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Florida Brings in Portable Morgues for COVID Patients; New Poll Numbers on DeSantis and Biden; America's Longest War Ends after 20 Years; Spencer Sullivan and Abdulhaq Sodais are Interviewed about the Withdrawal from Afghanistan. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 31, 2021 - 06:30   ET



LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So that really paints the picture as to what they're dealing with inside these hospital walls. And it is that concern of hospitalizations and deaths that is driving a lot of school districts, a dozen now, to move forward with these mandatory mask mandates as the school year begins here in Florida.

And that said, you're still hearing from the Department of Education that announced yesterday that they are moving forward with withholding the salary amount for school board members that are moving forward with these mask mandates that don't allow for any kind of parental opt out. Something that goes against the governor's orders.

I want you to listen to part of the statement that we received from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. He says, we're going to fight to protect parent's rights to make health care decisions for their children. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow. And that's what he said yesterday.

This comes after last week we reported that a Florida judge ruled that that ban on mask mandates will not stay. Essentially saying that the governor does not have the authority to implement such a blanket mandate on these school saying that they don't -- that they can't have these mask mandates even though they're moving forward with them.

And I got to tell you, Kaitlan, we have been watching these school board meetings and they are becoming very tense, very contentious. I'm hearing from school board members that are receiving threats. They are having heightened security at these board meetings. And much of it showing that divide. The political divide that some see as political, others see as something very personal and a health crisis that is really escalating to a different level. I mean, heightened security threats, fights having to be broken out in some cases. Really showing how divided parents are on this issue of masks.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and it's sad to see political leaders using this, of course, and it's just dividing communities, something you never thought you'd see at a school board meeting, parents shoving one another, yelling at one another about these new rules that people believe are just trying to keep their children safe.

SANTIAGO: Right. Right. Exactly.

COLLINS: Layla, thank you for joining us this morning and keeping us updated on all of that. We will stay in touch with you on what's happening in Florida.

SANTIAGO: You bet.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So how are these controversial decisions from Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, how are they affecting his poll numbers? For that, we go to one man for the answer.


BERMAN: CNN's senior data reporter Harry Enten.

You know, DeSantis' numbers have sagged a little bit, but not so far.

ENTEN: Yes. I mean these numbers are really not that bad in a state like Florida. Look at this, his job approval, 47 percent, not exactly great, but last year during election time, look at that, that same 47 percent.

How about the ballot test, should he be re-elected in 2022 and 48 percent say yes. That beats the 45 percent who say no.

These are really not that bad of polling numbers for the governor of Florida.

BERMAN: And what's truly interesting is, is when you ask Florida voters about DeSantis and what he's done on COVID, they're not happy.

ENTEN: No, they're not. I mean, look at this, requirements in Florida schools, should everyone wear a mask, look at this, 60 percent of Florida voters support this. Should teachers get vaccinated, 60 percent of Florida voters support this.

You see one thing on COVID where the Florida voters may not like Ron DeSantis, but on his overall numbers, he's holding pretty steady.

BERMAN: So it seems, one could say, that the COVID situation and Ron DeSantis might be decoupled and not necessarily directly correlated to his overall approval. And there's other evidence of this in Florida as well.

ENTEN: Yes, that's exactly right. So, you know, just look back at last year's election cycle, right, and look how Trump did in 2020 versus 2016. In the top 25 counties with the most covid deaths, look at that, Trump actually gained. He gained. Where he lost was in the counties with the fewest covid deaths, and that's how Joe Biden won. He won in those suburban areas that have a lot fewer COVID deaths.

So what we generally see is that, yes, you want to make this direct correlation. But, in fact, we're not seeing that. COVID deaths in a county or in a state are not necessarily correlated with how a Republican candidate or an incumbent does.

BERMAN: How is Ron DeSantis doing in Florida versus Joe Biden?

ENTEN: Yes, I mean, part of what may also be going on here is negative partisanship, right? So look at the job approval rating in Florida, right. What do we see? Ron DeSantis, 47 percent. Again, not great, but not bad. Look at President Joe Biden, though, down all the way at just 40 percent. So I think Ron DeSantis is benefitting from the comparison.

BERMAN: And Biden's numbers are going down in Florida.

ENTEN: Well, they're going down in Florida and nationally they're going down as well. Look at this. This is nationally over the last few months, look at this, 54 percent back in June, 54 percent in May, in July, 52, August 1, 51, and, look at that, right now, just 47 percent of voters nationally approve of the job that Joe Biden's doing.


BERMAN: All right, now, Afghanistan, which is so much in the news now, I think there's a tendency to say, oh, there's trouble in Afghanistan, that might be driving the numbers. But broadly speaking, Americans like the overall policy, and I will note, I mean they're waking up today to a different world. The first time in the last 20 years there haven't been U.S. troops there.

