Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Hurricane Ida Still Strengthening As It Nears Louisiana Coast; Biden: Another Attack In Kabul "Is Highly Likely" This Weekend; Pentagon: Two ISIS-K Operatives Killed In Friday Drone Strike; Biden Heading To Delaware For Arrival Of Kabul Victims' Bodies; Biden Endures Worst Day Of His Presidency; Summer Of Freedom From COVID Turns Into Spike In Cases. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired August 29, 2021 - 08:00   ET





MANU RAJU, CNN HOST (voice-over): Monster storm. Hurricane Ida will wallop (ph) the Gulf Coast today with winds as high as 145 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be one of the very strongest storms to hit Louisiana since the 1850s.

RAJU: Plus, devastating time in Afghanistan, which is a few days left in America's longest war.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.

RAJU: Republicans blame Biden and call for consequences.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: This isn't the test of leadership the president promised. It's a picture of weakness and incompetence.

RAJU: And teens lead the U.S. in new COVID cases as kids head back to the classroom.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, SURGEON GENERAL: This delta virus is so incredibly contagious. It is spreading among the population, including our children.

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


RAJU (on camera): Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Manu Raju, in today for Abby.

A very busy Sunday morning. America's gulf coast is getting battered by Hurricane Ida, and this is just the beginning. The storm is getting stronger every hour, and lashing Louisiana.

CNN's Allison Chinchar is in the weather center with the latest.

Allison, a new forecast from the hurricane center just out?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, literally just in moments ago. We've seen increase in wind gusts up to 185 miles per hour. Sustained winds at 150. This makes it a high end category 4 storm. We are 7 miles off from being a category 5, 157 miles per hour is that category 5 threshold.

Hurricane hunters not one, but two different missions are out investigating this storm, taking as many measurements as they can before this storm makes landfall. Now, as of this point landfall is expected to be around noon local time or 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time today in Louisiana. It is expected to strengthen further. They are actually calling for landfall to be at 155 miles per hour.

Again, doing the math, that would be 2 miles an hour off from the category 5 storm. From there it starts to slow its forward speed and it will start to weaken as well. The concern is when it slows, that also means it has more time to dump a tremendous amount of rain.

You are starting to see those outer bands already begin to push in, some very heavy rain across areas of New Orleans, especially the northern suburbs. We have a tornado watch valid until 8:00 p.m. tonight. Not just for New Orleans, but Biloxi, Mobile, several other cities around the area. Again, that goes through the evening.

Storm surge is going to be the biggest concern with this threat, especially along the coast. Grand Isle, a total of 12 to 16 feet, 12 to 18 feet. Some areas are up to 4 feet now and those numbers will continue to climb. Wind speeds in excess of 110 miles per hour. We already had reports of 90 miles per hour in the southern tips. This is why power outages will be a widespread concern, not just New Orleans, but a lot of the surrounding areas as well.

RAJU: A huge storm coming. Everyone take shelter near category 5 tomorrow.

Allison, thank you for that. We'll check in throughout the hour.

Now to our other top story, a stark warning from President Biden. Another attack on the Kabul airport could be imminent. The statement released yesterday afternoon, Biden said: Our commanders inform me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24 to 36 hours. That statement came about 18 hours ago.

And this, of course, comes on the heels of Thursday's suicide bombing that killed 13 service members and at least 170 civilians trying to leave the country. A spin-off Islamic group ISIS-K, claimed responsibility for the attack and President Biden ordered drone strikes in eastern Afghanistan that killed at least two ISIS-K operatives.

In his statement yesterday, Biden promised more retaliation is coming. CNN's Arlette joins me from the White House now with more.

Arlette, what did Biden mean by further retaliation?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Manu, President Biden said they would decide to respond in a time and place of their choosing, but has not given any further details about what a potential further action, retaliatory action might look like.

Now, that airstrike that took out two ISIS-K targets was done with over the horizon capabilities and it was an unmanned strike. That suggests it was done, originated from outside of Afghanistan.

And that is something that Pentagon officials yesterday said is that they would continue to maintain that over the horizon capability, even as American military troops withdraw from this country.


But this all comes at a very precarious and delicate stage in the situation in Afghanistan. The president was warned by his military advisers that there was likely going to be another attack in the 12 -- 24 to 36 hours as of yesterday. He has ordered his commanders on the ground to go ahead and go towards maximum force protection and ensure that those military people on the ground have the resources needed to protect themselves at the airport.

This also comes as that evacuation mission is still underway as well. Something that this administration is really trying to focus on, not just going after those responsible for Thursday's attack at the airport, but also for those -- to evacuate as many Americans who are left in the country and Afghan allies as possible.

RAJU: And, Arlette, we have some breaking news right now. President Biden is on his way to Dover Air Force Base, it sounds like.

