Return to Transcripts main page

New Day

GOP Blocks Bill to Fund Government and Prevent First U.S. Default; Lawmakers Set to Grill Pentagon Leaders on Afghan Withdrawal; Inside the Secret U.S. Rescue Mission from Afghanistan; Battle Escalates Between NBA & Unvaccinated Players. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 28, 2021 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.


On this NEW DAY. major developments in the week from hell. Democrats up all night, trying to work out their differences. Mitch McConnell sleeping peacefully after voting to let the government default on its debts.

General Mark Milley, the man in the middle of peril. Woodward and Costa said he worked to save democracy in the final days of the Trump presidency, efforts that made Republicans furious. Today, we hear him out loud for the first time since that, under oath.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The vaccine double standard in the NBA reaching a fever pitch. Staffers have to have it. Players don't. And now some of the sport's biggest names, past and present, are taking sides.

And CNN obtains new audio from police in Utah, who spoke with Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie just days before she vanished.

BERMAN: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Tuesday, September 28. A key stage in the week from hell on Capitol Hill.

The U.S. is one step closer to defaulting on its debt, the government one day closer to shutting down. The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan no steps closer to passing. And when it comes to the president's domestic spending program, Democrats stepping all over each other.

Dante's first circle of hell is limbo, and that's where the government is this morning. That's the bad news.

The good news is the second circle of hell is lust, and it doesn't seem like we're headed there, as far as you know.

Negotiations in all this continuing at this moment.

KEILAR: And while the clock ticked, Republicans were blocking a measure to fund the government and to raise the debt ceiling, setting up a scramble for Democrats to avoid a partial government shutdown that kicks in after the stroke of midnight on Friday.

Now, the nation also now edging closer to defaulting on its loans and triggering an economic tsunami.

Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill, tracking the latest developments and the latest ring of hell. Tell us where we stand, Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this morning on Capitol Hill, like you said, the government just one day closer to potentially shutting down. That deadline coming Thursday at midnight.

And there is a lot of work to do still ahead in the U.S. Senate. Like you said, Republicans united in voting against that bill to both fund the government through early December, as well as increase the country's borrowing limit. That deadline coming sometime in mid- October.

But the question this morning, what is Chuck Schumer going to do next? The majority leader has a few options. He can continue to force Republicans to vote on that same piece of legislation, or he could also tear those two bills apart.

Republicans saying they would be willing to vote to avoid a government shutdown, to fund the government through early December or for a few weeks, if Schumer brought a bill to the floor that was a standalone piece of legislation.

I talked to the House Appropriations chairwoman, Rosa DeLauro, last night. She told me she thought the most important thing is to make sure the government does not shut down, even if that means that Democrats have to punt for a few weeks on the question of what to do on the debt ceiling.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the House also working very hard to try to iron out their differences. They had their family meeting last night to discuss exactly where to go next.

The House speaker making it clear to her members that she still wants to bring up that bipartisan infrastructure bill for a vote on the floor in the House on Thursday. That's a few days later than she had initially promised. But she is urging her progressive members who have been avoiding wanting to vote on this bill at all to get behind it. Because she says there's still a lot of work to do on that bigger $3.5 trillion bill that many progressives are holding out for.

Here's what she told them yesterday in caucus. She said, quote, "We are still waiting for the number, because you cannot prove the design of this legislation without the number. And the president is working on that piece. He's working on that piece."

She is referring there to that $3.5 trillion social safety net to expand healthcare, to provide paid family leave, as well as child care.

And one of the things that she's talking about there is the fact that Democrats in the Senate, moderates like Kyrsten Sinema, moderates like Joe Manchin, are arguing that that $3.5 trillion number needs to be less. And at this point, there's no topline number, which means how do you put a bill together if you don't know how much money you have to actually spend?

That's been the hold-up, and that's part of the reason Pelosi is telling her progressives, I know you wanted a vote in the Senate before we voted on that bipartisan infrastructure bill, but the reality is it probably isn't going to happen. Because the time just isn't there.

And as we noted at the top, Democrats in the Senate have a lot of work to do to make sure the government doesn't shut down, as well. So that's where we stand this morning, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, we've been asking, would some of these progressives take all or nothing, or will they settle for something? Certainly, it looks like they're going to, for the time being, maybe proceed with getting something.

