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U.S. Military Completing Troop Withdraw from Afghanistan; Republican Congressman Chip Roy Confirms Statement that Republicans Should Obstruct President Biden's Agenda as Political Strategy to Win 2022 Midterms; Interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. Aired 8-8:30a ET.

Aired July 08, 2021 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hours from now, President Biden will speak about Afghanistan, which is a country on the edge of unraveling this morning as the U.S. finishes its final exit from the longest war in U.S. history.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: With the U.S. troop withdraw now more than 90 percent complete, the Taliban is advancing on a regional capital in the northern part of the country, reportedly freeing detainees at a jail there. And thousands of Afghan interpreters who worked with the U.S. forces over the years now fearing for their lives. There are also questions about the hasty hand over of Bagram Air Base to Afghan security forces earlier this week, as well as concerns about a potential civil war.

BERMAN: We want to bring in CNN chief national correspondent and the anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS" John King. John, great to see you this morning.


BERMAN: I find what is going on in Afghanistan fascinating. It can be tragic for the Afghan people, but fascinating from a national security perspective and from a political perspective for Joe Biden. The Biden administration knows what could very well happen in Afghanistan and is still making the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops. What is it you think we will hear from Joe Biden today? And how concerned do you see the Biden administration about the situation in that country right now?

KING: Let me take it a little bit backwards, John. And good morning to both of you. Look, the administration is concerned. They believe the Taliban is moving even more quickly than they anticipated to seize every space that the United States yields, essentially, within Afghanistan. And they know there are going to be some ugly moments in the days and months and years ahead.

What President Biden will say, though, is that he believes even despite that, even despite the difficulties, that these are chronic difficulties. Difficulties President Bush could not fix, President Obama could not fix, President Trump could not fix. And President Biden has decided he will be the American president who ends America's longest war. He believes he has broad public support for that, and he believes the challenge will be can you, if Al Qaeda gets a foothold again, if the Taliban commits atrocities, can you do things from afar that you tried to do with U.S. troops and a U.S. diplomatic presence on the ground? That is the challenge going forward.

But in the big picture, Joe Biden wants to do what Barack Obama promised so do in the Democratic primaries 13 years ago -- finally get all the troops out of Afghanistan. He believes the benefit outweigh the risks. There are a lot of skeptics, though, who say somebody will be in this chair six months from now or a year from now talking about the mess left behind.

KEILAR: We spoke with General David Petraeus who commanded troops in Afghanistan, and he said that he doesn't think that this will -- even as he was critical of the drawdown, he doesn't think that this is going to lead to a situation where U.S. national security is threatened. So in that situation, even if there are atrocities committed by the Taliban, even if this is a failed state, is that a political problem for Joe Biden here domestically?

KING: He hopes not. And you make a key point. Look, is the Taliban going to -- the Taliban is neanderthal when it comes to education, when it comes to political rights, when it comes to women's rights. Are there going to be headlines that are embarrassing for the American administration? Without a doubt. Without a doubt, that is the history of the Taliban.

But is there an Al Qaeda-like group or resurgence of Al Qaeda that can project terrorism internationally from within Afghanistan? If the answer to that question is no, then the Biden administration will be, yes, Afghanistan is messy, Afghanistan has always been messy. We will do what we can, but it is not worth more American troops, more American billions, more American effort when we need to focus on Putin, we need to focus on Xi. We have other transformational military and national security challenges like the climate issue.

The president's view is that if Afghanistan is never going to be perfect, let's get the troops out, though, because it's been 20 years. We've done what we can. And again, I remember covering the Bush White House. Hamid Karzai, the president in 2004, give us time, give us money. We'll get there. The new president comes in, Ghani comes in after him. Give us time, give us money. Leave the troops. We will get there. Biden's position essentially is they're not going to get there, and it's not worth the time and the money.

