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Rep. McCaul Claims Taliban are Preventing Evacuation in Afghanistan; Popularity of COVID-19 Vaccine Increases as Vaccine Hesitancy Drops; President Biden Approves New Jersey's Disaster Declaration Due to Remnants of Hurricane Ida. Aired 8-8:30p ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 08:00   ET



HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICS WRITER AND ANALYST: -- late April 51 percent, early January it was just three. At the same time what do we see? Unlikely to get the vaccine hesitancy has been dropping from 32 percent in early January, 24 percent in late April, down to just 17 percent now in a new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's a good number, unlikely to get at 17. Once you start getting down to 10 to 15 percent, you are getting potentially a very high vaccination rate if people follow through. My favorite statistics, maybe that you've ever shown me, is just how popular the COVID vaccine is.

ENTEN: Yes, if you can get 75 percent of American adults to agree on anything, you're in some pretty good territory. Look at this, have a Christmas tree in your home, about 75 percent of Americans have a Christmas tree in their home around Christmas time. That is the same that have received a COVID-19 vaccine, at least one dose so far, and it is more -- I love my pets. My Twitter avatar is my childhood dog, Cody (ph). Look at this, about 61 percent of American adults have at least some type of pet in their house. This is more than that.

BERMAN: So just to be clear about this, COVID shots, depending on how you look at it, more popular than pets? People like their COVID shots more than they like their dogs or cats?

ENTEN: Certainly some dogs or cats, but yes, I agree with you 100 percent on that. Certainly more Americans have them then have --

BERMAN: And if you're as popular as Christmas then you're pretty popular. You're doing very well.

ENTEN: You're doing very, very well. Santa is a very popular guy. So if you're as popular as Christmas, you're doing very, very well.

BERMAN: We've seen an increase in vaccinations in some of the states where there was hesitancy.

ENTEN: That's exactly right. So take a look here. States where new vaccinations have climbed by at least five points last month, and their 2020 election winner. One of the things that's so key is look at this, we know that the red states have been the ones where you've had the vaccine hesitancy. But look at this, these are the states where you've seen the biggest climb in the last month. They're mostly red states. They're pretty much all in the southeast, just one blue state in Georgia. Some people who were hesitant are starting to get vaccinated.

BERMAN: And even if we're not doing red-blue, I'm going to hit a button right now. Look, basically more than half of adults are vaccinated in every state now.

ENTEN: That's exactly right. If you want to talk about things that don't -- yes, there is some political divide on vaccines. But look, every single state, at least 50 percent or more of adults have at least COVID-19 dose. Look a that, the last time a presidential candidate won every state was in 1820.

BERMAN: Kids, this is the area where there is the most potential for growth. What do you say?

ENTEN: Again, look here. Among 12 to 17 year-olds, will your child receive a COVID-19 vaccine, look at this, over 50 percent, 53 percent about in early August. That's about a 10-point jump since then. Look at that, since early June, 27 percent. Look at that, the definitely not, look how we're seeing that. Again, that drop in the vaccine hesitancy.

BERMAN: So all the vaccine trends heading in the right direction, faster than they had been before. There is some troubling trend news in terms of kids and hospitalizations.

ENTEN: Yes. You mentioned overall hospitalizations are slightly down, but among children, those aged zero to 17, it's still rising at the highest point of the pandemic so far. So this is bad news, unfortunately, we have to end on. But hopefully with more kids getting vaccinated, we'll be in better shape.

BERMAN: We don't have to end on it. We're going to end on good news.

ENTEN: Good news.

BERMAN: Which is the vaccines are more popular than your pets and as popular as Christmas, basically.

ENTEN: I like it, John. Let's end on good news and head to the beach maybe a little bit later.

BERMAN: Brianna, beat that.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I would just say, though, look, COVID, you have to clean up after a pet. You don't have to clean up after your vaccine.

BERMAN: I literally texted that to Harry last night. I basically said you don't have to clean up after the vaccine, but your dog you do.

KEILAR: You have to clean up after a Christmas tree, too, though.

ENTEN: Not if you get an artificial one.

KEILAR: That is true. But I would be curious to see those numbers, and perhaps you could bring them to us tomorrow.

ENTEN: I can bring you stuff on artificial trees. I have all kinds of numbers. You don't even want to know.


BERMAN: Don't dare him. Don't dare him.

KEILAR: I love it. Harry, John, thank you so much.