Lauren Fox, thank you so much.

BERMAN: Joining me now, CNN political commentator Jess McIntosh and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon. Friends, we have six minutes. And here's what I want to do in those six minutes: No. 1, fix this issue with the government imploding on its debts.


BERMAN: No. 2, work out a deal among Democrats to get infrastructure and the domestic agenda passed.

And No. 3, figure out if there's any way that Joe Biden emerges from this smelling like roses.


So let's start with this little issue of the government defaulting on all of its debts, John.


BERMAN: What's Mitch McConnell doing to keep that from happening? He thinks it is awful if the government doesn't pay all of its debts. He said that in the past.

AVLON: Yes. That's only when Republicans are in control. It's an inverse of -- sort of, you know, Republicans care about deficits and debts when a Democrat is president. They also seem to care mostly about a government shutdown and a default if a Republican is president.

Here's the deal. In the past, Democrats have actually helped Republican raise the debt ceiling. This is a self-inflicted crisis. You cannot say this enough. No major industrialized nation in the world does this to themselves. So part of the question is, will -- will Democrats will able to do

this on their own, as Republicans insist? Will Republicans, a few of them, chip in at the last minute to avoid a filibuster, which is adding to the degree of difficulty, so we don't default and have another shutdown?

Or will Democrats and even President Biden do something unusual, big, to stop this complete charade from occurring? Because this -- we can't have another shutdown. That'd be disastrous to Democrats. More importantly, we can't have a default.

BERMAN: Are they going to have to do it alone? Are they going to fix it alone, Democrats, in the end?

AVLON: I don't see Republicans helping them at this point. And that itself is a condemnation of our dysfunction.

BERMAN: All right. Let's talk about the situation inside the Democratic Party now, Jess. Because Nancy Pelosi, to an extent, has decoupled a little bit --


BERMAN: -- the infrastructure bill --


BERMAN: -- and the domestic agenda bill. OK? Get this all done for me right now. You have 45 seconds.


BERMAN: Tell me how this is going to get fixed.

MCINTOSH: I think it gets fixed because these are almost unprecedented in their overwhelming political popularity. The Build Back Better agenda, the reconciliation package, which one, I would note, has the name of Biden's campaign theme. This is his agenda. This is the agenda.

AVLON: In case it was too subtle. Yes.

MCINTOSH: In case it was too subtle, this is what America voted for, overwhelmingly. He was very clear about it. There isn't a diner patron in Peoria who thinks that corporations shouldn't pay their fair share or that families should go bankrupt when they have babies. That's what's on the line here.

So I'm optimistic, because everyone looks at the same numbers that I am, and they know how popular this is. I think it does get done. I just think it's going to be a really, really tense ride to it.

BERMAN: My wife went to business school.


BERMAN: And so I went through osmosis and picked up about 15 percent of what she learned here. And I was introduced to this term here.


BERMAN: It's BATNA, which means best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Which means if it all falls through, what's your best fallback plan?

Here's the problem I see for Democrats --


BERMAN: -- who want to get past Joe Manchin. His BATNA is nothing. He doesn't particularly care about the infrastructure plan. Yes, he got on board at the beginning there, but he worked to drive it down to, you know, next to -- you know, to $1 trillion when it was -- what did it start at, over $2 trillion?

MCINTOSH: You have to imagine he cares about his reelection, though. You don't get to 30 points of popularity without a couple of West Virginians and going home and saying, I fought for you to get less.

BERMAN: Well, it doesn't make him more popular if he goes home and says, I stood up to the Democratic Party? That's his calling card at this point, standing in the way.

AVLON: I don't -- I don't actually think that's true. Look, I love BATNA. Best alternative to a negotiated agreement.

What I think West Virginia needs is infrastructure investment. They have three times the structurally-deficient bridges than the national average, right? Their state needs a lot of this, because they also have -- they're the sixth in terms of poverty. One out of every five children are living in poverty in West Virginia. West Virginia could use this bill.

What Joe Manchin doesn't want is to say, I signed off on an unprecedented smorgasbord of spending, because that violates his values, as he sees them.