SAENZ: The White House says President Biden is heading to Dover Air Force Base to meet with the families and for that difficult dignified transfer process of the 13 U.S. service members who were killed in that blast on Thursday in Afghanistan. The president and the first lady will be on hand for those dignified transfers.

While this will be the first time that Biden is participating in a dignified transfer as commander in chief, he has gone to Dover in the past as vice president in the waning days of his vice-presidency. He was on hand for another dignified transfer for someone who had been killed in a suicide bomb attack at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan in 2016.

But certainly, this will be a very solemn and somber moment for this president as he meets with those families and also is on hand for those dignified transfers of those 13 U.S. service members lost in Afghanistan.

RAJU: A solemn moment for any president especially after Thursday's horrific attack. We'll keep monitoring that as it progresses. Arlette Saenz at the White House, thank you.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is monitoring the situation. He's from Doha, Qatar.

Nick, the U.S. has evacuated nearly 120,000 people, nearly all of them Afghan nationals. Put that in perspective for us. How many Afghans want to get out of the country?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Quite possibly as many if not more. The problem really is how broadly the SIV application process can potentially apply to many Afghans still in Afghanistan. Even airport staff working on this evacuation process, I was told by a source familiar with the situation, were getting, quote, tons of messages from Afghans who still wanted to leave.

This is going to be a pressing issue for tens of thousands of Afghans moving forward and they will, as I think many U.S. officials have accept, many they were not able to help. The question will be after August 31st, Tuesday, or by when we should see the entire U.S. military departure from the airport, how quickly will civilian flights open up and will the Taliban prevent those on the SIV application list from, for example, leaving the country. That will be a fraught process for themselves.

The evacuation as it stands at the moment is enormously tapering down from the process they were at a week ago. The last numbers given out for the 12-hour period most recently suggests only 1,400 people have been taken off the base by the United States and 600 by their allies. Still, 2,000, quite a significant number, but nothing like the 20,000 in 24 hours we've seen earlier.

How many are left on the base? The Pentagon said yesterday 1400 were there. It's not clear if that's the same 1,400 they lastly reported leaving. I understand as of yesterday, still miraculously still getting on through the gets, pulled through the gates was the phrase, U.S. troops even after the damage of the blast Thursday, still risking themselves putting people in.

It's dropped remarkably, the level of evacuation. There's nothing like it. We are seeing the focus turning toward the military, retrograde they call it. It had begun, yesterday, we were told by the Pentagon, or the Pentagon admitted it had been begun yesterday, I should say, putting equipment onto aircraft. We've just seen on open source tracking, C-17 has left the airport at this stage.

I think we'll get less and less details how that retrograde is progressing over the days ahead. But bear in mind really tomorrow is most likely the last day there. I will be very doubtful if the pentagon chose to run up right against the 31st of August deadline given both the heightened security risks and how their evacuation now appears to be ebbing significantly -- Manu.

RAJU: For our viewers seeing the screen, they're seeing Joint Base Andrews along with Biden's wife Jill getting on Air Force One heading over to Dover Air Force Base to deal with the arrival of the dignified transfer ceremony, solemn arrival of the victims, service members, 13 who were killed in Thursday's horrific suicide bombing near the Kabul airport.


Nick Paton Walsh from Doha, thank you for your reporting from the ground.

And joining me now with her reporting and her insight is Nancy Youssef. She covers national security issues for "The Wall Street Journal".

So, Nancy, talk about what happened over the weekend. This missile strike on ISIS-K ordered by President Biden, two operatives were killed. Does that degrade ISIS-K's capabilities at all in any way?

NANCY YOUSSEF, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: So, the United States military said that they struck planners and facilitators. But they haven't told us who these were who were killed, or where they fit within the hierarchy of the Islamic State. So it's hard to determine the impact of these strikes on the capability and strength of the Islamic state.

Moreover, when we talk about the Islamic state in Afghanistan, we often think of them in a monolithic way. But they are factions within the Islamic State. Until we know more details about who was struck and where they fit within the Islamic State, it's really hard to determine if this has an enduring impact, if these are people who can shape future operations or if it's more a symbolic move in response to the tragic events of Thursday.

RAJU: Nancy, listen to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described what he sees as situation on the ground.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS. We're probably going to have to go back in when al Qaeda resurrect itself. I started that we're trying to get our troops out of there, but the bottom line is we can leave the battlefield, but we can't leave the war on terrorism.


RAJU: So, Nancy, do your sources agree that the U.S. may have to go back in?

YOUSSEF: So, a couple things. Remember that when the U.S. came up with this counterterrorism strategy after its withdrawal, it was really contingent on the availability of the U.S.-trained Afghan national security forces and Afghan intelligence officers. Of course, both have disappeared with the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.

