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Antony Blinken: Taliban Says Americans with Travel Docs Can Leave; Joe Biden Arrives in New Jersey to Tour IDA Storm Damage; Democrat Senator: "Furious" at U.S. Inaction to Help Afghan Allies; Joe Biden: Losses We Witnessed Today are "Profound". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 07, 2021 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Big COVID fears as Labor Day passes and kids sent back to school. No big deal if done safely but doctors worry. Classroom spread will fuel in case explosions?


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, BIDEN CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: We've got to get the school system masked, in addition to surround me to children with vaccinated people. That's the solution. We don't need to see a big uptick at all in cases, if we do it right.


KING: Plus, a trust exercise with the Taliban. The Secretary of State says he's relying on assurances from former enemies, that it is just bureaucracy, not a hostage drama, delaying flights for Americans still waiting to get out of Afghanistan. And the Texas Governor signs new voting restrictions into law this hour. It's the latest right? We're tilting to state now central to most of the big 2022 campaign fights.

But first is our President Biden on the road to get a first-hand look at IDA's wrath. He's just landed in New Jersey where he was met at the airport by the Democratic Governor Phil Murphy. The president will see the damage from the historic flooding.

We know at least 52 people died across six Northeastern States stop one is Hillsborough Township, New Jersey, which was submerged with floodwaters last Wednesday night, then to New York City's Queens where nearly a dozen people were killed after being trapped in flooded basements.

The presidential visit follows new federal disaster declarations for states, freeing up money desperately needed for repairs and rebuilding. Let's get straight to CNN's Athena Jones; she joins us live from Manville, New Jersey. And you can see behind you Athena, there is a lot of rebuilding a lot of hurts ahead?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. This is what the president is coming to see firsthand damage like this. The reason we're seeing this, this house having to be completely cleared out is because the water line here at this property would reach at least over nine feet far above my head. And so they have been cleaning out they of course had to evacuate in the quickly rising floodwaters waters last week.

And so this is the kind of damage the president is going to be touring. As you mentioned he's already landed, he's on his way to that first briefing he's having in nearby Hillsborough Township, we know that Governor Phil Murphy not only greeted him at the airport, but is riding in the beasts with the president.

Of course, probably giving him an idea of some of the things he wants to ask for the Governor saying yes, we know that President Biden has already provided disaster relief for six counties in New Jersey, but there are other counties that are affected. And so we know that he plans to discuss that with the president.

As you mentioned, this area is one of the hardest hit parts of the State of New Jersey, a lot of the folks who died in New Jersey died because they because they were in their vehicles. And they were caught in rising floodwaters and of course, again, the flood damage.

I spoke to the resident here, he said, what he wants to hear from state leaders and federal government is that they're going to be there to offer long term support, because repairing this kind of damage is going to take a long time? This is something we heard Governor Murphy address on new day this morning. Listen to some of what he had to say.


GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): The message has to be number one, as he's been saying; we're going to be with you as you get back on your feet as long as that journey may take. Both the state government and the federal government will be by your side and secondly, if ever - if never before, the argument is overwhelmingly compelling for Congress to act on climate resiliency infrastructure.


JONES: And so certainly you heard the Governor talking about infrastructure that is something we certainly expect to hear from President Biden. This is of course, part of his agenda, part of what he's trying to push through on Capitol Hill.

But we'll make the point that, you know, one in three Americans has been affected by extreme weather just in the last few months, and that no one is immune from climate change. You're going to need a long term investment in infrastructure improvements to help keep this kind of tragedy from happening again, John.

KING: Jones, grateful you're on the ground for us. It's terrific seeing behind you appreciate the on the scene reporting. And with me now to continue the conversation is the Westchester County Executive, George Latimer Mr. Latimer grateful for your time today.

Let's walk through this as the president visits let start with today or yesterday, what do you need today or yesterday, and then we can have a longer term conversation?

