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New Day

Afghanistan, COVID, Infrastructure Test Biden's Resolve; Trump Makes Executive Privilege Threat to Block House Panel Probe; GOP Attacks Dems Over School Shopping Inflation; Frontline Nurses Battle Burnout, Staffing Shortages; Evacuation Efforts Slowing in Afghanistan Tomorrow, U.S. to Continue Evacuating People As Long As Possible; U.S. Veterans Mobilize to Help American, Afghan Comrades; Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 26, 2021 - 7:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CO-ANCHOR, CNN'S NEW DAY: CNN reporting this morning that the evacuation efforts from Afghanistan are winding down in the next 36 hours. U.S. officials now trying to clarify telling us that while the efforts are slowing they will try to put people on flights until the last flights out if they can.

Look, this may be a largely moot point, if people can't get into the airport they can't get into a plane. But we are following this, the important thing is that the efforts winding down very rapidly. Certainly within the next 36 hours. Now, while this is going on COVID hospitalizations now top 100,000 in the United States for the first time in months.

Afghanistan, COVID huge challenges for the Biden presidency. And on top of that, he's trying to pass his economic agenda, which he wants to define the entire presidency. Joining us now CNN Political Analyst David Gregory. So, not much going on for the White House this morning, David.

Now, look, it's a serious issue, right, he's dealing with a genuine full-on foreign policy crisis, he's dealing with COVID, which the numbers are just, frankly, heading in the wrong direction, and, you know, he's heading into the fall of the first year of his presidency.

DAVID GREGORY, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Right, and we're in a political cycle that never ends, right. So, the mid-terms really began when President Biden's presidency began. And he knows that, the party knows that, Republicans are positioning as they have been since Trump left office for the mid-terms.

So, all of that is what compounds. And, you know, when I look at Afghanistan, I look at the COVID crisis, any big crisis an administration faces becomes a question of good government, becomes a question of how competent the administration is. I don't think anybody really disagrees with his position on Afghanistan, which is that troops needed to come out. But it was how it was done.

Were the American people prepared for the kind of chaos that we've seen? It just doesn't look good, it doesn't look like the administration knew how to handle what was going to be a very difficult situation. He's gotten so many good marks on COVID but he's dealing with something that actually pre-dates him, right.

Imagine if President Trump had said, hey let's call it the Trump vaccine, everybody take it, let's make this a bipartisan effort and away we go. It would have been a lot easier. Nevertheless, it becomes a management issue for this administration, which accelerated getting the vaccine out to people and now have hit the ceiling.


And are now trying to manage expectations when let's face it a lot of people were ready to just simply move on. That it's done, we're back to normal, going back gets really hard.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CO-ANCHOR, CNN'S NEW DAY: He's sort of suffered when it comes to poll numbers from what we've seen lately. Here in the last month, his approval rating has dropped eight points according to a CBS News YouGov survey. What do you make of what you're seeing here with these numbers?

GREGORY: Well, I just think any president gets nicked up as they get further into office, and more things get out of their control. What I have been struck by in the Biden presidency is how tightly choreographed events have been. Even when dealing with a crisis like COVID.

As a politician, he's much more unwieldy than he has been in his first year. He's been much more disciplined and I think that's his staff around him. Now, he's starting to deal with things that are less predictable and in the case of Afghanistan I think could have been handled better.

But he's still dealing with a foreign policy crisis. And people are starting to live with the presidency a little bit more informed. Some different opinions the more he's in office, the more things are spiraling a little bit. You know, he still benefits from the fact that we're in the middle of a very strong economy. And I think that is probably his strongest card right now.

BERMAN: Look, as you say, David, if you're calling card is competency and the Afghanistan thing starts to question that on this front, then it becomes an issue on other things as well and that's where it seeps in. I do want to ask you about some news we got overnight having to do with the former president, former President Trump.

There's obviously this Congressional probe into the events around January 6th. And all of a sudden overnight, I don't think it was unexpected but it was stark, President Trump says that he is going to defend what he calls his executive privilege on whatever documents and whatever witnesses that this January 6th committee goes after.

What do you make of that?