And so, the U.S. will depend on things like drones and signals intelligence to try to keep an eye on the rise of extremist groups in Afghanistan from afar. And so, the question of whether the U.S. would have to come in, it seems that is contingent on two things. If we see strikes emanating from Afghanistan against targets outside of it, and if the U.S. finds that the intelligence that it's able to gain from afar is not enough to monitor and keep these groups under check.

And so it's something I think everybody will be monitoring. There are so many challenges that come with it because, again, this is not just one or two terror groups. These are several terror groups, and there is a power vacuum in Afghanistan now with the fall of the government.

And if the Taliban is not able to fill it fully, it will likely lead to the rise of other extremist groups that can also operate in that country, making intelligence gathering, making curtailing the threat from that country all the more complicated.

RAJU: And, Nancy, so many of these people, men and women who died from after the attack were so young. They didn't even know a world before 9/11.

Here we're putting up a picture of Marine Sergeant Nicole Gee, cradling an infant. She was a toddler when this war began.

YOUSSEF: Yeah, I think what was so heartbreaking in that photo she posted, I love my job. The oldest amongst those lost Thursday was 31. The most common age among them was 20.

So some were not born when the 9/11 attacks happened, some were children. All of them were actually only children when the attack happened.

The other thing that struck me, not only their ages, but the enormous task we put on such young shoulders. These service members were being asked to not only guard the gate and figure out who should be let in, but deal with thousands of people a day at their most desperate point and help facilitate their passage way out of Afghanistan, and the task that we put on them is really quite overwhelming.

And you could see in their photos and in the stories from the families, they took a lot of pride on a mission that was predicated on helping others, helping allies and not going to war, but trying to bring peace to those who had helped the United States throughout the war of their lifetimes.

RAJU: Such a tragedy all the way around. Our hearts go out to their families.

Nancy Youssef, thank you so much for your reporting.

And we're going back to the White House. Kaitlan Collins joins us now.

Tell us more about what Joe Biden's plans are. You're seeing pictures on the screen of him on air force one about to take off, head on over to Dover Air Force Base.


What are you learning, Kaitlan? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Manu, this

is the first time obviously that President Biden has done this since taking office. And it is often one of the most somber aspects of the entire presidency, is going and greeting these families who have just gotten the worst news they could possibly get. And, of course, now, we do expect it to be the families of these 13 U.S. service members who were killed this week in Afghanistan.

And the president and the first lady, you just saw them climbing the steps of Air Force One to make their way to Dover Air Force base where you will see this dignified transfer take place.

Just to give you a little history on this, it's only been since 2009 that the Pentagon has allowed these ceremonies, in part, to be photographed. Obviously, the families are not shown out of a respect for privacy. They have to sign off on the media's presence actually being there around Dover Air Force Base for these ceremonies. And this is where the president and several of his aides who are joining him on the flight today will go and then greet these families on the tarmac.

You will see the military planes, often a C-17 come. That is where you see the cargo hold is open and they bring out these flag-draped coffins of service members killed in action out of the ceremony, ceremony where their families are often seated nearby. Of course, one of the bravest aspects of this entire day for them since they got that phone call finding out one of their loved ones has been killed.

And so, obviously, President Biden is no stranger to this. He was vice president for eight years. But this is the first time since being president that he will actually take part in one of these ceremonies.

We believe this is the first time, Manu, that he's going to come face to face with several of these families, of these 13 who were killed this week. So young, ranging from ages 20 to 31.

And often these ceremonies which are done by the military at Dover, you will see they go up into the cargo, often a prayer is said, they bring the coffins down and they are taken to their final destination where they will be buried.

It is an incredibly grave situation. I remember John Kelly, when he was chief of staff, General Kelly, he was talking about his own experience with this, given his son was killed in Afghanistan. And he was talking about just what the aftermath of this is like and just, you know, how solemn it is for these families.

One thing he said was the most significant and most meaningful parts of it was hearing from his son's friends who had served with him overseas, saying those were the calls that meant the most to him after finding out this news. Of course, as we've seen the stories of these 13 people, so young, some of them with children on the way, some of them had just been married, talking of future aspirations, it is one of the gravest parts of the entire job of being president.

And so, we will see President Biden there just in a few moments greeting these families. RAJU: And we're going to see, watching Air Force One take off from

Joint Base Andrews to Dover Air Force Base.

Kaitlan, do we expect the president to make any remarks today publicly about what happened here, about the incident from Thursday and about his meetings with these families?

COLLINS: I don't anticipate, Manu, that we'll hear from him before, of course. He will likely spend time with the families. This is one of the things people -- allies of the president talked about when he was running his ability to be able to connect with people in moments like this.

Of course, he is the president himself who has experienced a lot of loss, and so unfortunately, he has a lot of history with this. And can often connect with families in a way that is often really difficult for a lot of presidents who have to deal with moments of such gravity as this one.