GEORGE LATIMER, WESTCHESTER COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Well, I think what the president did by signing the executive order helps us because now we have FEMA representatives in our county as they are elsewhere along the path of Hurricane IDA, so that our individual people who've been affected by this can start to fill out applications start to document what they've lost, and reimbursements will follow.

It won't be automatic. We've had a lot of lives uprooted by the storm. And then also from the public side of it, the roadways that have been affected the public facilities as well. So that support is essential. And we're pleased that the president is here and our members of Congress are here, United States Senators here in New York, Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand that they're putting their shoulder to the wheel so that the folks get the help they need.

KING: And you see the pictures of some of the flooding here and you know, there were these conversations after Superstorm Sandy, that, hey, look, hurricane seasons are different, hey, even the Northeast is getting pounded here by these, you know, wanting to fit what used to be one of every 50 years or one in every 100 year storm.

What needs to - what does the conversation have to be whether you're a county executive in suburban New York, as you are the President of the United States or member of the United States Congress? What are the longer term conversations that perhaps should have started a long time ago that must start today?

LATIMER: Well, there are certain structural fixes that we have to deal with, and local governments, towns, villages, cities, boroughs; counties don't have the financial to do many of the capital projects that are necessary.


LATIMER: For that we need state and particularly federal assistance. The major waterways have to be made more flexible to deal with these kinds of rain incidents when they happen, because there are more of them happening. And Hurricane IDA was particularly concerning because it didn't make landfall in this area, it made landfall down in New Orleans.

And I think most of us in the Northeast thought that it would be, you know, a bad day of rain, we had no idea we'd get the kind of intense rain. We look for those hurricanes where the either of the hurricane is going to landfall in New Jersey or Long Island or Connecticut as our main threat.

And so now we realize this threat is broad based, and we need a broad based national effort and infrastructure to help address it.

KING: One of the big conversations the president obviously wants to help. He also wants to build support for what he's trying to get through the Congress. And there are two pieces of that there's a bipartisan infrastructure bill that could have passed a couple of weeks ago, except there are progressives in the House who understandably say no, there's a bigger piece we want to pass as well.

So we're not giving you this until we're sure we can pass that. Two other Congressmen who say that two of the progressives happened to represent Westchester County, Jamaal Bowman and Mandir Jones, do you think they should change their view and get that bipartisan infrastructure bill passed ASAP and then move on to other things? Or are they right because some of the bigger climate pieces are in the so called reconciliation plan? Should they stick to that strategy?

LATIMER: Well, I think we need both pieces of legislation to pass and I'm not in a position sitting in local government to determine what's the best strategy to get it one bill to the Senate, the other bill through the House? So I rely on our Congressmen and Senators to do that negotiation. We're prepared to support sort of a wide swath of strategy.

But at the end of the day, we need both of those bills to pass if we're going to deal with the issues that are in front of us.

KING: I want you to listen to the New York City Mayor, you mentioned the FEMA folks are there and they can get people to help they need the emergency federal aid ASAP kind of a check on the spot if they can't. Listen to the mayor's view of what has to be done in the city.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): This disaster declaration is exactly what we need. But now comes the part of getting everyone the money they deserve. The city is going to send teams out to all affected areas door to door to make sure people sign up to cut through the red tape. People need money and they need it quick.


KING: Same approach in the suburbs go door to door do you set up community centers? And is there a COVID complication here that you don't want people bunched together waiting in line?

LATIMER: Well, I think because we have smaller governments, towns and villages as a much closer relationship between the neighborhood and the local government that would be doing the filing of some of this information in concert with FEMA.

I spent the last four days out in those communities with village mayors and town supervisors. So I think we've got the door to door a piece nailed down. We do think that FEMA's presence in our county today they're in two locations in our county right now that we'll be able to get that quick response as long as everybody understands it's urgent, because there are people that are totally without belongings and totally without a workable home as of this minute.

KING: George Latimer is the Westchester County Executive. Sir I know you're busy, grateful for your time on this important day to try to get through the recovery effort here. Appreciate it.

