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At Least 50 Killed Following Catastrophic Rain in Northeast; Taliban Claim to Seize Panjshir; Exclusive Look at Life Under Taliban; Louisiana Facing Power & Fuel Shortages Days after Ida. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. On this NEW DAY, no holiday for the Biden administration. The multiple crises facing the president as he tries to get his domestic agenda on track.


Plus breaking overnight, the Taliban declaring another victory in Afghanistan as CNN gets exclusive access into the war-torn country to show what life is like outside the capital.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, Tom Brady says he had COVID, and he believes the pandemic could cause even more trouble this upcoming season.

And she stayed out of the spotlight, but for how long? CNN's new reporting about Melania Trump and her plans as her husband ramps up speculation for another run.

BERMAN: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Monday, September 6. This is a special holiday edition of NEW DAY, Labor Day.

No celebration for the Biden administration this morning. Just major challenges that have eroded the president's political standing. Afghanistan is smoldering, COVID resurgent, the job recovery severely decelerating. And this morning, there are growing questions about when a vaccine booster will actually be available. Top health officials have warned the White House that more time is needed to review all the data.

School is back in session as the U.S. is now averaging more than 160,000 new coronavirus cases a day. That is 300 percent higher than Labor Day one year ago. And dangerously high level of community transmission in nearly the entire country.

Dr. Anthony Fauci tells CNN the country is getting perilously close to having to make tough decisions about who gets an ICU bed. But hospitalizations have dropped below 100,000 again. That's a positive trend that hopefully will continue.

KEILAR: And overnight, the Taliban announced they seized Panjshir province. That was the final holdout of resistance forces in Afghanistan. The White House is still insisting that the U.S. will find ways to get the remaining Americans out of the country.

And on this holiday that was created to honor workers, more than 7 million people who are out of work are preparing to lose their expanded job benefits on the heels of a deeply disappointing jobs report.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is joining us now from Wilmington, Delaware. What is the latest with the Biden administration, Arlette?


Well, President Biden is waking up here at his home in Delaware, but it is hardly a restful Labor Day for this White House as the challenges continue to stack up on President Biden's plate after a rocky August.

The president's approval rating has fallen to the lowest point of his presidency, with the White House aware there is little room for error going forward.


SAENZ (voice-over): President Biden turning his focus to his domestic agenda, facing challenges fueled by the coronavirus, economy and on Capitol Hill.

This coming just one week after the U.S. ended its longest war, withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. The White House says about 100 Americans are still in the country.

RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We are going to find ways to get them, the ones that want to leave, to get them out of Afghanistan.

SAENZ: Meantime in the United States, new coronavirus cases are surging to over 160,000 new infections a day on average, sending mostly the unvaccinated to hospitals.

Now some top health officials suggest scaling back the administration's plan to provide COVID-19 boosters, starting September 20. Dr. Anthony Fauci saying the Pfizer shot will likely be approved by that date, but it could take a little longer for the Moderna booster.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I don't think that is a major issue there. But we would have liked to have seen it happen all together simultaneously. But ultimately, the plan will be implemented as was -- as was originally put forth.

SAENZ: The Delta variant surge is also dealing a setback to the economy. The number of new jobs available to Americans is much lower than expected, with the U.S. adding 235,000 last month, a number the president himself admitted was disappointing.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While I know some wanted to see a larger number today and so did I, what we've seen this year is a continued growth, month after month.

SAENZ: But the White House insisting the economy is doing well.

KLAIN: I would say the Delta variant is having an impact on the economy but not so much on employment. We're at the lowest unemployment rate we have seen in this country in a year and a half, 5.2 percent.

SAENZ: After visiting Louisiana to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Ida Friday, President Biden will travel to New York and New Jersey this week to see the areas hit hardest by the storm's remnants.

BIDEN: We need to do -- be much better prepared. We need to act. When Congress returns this month, I'm going to press for their action on my Build Back Better plan.

SAENZ: But passing the president's multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan in Congress will be difficult. Senator Joe Manchin, a key swing vote, is calling for a pause in the legislation, pointing at its high price tag. The White House saying the recent weather-related crises are prime examples to why Biden's plan is vital.

CEDRIC RICHMOND, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: Look at New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. People who see what the climate change is doing, and we're going to address that in our legislation. The president created this legislation over a year ago. So he was ahead of this, and now we just need Congress to come along with us so that we can protect the American people and invest in them.