And so, we may hear from him later on today, of course. We know that this has been something that really shook the west wing after this suicide blast happened earlier this week, given as they found out about the fatalities and the casualties that happened for U.S. service members.

And so we could hear from him after potentially, maybe tomorrow or later this week on what this is like for him. But we know, you know, after we found out that they had been killed on Thursday, when he came and spoke to us in the White House, he said it had been a really tough day, and that is how aides described it as well. Just a really somber, quiet mood in the west wing as they had to grapple with this.

And we should note, Manu, the president talked about why he is getting out of Afghanistan. He is also someone who carries around a card with him of those who have been killed serving. And now, 13 more names have been added to that list, unfortunately. And so, it is just an incredibly solemn and grave day here at the White House where the ceremony is going to happen.

And so, right now, you see Air Force One taking off. They are going to go to Dover Air Force Base. It's the president and the first lady. A few other aides are joining him there. Of course, it will be a very tragic day for those families who are going to be there, receiving the remains of their loved ones.

MANU: Yeah, we're seeing Air Force -- Joe Biden taking off on Air Force One, along with Joe Biden.

So much more on this very, very busy news morning.


We'll be right back with more.


RAJU: We're following multiple breaking stories this morning.

Sustained hurricane force winds are being felt in extreme southeastern Louisiana. Hurricane Ida has strengthened to nearly a category 5 storm and is hitting Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

CNN's Derek Van Dam is in southwest of New Orleans, in Houma, Louisiana.

What are you seeing, Derek, on the ground?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, Manu, this is the stuff of nightmares. I used to tell my kids monsters didn't exist. What we have woken up to this morning is indeed a monster and it's staring us in the face only 100 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi. Basically the same distance from where I'm standing.

What we are experiencing now periodic heavy rainfall. The wind is consistently increasing. So you'll occasionally see some of the trees starting to whip around. I don't know how well you can see this on your TV screens, but the clouds are moving very quickly in the distance as major Hurricane Ida approaches and nears this particular area. Anywhere that water touches land, whether it's in the sky or from the ocean, will be impacted from the storm.

But we also know that the storm doesn't stop at the coast. Impacts will be felt well inland. So Baton Rouge, we're talking to you. We're talking about up into northern Louisiana as well. This storm will slowly progress through that area.

Last-minute preps, they need to be done. They've taken in lots of the furniture from the hotel that we're staying at. By the way, we do have a safe shelter to back away from the storm if need be, by the way.

And tropical storm force winds, this is interesting. Extending 140 miles from the center, hurricane force winds out 40 miles as the storm continues to literally breathe and strengthen as it fuels from the strong warm ocean waters.


We know this impending disaster is unfolding on the backdrop of our COVID pandemic. Low vaccination rates, about 41 percent in the state of Louisiana, and high hospitalization rates. We talked to a nurse who was born and raised in Houma, Louisiana, and she told us that she's only been evacuated once from her hospital and that was Katrina. This time there are no open beds in the regional hospitals here, so there are nowhere for patients to go -- Manu.

RAJU: Derek Van Dam in Houma, Louisiana, stay safe and keep us posted as you monitor throughout the hour.

Joining us here in the bureau with the reporting and their insight, Catherine Lucey of "The Wall Street Journal", CNN's Phil Mattingly, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," and Rachael Bade of "Politico". Jon, you just left New Orleans, basically a New Orleans resident

yourself. How much anxiety is there on the ground and are they prepared this time around?

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes to the latter, more so than with past hurricanes because there were a few days. There was a mad exodus yesterday I-10 east and west. It was full.

And, look, the city and state means a lot to me and my family. I think it's important for every American watching to realize how in dispensable New Orleans, Louisiana, is to the American family. This is a city that has offered so much to the country and the world. Culture, food, music, it goes on and on.

I just hope folks watching this at home will keep the state and city in mind and do everything they can in the days and weeks to come. Just think back to those Sugar Bowls, Mardi grass and jazz fests you went to, and just think how important that is to this country, because the state and city are going to need a lot of help.

RAJU: Yeah, let's hope these things start much better than, of course, what we saw in Katrina almost 15 years ago to the day.

Phil, this is another crisis for the president on the heels of Afghanistan and so much else.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, a slow August has not existed at all for that White House, and, you know, kind of a chuckling line, because it's been day after day, week after week of extraordinarily serious events, critical events, and in some cases crisis events.

I think when you talk to White House officials, these are the types of specific moments they believe the president was kind of made for, right? They are folks who worked in government before, they know government quite well. The president obviously does, his team, they know how bureaucracy works and they think they can put it into effect.

It's what they thought he brought to the table much better than his predecessor and where they think that they can shine. Now, the president made clear this is a focus of his. He made it clear in the briefing. He made it clear through this entire process.

