillsboro, over 10,000 now quarantined, the school district says. "Las Vegas Sun" Henderson Elementary School returns to online classes after the outbreak. Fifth graders at a Georgia school sent home due to COVID-19.

How does this all shake out given this debate that we are seeing between Republicans who are trying to straddle this line of you can choose what you want to do but also public health and wearing a mask is good for you if you're in a closed door setting with people who are unvaccinated.

Or does the White House get the blame for this in the end because, of course, he is the president. He is in charge of the federal government.

ZELENY: I think what Julie was saying, it's one of the reasons that those numbers have gone down. It's because the sense of confidence in how things are going, you know, do you approve of the direction of the country or the direction of COVID?

Just everyone is experiencing some problem with this in their own life. So it's going to be the White House's responsibility. But if the FDA makes its decision to give a full approval or authorization to Pfizer, I think, that will be a big turning point. We'll see more mandates coming. That's something to watch for this week certainly.

COLLINS: What do you think about how Republicans -- are they going to get blamed for this, given they have put themselves squarely in this debate? PACE: I think it's really unclear, you know, who ultimately gets

blamed for where we are now. I do think Biden, as president, you know, will get the bulk of the -- he will either get the credit or he gets the blame. That's the responsibility of being president right now.

But I do think Republicans have to watch these number. You know, if you're Ron DeSantis and the situation in your state spirals out of control, if you're a Republican governor in another state, how do you defend not taking proactive action to try to keep your people healthy and safe? That's your ultimate responsibility.

COLLINS: Watching for this FDA approval will be fascinating because as we reported this week, the FDA is poised to grant that full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. And so now the question is, could that lead to new vaccine requirements? Will it encourage any holdouts to finally get the shot?



COLLINS: As the case count climbs to levels that we have not seen since the winter surge, federal health officials are hopeful about this new development. A source tells CNN that the FDA could grant full approval for Pfizer's COVID vaccine as early as tomorrow. That could potentially pave the way for publica and private organizations to require the vaccine as officials are also hoping it will encourage vaccine holdouts to get the shot.

Dr. Megan Ranney is an E.R. doctor and the associate dean at the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island. She luckily still has power from the storm that is headed her way and she joins us now.

Dr. Ranney, we are now reporting on this potential FDA approval coming our way, full approval. So that is something that we've heard vaccine skeptics say as a reason they have not gotten the shot yet.

What are you most looking forward to when this actually could happen as soon as tomorrow?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, ASSOCIATE DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes. Kaitlan, for most of us, the safety and efficacy data on these vaccines is more than adequate. The Pfizer vaccine, which is the one likely to get approval tomorrow, has given out over 180 million doses across the United States.

There is no doubt that these work and that they're safe. But as you said, there's a portion of the American public that still doesn't trust that emergency use designation. And so the full approval, studies suggest that about a third of those who have not yet gotten vaccinated will step up to get a shot in the arm when it turns from emergency use approval to full FDA approval.

The other thing is that it is going to open the door for a lot of folks to put mandates in place. The Supreme Court has obviously held up some mandates like Indiana University. But other groups like the military have been holding off for full approval.

And I can't overstate what a difference those mandates make for people who are just on the fence or haven't gotten around to getting a vaccine yet. So it's really going to be quite impactful over the next four to six weeks as those mandate take place, as people show up for vaccines in arms and, of course, once those vaccines take effect.

So we're still looking at a tough couple of months ahead but longer term this full approval will make a big difference.

COLLINS: Yes. And while we're waiting on the FDA to weigh in on this, we're seeing numbers that the White House is certainly excited about.

Three days this week where over a million people -- the CDC reported over a million doses had been administered. That is the highest numbers that we've seen since the first week of July.

What do you think is behind that, given this is before the booster shots, potentially have been authorized by the FDA, before this full approval has been granted. Why are more people stepping up now and getting vaccinated?

DR. RANNEY: I guess two things. The first is simple fear. Humans are more likely to go and do something if they're afraid of the consequences of not doing it. And across the entire south and southeast, people are seeing their family and their friends get sick. That's the first big driver.

The second is more and more places are mandating the vaccine, even before full FDA approval has been reached. I'm having a number of conversations with health care workers recently who had not yet gotten the vaccine who will now be doing it, because their facilities have put a mandate in place. So it's a combination of those two things.


DR. RANNEY: The caution, Kaitlan again, is that that is first shot in arm. Those folks are all going to need, most of them, a second shot. So we're not going to see full effect for another four to six weeks. We still have a long period of rising cases ahead of us.

COLLINS: And they may even eventually need a third shot since we now know, we're waiting on the FDA and the CDC to weigh in on this and actually make it official. But the White House is developing a plan for people to start getting booster shots eight months after their second shot of those two-dose vaccines.

Do you think that is soon enough? What do you think of the messaging on this and what we're hearing from the administration?

DR. RANNEY: Well, I really think the administration got a little bit ahead of their skis on this one. It's ridiculous for us to take up a booster shot before we have full FDA approval of the vaccines in general.

We also don't yet have convincing data on the necessity and the safety of the boosters except for those immunocompromised and elderly folks that we've already been making movements toward giving boosters to. Immunocompromised, of course, can already show up to get a third shot.

