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Biden To Deliver Major Speech On COVID-19 Response Tomorrow; Interview With Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY); Witnesses: Taliban Use Whips And Sticks To Stop Kabul Protests. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 08, 2021 - 12:30   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Some are starting this week. Some have already started going back to school. And so I think those are the tangible things they'll be looking at.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And the question is, again, we just saw the President using his bully pulpit of the White House to talk about the economy. We're going to come back to that later on his agenda. The question is, what can he do on this issue in the sense that, I just want to show if you look at the percentage, the biggest key here is to get people vaccinated, every public health expert will tell you that.

Well, in yellow, you see the 10 states that have the highest percentage of their residents vaccinated. In red, you see the 10 states that have the lowest percentage of their residents vaccinated. In the 10 with the highest vaccination, Joe Biden carried all 10 of those states. In the 10 with the lowest, Donald Trump carried all 10 of those states.

So the President of United States, the Democratic President of United States is trying to talk to a whole lot of Trump voters and say, please. How does he do that? Georgia is on this list as well. Georgia, I'm sorry, the President Joe Biden did carry Georgia which is here, about nine of the 10 carried by Trump.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And so his challenge is how is he going to not be heard as the Charlie Brown teacher, you know, for the younger people at wah, wah, wah, you know, I mean, you can't communicate to somebody who is not listening or can't hear you or doesn't want to hear you. And that has been the problem that he has had since day one.

And the frustration that I'm sure you hear as well from your sources, that he kind of understandably didn't anticipate as somebody who said very aggressively, I'm running to be the president of all people of all America, I want to take care of people even if you didn't vote for me. But they -- a lot of them don't see it that way, especially given the fact that this was a Trump initiative to push this vaccine. And he has been absent in trying to get those red states to turn yellow in your map. KING: And so it is first and foremost a public health challenge for the President for the country, for everybody, Democrat, Independent, Republican. Your politics should not matter when it comes to this. But it has also become the number show us a political problem or at least issue for the President. Is it a problem yet?

I guess could be in dispute. But back in April, he had a 64 percent approval rating when it came to his handling of the pandemic. This is the "Washington Post-ABC" poll. He's down to 52 percent right now, disapproval up to 41 percent.

EVA MCKEND, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. And even at the risk of sounding redundant, they have to hone in on this issue. None of President Biden's domestic policy priorities can advance as long as we are still in a pandemic. And so that is why we see the administration taking this so seriously. Arguably, there are many reasons why President, former President Trump lost the election but we know that one of them was his handling of the virus. And that is why President Biden, the administration, doing all that they can to make sure that this is their focus.

KING: All right, everybody stay put, we'll continue the conversation.

Up next, it's some -- in some ways, a natural segue crunch time for the Biden agenda in a giant math problem divides the Democrats, the moderate Senator Joe Manchin suggests $1.5 trillion in new spending. Up next week talk to House progressive who says the Senator is about $2 trillion short.



KING: Democrats right now are staring down a $2 trillion math problem at a pivotal, absolutely pivotal moment for the Biden agenda. The President favors a new spending package in the ballpark of $3.5 trillion. And House progressives are adamant that that number can't shrink much because they say the money is needed for new investments in health care, childcare, climate, and more.

But senator, you know who, is making waves again. Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia now making it known to colleagues that if the President wants to get a plan through the 50-50 Senate, he best be prepared to trim the price tag and trim it a lot. Manchin suggest $1.5 trillion, this as high as he will go.

Let's discuss it. With me now, Congressman Mondaire Jones of New York, a member of the House Progressive Caucus. Congressman, grateful for your time today. You have an ambitious agenda that has healthcare elements, that has climate elements, that has childcare elements, it has eldercare elements. Can you do that at Joe Biden's $1.5 trillion price tag, Joe Manchin, excuse me?

REP. MONDAIRE JONES (D-NY): No, we can't. No. we can't. And it is an agenda for the people. It is President Biden's agenda. And Democrats in both the House and the Senate must act quickly to invest in climate. And I represent a district that was devastated recently by Hurricane Ida. And Democrats and Republicans in my district alike recognize that this is a direct result of climate change. In particular, we've seen an increase in frequency and in severity of climate disasters.

And so, $1.5 trillion is not going to cut it. Of course, we also need to expand Medicare to include dental and vision and hearing something that is preferred by 90 percent of Americans. And then we know that childcare is infrastructure. So we've got to make childcare affordable for every family in America. So the idea of a $1.5 trillion price tag being sufficient to accomplish those goals for the people is fanciful.

KING: This is -- the next couple of weeks are the key here to the President's first year agenda, to the Democratic Party's big agenda, to the bold progressive agenda, you are advocating. Listen to the President, Manchin figure was put to him yesterday. And the President says don't worry, we'll get there.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Joe at the end is always been there. He's always been with me. I think we can work something out. And I look forward to speaking with him.