FEMA is very, very active on the ground there and that is also a key component as well. You never want something else on the plate when you're dealing with so many things at one time.

RAJU: Yeah, how are they going to balance all this?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Also for this White House, there is an additional degree of difficulty, right, with this hurricane because it comes amidst COVID, hospitals are full. That's a really big additional challenge as we see -- as this unfolds in the coming hours and days, how that's going to impact the response and sort of the human toll here. So I think that this White House is prepared. The president is getting

briefings. He's updated. They do really feel like they are prepared, they are offering support. But that just adds this extra element here that we're going to have to watch closely.

RAJU: Yeah -- go ahead, Rachael.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I was going to say you mentioned COVID. I mean, in addition to Afghanistan and this hurricane, I mean, just this week, we saw the number of hospitalizations rates, 100,000 people for COVID cases for the first time since January. I mean, you got to wonder like, what is the next shoe to drop? It's a tough month for the White House.

And not to sound crass and talk about politics at a moment like this, from a political standpoint, this is a time President Biden wants to be talking about his legislative agenda. He just had a huge victory at the end of July, early August about infrastructure. They got a big schedule in the fall, and right now they can't talk about any of that because there are these emergencies right now and he has to deal with those.

MARTIN: But it's a great testament to the long established tradition in this country that every presidency is defined by external events, that no president goes in their administration planning for, right?

RAJU: Yeah.

MARTIN: It's just -- George W. Bush was not planning for the attacks of 9/11 obviously, and I don't think President Trump was planning for a global pandemic when he ran in 2016.

But this is what presidents and legacies are made of. It's not necessarily your agenda. It's how you respond to crises in the world and at home. And this is going to be a defining few months for President Biden.

RAJU: Yeah, Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago, I said 15 years ago since it slammed into New Orleans. And, of course, George W. Bush was not ready for that. And that is one hallmark moment of his --

MARTIN: And you can track the Bush decline in some ways from August 29, 2005.

RAJU: Yeah, and more of that coming up. Stick with us.

More on the crisis at home and abroad, and question, are Americans losing confidence in the Biden administration?



RAJU: These have been the most difficult days of Joe Biden's young presidency. 13 U.S. service members are dead and the president warning that another attack is, quote, "highly likely". Republicans are demanding answers about the rushed pullout and the

devastating suicide attack.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Look, I'm extremely frustrated with this president.

It was a partisan politic decision to act in haste days prior to a tragic anniversary. And our men in uniform died as a result. There will be a day of reckoning.


RAJU: Now the Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell struck a different tone in his statement saying this murderous attack offers the clearest possible reminder that terrorists will not stop fighting the U.S. just because our politicians grow tired of fighting them. "I remain concerned that terrorists worldwide will be emboldened by" -- our panel.

Rachael, you know, this is what the president, course, campaigned on the idea that his foreign policy credentials set him apart from Donald Trump. This has obviously been a very devastating, deadly episode, the attack over the weekend, that suicide attack that occurred on Thursday.

How much damage is this doing to Joe Biden right now?

BADE: I mean look, I think when the crisis first began, the White House was pretty confident -- or not confident but sort of thought perhaps if nobody died and they could get everybody out quickly, that this would be sort of just a blip in the radar for his presidency and that people would move on.

I mean Americans generally we see in polls, they don't really follow foreign policy. But now with 13 American soldiers dead, this was clearly going to be perhaps defining moment for his legacy.


BADE: And that's why you heard White House officials calling this specifically the worst day of his presidency last week.

And again we just played these clips of Republicans. I think the party right now is -- you know, again not to sound crass, but they are seeing it as a way that they can attack this president.

And so you're going to hear leaders talk about it. There's a lot of questions right now about, you know, the U.S. reliance on the Taliban. We had some reporting earlier this week about, you know, a list of American names and Afghan allies that were shared with the Taliban in hopes that they would help evacuate them.

But already Republicans and even some Democrats on the Hill are saying, wait a second, why do we do this? We need to have oversight of this. This was a bad idea.

And so there's going to be, again, oversight of the president and potentially if Republicans flip the house next year, we could see them do a bigger, fuller Benghazi style investigation.


RAJU: Yes. And they're already signaling that's what they will do if they do take back the House, investigate what happened here in Afghanistan.

But Catherine, the White House it seems to be betting, at least it appears that this will not become a major issue in the midterms. You explored this dynamic in the "Wall Street Journal" this morning.

LUCEY: Yes. Well, a colleague and I we tried to go and look and see what the public was really saying about what was unfolding. And we talked to voters in Pennsylvania and in Georgia to try and talk to them about how they felt about this. And we talked to people both before and after the explosion on Thursday.

And really what we saw was broadly -- and this is what the White House will say -- broadly, Americans support the exit. Most people we talked to felt like it was time to get out. You know, we've been here long enough but this was -- they did not want to see American boots on the ground.