BERMAN: And again, from a political perspective, what's so fascinating to me is what every president in theory dreads is a fall of Saigon picture, with helicopters leaving with the last U.S. troops and questions about who lost this country, who lost Afghanistan. But the thing is, the Biden administration and Joe Biden is going into this with eyes wide open. He knows what pictures might likely emerge from Afghanistan. So, too,

did Donald Trump, by the way, who made the same decision that Joe Biden. He didn't execute the full withdrawal, but wanted the same thing. It just seems, yes, there is opposition, but by some people, national security hawks, per se, but there is some political consensus that despite the pictures that may emerge, it's worth it.

KING: And that is the key part of the Biden calculation in the sense that the Democratic base is anti-war. The Trump base is anti -- let's not have the United States policing the world. And so the president believes politically he is on safe footing.

Again, there will be people way smarter than I about the global challenges in this chair in three months, six months, in a year from now, to decide what happened. How bad is it? Can you project force from afar? Can you use drones? Can you use overhead surveillance to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to push back if you feel you need to push back? Those are questions that will be answered in the messy months ahead.


But the president believes there is broad public support for -- as we get close to September, John, 20 years, 20 years since 9/11. The president believes that he should be the president who finally executes, again, what several of his predecessors have said they would, and that is get the last U.S. troops out and declare this war over.

KEILAR: Let's turn to Russia, because last month we watched and listened as President Biden said to Vladimir Putin at their summit in the wake of some attacks, cyberattacks, basically there's a line here. Don't cross this line. We don't want these disruptions in these kinds of areas. And yet we are seeing more cyberattack disruptions originating from Russia. At what point does the Biden administration say, OK, now we're actually going to back that up, we're going to back up our threat?

KING: This is another giant challenge for the president. And the question is do you get into a public macho test, if you will, with Vladimir Putin. You should assume right now the United States government is responding, that there are cyber steps the United States is taking against Russian interests, trying to send Putin a message, trying to send the state actors especially in the cyber -- there are state actors within Russia, and then there are criminal elements within Russia that essentially have a green light from the government. You should assume there are steps being taken, but Putin doesn't care. Putin doesn't answer to his people. Putin is not going to publicly complain about those things.

So do you have to do something public? Do you have to embarrass Putin? Do you have to whack him upside the head in a public way and say you have to dial it back? That's the challenge. The administration would prefer to do this under the radar.

You should assume they are doing things under the radar, but do you need to do something more public to get Putin to back off? That's the conversation within the Biden national security team. And again, the benefit is you send a clear public signal. The risk is you get into a back and forth with Putin that becomes counterproductive?

BERMAN: What's the breaking point, though, or what's the tipping point, I should say? David Sanger was with us yesterday and says presidents have always been inclined to respond to Putin in a strong public way, but then there are people, whether it be military advisers and whatnot, who pull them back and say, you know what, it's just not worth the risk, because, as you noted, Putin is willing to do more than perhaps the United States is willing to do here.

KING: If you start to engage in the public game -- I'm going to call it a game. It's not a game. This is incredibly important. But if you start engaging in the public sphere, and you do one thing, and then Putin ups the ante, then do you have to up the ante. That is where people say you don't want to get into this. And again, Putin does not answer to the political controls that we have here in the United States, the public relation controls and limits we have here in the United States. So that is always the risk.

But we just talked about Afghanistan. This president has a number of giant global challenges on his plate, and one of them is how to calibrate the relationship with Vladimir Putin, how much to do in public, how much to do in private. Biden came away from that first meeting, saying that he's candid with Putin, that he's going to be the tough guy with Putin. He's going to have to prove it in cyberspace one way or the other.

KEILAR: You have seen what Chip Roy, the Republican congressman, has said as it became clear that some reported comments of his were actually his, that he wants to obstruct President Biden's agenda here until the next election. He said in the statement yesterday "For the next 18 months, Republicans' job is to do everything that we can to slow down and block the Democrats' radical agenda, and then win the majority and lead." So it sounds like, everyone said he said the quiet part out loud. Now he's saying, whatever, this is what I meant.