LATIMER: Thank you very much. KING: Thank you, sir. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, the Managing Editor at "AXIOS" Margaret Talev, the White House Correspondent for NPR, Ayesha Rascoe, and Senior Congressional Correspondent for "The Washington Post" Paul Kane,

The president -- you cover the White House is up there to make the case AI care. I'm here to touch you and hear your stories and promise you help. But he said before leaving the White House, he also hopes this gives a boost to the idea that you pass infrastructure, does it change his current plan, which is the democratic plan that we do these two together?

Where will the president say you know what these communities need help, let's get that money in the pipeline faster, and urge Democrats to change their strategy on keeping it all together?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: I don't think that he's going to urge them to change their strategy, because he is relying on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to know her caucus and to know what needs to get done. And I think that if they could have gotten infrastructure done, they would have gotten it done.

I think that they have to do this. They have to do this maneuvering, if they're going to get something through Congress.

KING: Is that correct in the sense that the Speaker just from notes from Manu Raju, our Chief Congressional Correspondent a while ago, she says, you know, despite all the public gloom and doom about this, that behind the scenes, people are doing their work and she's confident should she be?

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: She should be but there's an end of September deadline that she said that to the moderate Democrats Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey who is in an impacted area up there in North Jersey.

She told his group that by the end of September, she would allow that bipartisan infrastructure bill to go through. I don't see any way that the bigger $3.5 trillion package is anywhere close to being ready at that point. It is a massive, massive projects going to take a lot of time. So she is going to have to either split these two up or not, or wait on it.

KING: Bigger picture as we move into the fall. Now just past Labor Day, the president's had a tough few weeks. His agenda is in limbo and we'll see what happens if they can pull the votes out. The Democrats have done this in the past things look bad and things as Ron Klain says things die a lot. Then suddenly they get to the finish line.


KING: But for the president, how important are moments like this at a time when he's taken a few lately?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, so much attention has been focused on Afghanistan. But what do most Americans care about? And by the way, it's now the first week after Labor Day, so people are paying attention again, to what's happening at home.

Americans care about what's happening at home, particularly in a midterm year, it's about domestic politics, if he can show competency in a time of an emergency, if you can show compassion in a time of emergency, that only not only changes the narrative, but it tells people about what they care about most, which is what is happening in my home town?

Can the president take care of me here in the United States? He needs that but the infrastructure argument that he is going to make and he'll take all the emergency funding he can and throw it into the pipeline, it's money into the economy above everything else, is that if you - if when roads and bridges are that easily destroyed, you have to build it right the next time and we'll see him drill into that argument.

KING: All right. We'll continue the conversation a little bit. Up next for us the state of play in Afghanistan. Still Americans looking to get out and the Secretary of State say the Taliban are promising not to stand in the way.



KING: Today a slice of the new American reality in Afghanistan, there's a new caretaker government in Afghanistan named just moments ago. U.S. troops are gone so our most intelligence resources and that means the Biden Administration has to take the Taliban at its word.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We've been assured again, that all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave. And again, we intend to hold the Taliban to that. They've upheld that commitment in at least one instance in the last 24 hours with a family that was able to leave through an overland route. And we are not aware of anyone being held on an aircraft or any hostage like situation in Mazar-i-Sharif.


KING: Lawmakers in both parties though don't trust what the Taliban say. And they want the Biden Administration to demand plain stock. You heard Secretary of State say Mazar-i-Sharif be allowed to leave and be allowed to carry Americans and at risk Afghans to safety.

Our panel is back with us. Look, there's no choice now the troops are gone. So you have to work with the Taliban, which is complicated and many layers to it. But when the Secretary of State says essentially, they have assured us that it's just paperwork, that some of the people on that - some of the people waiting in Mazar-i-Sharif just don't have the paperwork to get out that they're not being denied. It's just bureaucracy. Do you trust that members of Congress say that's lunacy?

TALEV: Right? I mean, Tony Blinken is a diplomat. He is messaging to the Taliban. He's not messaging to the American electorate right now. And the way you conduct diplomacy is and I guess strategic diplomacy is different than the way you talk to U.S. voters.