But how people felt about the evacuation and whether they blame the president was kind of the key difference. So -- and that did tend to fall more along party lines. So Democrats tended to be more sympathetic to the idea that it was always going to be messy. There wasn't another way to do this and said that they still really stood with the president whereas Republicans were more critical.

And so I think we'll see how this plays out. Obviously this isn't over yet. The White House is really betting I think on the idea that if they can finish the evacuation, they get out, they can say this -- you know, and the president is making his argument that we don't want to see more loss of life. The reason we are getting out.

They're going to keep trying to come back to the big argument which is the reason we're getting out is we don't want to see more loss of life. It is not our place to be there. They're hoping that that argument does resonate with people.

And to Rachael's point, they do really think that ultimately top line issues with people are the economy, COVID -- and those are the things they need to keep --


RAJU: Well you know, at the same time this is not just only issue when you have surging --


MARTIN: Right.

RAJU: -- crisis (ph) of inflation. You're seeing COVID cases rising, the eviction moratorium got struck down by the Supreme Court over the weekend. This has been difficult period obviously.

MARTIN: Well, the honeymoon is obviously over, Manu, to put it mildly here.

RAJU: Yes.

MARTIN: Look, I think six month from now obviously, the images from Afghanistan will still be around but I think most Americans tend to focus on their own priorities in their own lives and how they're faring.

And I think that's why the economy and COVID is so key here. I think the most ominous numbers for Biden, if you look at the last couple of weeks in polling is the hit he's taken over his handling of COVID. That's the issue as far as all the policy issues and for most Independents, it's really swift.

And I think that that's his biggest challenge. Because it's easy to understand. Most Americans look at this with a one-sentence view. "I thought COVID was over," period. And the fact that it's not, obviously, you can't put that at Biden's feet.

But the day to day lived experience, if you will, for a lot of Americans, is why is this thing back? I thought it was over.


LUCEY: But also President Biden came out on July 4th and held a big event at the White House, with tons of people and said, you know, we're declaring independence from the virus and we're moving forward.

And so I think -- and he ran as someone who was going to get control of the virus. So I think people are really looking to him for that.

RAJU: And even as someone also who is -- to reimpose competence in government --


RAJU: -- and this is -- Afghanistan.

MARTIN: Maybe you don't like me, but look, I'm not going to be embarrassed. I think (INAUDIBLE) with dumb tweets and his -- look, here we go. You know, soaring inflation, COVID is back, awful images abroad.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I think this is the key point, right? If you went through the first five months, you passed the $1.9 trillion rescue plan rather quickly. COVID was -- felt like it was defeated, I think to a lot of Americans. Your legislative agenda which was sweeping and somewhat transformative seemed like it was mostly on track. And then over the course of the last five, six weeks it just seems

like it's taken left hook, right hook, left hook.

Here's I think the dynamics at play. I think everything is extraordinarily fluid. You know the legislative situation better than anything. There are no shortage of pitfalls there but still on track.

Inflation -- not as transitory as people thought.

MARTIN: Right.

MATTINGLY: However, you know, we're still obviously paying a lot of attention to that.

I think on the Afghanistan issue, everything changed with the suicide attack. And I know that's not a revelatory statement here.


MATTINGLY: But the White House thought that if they could just get to the 31st while evacuating more than 100,000 people or helping that process out, the overarching argument that the president has never waivered on, which is that people support withdrawal, would end up winning the day and the domestic achievements and domestic path forward on legislative affairs would be far more important.

When 13 people die, even though they knew it was very possible and it was the biggest risk, people will remember that. And I think when you talk to White House officials, you correct me if I'm wrong here, over the course of the last 48 hours, they've been very cognizant, not of the political implications, but this just -- it changed everything in this moment.

RAJU: And listen to how a Republican who has been obviously one of the most outspoken critics of Donald Trump talked about what was happening in Afghanistan and what Biden should do.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I think There needs to be accountability and I think frankly President Biden needs to take better ownership of this. That's what Americans want. They want leaders who take responsibilities.


RAJU: I mean is there -- is anyone going to be held accountable, do you think?

LUCEY: This is I think one of the issues for the White House in terms of moving on from this is that this isn't going to go away on the 31st, both in terms of obviously there will be continued efforts to get anyone left out.

But also there's going to be these hearings. Republicans are going to be pushing for information. Democrats -- there are Democrats who also want more information.

And so the White House, will I think, be held to these standards. And that's going to be I think they're going to keep hearing here (ph).


RAJU: And the Republicans have been -- in Afghanistan in particular, have had interesting -- they've been divided themselves although they have been on the offensive here, attacking what Biden did.