And there is a way to get to yes here, to extend the metaphor. There absolutely is. And guess what? That number, that 3.5, is probably going to come down a little bit.

Democrats are going to need to figure out how they can get things passed, because time is running out. Next year is an election year, which in Washington, means ain't nothing getting done.

BERMAN: Who's more willing to accept nothing, Joe Manchin or Pramila Jayapal?

MCINTOSH: Obviously, Joe Manchin.

BERMAN: That's the issue.

MCINTOSH: Yes. He seems -- he -- we can't -- I can't understand what his motivations are, but I know that he is surrounded by smart people who see the same numbers that we do. I think we get somewhere.

The progressives are doing the pragmatic work, which I'm sure not the position that Joe Biden thought that he would be in, where the progressive caucus is working like hell to get his agenda passed. And they need to get it past a few obstructionists who, I'm sure, were much more vocal in supporting his candidacy.

This is -- but you know what? These are strange times. And Joe Biden has to live through them, as well.

BERMAN: Well, how does he do more than live through them? How does -- how does he wake up Monday morning, after this week from hell, and say, Hey, that went really well?

I mean, is there a way for him to emerge from this, as I said at the beginning, smelling like roses?

AVLON: Smelling like roses is probably too high of bar. But is there a way that this can -- ball can get down the field? Yes.

The Democrats I've spoken to do have the serene faith that it will come together at the end. That the normal way of being a Democrat in Washington is a lot of no's, a lot of tricycling toward a cliff, and finally, you all come together, because the alternative is mutual death.

I will also point out that the third circle of hell is gluttony.

BERMAN: Yes. Yes. I wasn't going there, because I didn't want to name names.


AVLON: Let's just extend the highly accessible metaphor this morning. I do think it's a really important point to keep in mind, that Democrats have more coming at them right now. If this ever was a test of leadership in -- on Capitol Hill, it's right now.

Seventy-two hours, folks still don't know how this ends but they still believe it will all work out. Maybe the triumph of hope over experience, but that's where Democrats are.

BERMAN: I'm going from Dante to "The A-Team" here. Who's Hannibal here?


BERMAN: Who's got the plan? Who's going to say, I love it when a plan comes together at the end?

AVLON: Joe Biden.

BERMAN: Because who's got the plan? You think Joe Biden?

MCINTOSH: I think that's --

AVLON: He looks like George Peppard, among other things.

MCINTOSH: It's pretty good casting.

AVLON: So you think it's Biden who's driving the ship now?

MCINTOSH: I mean, I think at this point, it's -- it's the Biden agenda. It is what America voted for. It is what they still overwhelmingly want, and it is actually what we desperately need. So at this point, I think it -- it's up to the president.

BERMAN: Dirk Benedict not in the pilot of "The A-Team," which is something I didn't know until last year.

AVLON: Is that right?

BERMAN: It is true.

MCINTOSH: You've lost me.

BERMAN: John -- watching more (ph). Thank you both very much for being with us.

More drama on Capitol Hill. General Mark Milley, credited with trying to save democracy in a slew of books on the Trump presidency, faces questions on Capitol Hill for the first time on this, with Republicans champing at the bit.

Plus, CNN goes inside the secret U.S. mission to rescue an Afghan- American woman from Kabul.

KEILAR: And just-released reportings from police in Utah, who responded to a violent encounter with Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie just days before she vanished.



KEILAR We're expecting some fireworks this morning when Senate lawmakers grill top U.S. military leaders about the chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

Set to testify, the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Mark Milley, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, as well as the head of U.S. CentCom, General Frank McKenzie.

This is going to be their first appearance before Congress since the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. And all three will be facing tough questions, not only about the terror attack at Kabul's airport that killed 13 American service members, but also the drone strike in the final days of the evacuation that killed ten civilians, including seven children.

General Milley is expected to be questioned about his attempts to prevent former President Trump from starting a war to stay in office. Certainly, his concerns about that and what he told his Chinese counterpart in the final days of the Trump administration.

Now, just days after the Taliban took control in Afghanistan, there was a secret U.S. mission. It was orchestrated in part by the CIA, aimed to rescue an Afghan-American woman from Kabul.

And CNN's Alex Marquardt is joining us with the details of this story.