SAENZ: On top of all those issues, President Biden has also directed his team to find ways to respond to that abortion ban in the state of Texas. But so far, no specific details on what the federal government can actually do have emerged, and efforts to codify Roe v. Wade into law are likely to fall flat up on Capitol Hill -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Arlette, thank you so much. Live for us from Wilmington, Delaware.

BERMAN: The death toll is rising in the Northeast out of -- after the catastrophic rain and flooding from Ida, with at least 50 deaths recorded across six states.

President Biden is set to get a firsthand look at the devastation, with a visit to New Jersey and some hard-hit communities in New York tomorrow.


CNN's Polo Sandoval live in a Queens neighborhood, Polo, that was hit really hard by the flooding.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, good morning to you. Ahead of that presidential visit, we spent some time in one of those neighborhoods that was perhaps hardest hit, or at least one of the hardest hit throughout the New York area that was hard-hit or at least one of the hardest hit throughout the New York area.

And there seems to be a consensus among many of the residents here that they need that financial assistance, as many of them spent this holiday weekend clearing out their basements that were flooded, essentially gutting out that portion of their homes here.

But replacing some of those appliances that they need, for example, they are relying, at least they're hoping on the federal government to step in and provide that.

Yesterday Governor Kathy Hochul did sign an additional emergency declaration that could potentially set -- lead the way to that individual assistance that might provide that kind of help that these residents are -- are hoping to get here.

But again, that's essentially on the Biden administration so you're hearing state officials here urging the Biden administration to step up and provide financial assistance not just for New Yorkers but also to local governments for infrastructure assistance.

Now, when it comes to additional video that was released by the New York Police Department, it is quite dramatic. It was issued, or at least it was released just yesterday, and it shows an attempted rescue of several individuals that were reportedly stuck in a flooded-out basement apartment on Wednesday.

And in this video, it really is just painful to watch as you see these officers desperately try to access this flooded area. They had to pull back because of live wires, doors that were locked, and that water level that continued to rise. And it wasn't until later that divers were able to make their way, and sadly, they recovered three bodies: that of a 2-year-old toddler and his parents.

Again, that happening -- that happened not far from where we are. Those three, or that family of three added to that death total in the Northeast. At least 50 people, John.

BERMAN: Some of these images, Polo, I'm seeing for the first time. They are just terrifying. A reminder of just how catastrophic this was.

Thank you so much, Polo Sandoval in Queens.

Desperation is growing in Louisiana, where some areas may not have power for weeks. We're going to speak to the emergency manager of one of the hardest-hit areas.

KEILAR: Plus, CNN has obtained exclusive new video that shows life under the Taliban outside of Kabul.

And a Republican congressman claims the Taliban is blocking the evacuation of American citizens. We have the latest details about the situation on the ground.



KEILAR: Developing overnight, Taliban leaders are claiming they have taken control of the Panjshir province. That was the final stronghold of resistance forces that were left in Afghanistan.

And this morning CNN is getting its first look at life outside of Kabul under Taliban rule. And Nic Robertson is joining us now with that.

This is really the story. In fact, it's kind of the unseen story of what is happening outside of the capital for Afghans, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Brianna, we're hearing a lot about waiting to find out what sort of government the Taliban is going to put in place.

They promise for it to be inclusive. We know they're likely to keep their supreme leader, that commander of the faithful. But little else is sort of really coming from the Taliban.

But if you get out into the country, you can actually see how they're governing, and they're putting their Islamic principles first.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Inside the new Afghanistan, in rural Paktika province, far from Kabul, the Taliban's provincial governor has called a meeting. No women to be seen.

Local village elders and tribal chiefs listen. A young boy takes a selfie. Much has changed since the Taliban were last in charge: smartphones and social media. But poverty still the country's biggest problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have many expectations, and we are praying the Taliban will deliver.

ROBERTSON: The week after Kabul fell, a local journalist took a road trip for us to see what was happening outside the capital. Taliban guides showed him the way.

At the border changes already under way, part charm offensive: giving traders what they want: longer opening hours at the border, and part crackdown keeping men and women apart.

SYED KANDAHARI, TALIBAN BORDER COMMANDER (through translator): Let me tell you, before we had one single line for both men and women. Now we have two. They are kept apart.

ROBERTSON: Pakistani officials easing into the new relationship, backing the segregation.

On this journey, two things become clear: Afghanistan's near financial collapse and the hard switch to religious rule.

Spotting a crowd, the team stop. It's a provincial courthouse. Inside, local leaders careful to praise the new boss.

"We used to have to go a long way to get to a Taliban court," he says. "Now we have one right here."