Kevin McCarthy last week said Biden will, quote, "face a reckoning". But McCarthy himself actually backed Donald Trump's effort to pull back troops from Afghanistan.

Here's what he said in a February 2020 tweet. He said, "After nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, the administration is working toward closing this chapter. Today's announcement is a positive step but the Taliban must prove to the world that they are ready for peace."

He was asked about his apparently differing positions at a news conference last week.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said he shouldn't be negotiating with the Taliban. Trump did that too, to be clear. So I mean was it wrong when he did --

MCCARTHY: Trump also had conditions. And he upheld the conditions. Trump never gave the names of Americans to the Taliban. Trump has never left Blackhawk helicopters more than Australia has.


RAJU: How are they going to be able to walk that line, Rachael?

BADE: I mean look, I think you know, President Biden's political issues on this are clearly front and center. But Republicans, they have their own issues on this matter.

I mean you're seeing this sort of divide play out in the party right now where you have some of the Trump wing wanting to make this an anti-immigration issue and suggest that, you know, President Biden did this on purpose so he could bring Afghans here and change the, quote, "body politics". I mean these conspiracy theories, clearly.

And then you have Republicans who want to talk about we have a duty to these Afghans who helped American troops. We need to bring them here to safety.

And so these are colliding talking points. And again, this is still the party of Trump. And so it's a really awkward situation for Republicans who may want to hold, you know, Biden accountable but have their own problems internally.

LUCEY: You're also going to keep seeing I think this distinction between the exit and the execution of the exit, right.

RAJU: Yes.


LUCEY: So I think that's the key thing is Republicans and Democrats can say look, we support the big picture plan but how you did it. What was the advice? What were generals telling you? What was the planning?

RAJU: Yes. And no question, the next few days so, so critical here as the final Americans try to evacuate, as Afghans try to evacuate. What happens there. We'll have more on that in just a few minutes.

But more on our breaking news this hour. The Louisiana coast already feeling the effects of Hurricane Ida. The center of the strong category 4 storm is still out in the Gulf of Mexico and expected to make landfall this afternoon.

The National Hurricane Center is warning of heavy rainfall, catastrophic wind damage and life-threatening storm surge.

Now let's get the very latest on the situation in New Orleans from CNN's Nadia Romero. Nadia, what are you seeing on the ground?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Manu, we know this storm is rapidly intensifying and we're feeling it now. We're finally getting some really heavy rain as Hurricane Ida barrels toward us.

So I'm on iconic Bourbon Street. And normally this would be full with people walking around, walking about. This place never shuts down except for now because of a hurricane.

All of these shops are boarded up, closed up. You can see the sand bags lining in front of these different taverns and bars and restaurants, getting ready for the storm.

Especially when people heard that this could be worse than Hurricane Katrina. Katrina was a category 3. Hurricane Ida coming n as a category 4 storm with 150 mile per hour wind but that could go up. It could get upgraded to a category 5.

And just think of it this way, Manu. Yesterday, the storm was about 80 miles per hour yesterday. Now 150. So that's how quickly the storm is intensifying.

And we met people who were planning a vacation and decided to come anyways, not really sure if the storm would materialize, deciding to roll the dice. They did.

And listen to how one family, a group of family members and friends, how they're faring in the storm. After surviving Superstorm Sandy, they were without power for two weeks. Now they're here in New Orleans stuck.





BERESFORD: No flights out. No flights out. So we're stuck.


ROMERO: So what is the plan?

BERESFORD: Hunker down in the hotel. Try to enjoy it as much as possible, whatever is open or whatever is there at the hotel.


ROMERO: So you heard them saying that they just have to see what happens. They're going to have to ride out the storm.

Now they are in a hotel. They say they are a few floors up so they feel pretty good about things. But they've been through storms before. They've never been through a hurricane. So this will be different for that family.

And so many people waited until the last minute to try to get out of town. The highways all around this area look like parking lots and the airport is now shutdown.

So if you're here, you're going to be here to ride out the storm for the long haul, Manu.

RAJU: Nadia Romero in New Orleans on Bourbon Street. Stay safe. Keep us posted.

And up next for us here. More than 1,200 deaths a day from COVID-19 in the U.S. Listen to this -- this Mississippi nurse pleads with her community to get vaccinated.


JENNIFER MCDAVID, EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT RN, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM: It's frustrating. It's infuriating. It's very taxing on the staff to have compassion. Of course, we still do at the bedside. But you just want to scream and beg and plead for these people because the ones that are in here are unvaccinated.




RAJU: This was supposed to be the summer we declared freedom from the coronavirus. Well, summer is almost over and nearly every county in the U.S. has seen high levels of spread as the delta variant surges. More people are dying now than at any time since March but just a fraction of Americans were vaccinated. Now, 61 percent of Americans have at least one shot.