This is intriguing. This is the stuff of -- of spy novels, really.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And this shows, Brianna, the lengths to which U.S. forces were going at the time to rescue as many Americans from Kabul as they possibly could.

Shaqaiq Birashk is her name. Like the rest of us, she was watching these chaotic evacuations from Kabul airport. She didn't want to go to the airport.

And then she got a call out of the blue from a U.S. official, who guided her through the night, through Taliban checkpoints, to a secret base for evacuation.



MARQUARDT: As the Taliban took over Afghanistan's Capitol, Shaqaiq Birashk was filming their fighters from her balcony.

BIRASHK: OK. So they are here trying to get into that person's house to --

MARQUARDT: She was in a high-rise overlooking downtown Kabul as American and NATO forces were desperately trying to evacuate people just like her, an Afghan-American who worked for the Afghan government and on a U.S.-funded project.

Birashk was born in Afghanistan and moved to the U.S. at 13 years old. She returned as an adult, spending most of the past four years working with local organizations.

Now, she's back in Denver after taking part in one of the most secretive operations in the entire evacuation, which a U.S. official tells CNN was in part run by the CIA.

BIRASHK: The airport was absolute chaos. It was -- it was as if -- if you would have had to have gone through Death Valley in order to make it and survive.

MARQUARDT: Birashk was in her apartment when she got a call from an American.

BIRASHK: And I said, Who is this?

He said, I'm a government -- U.S. government official.

MARQUARDT (on camera): No details about who he worked for?

BIRASHK: No details, no. No, nothing at all.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The American wanted Birashk to leave, but she said she wanted to bring Afghans with her.

BIRASHK: He said, Well, my priority is you. I understand that you're -- you feel this responsibility towards the people that you have worked with, but unfortunately, my priority is you.

MARQUARDT: Hours later, she changed her mind after a friend who was evacuated convinced her.

BIRASHK: I grabbed my passport, and then I just head downstairs.

MARQUARDT: A driver in a Toyota Corolla picked her up, but they didn't know exactly where to go. "Just tell me where you are, and I will help," the American texted. Birashk shared her location as they drove through the dark and Taliban checkpoints.

BIRASHK: Taliban members came and just smacked the front of the car, and you know, kind of waved at us and said, Don't move. Stop here.

And then our driver was like, I'm not going to listen to him.

MARQUARDT: The American official was tracking them. "I see you," he texted. "Just follow the road until you see a gas station. Then you will see my guys."

BIRASHK: I wasn't scared, because I wasn't -- I didn't have the time to be scared. I had no -- I -- being scared was not an option.

MARQUARDT: They went the wrong way. The American texted, "You missed the left turn."

Around midnight, they finally arrived at Eagle Base, a CIA base just east of Kabul, located by "The New York Times," where hospitals were ferrying people inside to the airport.

Birashk was met by Afghan special forces and then Americans, including the American guiding her.

BIRASHK: I mentioned his name, and I said, Is that you?

He said, Yes, that's me. And then there was a sigh of relief at that point, that I knew that we have made it. You know, there's no more checkpoints.


MARQUARDT: On the base, their phones were taken away. They were asked not to reveal the base's location.

The next day, they were flown to Kabul Airport and out of the country to safety. (on camera) What do your friends and colleagues who are still in

Kabul, still in Afghanistan, telling you about what they think the future is going to look like?

BIRASHK: They continuously say life -- Afghanistan is now a body without a soul. Seeing the way that everything that they had worked for the past 20 years has been just shattered in front of their own eyes. The promises of the international community never leaving them behind, and now they're left with nothing.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Birashk says she and others like her are now suffering from significant survivor's guilt.

BIRASHK: To this day, I'm still processing the information and processing the reality on the ground. It just feels like it's an ongoing nightmare that, you know, I haven't been woken up from.


MARQUARDT: Birashk told me that she felt privileged and blessed to have gotten out the way that she did, evacuated the way that she did, as she says, without a scratch. Brianna, she knows that is not the case for so many who went out through the airport.

And of course, there are many others still trying to get out. The State Department said on Monday that there are around 100 Americans and legal permanent residents who are ready to get out. Of course, you know that there are many more, including at-risk Afghans still stuck inside the country.