ENTEN: Yes, I think we got decouple how voters feel about Joe Biden on Afghanistan versus how they feel about withdrawing the troops. So approve of Joe Biden's handling of the troop withdrawal, look at this, just 35 percent approve of that. But approve of the idea of withdrawing the troops, 63 percent. So they may not like the way that Joe Biden's doing his job on Afghanistan, but they like what he's doing. And we'll see, obviously, in the weeks and months to come whether or not this number starts looking more like this number as we sort of look back in the rear view mirror.

BERMAN: It is interesting and it is why Joe Biden and the White House lean into this issue --


BERMAN: Reminding people that what happened here is a decision to withdraw all the U.S. troops, and now they're gone.


BERMAN: That's what he wants to talk about and the American people seem to at least like that part of it.

ENTEN: That's exactly right. And we'll see how these number change. Look, this number was much higher a month ago. It may be much higher again a month from now.

BERMAN: Harry Enten, great to see you. Thanks very much.

ENTEN: Nice to see you.

BERMAN: So, President Biden will address the nation today. How will he frame this historic moment?

COLLINS: And, plus, former President Trump, who arguably helped seal the fate of what has happened with the U.S.' involvement in Afghanistan, is now floating the idea of reinvading to retrieve military equipment that was left behind.

And Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn is now suggesting there could be, quote, bloodshed over future American elections, while implying, wrongly and falsely, that the last one was rigged.



COLLINS: President Biden is set to address the nation later today as he struggles to deal with a series of crises that are affecting the country, U.S. forces have now left Afghanistan, leaving it under the control of the Taliban, hospitals are struggling to cope under the strain of the pandemic caused by those who are not vaccinated, and the southeast is dealing with the aftermath of a record-breaking hurricane.

Joining us now is CNN political analyst and Washington correspondent for "The New York Times," Maggie Haberman.

On Afghanistan and what we are seeing, I think we should just step back and look at this moment and what it means for the U.S. given they spent 20 years there, spent trillions of dollars, obviously and unfortunately lost thousands of lives of soldiers and people on the ground. And now here it is, they've left and the Taliban is back in control, more powerful than they were 20 years ago.

What does this mean -- how do you think Americans are taking all of this?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we don't know yet what it means, Kaitlan, honestly. I think that Americans, over time, have become so disinterested, angry, upset with this war. There were some who, within the first year, were feeling that way. But when the emotions after September 11, 2001 were so raw, the country was so upset, and the country was united in a way that, frankly, it just has not been in a very long time, people were willing to go along with what the mission was then.

It evolved into something very different. And so, on the one hand, there are people who, you know, are very happy that the U.S. is gone. That is, I think, the majority that you will see in polls. On the other, there is this concern about the vacuum that this creates in terms of potential terrorism and terrorist threats accumulating either both, you know, overseas and within the U.S. And so I think we just don't know yet what it means.

In the short-term it means that Biden did do something he said he was going to do. He did something that he had said for years he believed should be done. And to the extent that, you know, his predecessor, former President Trump, kicked the can down the road and left it for Biden, he did deal with that.

But it has been a messy few weeks and no amount of spin can undercut that. And so I think we have to see what happens with Americans who remain there, with other Afghans who have been either relocated or who want to relocate. We'll see.

BERMAN: There are no U.S. troops in Afghanistan this morning.

HABERMAN: It's stunning. It's stunning.

BERMAN: Right. And this is the first time we can say that in 20 years.


BERMAN: Twenty years.

HABERMAN: That's a long time.

BERMAN: It is -- it is a really long time. So I think, to an extent, what you said at the beginning, it's hard to know what this means. I mean you can hardly remember a time when there weren't U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Did the United States win or lose Afghanistan? I mean that's a, in a way, even that's a loaded question.

HABERMAN: It is, although I think it -- it argues more in terms of what exactly was the goal to begin with and people tend to have a very hard time articulating that. It's hard to see what the wins were. The wins were probably in the long-term keeping at bay terrorism, trying to keep at bay threats to the U.S. But in terms of what the U.S. actually gained long-term, it's not clear what that is.

I think we should note, just in terms of the vacuum there, and again I don't mean to keep going back to the former president, because there's one president at a time.


HABERMAN: But some of what we have seen, just in terms of the amassing of potential terror threats in the region over the last couple of years has happened because of moves that the former president made in terms of troop withdrawals around the region. All of these things add on to each other. But what this means, we don't know. How much of the general public that is so tired and so beaten down by COVID, by the resurgent pandemic, by other concerns at home, how much they're concerned about what happening overseas, I don't think we know that either.