The new judge in town quite literally laying down the Taliban law. Their interpretation of Islamic law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We asked the previous judges how they used to work. They said they were following the law of the land, not the Sharia. In Islamic court (ph), all court proceedings are according to the Sharia law.

ROBERTSON: Under Taliban rule in the 1990s, the Taliban's Sharia law led to public amputations for thieves, stoning of adulterers, even hanging.

But in the local market, Sharia law is not the big concern. It's making a living.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Business is very bad. We don't know who's in charge. Only low-ranked people are here. We don't know if we can trust them. They're not telling us anything, and the situation has not improved. Prices are going up.

ROBERTSON: In the barber shop, business is down. "It's not only me," he says, "but business is bad in the market. It's not as good as before."

They're not alone. The local pharmacist is also struggling. Stocks already depleted under the last government.

The clinic's maternity nurse also worried about finances, says the previous government didn't pay her for the past four months, and she can't afford to go home.

Closer to Kabul, another doctor, more problems. "Day and night," he says, "we get 25 to 30 patients. And we have just one doctor and one nurse for them all."

Outside the hospital, the Taliban claim an alternate reality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Before you didn't know whether the doctor was coming or not. But now they are there for you all the time.

ROBERTSON: On this trip, the Taliban's prioritizing of Sharia law and bits of charm offensive seemingly missing Afghan's most important needs. A secure livelihood.


ROBERTSON: And that's what has got countries like Pakistan on the borders of Afghanistan worrying. Quite simply, if there isn't economic success, if the Taliban can't run the country properly and provide for everyone's living, then all those people or a lot of those people are just going to come to the borders and try to get into Pakistan and the other countries, possibly make it on as refugees to Europe.

And that's a destabilizing influence here, and Pakistan says that it just can't afford it.

KEILAR: And they can't afford it, so what are they doing there, Nic?

ROBERTSON: Well, the Pakistan's head of intelligence, the ISI chief, went to Kabul to meet with the Taliban on Saturday. He came back, you know, we didn't get an accurate description or a full description of what he was doing, but that's where we learned some about some of the problems that the Afghan government is having in deciding who should run the country, or the Taliban are having problems.

Apparently, they've got military commanders who are disputing about who should be the defense minister. There are other issues in there, as well.

You know, Pakistan is sort of trying to be the diplomatic middle ground at the moment. They're hosting, I think it's the Italian foreign minister today. They had the British, the Germans, the Dutch foreign ministers all last week.

So I think that, when you see what the Pakistanis are doing, and yesterday having a virtual summit with all the neighbors: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, China, as well, on that virtual site. They're really trying to get a diplomatic initiative going which really says engage with the Taliban to the international community.

But at the moment, there's no real evidence that that's happening. And when you have planes sitting on the runway in Mazar-i-Sharif, people who are trying to get out -- the Taliban had agreed to that -- not able to get out, it's all -- you know, it's just raising the stakes and raising the concerns.

BERMAN: We're going to talk about Mazar-i-Sharif in just a second, Nic. With the emphasis on Sharia law from the Taliban, any sense from the people you've spoken to or the sources that we still have inside the country what the situation is for women in these outer provinces?

ROBERTSON: You know, look around that big crowd. That's what struck me. I used to go into Afghanistan when the Taliban were in control in the late '90s. And women were just sidelined from society. You look around that big crowd at the beginning of our report there, not a woman to be seen. The Taliban just don't want to see them really engaging actively in society.

Yes, they say they'll get an education. But the strictures they're putting on education now. They're saying that girls will have to go to separate classrooms from boys in schools. They'll have to wear sort of full black covering. If those classrooms are small, they can put a curtain in the classroom between -- between boys and girls.

So they're really marginalizing the role of women that has done so much to come along in the past 20 years. The small protests over the weekend by a group of very brave women in

Kabul, well, that was met by what turned out to be quite a violent confrontation with the Taliban. The women said that the Taliban were using tear gas, were using Tasers against them.

You know, when the Taliban run the country -- and this is what I saw before -- it's hard, it's strict. There isn't a sort of a gray zone. It's either -- it's either black or white, on or off.

So, you know, when they have Sharia law, for them it's very strict interpretation. Women are allowed to do this, which isn't very much, but men are allowed to do that, which is a whole lot more.

KEILAR: Yes. I think we're already seeing the difference between their words and their actions. And as the global attention moves away from Afghanistan, we expect perhaps that gulf to get even larger.