President Biden approving New Jersey's disaster declaration overnight as the death toll from this catastrophic flooding that we saw, that rain from Ida, has climbed to 50 in the northeast. The president preparing to get a firsthand look at the devastation and the mass clean-up effort when he visits New Jersey and also hard-hit portions of New York tomorrow.

We have CNN's Polo Sandoval who is live in one particularly hard-hit neighborhood in Queens, New York. Polo, tell us, what is happening there and how the recovery is under way?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brianna, good morning. It certainly wasn't a good holiday weekend for many of the residents here in Queens that have spent the last several days basically gutting parts of their basement, throwing out what was damaged, and many of them have told me that they're certainly looking to the federal government for assistance in replacing or repairing what the storm heavily damaged here just this past Wednesday here. Kathy Hochul, the state's governor, did sign a new disaster declaration that with support from the Biden administration, if that happens, that could potentially expedite the so-called individual assistance, not just for local governments like the city of New York, but also for New Yorkers that were just devastated by the storm last week.


And it's really what I heard on Friday, also, in Manville, New Jersey, for example, another area that's expected to be visited by President Biden as early as tomorrow here as he assesses the damage. So that is certainly the big concern we've been hearing all weekend long from those that have been hit hard. But then there are those who were hit the hardest and those who actually lost loved ones. In fact, the NYPD releasing some brand new video from Wednesday during the height of the storm as it was hitting this area hard. And in this particular case you can see the dramatic video as NYPD officers are desperately trying to access a basement apartment that had been flooded. This has several concerns, including locked doors, rising floodwater, and maybe the potential for live wires. They had to pull back. And it wasn't until some pumping was done that removed some of that water that divers made their way into that apartment here in Queens, and sadly, found three bodies, that of a two-year-old toddler and his parents. Those three individuals added to that death toll in the northeast of at least 50 people, Brianna. KEILAR: That is heartbreaking to see that video. Polo Sandoval, thank

you so much for that report.

In the wake of hurricane Ida, Tulane University evacuated about 1,800 students from its campus in New Orleans to Houston and has now canceled classes until September 13th. This after the pandemic has already, of course, disrupted campus life there and significantly, at that, over the last year and a half. Joining us is Tulane's president Mike Fitts. Sir, thank you for being with us as you're going through what you're dealing with here. I just wonder, first, can you just tell us, how are students doing, what are they telling you?

MIKE FITTS, PRESIDENT, TULANE UNIVERSITY: So I am so proud of the Tulane community. Obviously, we were impacted by the storm, not like the northeast. We did not have the flooding of the northeast. But the power went out in New Orleans, and we had to make a very fast decision to evacuate the campus. And the students just stepped up to the plate. We ferried 40, 50 buses off to Houston. And from Houston, they were able to fly home, really, on very quick notice.

Their only complaint I got from them is many of them didn't want to leave Louisiana because they wanted to help support the state and making up after the storm.

KEILAR: That is amazing to hear. We're looking at pictures of them as they're evacuating campus after the storm. And as you mentioned, this is really -- it's kind of an infrastructure problem. There's no power in the areas around campus or maybe even in off-campus housing that we've seen for some of the students. You're coming back virtually, right, in mid-September, but when are students going to be back in person?

FITTS: Great question. We literally closed the campus for two weeks, another week, and then we're going to have classes online for at least two weeks, one to two weeks. But we're really looking to bring the students back as soon as possible. As you say, the damage to the campus is real, but relatively minimal. It's the loss of power in the community and in New Orleans, which is slowly coming back and hopefully will be back next week. But we really need to make sure that the city is fully functioning before we bring 13,000 students back to Tulane, and that's the critical question.

KEILAR: I think this would be a tough start to a school year for any students, but these ones in particular have been through so much when it comes to the pandemic and having to learn virtually, right? It's one thing on top of the other.

FITTS: Great point, great point. This generation has really faced some challenges. Now, I must say the Tulane student body we brought back last year. We did not teach online. They came back on campus. We did 500,000 COVID tests and social distancing, and they were great in those circumstances. But, of course, our freshman students, for the most part learned virtually last year, they come back on campus and, of course, a weekend of a semester they have to evacuate. So it is tough. But on the other hand, this generation cares about each other. They

cared about their classmates going through the storm, they cared about each other in terms of COVID precautions. And, again, they really understand that these are the times when you have to step up to the plate. So I'm very proud of them. I really am.

KEILAR: We thank you so much for joining us, President Fitts, and good luck as the students head back to school eventually and you're cleaning up the campus.

FITTS: Thank you, Brianna. Thanks for having me on.

BERMAN: Coming up, a top Republican congressman claims Americans are still trying to leave Afghanistan but the Taliban not letting the planes take off.