KING: The President seems optimistic in a quote unquote, traditional Washington, you just split the difference and we'd get to 2.5 trillion or 2.3 trillion. Is that good enough?

JONES: You know, I don't want to fix a dollar amount on what the final product should be. But it must meet the moment and I share the President's optimism that Democrats will once again come together, including Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and do the right thing, rise to the occasion and meet this moment in which we face unprecedented challenges. That is what we were elected to do and I'm optimistic that people understand the stakes even as they posture for political reasons.


KING: I can't believe you would say posturing in Washington. I was joking with you before you came in the air. You're a freshman. You're not supposed to understand that quite yet.

On the climate issue, the President was up in your area, when New York and New Jersey, you're -- part of your districts in Westchester County all hit really hard by Ida, as he's noted. And he -- listen to how he framed the moment when it comes to climate.


BIDEN: We got to listen to the scientist, and the economist, and the national security experts. They all tell us this is code red. The nation and the world are in peril. That's not hyperbole. That is a fact.


KING: Put into policy perspective, what does code red mean? What in your view must the federal government do that will essentially rewrite American life. It will be investments but it'll also be new rules, some things out, some things in. What specifically must happen?

JONES: Well, time is running out. And people are dying. People's properties have been damaged irreparably. And we must act for that reason to decarbonize our economy. And the great thing, John, is we can do this while creating millions of good paying union jobs in the green economy which will give us a competitive advantage as compared to other people -- other nations in the world. We can do all of these things.

We can create hundreds of thousands of electric charging stations for vehicles. We can invest in an unprecedented way and renewable energy infrastructure including wind and solar. We can do all of these things as part of this larger infrastructure package and that is precisely what I believe we will do. I'm so proud of the President for his leadership in this area, as in so many other areas and again, just extremely optimistic that we will meet this moment.

KING: There's a great deal of frustration among progressives like yourself, as you sit here in Washington. I know your district is back in New York. But you watch the voting law changes, 14, 15 states right now, most recently, Texas, New restrictions on voting, a brand new abortion law just took effect in Texas. It is the most restrictive abortion regulations and restrictions in the country.

You signed on to a letter about your fellow New York Democrat Jerry Nadler to the Attorney General asking, we write to ask you to use the full power of the Department of Justice to defend a woman's constitutional right to choose an abortion, a right now under assault by Texas Senate Bill 8.

What do you want the Attorney General to do and do you believe the United States Congress, it would take severe pushing by the President of the United States should also try to codify Roe v. Wade?

JONES: Yes. So to answer your first question, I want the Department of Justice to do everything within its legal authority to stop these so called bounty hunters from going out and suing people who are simply trying to exercise their reproductive rights.

I want the United States Congress to pass a statute in both the House where I believe we will do that, as we've been doing with so many other pieces of legislation, but more critically in the Senate to codify Roe v. Wade, among other things. That requires, as you know, John, making an exception to or getting rid of entirely the filibuster. And that is why I've repeatedly called on the President to take a public position in support of getting rid of the filibuster or reforming it.

KING: But let me just ask you lastly, though, this the conversation has gone on for a long time. Do you see any evidence that your Democratic friends across the aisle on the Capitol are listening to at least carve out a limited exception, maybe for abortion, maybe for voting, if it has to be one, which would it be?

JONES: I think we've got to make sure that we preserve constitutional rights while saving our democracy. And so, I reject the false idea, the false choice between one and the other. And I do believe people are listening.

And I do believe the White House, more importantly, is listening because ultimately, it's going to be the President who was able to prevail upon these two or so individuals in his own party over in the Senate to do the right thing, whether through negotiation or the bully pulpit or both. But I cannot give up hope. I was elected to do a job and I'm going to do that job for the people.

KING: We have a challenging few weeks ahead on all of these fronts as all the business tries to get done in September. We'll circle back with you, Congressman. Appreciate your time today.

JONES: Likewise.

KING: Thank you, Sir.


Up next for us, the sober new reality in Afghanistan, the United States has no choice but to negotiate with the new Taliban government. Its members include several Taliban hardliners, the State Department labels terrorists, including one with a $10 million bounty on his head.


KING: There are still some Americans left in Afghanistan. And these are the men the United States must now rely on to give them a pathway out. Taliban hardliners from the 1990's, a terrorist on the FBI's most wanted list, four of the Guantanamo Five traded for U.S. hostage, Bowe Bergdahl, the son and the brother of the Taliban founder Mullah Omar, also now known collectively as the new caretaker government of Afghanistan.