KING: It is the quiet part out loud. I've been covering politics 35 years now, and if you rewind the tape and go back a few years, this is what they tell you in private, off the record, or guys, this is what we're going to do. The Republicans are quite transparent about this now.

Chip Roy using language that might make you go whoa. But listen to what Mitch McConnell says. Listen to what the leadership in the House says, Chip Roy's leaders in the House say. They say, and this is the strategy they followed in 2009 -- say no, say no to anything this president wants. That's what they did to Barack Obama in 2009. It's what they're doing to Joe Biden now.

Why? They think it excites the Republican base. They think it helps them with fundraising. And they hope it demoralizes the democratic base, that a year from now Joe Biden will not be able to say I did all those sweeping things on climate, I did federal legislation on voting rights. I did the refix, the remake of Obamacare to make it stronger. If the Republicans hope to demoralize the Democratic base by saying no to Biden, the fact that they're openly transparent about it, they don't try to hide it anymore. They just say this is what we're going to do, and they hope it works.

BERMAN: You brought up voting rights there, John, because a federal judge ruled that Georgia voting law, the constitutional voting law there -- controversial, I should say, that has new restrictions, will stand ahead of a July 13th runoff election. The reasoning behind the decision is it can't be changed quickly enough before July 13th. So it's standing here.

But what it shows is that Democrats hoping to overturn these voting laws, the courts aren't going to be with them here largely. Certainly not the Supreme Court. Congress isn't going to be with them with the filibuster, so what avenues do Democrats actually have at this point to fight back?


KING: I think the key point you made is the unlikely prospect of any federal legislation. The president is going to get talk about this for months now. The vice president has this in her portfolio. The challenge for the Democrats now, and Texas is about to reconsider. At least 14 states have already restricted voting rights, made it harder compared to 2020 to vote in the next election. Texas is about to join that train.

And so if you're a Democrat, if you're not going to get legislative action at the federal level, again, that gets back, does that demoralize the Democratic base? The challenge for the president and for all Democrats is to flip that. Make sure it does not demoralize the Democratic base, but use it to motivate the Democratic base.

Legislatively, the Democrats looks like they're going to lose here. So the challenge now is can you educate voters in all of these states that are restricting rights, and tell them I know you're mad, I know you don't like this, I know you wish the Republicans hadn't done this, but you cannot complain, you cannot whine, you need to vote. You need to figure out the new rules. If you can't early vote, then you have to show up in person, or you have to find a new way to early vote. If that drop box is not going to be there, how can you find another way to vote?

Democrats are going to have to spend a ton of time and ton of money -- this costs money -- to educate their base voters, to educate anyone who came they're way, even if they're not traditional Democratic base voters in 2020, to say the rules have changed, the location has changed, the modus operandi for you to vote in 2022 is changed. Prove it to the Republicans that you're mad by voting, not being mad about what they've done.

BERMAN: Jaime Harrison, DNC Chair, was on with us last week or the week before. He basically said the same thing. The only thing we have left to do or can do at this point is win. The question is, have we seen historically that this can be animating for Democratic voters? KING: I think that is the challenge. I do think you see in the

Georgia runoffs, you could say how much of it was Stacey Abrams motivating the black votes, Stacey Abrams and groups like that, how much of it was Donald Trump messing things up on the Republican side. You can slice the pie in many ways.

But there are smaller scale examples of Democrats using voting rights, using the stakes of an election to motivate people to vote. Can you do it on essentially a national scale in a midterm election where history tells you the dynamic is against your party?

History tells you 2022 will not be a good year for the Democrats. Joe Biden needs to defy history because the margin in the House is so small. The margin in the Senate is even. The Democrats cannot lose seats, essentially, in 2022. History says they will, so they must use this to mobilize or else, or else the Biden presidency becomes a two- year presidency, and Republicans get either the House or the Senate, and we slog into 2024.

KEILAR: We'll see if they can do that. John, love having you wake up early with us. And you can have your lunch break with John King. Watch "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King every weekday at noon. Good to see you.