KEILAR: Plus, the military deploying 20 doctors to fight COVID-19 in Louisiana. We will speak with one of the doctors, and we'll hear what he's seeing in the ICU.

BERMAN: And California Governor Gavin Newsom fighting for his job ahead of a recall election. Big name Democrats joining him on the campaign trail. But will it be enough to sway the voters?


BERMAN: Secretary of State Antony Blinken on his way to Qatar this morning where he is expected to address the potential next steps in Afghanistan. The trip comes as the top Republican of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says he has received classified briefings that the Taliban is preventing U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from leaving the airport in northern Afghanistan, Mazar-i-Sharif. CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill with the latest here. Lauren, what have you learned?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The top Republican, McCaul, made this claim yesterday on FOX News, and he argued that these Americans were onboard aircraft and were unable to leave this airport in northern Afghanistan. Here's what he said yesterday on their air.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL, (R-TX) RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: We had 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. State has cleared these flights, and the Taliban will not let them leave the airport.



obviously, serious allegations are alleged there. But I think one thing to keep in mind is that CNN has not been able to independently verify McCaul's claim.

We also know that the National Security Council has not responded to our requests for comment. The State Department, however, did issue this statement to CNN saying, 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 airspace, whether over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region."

Obviously, this just shows the U.S. is gone from Afghanistan, and therefore there is no way to know what is happening on the ground.

Now, a group that is working to try to evacuate people from Afghanistan, including remaining Americans, Ascend, says that they are not aware of any Americans that are currently on a plane trying to leave this airport, instead, what they said is there is a group of people, including Americans that are close to the airport that are trying to leave and have been unable to.

But again, John, we are still getting more information on an evolving situation on the ground in Afghanistan -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, this will be very interesting to see for a whole bunch of reasons. Lauren Fox, thanks so much for that.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The Taliban raising their flag over the last remaining pocket of resistance in Afghanistan, the final province here, CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson has an exclusive look at how life is already changing under Taliban rule.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (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 (through translator): We have many expectations, and we are praying the Taliban will deliver.

ROBERTSON (voice over): 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, but the border changes already underway. Part charm offensive, giving traders what they want, longer opening hours at the border and part crackdown, keeping men and women apart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (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.


KEILAR: And Nic Robertson is joining us now for more on his reporting. We also have CNN senior global affairs analyst, Bianna Golodryga with us. Nic, you know, you pointed out your story there. Where are the women?

ROBERTSON: That's it. They're being divided in society. This is the Taliban way. It's their strict interpretation of Sharia law. We've already seen them lay out strict control for separating men and women in education. We heard them they're talking about their strict controls at the border.

We know that they are changing up the legal system in Afghanistan, doing away with the old one; introducing, again, their interpretation of Sharia law.

You know, when you look at what they're doing to the education of women, it clearly minimizes their presence in the classroom, their interaction with men. It minimizes their role in society.

There is one tiny caveat here. It is worth saying, and I have to catch myself on this. Because back in the day, the Taliban didn't allow girls to go to school. Now, they are letting them go to school. That's one of the things that Taliban said they would do.

But of course, I don't think people really realize that they were going to separate out the women, and we've heard women today on the streets saying they want their -- you know, they want their rights for representation. They want their rights for education, full education. We don't know how the curriculum is going to change.

And we also understand that the Taliban are not going to put a woman in a senior position in government.

So you know, it's an erosion of women's rights and access to normal life and Afghanistan. That's what we're witnessing.

BERMAN: Bianna, what are you watching most closely? There's so much that we don't know at this moment. I wonder as you're looking at the situation unfold on Afghanistan, what's the one or two questions that you want the answers to the most?

BIANNA GOLODGRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: What worries me the most I would say going back to what Lauren Fox even reported is that we don't have eyes and ears on the ground, right? So, we have no way of knowing without reporting like Nic's and others who can, from time to time, get a sense in temperature of what the feel is on the ground on a day-to-day basis.

[08:20:08] GOLODGRYGA: Otherwise, you can't check in with women's institutions,

right? You can only rely now on the Taliban. The Taliban has said that they are holding women at home for now for their own security and safety measures, whatever that means. They've said that in the past as well.

I think what has changed, and what we continue to hear time and time, again, as Americans had been withdrawing is that this is a different country now, that women play an integral role in the economy. And what's the first thing we saw the Taliban do? Go into places of business and to schools, and tell women to go home.

So, I'm interested in seeing how that impacts the overall economy, and kudos to these brave women that are going out and protesting knowing that their lives are at risk.