I think his calculation is that this is who they're working with. And the best way for him to try to protect American safety and get the job done is to treat this government with enough respect that he is recognizing that this is who they are dealing with now.

But when you look at the caretaker government that was set up to that was established, this is a hardline government with members whose names we know, ties to the Haqqani Network, people in groups that the U.S. considers terror organizations.

And it's also, you know, a network of an affiliated government now standing up of without firm central control. And so they can - the Taliban can tell Tony Blinken one thing and someone else can do something else. So this is a precarious situation and it's not an ideal situation.

KING: And in that uncertainty, you have people making their arguments. Markwayne Mullin is a Republican member of Congress tried to get into Afghanistan. He was denied entry, but he is trying to help Americans and Afghan translators get out. He says essentially don't believe it. You just heard the Secretary of State.


REP. MARKWAYNE MULLIN (R-OK): We found ourselves not able to get her out to a - which is the Kabul International Airport. But when the administration says that every American that wanted out could get out. That's an absolute lie, because we're working with 27 - American citizens right now that I assure you all of them wanted out, and we couldn't get them out.


KING: Now, some will say that's a Republican criticizing the Democratic President. But this is from the Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, normally Biden ally, my staff and I have worked night and day to secure the safe passage of two planes waiting in Mazar-i-Sharif, to take American citizens at risk Afghan allies and their families to safety. I have been deeply frustrated, even furious at our governments delay and inaction.

The question understands the frustration and even the fury of both the Democrat and the Republican. What can the Biden Administration do when the Taliban say the Americans have their paperwork, and they could go, but a bunch of other people there don't have the proper paperwork. And we're not letting those planes take off with those people until they all have the right paperwork.

KANE: This is the biggest fear of the Biden Administration is that this begins to look like a hostage situation as bad as the last few weeks have been. Overall, the American public supported the policy of withdrawing from Afghanistan. They hated the images that they saw coming out of there of chaos of us losing troops. If this draws into an extended thing, where they're not letting these planes take off. And it really becomes the reason - it comes to resemble the hostage situation in 1979 and 1980. And you have this sort of Ted Koppel like day 74, day 75 and that could be really debilitating for this administration. But they need to figure this out somehow, and nip this in the bud in the next few weeks.

KING: And one of the questions when you're trying to negotiate with former enemies, the Taliban who are now in charge in Afghanistan, you have no choice to talk to them. The question is what are you willing to give? One of the things they would like is diplomatic recognition from the United States. The President of the United States yesterday said not yet anyway.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: That's a long way off. Thank you.


KING: So the president says that's a long way off the Secretary of State this came up, he said, Doha, Qatar, we're trying to do a lot of business through the Qataris right now who have relations with the Taliban. Secretary of State there, trying to do the business, same question to the Secretary.


BLINKEN: World is determined to see that they make good on that commitment. They've told the world that they intend to uphold the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women and girls will be looking very, very carefully at that. They've told the world that they do not intend to engage in reprisals. We'll be looking very, very carefully at that.


KING: That's what complicates the moment so much and that the Taliban, they would like diplomatic recognition, or they would like some funds released, they would like something.

And the White House position is we want to see that you will keep your word that you will let the Americans out that you will let the Afghans out. And that you will not launch into a campaign of recriminations either against Afghans who worked with Western powers over the last 20 years, or women and children.

RASCOE: I think touching back on what Margaret said is that there's a difference between diplomacy and political issues. Biden has a very serious political problem right now. But the problem for him is that what we have seen in the past 20 years of this war that has now ended is that there are limits to American power. The American public does not want to hear that. And if - but it's not clear right now, what is the American? What can the American government do when they are not on the ground? They don't have boots on the ground? How are they going to get these people out?

And that's the problem from for them, they have to work with the Taliban, these people who were sworn enemies of the U.S. now they have to try to trust them try to do these things try to do diplomacy. And Americans don't really have a lot of patience for that sort of thing. But that is the reality that Americans are going to have to deal with.