GREGORY: Well, it shouldn't be surprising that President Trump, who wants to defend whatever political viability he has or any viability for history wants to shield as much of what he did or did not do around January 6th as possible. But I think there's bipartisan agreement that we have to understand what led up to January 6th.

It was a really dark day for this country, it was an attempt to thwart our democratic process and a transition of power. It cannot be left to stand period. I don't care what you believe about politics or who you support, it cannot happen. And so, as much as we're roiled (ph) by politics on Capitol Hill, we have to have this work go forward so we have some clarity about it.

I think the question now is whether the Biden administration will protect or support any of those assertions of executive privilege, it's their privilege to defend at this point. But I think the instinct, of course, by President Trump shouldn't be a surprise. He wants to hide what he did and didn't do and I just don't think that's going to stand.

KEILAR: And what about on COVID? I mean, we're seeing cases rise. The president, obviously, on the right side of science here. And yet there are some things he cannot stop, and that are going to affect his agenda.

GREGORY: Well, that's right. And I, you know, when we were talking before, the big bets that he's making on the economy, right, are the fact that the Biden presidency is in the middle of a gloom economy and there's a bet that he's making. Which is that Americans will support a big intervention by the government in the economy to make big-time societal change where it's necessary.

That's a bet he's making. There's not bipartisan agreement about that but he thinks he's got the ability to do that. COVID undermines that, of course, because it just tends to roil waters politically. And I think the challenge that President Biden has is how to keep persuading people to get vaccinated, to be vigilant when there's a political atmosphere surrounding all of this.

And it can't be that you have a president and his team looking down at people saying you don't get it, you're ignorant and you're hurting everybody else. It's simply not going to be a way to persuade people.

So, it's got to be a little bit more of a bottom-up situation. He's got to rely on the private sector, he's got to push on schools so that there's enough people who are saying, you know, the policy is you got to be vaccinated and you got to be vigilant. You know, that's what I think is going to do it rather than a top-down approach.

KEILAR: All right, we'll see. David Gregory, so nice to see you this morning.

GREGORY: Nice to see you.

KEILAR: Thanks for being with us.


KEILAR: And just ahead, how back to school shopping has suddenly turned political. Is nothing sacred?

BERMAN: And front-line nurses speaking out on staffing shortages as COVID cases surge.


NICHOLE ATHERTON, NURSE, SINGING RIVER OCEAN SPRINGS: Two people start to go bad at once. And you have to decide which room you run to. That's a hard decision to make.




BERMAN: So, as the Delta Variant causes this surge in COVID cases in the U.S. the skills and stamina of the nation's nurses are being tested like never before. In Mississippi, hospitals are facing some of their darkest days yet and some stressed and exhausted nurses are deciding to resign. CNN's Erica Hill has the story.


ERICA HILL, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: (voice-over) In Ocean Springs, Mississippi the ICU is full.

UNKNOWN: I need to bring in another (inaudible) please.

HILL: Every patient here battling COVID. Every one of them on a ventilator. Fifteen miles east it's the same story. The nursing staff at a breaking point.


ATHERTON: I come in here and it's war. It's sometimes chaos.

HILL: Just 38 percent of Mississippi's population is fully vaccinated. Along the Gulf Coast, it's even worse hovering around 30 percent. Pushing new cases and hospitalizations higher. Officials warn there aren't enough beds but on the frontlines, the focus isn't space, it's staff.

LEE BOND, CEO, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM: There's not a bed shortage, there's a nursing shortage.

ATHERTON: We have had situations in here with COVID, with people this critical where two people start to go bad at once. And you have to decide which room you run to. That's a hard decision to make.

HILL: The stress of those decisions, of the growing number of young COVID patients, and preventable death brought Nichole to a breaking point earlier this month.

You made the decision to resign. Why?

ATHERTON: Sometimes it feels like we're fighting a losing battle.

HILL: Yet a week after that conversation Nichole was still in the ICU.

ATHERTON: I realized as I was saying goodbye to these nurses here that I couldn't leave them in the middle of this.

HILL: Nichole is cutting back her hours but for now her resignation is on hold.