KING: Good morning.

KEILAR: Good morning.

Right wing critics are attacking the Biden administration's door to door vaccine push. The president's health secretary is standing by to respond live next.

BERMAN: Plus, tennis phenom Naomi Osaka speaking out in mental health in the media. The new comments just in to CNN.

The United States' confusing policies on marijuana, especially after an Olympic sprinter gets banned from the Olympics.



KEILAR: Amid growing concerns over the fast-spreading delta variant, the Biden administration's new efforts to knock on doors to encourage more Americans to get vaccinated is not without criticism from some on the right.

Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw tweeting, how about don't knock on my door. You're not my parents, you're the government. Make the vaccine available and let people be free to choose. Why is that concept so hard for the left?

Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs tweeting: It's none of the government's business knowing who has or hasn't been vaccinated.

Joining me now is Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra who is helping in this effort to get Americans vaccinated.

Sir, thank you so much for being with us. I wonder if you can answer that criticism. It's none of the government's business knowing who has or hasn't been vaccinated. What do you say?

XAVIER BECERRA, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Brianna, perhaps we should point out that the federal government has spent trillions of dollars to keep Americans alive during this pandemic. So it is absolutely the government's business. It is taxpayers' business if we have to continue to spend money to try to keep people from contracting COVID, and helping reopen the economy.

And so it is our business to try to make sure Americans can prosper, Americans can freely associate. And knocking on a door has never been against the law. You don't have to answer, but we hope you do. Because if you haven't been vaccinated, we can help dispel some of the rumors you heard and hopefully get you vaccinated.

KEILAR: There are experts -- listen, we hear pleas from president Biden telling people to get vaccinated. What we're seeing is a decline in vaccinations. There are folks who say more needs to be done.

Like Dr. Leana Wen who in an op-ed for "The Washington Post" said, quote: That's not nearly enough. Biden needs to get behind proof of vaccination starting with his own White House events, a gathering touting the United States progress towards independence from the virus should have been the ideal opportunity to make the case for vaccine requirements. It matters for everyone, including the vaccinated.

What's your response to that? Having people say, yes, I am vaccinated, and proving it, or at least having them attest to it?

BECERRA: Well, there are any number of ways to try to continue to make progress, and the president has demonstrated he is open to moving in any direction we can to help Americans get safe, be safe, feel safe. And so, we'll continue to provide Americans access. So, we're going to go where you are so that you can get vaccinated and we'll do everything we can.

And what we've done is allowed the states through our governors, our mayors, and county supervisors to determine how best to approach people in their neighborhoods.

KEILAR: We're seeing people die disproportionately ion places where folks are not vaccinated.

BECERRA: Yeah, that's absolutely the case. And perhaps the best story there, the best data point to really put out there for folks is that today about 99 percent of those who are contracting COVID and dying are unvaccinated.

And so if you want to stay alive, if you're going to contract COVID and you want to stay alive, best chance will be if you're vaccinated.

KEILAR: So why not model -- why not model that? I hear you saying leave it to local leaders, leave it to governors. Why not at least model how you let people into an event?

BECERRA: Well, Brianna, you heard -- you read off some of the comments of some representatives in Congress, and that particular type of thinking is not -- it's out there and we want to give people the sense that they have the freedom to choose.


But we hope they choose to live and we're going to make it possible for them to have a good life.

And, by the way, protect their family and loved ones at the same time. We hope people make the right choices. We want them to have the right information.

But we are America. We try to give people as much freedom and choice as possible. But clearly when over 600,000 Americans have died, the best choice is to get vaccinated.

KEILAR: I mean, and I don't mean -- actually, I do mean to keep pressing on this. but I will ask you this as a parent of small children who don't have the choice, I don't have the choice to vaccinate them, right? So we're living our lives in a certain way.

I worry about the health of my children. There are tons of people in this situation.

And so I know you want to give people the freedom, but it's not just about their freedom. It's also about the freedom of other people. And, look, I know that young people have much better reactions if they get COVID. There are a lot, including some with cardiac problems who certainly don't.