KING: And lacking an embassy or consulate or even a friendly government on the ground really, in Afghanistan, limits what you know, limits what you know, do we even know on this day, the administration says it believes it's really - two hands and maybe a couple extra fingers are the number of Americans still left in Afghanistan want to get out? But we're not certain, right?

TALEV: Yes, I mean, you can say the war is over. But I think we're still in a fog of war situation very clearly. And it's going to take a while for us to understand the true picture. And the picture is somewhere between a handful of families and you know, thousands and thousands of wives like we don't I'm not sure that the administration knows with total certainty of the clarity of this picture right now.

KING: All right, this programming no for us, Jake Tapper join him as he asked the tough and important questions about America's longest war what went wrong in Afghanistan, this new CNN Special Report Sunday, 9 o'clock Eastern, and Pacific right here on CNN.

Up next for us, we continue to watch the president on the ground in New York in New Jersey and the COVID case count passes another stunning benchmark just as back to school season brings fears of another surge in new infections.




BIDEN: --resources. And the one thing I want --


KING: We'll take you live now Somerset County, New Jersey, the President of the United States speaking now as he gets a briefing on Hurricane IDA's aftermath.


BIDEN: We had a great FEMA Director in the past as well. That makes it work. When you get local, state and federal working together, it is more than three times it's like 10 times what it would be just having one movie. And the losses that we will witness today are profound. Dozens of lost lives homes destroyed in Manville including by gas leaks triggered by the flooding, damaged infrastructure, including the rail system. And my thoughts are with all those families affected by the storms and all those families in the loss. Someone they love. And understand there's still two - is a two people missing?


BIDEN: Four people still missing. And I especially want to thank an overused phrase, but the brave first responders. I know we have exemplified the courage both in New Jersey and next door in New York. They've done an incredible job.

And we're working closely with Governor Murphy; we're going to continue to do so. I'm here to see firsthand what the damage is and find out directly from y'all what is most needed? Now look, FEMA has been I hope, as responsive as we've intended them to be, I'm sure they have.

132 personnel from FEMA, so far, including federal search and rescue teams, including 60 individuals, Incident Management Assistant teams of 20 people to support these response operations and mobile emergency response support teams have six of them to provide communications, logistic support.

And on Sunday when the Governor - and we spoke to the Governor and he asked for the major disaster declaration we made it available immediately so that we could speed federal assistance as quickly as we could the hard hit communities.

FEMA administrators on the ground here in New Jersey yesterday I believe to assess the damage. She's visited to communities Melaka Hills and Wynonna hit by the tornado as was on the ground. For over 13 miles that was on the ground that tornado, those tornadoes.

HHS Secretary's work with the state to make sure folks on Medicare and Medicaid get the emergency care they need now. And we're going to make sure the relief is equitable, so that those hardest hit get what they need. And they and we know there's a lot more to do. That's why we're here.

For decades, scientists have warned of extreme weather would be more extreme and climate change was here. And we're living through it now. We don't have any more time. I hope no one - I've been on the telephone or on the road an awful lot between California, Idaho, New Orleans, excuse me not New Orleans, Louisiana, but in New Orleans, Mississippi.

And, you know, here, I mean, every part of the country, every part of the country is getting hit by extreme weather. And we're now living in real time, what the country's going to look like. And if we don't do some, we can't turn it back very much. But we can prevent it from getting worse.

And so we're all in this together, we've got to - we've got to make sure that we don't leave any community behind and it's all across the country. You know, the members of Congress know from their colleagues in Congress that you know, the looks like a tornado. They don't call them that anymore that hit the crops in wetlands in the middle of the country and in Iowa and Nevada.

And I mean it's just across the board. And, you know, as I said, we're in this together. And so one of the things that today I'm going to ask you about when we get into this some questions and answers here is about how we're going to build back? And we're going to build back realizing what the status of the climate is now?

What the trajectory of it is going to be? And we can no longer we all know with Kansas bill back to what it was before whatever damage done in New Jersey. We can't go back and restore it but it was before because another --