KEILAR: Yes, I mean, they are being met, Bianna, of course, with violence. And, you know, it's so worth pointing out, as Nic does that there aren't women represented at the table, right? So, they are not women advocating for women. It's the Taliban advocating for women. And certainly they have a very different view of that, Bianna.

GOLODGRYGA: Yes, and you think what the U.S. and what other Western countries have been saying is that we hold leverage over the Taliban in the sense that they are relying on us for financial aid, and that is true.

That having been said, a lot of these women that are out there protesting are not only protesting, because it's their right to have a job, or it's their right to send their daughters to school. Over these years, they've been the breadwinners, for many of these families. They've been holding down jobs and supporting their families and that is their argument to the Taliban, that this is going to impact our economy overall, if we can't have jobs.

It's going to be interesting to see how the Taliban responds to that knowing that they need that money and that source of income as well.

BERMAN: You know, Nic, Bianna, really artfully answered a question I asked her a second ago about what questions she wants to answer. And she said, you know, the issue is, we don't know the answers because we don't have eyes on the ground, or it's really hard to get them aside from your terrific reporting, the sourcing from within the country.

As we hear these tales about planes not being able to leave Mazar-i- Sharif and in the Kabul Airport, not really even operating yet, I guess, when will we know? And how will we know that these flights and people will be allowed to get out of the country?

ROBERTSON: There are still some very brave local reporters on the ground in Afghanistan. They've been giving us some information that they can get from, you know, carefully from Mazar-i-Sharif, the people who are trying to get out, they've been able to tell us sitting in cafes or sitting in restaurants, that you know, their future movements are a complete uncertainty. So, there are a few brave individuals who are out there trying to get

that information out. But it's not easy because the Taliban shut down this kind of access.

And I would say the other way that we're going to learn more over time and this has become apparent, really, in the past couple of hours, that last hold out against the Taliban in the Panjshir Valley, we heard from their leader, Massoud speaking in a very long and eloquent message to Afghans saying, okay, now is the time to join a National Resistance.

And we know that he is speaking to a lot of the sort of former commanders and warlords who fled the country who you know --and he is a son of what would be called a former warlord, the former Defense Minister in the country.

There are other sons of those leaders, I know who were sitting out there in the region, and will listen to that message and say, okay, maybe this is time that we step back into Afghanistan and form a resistance.

And part of the message of that resistance is that they are friendly towards the west and Western interests. They want these jobs for women, they want women to have full and equal rights. They also don't want terrorists to exist in Afghanistan, they believe that they can be partners with us on that.

And that is a set of eyes and ears and voices that will be potentially very disruptive for the Taliban. And that's where the Taliban are going after them now. But in the future, that may also be another way we learn what's happening in the country. But it also tells us that the future in Afghanistan is far from stable.

KEILAR: Yes, and unlike the last time the Taliban was in power, social media and technology has advanced so much. We'll see as well how that plays a role in connecting some of these folks.

Bianna, thank you so much. Nic, thank you for your reporting.

BERMAN: Coming up, 20 military doctors helping Louisiana hospital expand its ICU to deal with COVID cases. We're going to speak with two doctors who are grappling with the situation.

KEILAR: Plus, is the key to more jobs, more jabs? The author of an op-ed who says vaccinations may be the only way to safely and effectively reopen the economy.



BERMAN: Hospitals in the south have been reeling under the latest COVID surge and they are receiving much needed help now from professionals highly trained in battle against enemy forces.

This is a video a group of 20 military doctors arriving at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last week.

Currently, there are eight teams deployed by the Department of Defense across hard hit areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Joining me now US Air Force Captain Dr. Joshua Lowe, an emergency medicine physician with the 81st Medical Group and Dr. Abdulla Moosa, a pulmonary critical care physician at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital.

Dr. Lowe, I want to start with you. Your 10 days into this 30-day deployment if you will, 30-day mission. Just tell me about what you've seen.

CAPT. JOSHUA LOWE, U.S. AIR FORCE, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN, 81st MEDICAL GROUP, TASK FORCE BATON ROUGE: Well, I first just like to say that honestly my team, not just doctors, but nurses and respiratory techs, as well are just humbled to be able to provide support to the real heroes of the Baton Rouge area, the doctors, nurses, technicians, and janitorial staff here at Lady of the Lake.

They've been busting their butts with this latest surge, and like I said, we're just happy to be able to help them.

What we've seen is a lot of very sick people with COVID. And as opposed to the first couple waves, these are younger, healthier people.