Nic, thank you so much for your report, live for us from Pakistan.

BERMAN: Really interesting to see that.

So the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee says he has received classified briefings that the Taliban are preventing U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from leaving the Mazar-i-Sharif Airport in Afghanistan. Nic was just talking about this.

The State Department so far is not confirming this information, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to arrive for talks in Qatar.

Lauren Fox joins us now with the latest on this. Lauren, what have you learned?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the top Republican, like you said, Mike McCaul making a very serious allegation here, John, saying that there are Americans who are being blocked from leaving this airport in Afghanistan and making the case that this is a serious issue and that the Taliban is wanting something in exchange. Here's what he said yesterday on FOX News.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): We have six airplanes at Mazar-i-Sharif Airport. Six airplanes with American citizens on them as I speak also with these interpreters. And the Taliban is holding them hostage for demands right now. We have -- State has cleared these flights. And the Taliban will not let them leave the airport.


FOX: And we should make it very clear CNN has not been able to independently verify these claims. The National Security Council is also not responding for comment.

In a statement to CNN, however, the State Department did say this, quote, "We understand the concern that many people are feeling as they try to facilitate further charter and other passage out of Afghanistan. However, we do not have personnel on the ground. We do not have air assets in the country. We do not control the air space, whether over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region."

Now, another group, Ascend, that is trying to get these people out of Afghanistan said that they were unaware of anyone being on a plane, physically on a plane. But they did say there were people trying to get out of Afghanistan near that airport and arguing they were unable to leave at this moment.

They also were making clear the number of Americans was just a small fraction of that group that they were trying to get out.

We should also note that McCaul, being that top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, has been very critical of the Biden administration's role in Afghanistan in these waning days.

We should also make clear that when former President Trump was in office, he was much less critical of their administration's negotiations with the Taliban -- John.

BERMAN: Laura Fox, very interesting report, particularly the State Department response there, the State Department saying we don't know for sure what's happening, because we left.

FOX: Exactly.

BERMAN: Lauren, thank you very much.

The death toll rising in Louisiana as desperation grows for power, gas and food one week after Hurricane Ida slammed into the coast. What -- when can residents expect relief? We're going to speak to an emergency manager for one of the hardest-hit areas.

KEILAR; And while former President Trump may be mulling a 2024 run, Melania Trump reportedly has no interest in acting as first lady again. CNN's exclusive new reporting, coming up.


BERMAN: Developing this morning, the death toll in Louisiana related to Hurricane Ida has grown to 13 as desperation grows for basics including power, gas, water, shelter.

In hard-hit Jefferson Parish, a curfew and a boil water advisory remain in effect as crew work to clear the damage.

Joining us now, Jefferson Parish's emergency management director, Joe Valiente.

Joe, thanks so much for being with us. What are the most pressing issues for you this morning?

JOE VALIENTE, JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIRECTOR: Well, power, No. 1. No. 2, we're still fighting a battle, though we're gaining on it, with

our water pressure. We had over 200 breaks on our water systems. We dropped -- dropped over 400 trees, and the trees in New Orleans in Jefferson Parish are extremely large with extensive root damages, because most of them are oak trees.

And so when those were uprooted and knocked down, they pulled up a tremendous amount of critical infrastructure such as gas lines, water lines.

So we've -- we've restored our water pressure up to about 65 pounds per square inch. And Entergy is working feverishly. They've already restored about 70,000 customers. They still have about 150,000 to go. And of course, we have the issue of Grand Isle and Lafitte, which were outside the levee protection area.

BERMAN: Yes. And those are more or less just destroyed.

You started out by saying power. That's no small thing. I mean, some 550,000 customers in Louisiana still without power after a week of waiting. Temperatures have just been hot there. How much of a problem has the lack of power caused and the fact that you still don't fully know when it's getting back and running?

VALIENTE: Well, it's been extremely difficult. Right now, our government and our response capabilities are on life support, because we rely totally on generated power.

And of course, to have generators, you have to have fuel. So fuel has been short because our refineries, two-thirds of our refinery capabilities were knocked out.

However, they are coming back online. So that's -- that's the good news on that. As it -- it's -- it is causing problems, especially with the heat. We've had some issues with our special needs part of the residents, where they're having a lot of trouble with the heat. So we're evacuating them to various shelters throughout the state.

And so that's been a very aggressive program on our part. We've been dedicating quite a bit of time to that. And so we've had a tremendous amount of support from the state and LDH, Louisiana Department of Health. And their officials have been working very closely with us.