BUDDY GAGER, NURSING MANAGER FOR PERSONAL CARE, SINGING RIVER OCEAN SPRINGS HOSPITAL: That's where a nurses heart comes in, you know. You don't want to see your co-workers suffer as much as you don't want to see a patient suffer.

HILL: While it helps one nurse choosing to stay isn't enough.

GAGER: Got everything you need?

HILL: Mississippi has at least 2,000 fewer nurses than it did at the beginning of the year.

ATHERTON: It looks heroic and it looks -- but that's not what it is. It's sweaty, and hard, and chaotic, and bloody.

MELISSA DAVIS, NURSE, SINGING RIVER PASCAGOULA: I didn't even know really what burnout meant as a nurse until I hit COVID.

HILL: Melissa Davis has worked in the ICU for 17 years. It's never been this bad.

DAVIS: I have seen a turnover in nurses I never would have thought would have turned over because they can't take it no more.

HILL: Do you feel that you're close to a breaking point?

GAGER: I think we already broke.

HILL: Burnout, stress, grueling hours. There are multiple reasons career nurses are choosing to leave.

DR. RANDY ROTH, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM: We've been seeing it, it probably hit a peak recently, we have over 120 nursing vacancies open right now.

HILL: When they do that experience is also lost.

DR. SYED ABDULLAH WAHEED, SINGING RIVER OCEAL SPRINGS: It takes years of training to get to the point where you can actually take care of a COVID patient. This is nothing like we've seen before.

HILL: The head of Singing River Hospital System is now urging the state to use some of its $1.8 billion in COVID relief funding for retention bonuses.

BOND: We need to give them an incentive to want to stay and continue to be a nurse. ROTH: I think every little bit helps. Do I think it's going to fix the problem? A lot of nurses have told me it's not about the money at this point, it's about I need to recharge my battery.

HILL: Yet with fewer staff and a surge in patients, that chance to recharge increasingly difficult to find.

DAVIS: It's hard to see a 34-year-old -- the family -- not make it. You can't describe that.

ATHERTON: To have friends, colleagues who understand that, it's the only way we're all getting through this. It's because we have each other.


HILL: (on camera) Now, earlier this week Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced that more than 1,000 healthcare personnel would be coming to the state. Singing River Hospital System told me that the state has committed 59 nurses and 18 respiratory therapists for its three hospitals. They'll be on 60-day contracts, John. The hope is that the first could begin to arrive tomorrow.

BERMAN: Erica Hill, such a great story. These are human beings who are clearly being pushed past their limits. Thanks so much. All right, so how is this for a headline? Back-to-school shopping has become political. Chief Business Correspondent Christine Romans is here with that. My trapper keeper now political?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CHIEF BUSINESSES CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Nothing is sacred, John. The economy is recovering, jobs are coming back, vaccinations are rising, and schools are re-opening. It has Republicans searching for an angle of attack on President Biden's Agenda. Their target, back to school shopping.


ANNOUNCER: It's that time of year. Unfortunately, Democrats created an inflation crisis and now you're spending more. Electronics up eight percent, (inaudible) up --


ROMANS: Blaming Democrats for higher prices of school supplies. It's part of a campaign from the National Republican Congressional Committee. The ads will run in the districts of 15 vulnerable Democrats, including Representatives Tom Malinowski, Josh Harder, Matt Cartwright, and others.

They're zeroing in on inflation in the booming economy. You know, consumer prices did rise 5.4 percent over the past 12 months, that's the July figure. But it's misleading, of course, to blame it on Biden. The reality is inflation is the downside of an economy roaring back to life from an unprecedented collapse.

[07:50:00] Demand for just about everything is coming back faster than producers can keep up. And supply glitches mean they can't make and deliver goods as quickly. And remember, blaming stimulus efforts that's risky for the GOP. That began in the Trump administration. Still, the pocketbook complaints and prices at the pump resonate. Here's House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) MINORITY LEADER: Oil prices the highest that we've seen, begging OPEC to produce more. And now we're watching that they're trying to cheat within elections. Inflation and in a number we have not seen.