Meanwhile judges in two of the hardest hit states say school districts can require masks if they choose. And that's a blow to Republican governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott who have sought to block any mask requirement.

Joining us now is CNN medical analyst Dr. Reiner. Dr. Reiner, look at these charts, the hospitalizations in Florida and Texas, showing that a record number of kids hospitalized in those states in Florida and Texas.

How much do you think of that rise is attributed to a lack of mask mandates, sir?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: A lot of it. So our kids, particularly our kids under 12 are the most vulnerable population right now. Not a single child in the United States under 12 is vaccinated.

And we're sending them back to schools where in most places teachers aren't required to have vaccinations and in places where mask mandates aren't universal, particularly places like Florida and Texas.

And that's the largest sort of growth area for the virus in this country. And this leaves us at a very sort of perilous inflection point.

Whereas you said we have more deaths now than we've had since the darkest days of the winter. There are signs in the United States that the virus is slowing. The one-week growth rate is only 8 percent. And for the first six weeks of the summer, the cases were doubling every ten days.

But kids are going back to school. And that is the fuel for this fire.


RAJU: Yes.

DR. REINER: And unless we protect them, the train will go back in the other direction.

RAJU: And take a look at these numbers in Florida. Poll numbers out of Florida about mask mandates in public schools. This is what it says: 60 percent support, 38 percent oppose, according to a Quinnipiac poll from last week.


RAJU: Jonathan, why do you think that Ron DeSantis is making this such a big issue?

MARTIN: Yes. I've been struck by not just DeSantis, but a lot of these GOP governors and even candidates like, you know, for example in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin (ph) is running against Terry McAuliffe this fall, sort of making this a hill to die on, being opposed to vaccine mandates, particularly to vaccine mandates or the mask mandates because obviously that's the best way out of this, is to get folks vaccinated.

I find it puzzling. I think that they're beholden to a base which they assume is probably more hard core on this issue than they are in reality.

I think that there's a larger group, perhaps a silent majority, if you will, of voters in this country who aren't sure were ideological who just want to get back to normal --


MARTIN: -- and who largely avoid the vaccine is the way to do that. It needs mandating it, so be it. And I think that they're making a very risky political choice here, Manu.

MATTINGLY: And if you want to know why the White House -- there are very real policy and public health reasons why the White House has changed its posture and been a little bit more sharper in terms of attacking Ron DeSantis in particular but also Governor Abbott. It's because they see these numbers. They are worried about the political ramifications of going on offense about masking in schools right now.

They are keenly aware, not only are there major, major public health concerns about kids going back to school in the middle of delta, and the case surge that Dr. Reiner is talking about. But they feel like they're on very politically solid ground.

And it made it very clear to me at least that they will continue to have this fight. It probably escalated in the days ahead.


RAJU: And Dr. Reiner, you know, we're seeing this hurricane bear down in Louisiana, that's one of the hardest hit states in the country on COVID.

How worried are you about this making a really bad situation worse?

DR. REINER: Yes. I had a conversation with a colleague who works at Ochsner, you know, in New Orleans. And you know he is a -- as you said, a grizzled veteran of hurricanes, and he is worried.

The problem now is that whereas in prior hurricanes, you would transfer patients to higher ground, so to speak, there is no places to send patients now. All the hospitals in the south are filled.

So, all the hospitals in New Orleans and in Mississippi and in the path of this hurricane are filled with people now who can't be moved. And if there are power outages or supply outages or problems getting oxygen to hospitals, people are going to die.

Just read, you know, "Five Days at Memorial" about what happened in one hospital during Katrina. I'm very worried about it.

BADE: And one thing we're hearing from the White House, I'm sure Phil has as well, is that they are somewhat encouraged that, you know, vaccination rates are going up. They've seen those numbers increase in August. But I think the question and the doctor (INAUDIBLE) as well is, is that enough as you deal with the return to school? And some of these other issues. Does that counter what could be another pressure on increasing cases?


MARTIN: But there is a real time experiment in the city of New Orleans which now has a very strict vax mandate. I was there all last week. You cannot go into a restaurant or any business in that city and sit down and not have your vaccine card checked.

And they're very strict about it going (INAUDIBLE) -- that's the real force --


RAJU: Right.

MATTINGLY: And cases are dropping in Louisiana.

MARTIN: Cases are falling and more importantly in the city of New Orleans, the vaccine rate is now soaring because I think people said I just got to do it.

RAJU: There's so much to watch here on a very busy morning.

Thank you all for joining us.

And thank you for tuning in with us this morning. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS.

Join us back here every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern and the weekday show noon Eastern as well.

Up next a special two-hour "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper. His guests include Senator Mitt Romney, Congressmen Peter Meijer and Seth Moulton.

And of course, stay tuned to CNN all day long for the latest on Hurricane Ida.

Thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning with us.