A senior State Department official said that the biggest obstacle to getting those Americans out who want to is the unpredictability of the Taliban and their decision on who is allowed to leave.

KEILAR: Yes. It's really throwing a wrench into the works for so many Americans who are trying to leave.

Alex, amazing story. Thank you for sharing it with us. We appreciate it.

Donald Trump's pick to challenge Liz Cheney was once no fan of Trump. What she said and did ahead.

BERMAN: And some of the biggest names in basketball, dodging, ducking, denying the efficacy of vaccines. Will they be allowed to play?



BERMAN: A fight is brewing between the NBA, between vaccinated players and those who are not lining up to get the COVID vaccine.

The league says 90 percent of players are vaccinated, but a few high- profile players have been cagey, at best, about their vaccination status, and in some cases, publicly skeptical about vaccines. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KYNE IRVING, BROOKLYN NETS: There's just a lot of questions about what's going on and, you know, in the world of Kyrie (ph), and I think I just would love to just keep that private and, you know, handle it the right way with my team and go forward together with the plan.

ANDREW WIGGINS, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: I'm just going to keep fighting for what I believe. And whether it's one thing or another, get the vaccines or not get a vaccination, who knows? I'm just going to, you know, keep fighting for what I believe and what I believe is right. You know, what's right to one person isn't right to the other.

BRADLEY BEAL, WASHINGTON WIZARDS: Sot people have bad reactions to the vaccine. Nobody likes to talk about that. And what happens if one of our players gets the vaccine, and they can't play after that, or they have complications after that? Because there are cases like that.


BERMAN: By the way, there are no cases, as far as I know, of that in the NBA, with players having a reaction to the vaccine and not being able to play.

There have been players hit hard by COVID, really hard by COVID. Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns says he lost seven family members to the disease, including his mother.


KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: I've seen a lot of coffins in the last seven months but -- eight months. But you know, I have a lot of people who are -- who have in my family, my mom's family, who have gotten COVID. And I'm the one looking for answers, still trying to find out how keep them healthy.

So you know, it's just a lot of responsibility. You know, a lot of responsibility on me to keep my family well-informed and to make all the moves necessary to keep them alive.


BERMAN: He lost 50 pounds himself from having COVID, Karl-Anthony Towns.

Joining us now is "Rolling Stone" contributor Matt Sullivan. He has written an in-depth piece on the NBA's problems with vaccine skeptics. He's also the author of the new book, "Can't Knock the Hustle: Inside the Season of Protests, Pandemic and Progress."

Matt, I undersold your article in "Rolling Stone" on the issue of vaccine and players right now. It's fantastic. It's insightful. It's revealing. It's disturbing.

You have some of the NBA's biggest stars, Kyrie Irving. He was dodging and weaving and not outright saying it, but Kyrie Irving is refusing to get vaccinated at this point.

MATT SULLIVAN, WRITER, "ROLLING STONE": You may remember that this is a guy who declared that the Earth is flat, which it is not. He's also the guy who bought a house for the family of George Floyd when the NBA was bringing the culture back in its pandemic-proof bubble. And he was boycotting that.

And here we are with Kyrie now, a member of the NBA Players Union executive committee, and they want no part of this vaccine mandate from the league.

Which leaves us with America's most progressive sports league kind of in trouble, kind of in the corner. So here come America's most progressive cities then, and saying, OK, well, if you want to hoop, you've got to get vaxed.

And so, of course, Kyrie, this ultimate humanitarian provocateur, is going to test the bounds of not only the NBA and the law but science and say, Well, maybe I just won't play at home.

BERMAN: Yes, so the deal is -- again, there's no vaccine mandate for NBA players. They don't have to be vaccinated. But in New York City and in San Francisco, where the Golden State Warriors play, New York City where the Brooklyn Nets play and the New York Knicks, you've got to be vaccinated to be inside stadiums.

So Kyrie Irving as it stands now will not be allowed to play home games.

SULLIVAN: So San Francisco made it a little easier on the NBA by getting rid of its religious or medical exemption policy. And so that young man, Andrew Wiggins, on the Golden State Warriors, he might just have to get guilt tripped into playing by his teammates.

Kyrie, my reporting for "Rolling Stone" indicates, is not on some religious crusade so much as a moral one.