ROMANS: You could hear that litany of complaints they're trying to make stick. Presidents, of course, don't control oil prices and, by the way, oil prices are not the highest ever, not even close. They were higher also various times in the Trump administration and they're nowhere near the peak in 2008 when George W. Bush was president.

But, John, the question is will these complaints, these pocketbook complaints about inflation stick with the White House? How can the White House actually counterattack here? It remains to be seen.

BERMAN: Yes, people know what they feel. People know what they are paying. So, it's the reality likely that we'll win out. Christine Romans, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: The evacuation effort in Afghanistan slowing down in these final days before the troop withdrawal deadline. We have breaking details about who still needs to get out just ahead.

KEILAR: And U.S. war veterans working to try to help their American and Afghan comrades. We'll talk to a veteran about their struggles next.



KEILAR: The evacuation in Afghanistan slowing down with the August 31st troop withdrawal deadline fast approaching. And U.S. war veterans have been working behind the scenes trying to help their Afghan comrades and really anyone that they can help. They've been leaning on each other for support since the Taliban took over.

Even since April when this announcement of a withdrawal was made. I want to talk now with Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Lentze. He served in Afghanistan and he is a chief strategic -- chief strategic partnerships officer at the Travis Manion Foundation.

Colonel, thank you so much for being with us. You know, I'm seeing this right now in the veterans community. I'm worried about -- I'm worried about our veterans and what we're seeing. Tell us what you're seeing.

HUGO LENTZE, RETIRED LIEUTENANT COLONEL, U.S ARMY: Yes, the emotions that are going through veterans' minds right now is kind of crazy. I think -- I think there's kind of two categories. One is was my service worth it? That's kind of the first train of thought. And then the other what's my -- what's happening with our Afghan allies?

And so, having these dialogues is extremely important. Organizations like the Travis Manion Foundation exist to create that sense of community, to have that dialogue, to help veterans, families of the fallen, gold star family members serve their communities. So, it's a -- it's a crazy time and the emotions are running wild.

KEILAR: I've been trying to explain, you know, I come from a military family. I've been trying to explain to people who don't that for folks who served in the war, and maybe do wonder, OK, what was that for? You know, even if they feel like they served honorably and they took care of the guy or the girl next to them they do wonder what was it for.

But looking at now these Afghan allies that they're trying to help, this goes to, look, even if -- even if the war isn't won they can still leave with their word, right. They can still leave, hopefully, with not leaving someone behind. And that's why this is such a difficult time.

LENTZE: That -- that's true. And actually. I just had a conversation last night with a couple buddies, guys that I served with in Afghanistan and we're working actively right now to get somebody out of Northern Afghanistan. But I will tell you it doesn't look good with the gates closed around Kabul and we're having trouble reaching this particular interpreter that we worked with.

So, I would say our time was worth it, we went 20 years without a foreign terrorist attack on U.S. soil. I think that's significant. And we also had personal impacts on Afghans and communities that we worked within Afghanistan. So, I do think our time was worth it, although I completely understand why veterans are asking themselves those questions.

KEILAR: What do you want veterans to know about the help that's available to them?

LENTZE: So, I think the key thing is for veterans to talk to each other. Again, organizations like the Travis Manion Foundation exist to create a community of veterans, of gold star family members, and of civilians who are interested in the military community.

And we create opportunities for veterans and gold star family members to serve their communities. And so, looking back on their service in Afghanistan, there may be some questions but they certainly can serve their communities here in the United States. And actually, we've had some veterans talk to the children of Afghan refugees about character. And so, that service is happening right now here in the United States. KEILAR: That's beautiful. Hugo, thank you so much. We really appreciate you coming on and spreading the word about this. Hugo Lentze.

LENTZE: Thank you very much. Have a good day.

KEILAR: A New Day continues right now.

Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I am Brianna Keilar with John Berman. It is Thursday, August 26th. and time is running out for American citizens and for Afghan allies who are desperate to leave Afghanistan.

The deadline to complete the withdrawal is August 31st. Right now, though the airlift is slowing down effectively meaning that for many people that deadline has already come and gone or the window is closing here.