BERMAN: It's interesting, you brought up the former president, who, of course, wanted to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and couldn't or didn't on his own.

HABEMRAN: He -- well, he didn't, yes. He chose not to. He --

BERMAN: He chose not to. HABERMAN: Yes.

BERMAN: He said he was going to, and he didn't. He is now criticizing Joe Biden for following through on what President Trump promised he would do. And he's also saying what he would do now going forward.

He says that basically if he were president he would -- I think he's saying he would reinvade.


He says, all equipment should be demanded to be immediately returned to the United States, and that includes every penny of the $85 billion -- by the way, it wasn't $85 billion. If it's not handed back, we should either go in with unequivocal military force and get it or at least bomb the hell out of it.

Go in and get it. And, again, this is not just a guy with a laptop in Mar-a-Lago. This is a guy who, as of this morning, is the front runner for the Republican nomination, could be the next president. Is he promising to reinvade?

HABERMAN: No, I don't think he's promising anything. I think the -- two things. I think the temptation, as you note, is to dismiss and say we shouldn't pay attention to Donald Trump. There is certainly a school of political thought out there that argues that. He is the front runner for the nomination. A lot of his aides believe he is going to run again. Not all of them, but I certainly don't think that it's -- it makes things go away if you don't pay attention to them in that respect, number one.

But, number two, he is issuing this kind of vague policy statement that, frankly, he issued as a candidate and then often as president. And he manages to come down on both sides of the issue where it's, this was done poorly, the withdrawal should have been done better, and now I'm going to go back in and I'm going to, you know, bomb the hell out of them, he's used other expletives over time. I don't see this as prescriptive, I see this as more, I would do the opposite of whatever Joe Biden did, even if I can't really articulate what that is.

COLLINS: Right. And, of course, the way he's been talking about how this has been executed and what's going forward, there's been questions raised about how he would have handled this, especially with the refugees issue and the Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and the fact that you've heard a former adviser to Pence say that they whittled that program down and did not do anything to bolster it. The Biden administration has said that was -- that played a role in why they were so slow to do it.

But I do want to ask you, the House Select Committee that is investigating January 6th and what happened has asked telecommunications companies to preserve the records of Republican allies of the presidents who were on Capitol Hill that day and former President Trump himself.

What signal does this give you about the direction that they are headed? Do you think this is going to be fruitful in any way of the conversations that he was having, you know, while holed up in the Oval Office that day with lawmakers who are on Capitol Hill witnessing this?

HABERMAN: I think the -- look, the former president doesn't text. So, I mean, he gets texts and reads them. He doesn't really send them. But I think the concern for him is that there are going to be texts among lawmakers or among his own aides talking about what he himself had said or was doing in that moment. That is the concern there.

What I think the committee is doing more broadly is trying to figure out whether there was a, at minimum, a delay in trying to, you know, deal with the threat of what was happening at the Capitol, and also whether there was something more coordinated and organized. And there has been this question that we've seen all along, there was a Reuters report a couple of weeks ago or days ago, they all meld together, suggesting that the FBI had not really come up with evidence that there was some concerted attack. I think that's where they're going with this.

BERMAN: I want to read your book in a few months to read about these conversations --

HABERMAN: Hey, thanks.

BERMAN: That members of Congress have had repeatedly with the former president.

Madison Cawthorn is a current member of Congress. He, of course, is a new member, so I don't know that he was talking to President Trump then. But Madison Cawthorn has said some pretty crazy stuff, including when he was with supporters in North Carolina, he basically -- I don't know if he threatened bloodshed. He said, if our election system continues to be rigged -- which it's not -- continues to be stolen -- which it wasn't -- then it's going to lead to one place, and that's bloodshed, he said. And I will tell you, as much as I'm willing to defend our liberty at all costs, there's nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American.

HABERMAN: I mean this is a perfect distillation of the political discourse that Donald Trump, you know, injected into the broader conversation and the broader discussion among Americans, which is I'm going to -- I'm going to put something out there. I'm not saying that I'm doing this. Other people might do this. I just -- I really hope that doesn't happen. That's what Cawthorn is doing. It is not responsible language. It is not responsible for a member of Congress. It was not responsible for a president to say things like this. He is not explicitly saying, yes, I will do this, but he walks pretty close to the line.

BERMAN: That's startling to hear that from a sitting member of Congress.

HABERMAN: Yes. And this is -- this is -- this is the new type of conversation and discussion and acceptable commentary in certain quarters in our politics. COLLINS: And you're very right that it's very much in Trump fashion of

saying, if this happened, even though the first part of that statement is wrong.


COLLINS: The election was not stolen. It wasn't rigged.