Joining our conversation is Craig Whitlock of The Washington Post. He's also the author of "The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War," grateful for your time today.


United States has no choice but to deal now try to work on the release of these other Americans at risk Afghans with a group of people, at least half of whom are on State Department terrorist lists. The Secretary of State today says we're going to take this as it goes.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Despite professing that a new government would be inclusive. The announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals or members of the Taliban or their close associates and know when. We're also concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of those individuals. We understand the Taliban has presented this as a caretaker of cabinet. We will judge it and then by its actions.


KING: Secretary Blinken says we will judge it and then by their actions. Just today, we can show you some videos, there were some women protesting in Kabul against the Taliban rule. The Taliban security forces using sticks and whips to crack down on the protesters. So the early evidence is the new Taliban is the old Taliban. How do you deal with them?

CRAIG WHITLOCK, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, that's a good question. We don't have a whole lot of leverage in this regard, other than the withholding of humanitarian aid and things like this, but the reality on the ground is the Taliban won the war, they know this. To them, they're -- they've beaten two superpowers now. They beat the Soviet Union back in the 80's and now they've kicked the United States out of Afghanistan.

So I don't think they're in the mood to make too many concessions. On the surface, they may sound a little different. But as you see from that protests where they're breaking up women demonstrating on the street, you know, their rules are going to be the same as when they ruled back in the 90's.

KING: And your book details this fascinatingly 20 years of dealing with these people or preparing to try to defeat these very people who are now running Afghanistan, right?

WHITLOCK: That's right. And, you know, the Obama administration, the Trump administration, now the Biden administration all dealt with these people directly or indirectly for really the last 10 years. So these are known quantities, there are a number of them who are on U.N. blacklist, or as you point out their, you know, multimillion dollar bounties on the head of some of them in the new government. But the reality is, these are the people that, you know, are going to be in power, and we're going to have to cope with that.

KING: But your reporting and the book detail what my words, fix them, if you don't like them, years of deception, misstatements maybe even lies by U.S. government officials about what was happening in Afghanistan. I want to come to a historical one in a moment, but in the here and now this is what Senator Bass -- Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska says about how the administration is talking about the new Afghanistan.

President Biden still clings to an insane fantasy that the Taliban is kinder and gentler. It's nonsense. Haqqani is the Taliban's new interior minister for precisely the same reason the FBI's got a $5 million bounty on his head. He's a bloodthirsty terrorist.

We're in the early days of this, but do you see from the administration what the Senator describes as a fantasy land or a blind naivete to what is happening? Or do you see them trying to adjust and be more candid about the new reality?

WHITLOCK: Well, look. They aren't nice people. These are brutal people in charge of Afghanistan now, but the fact is, for 20 years, we fought them as the enemy and we couldn't vanquish them. We thought we had back in 2001, 2002, they came back.

They're part of the fabric of Afghanistan and we can call them whatever we want. But the reality is, they won the war, they achieve their outcomes, and we've withdrawn from Afghanistan. So unless we want to send troops back in, there's not a whole lot we can do about it.

KING: In the book you talk about a moment way back, you talked about, you know, 2001, 2000, back in the Bush administration where the hope was that you could relinquish these forces, smother these forces and about, frankly, what you call lie from the Bush administration at the time.

By lying about how close the insurgents had come to harming Cheney, the Vice President United States was in Afghanistan, the U.S. military sank deeper into a pattern of deceiving the public about many facets of the war, from discrete events to the big picture. What began as a selective self-serving disclosures after the 2001 invasion gradually hardened into willful distortions and eventually, flat-out fabrications.

So the United States government started lying about little things, and then was essentially misrepresenting everything, right?

WHITLOCK: That's right. Sometimes they would lie about individual events like this assassination attempt on Dick Cheney in 2007. They said that Taliban wasn't behind it but of course, they were according to documents I have in the book. But really over two decades, the deception that took root was this idea that we were winning. You had Bush, Obama, Trump, all promising the win. They use that word or prevail.

And yet, they knew that this was an unwinnable war and the best we could hope for was a stalemate with some kind of political reconciliation with the Taliban and the Afghan government. That -- even that hope was farfetched, because in the end, as we saw the Taliban won on the ground, they haven't had to make any concessions.

KING: Craig Whitlock, grateful for your time and more importantly for the reporting and we'll keep in touch, again, we're in this new chapter. We'll be watching rely on you as it plays out. Appreciate it.


A quick program -- this quick programming note for you, Jake Tapper, join him as he asked the tough questions, the important questions about America's longest war. What went wrong in Afghanistan? This new CNN special report begins Sunday 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Thanks for your time today in Inside Politics throughout the breaking news in the hour. Don't go anywhere, Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage after this quick break. Have a good day.