I don't think that we won't need boosters but I just feel like it was too soon to announce it. There's too much of the world that hasn't been vaccinated. Too much of the United States that hasn't been vaccinated. And the current data suggests that the two doses still protect really well against hospitalization and death.

COLLINS: Well, that's an interesting comment because we did see yesterday Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was vaccinated back in January, has now been hospitalized with COVID-19. So what do you make of that, given how long it has been since he got his vaccine?

DR. RANNEY: So that may be a reflection of the waning strength of the vaccine. It maybe a reflection of his being mildly immunocompromised due to age. So again, those elderly folks would be the people that I would put in line for a booster.

Also the fact that no vaccine is going to be 100 percent effective for everyone. And it's why right now with this horribly transmissible delta variant, it is so important for all of us to mask up in public, indoor locations.


DR. RANNEY: But my heart goes out to him and his wife. I hope they get well soon.

COLLINS: Yes. Of course, we all do. And thank you so much for joining us this morning. We will be sure to bring you back once the FDA does weigh in on that full approval that everyone has been waiting to see.

Thank you for joining us this morning.

DR. RANNEY: Thank you.

COLLINS: Up next, the latest on tropical storm Henri set to make landfall in the northeast in just a few hours.



COLLINS: And before we go, let's get a quick update on tropical storm Henri. The outer rainbands of this storm are already over eastern Long Island and southern New England.

These hurricane conditions as well as flooding and dangerous storm surge are expected later today. And more than 50 million people are threatened by these conditions.

We're going to check in with our CNN meteorologist, Allison Chinchar. Allison, what can you tell us about what you're seeing about the storm's trajectory this morning? And what should people in the path know about this? ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. So the basic thing we want

them to understand is expect very heavy rainfall, very gusty winds and especially a storm surge along the coast. Right now, sustained winds are 70 miles per hour, gusting up to 90 miles per hour. That forward speed continues to slow down. That's not what we want to see because that means as it slows down it has more time to dump a tremendous amount of rain.

It's going to eventually make landfall likely here in just the next couple of hours before we get to lunchtime. Continue to push inland before making a sharp turn back out over open water.

Here is the look. You can see some of those heavy rainbands pushing in across Connecticut, New York, and especially over New Jersey. And unfortunately for New Jersey, they already had several inches of rain so far today.

Again, we're really kind of focusing in on those yellow and orange colors. That's where you're going to see the heaviest bands of rain. It's why we have flash flood watches and even flash flood warnings in effect. Those are likely to last for the entire rest of the day today as more of those bands continue to push that rain inland.

So even areas of upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire likely to get several inches of rain, too. Storm surge going to be a big concern right there along the immediate coast. The concern is that the landfall time may end up lining up with some of these areas high tide.

This isn't just a normal high tide either. Today is the full moon. So you're dealing with astronomical high tide at the same time that you're likely getting a big push of this storm surge.

So coastal flooding, beach erosion -- those are going to be big concerns for us as we go into there, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: So astronomical high tide and we have the remnants of Fred that came through the northeast just last week. Now this tropical storm is making landfall. How does that work giving the flooding in that since they have had these back to back storms?

CHINCHAR: Yes, I mean this storm alone is expected to produce a tremendous amount of rain. But when you look at what this area has had just in the last week, look at all this yellow and orange here.

This is because earlier in the week we had the remnants of Fred move through so many of these same states. Now you're adding additional rain on top of that, several inches there. And the problem is when that ground is saturated like that, it's very easy to have trees and power lines come down with the winds.

You're talking about an additional two, four, even six inches of rain on top of what they've already had the last several days. At that point, Kaitlan, even a 40 to 60-mile-per-hour wind gust is enough to bring trees and power lines down.

COLLINS: And so are we seeing any of that so far? Have there been power outages, flight delays? What are we seeing about -- the effects of how people are planning and what's actually happening now on the ground?


CHINCHAR: Yes. So power outages, we already have several thousand. The hardest hit area right now looks to be New Jersey just because they were really the first to get some of those heavier rainbands in.

But delays are also going to be a concern. Boston, New York, Philadelphia -- all of those airports already collectively have hundreds of cancellations and delays especially out of LaGuardia, Newark and Boston. But again, those numbers could start to tick up as we go through the day.

COLLINS: Allison Chinchar, thank you for that update. And we will be sure to keep checking with you hourly to make sure we know what is happening with this tropical storm.

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

Up next is "STATE OF THE UNION" with guest host Brianna Keilar. She has some very important guests today including President Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Afghan War veteran and Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger.

But before we go, we want to end on some good news and give a big congratulations to this show's anchor and my friend, Abby Phillip. Abby and her husband, Marcus, welcomed their beautiful daughter Naomi Angelina Richardson on Monday.

Naomi, which means pleasant one, has been delighting her parents, grandparents and their dog, booker, for the last week. And I'm sure it won't be long before Naomi will be here to share her reporting and insights with all of you.

Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us.




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Racing the clock.

BIDEN: This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history.

KEILAR: Will the president be able to keep his promise to evacuate tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan?

BIDEN: I made the decision. The buck stops with me.