HABERMAN: Right. Right, it's -- he is -- he is positing something out there that is based on something that is simply not true, as you say. And then he's essentially saying, I can't help it if people behave this way. I sure hope it doesn't happen. I guess I was missing anywhere in that statement the condemnation of that kind of behavior, which is always the missing component.

BERMAN: Look, games with hypotheticals, not fun after January 6th.



HABERMAN: Exactly.

BERMAN: Maggie, great to see you. Thanks for coming in.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Coming up, a stark trend of anti-vaccine conservatives dying of COVID.


COLLINS: Plus, we're live on the ground in Louisiana, where millions of people could be without power for weeks as it is getting hotter and hotter as the sun comes up.


COLLINS: Less than 24 hours since the last U.S. military plane left Afghanistan, there are still big questions about what will happen to those Afghan translators who worked with American troops during the last two decades but were unable to make it to the airport to escape.

Joining me now is Spencer Sullivan, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, and Abdulhaq Sodais, fled Taliban, Currently Seeking Asylum In Germany, Spencer's former Afghan translator, who fled the country in 2017 amid death threats from the Taliban.

Obviously, both of you have a lot of experience with what so many people have questions about right now.

So, Spencer, I want to start with you, though, on just what this means now that two decades of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is over, not a single U.S. troop is still on the ground according to the Pentagon.


What does this feel like for you, and what were your thoughts yesterday as you watched this?


I'm feeling what a lot of veterans are feeling in the moment, which is simply grief and mourning. We've been watching over the course of the summer the Taliban make gains across the country. And as each major city fell, everyone in the veteran community just thought about the people that they had left behind there.

You know, for many people, the war in Afghanistan was a far flung, geopolitical, strategic level event. But for those of us that were there, it was intensely personal. The reason we're speaking this morning is because of one of those relationships that I had, my friend with Abdulhaq. This lasted nine years after I left the country. So how I'm feeling, it's hot a lot of people in the veteran community are feeling, just simply sadness for the people that we've left behind.

COLLINS: Well, and that's been a big question for those who were left behind, those who did not make it on flights from the U.S. or allies out of there. And what is your concern? What are -- have you heard from anyone who's on the ground that is still there and what are the questions that remain about that?

SULLIVAN: I've heard from a few. You know, I -- even though the U.S. military presence is over, the messages don't stop for the Afghan people. The war isn't over. I'm still getting messages from the brother of my former translator who was murder in 2017. He's begging me -- for me to save him and help his life. And there's nothing I can do for him.

Abdulhaq can tell you as well, but the Taliban are going door to door in the major cities looking for evidence of people who worked for either NATO, U.S. forces or the former democratically elected Afghan government, and they're carrying out actual (ph) judicial (ph) executions across the entire country. Beyond that, they're killing family members of people who worked for NATO or U.S. forces. So there's a tremendous amount of fear and uncertainty amongst the population right now.

COLLINS: And, Abdulhaq, you were a translator for the U.S. in Afghanistan for two years. If you talk to any veteran, as Spencer was just saying, it's a critically important role for the U.S. while they were there.

And so what has it been like for you watching this evacuation and seeing the desperation of people who wanted to leave and a lot of them who could not?


Yes, I'm -- I couldn't believe that when I watch, coalition forces, especially U.S. forces, leave Afghanistan because I'm thinking right now about my family, about my parents, about my sister, about my brothers. They have -- they have no chance right now if we don't pull out from Afghanistan. They are hiding right now because of Taliban.

As Spencer told right now, Taliban are killing people who work for NATO or the U.S. government forces and also they are killing member of family. By now they are looking door to door, every city.

I am so, so sad right now. I am upset about this situation right now, what's happening in Afghanistan. What happened for those people, they -- (INAUDIBLE) for U.S. government, for NATO. We need right now help from the government, U.S. government. Our family, now my family think about their self in Afghanistan. What should we do? They lost everything. I don't want to make -- to lose my family, like my colleague, Sahid (ph), and his mother also. And I don't want to (INAUDIBLE) watch. Seriously, we need right now help from U.S. government to pull out our people, those people, they really provide faithful service for U.S. government, U.S. forces.

COLLINS: Yes, and we should note, Secretary of State Blinken has said that the deadline doesn't mean they aren't going to continue those evacuations. Of course, it just got a lot harder with the U.S. military presence being gone.

We know this is such an emotional issue. Very important to both of you. So thank you both for joining us this morning to talk about it.

SODAIS: Thank you. Thank you very much. You're welcome.

SULLIVAN: Our pleasure.

COLLINS: Coming up, there are new details about President Biden's tough meeting with the families of those 13 U.S. service members who were killed in the attack at the Kabul airport.

BERMAN: Plus, Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with some stunning, new numbers that show how much money a COVID hospitalization costs compared to a vaccine.

Back in 60 seconds.