So how do you -- I mean, isn't it worth modeling the correct behavior to protect those people?

BECERRA: Certainly modeling that behavior, the correct behavior, is important.

KEILAR: But verification?

BECERRA: Well, so, Brianna, you're touching on an issue that's as old as the republic. And that is our personal freedoms, our personal responsibility. When you take to a vehicle and you drive with your children in that vehicle, you assume that everyone will be as responsible as you will behind the wheel. Unfortunately, not everyone is.

And so do we prevent or prohibit people from driving because they won't be as responsible as you? We, again, give people choices and we try to have people be responsible.

COVID is no different. The vaccine is no different. We want people to be personally and community responsible, and we hope that they'll understand it's not just their lives, their loved one's lives, but perhaps your children's lives as well. KEILAR: You are, I want to talk to you about the infrastructure plan

that you are, of course, supporting. Where does Democratic support stand?

BECERRA: Well, I think Democratic support is high, and I believe it's an ambitious type of high where people really want to achieve. What we haven't seen in a long time, historic investments in our people whether it is in day care, child care for parents who are trying to work at the same time take care of their kids, and maternal health where we're making a major investment in trying to deal with maternal mortality.

Hard to believe that in parts of America, women are dying at birth, at the time of giving birth at three times the rate of other people within the country, principally affecting African-American women. We're going to make investments that keep us not only healthy, but give us a chance to prosper.

The Americans Families Plan really does that. Family leave, making sure that we try to make sure we provide the work force we need in our health care sector, in our child care and human care sector. It's the kind of investment we haven't seen, well, probably not in our generation, and it would be the kind of transformative change that lets America really launch, especially since internationally it's a very competitive world.

KEILAR: Can you respond to these questions that were taped but are backed up by Republican Congressman Chip Roy where he was saying it's Republicans job to obstruct really everything, the Biden agenda, until after next year's midterms?

BECERRA: You know, it's unfortunate if the members of the Republican Party who are in leadership decide to take the position that they have to obstruct progress, they have to keep America from making the type of transformational change that keeps us, as I just said, number one in the world when it comes to competition and jobs and innovation.

But it's hard -- it's hard to predict where a party will go. It's -- certainly we saw what happened over the last previous administration. I hope what we find is that people want to work together because at the end of the day, what happens to me happens to you and what happens to us happens to everyone else.

We are a nation. We're not a republic of 200 or 330 million people. We are all together as a family. And I would hope we would want to succeed as a family.

But, again, there are voices out there that talk about doing it on their own, and unfortunately forget that we've all helped that person move ahead.

KEILAR: Secretary, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

BECERRA: Thank you.

KEILAR: Up next, Naomi Osaka not holding back on the media and her mental health. We'll have her new comments that were released ahead of the Olympics.

BERMAN: And the marijuana controversy that cost an American sprinter a shot at Olympic gold. The right call? A reality check, next.



BERMAN: Just in to CNN, tennis phenom Naomi Osaka speaking out on mental health in a new essay released moments ago. Osaka elaborates on her reason for withdrawing from this year's French Open and Wimbledon tournament citing mental health reasons.

She writes, quote, this was never about the press but the traditional format of the press conference. I'll say it again for those in the back. I love the press. I do not love all press conferences.

Let's get right to Carolyn Manno.

So, Carolyn, I know Osaka will be at the Olympics. Talk to me about this letter overall.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, her voice comes through in this essay which is not surprising, because even though she's admittedly introverted, she's always been very honest and straightforward with how she's thinking. And she opens, John, with -- saying that she learned two lessons through all of this. The first is that you can never please everyone. Second, virtually everybody is connected to mental health in some way.

But you touched on one of the important quotes in there about the press. That's really important. One of the takeaways for me is that this was never about vilifying the press for her.

She believes that some parts of the press and the way that it runs in tennis is anteiquated an she's right, especially with hyper elevated social platforms, they need to be a little bit more progressive.