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New Day Sunday

COVID Cases Surge as Students Return to Class Across U.S.; Aide Who Says Governor Cuomo Groped Her Files Criminal Complaint; $1 Trillion Bi-partisan Infrastructure Bill Advances in Senate. Aired 7- 8a ET

Aired August 08, 2021 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[07:00:27]

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. It's good to see you. I'm Christi Paul.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Christi.

I'm Boris Sanchez.

The delta variant is spreading, sending COVID cases surging to levels not seen in months, as survivors gather in cities across the country to remember those lost to the virus.

PAUL: And firing back. The attorney for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo forcefully defending him against the allegations and slamming the report into his behavior as shoddy and biased. We also have more on her response and the criminal case involving the governor now.

SANCHEZ: Plus, an entire school board suspended for refusing to comply with state coronavirus protocols. The man who made that decision joins us live.

PAUL: And golden girl. Olympic track star Allyson Felix leaves Tokyo as the most decorated American Olympic track star ever.

NEW DAY starts right now.

(MUSIC)

SANCHEZ: Thank you so much for spending your Sunday morning us with. It is August 8th. We appreciate you tuning in.

Good morning, Christi. Great to see you, as always.

PAUL: Good morning to you as well, Boris.

So despite, you know, it's good to see you despite what we have to talk about this morning. This new data that shows a dramatic surge in the number of coronavirus cases across the country. The U.S. now averaging more than 100,000 new daily COVID-19 cases each day. And that is the highest rate in nearly six months. SANCHEZ: Yeah, in fact, the last time the seven-day average was that

high was in February. Compare that to the end of June of the average just over 11,000 cases. Remember, roughly half the U.S. population remains unvaccinated. So this is potentially almost fully preventable.

Hospitalizations and deaths also climbing. So as we think about the more than 63,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals and suffering from this, we can't ignore that fact, Christi, that vaccinations could ultimately prevent this.

PAUL: Yeah, the alarming uptick in cases and hospitalizations comes as millions of, as we know, students are going back to school in person. There are schools opening up this week across many counties Florida. Florida considered now to be the epicenter of the current surge. Florida also has fully vaccinated slightly less than half of its total population. The rate of virus transmission there, obviously, very high.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. BERNARD ASHBY, FLORIDA STATE LEAD, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT HEALTH CARE: One-third of the patients that are in the hospital are in the 20s and 40s in Florida. We are seeing 30-year-olds, literally 30-year- olds who are in the ICU on vents and passing away. This is not the time for politics. This is the time for us to actually do what we can to mitigate this damage. I mean, you know, people are dying, unfortunately, and Florida is number one in the country. Really nothing's being done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Let's get straight to CNN's Natasha Chen. She joins us now live from Orlando.

Natasha, you heard it from that doctor. Florida leading the U.S. in COVID-19 cases, and what we're seeing in Florida could potentially repeat itself elsewhere, right?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris and Christi, that doctor also said this is not the time for politics. But that is what we are seeing in Florida and that is what we're seeing in other places around the country, as well. When you look at state officials butting heads with local officials, butting heads with parents and educators on how to, for example, bring kids back to class safely in person, classes resume in person for orange county public schools where we are on Tuesday. There is a mask mandate that the district just put into place for that, for teachers, employees. For students as well, but because of the state policy trying to prevent districts from doing so, they have to allow parents to opt out of that. So you are seeing a lot of tension there.

Now, we were at a vaccination clinic yesterday where we saw some young people coming in. Orange County reporting a lot of 12 to 17-year-olds are getting vaccinated recently, probably because they are going back in person. So, we heard from a teenager starting his senior year about why he

wanted to get the shot. We also heard from the nurse leading that mobile unit vaccination clinic, talking about the trends she is seeing.

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[07:05:02]

JENNIFER STONE, NURSE LEAD, STRIKE TEAM COORDINATOR: People do follow the numbers. They do watch the news. And whenever there is a spike, we see a spike in vaccinations.

BRANDON SANTIZO, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT WHO GOT VACCINATED: I am going to be around different kids and other people. And I didn't go last year. So now it's, like, new environment and new germs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: That young gentleman that we spoke to right there, we spoke to his mother, as well. She actually brought him, the rest of her children, they all got vaccinated yesterday. She told me, yes, part of the reason is because her high-schoolers are starting class in person, but also because recently, ultimately, she had two very close friends die of COVID-19, just in the past two weeks. One of them she said was her own age, someone with children, someone who was healthy, someone she least expect today succumb to the virus.

She doesn't know if they were vaccinated, but that definitely stoked some urgency in her to get her family vaccinated. We are definitely sensing that urgency from the people who lined up yesterday to get a vaccine -- Boris and Christi.

PAUL: Natasha Chen, we appreciate it. Thank you.

So Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston is with us right now.

Dr. Baron, thank you for being here. Really appreciate you.

We know that just under 47 percent of people in Harris County are fully vaccinated, slightly higher than Texas overall. But I was reading, according to CNN tracker numbers, there has been a 500 percent increase in COVID admissions, and that Florida and Texas account for about a third of all U.S. COVID cases that have been reported in the last week.

Talk to us about what you're seeing in our hospital.

DR. JOSEPH VARON, CHIEF OF STAFF, UNITED MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: I mean, it's interesting talking about this because, you know, over the last 12 hours I have lost more patients than the number of patients that have I have lost in the last five to six weeks, just to give you an idea how bad things are.

Yes, we have had an increase in the number of admissions to about 500 percent. We have no beds. Our emergency department is full of patients just waiting to be able to get into a hospital. But that's not just in one -- the one problem that we have. The other problem is health care providers. We don't have enough nurse nurses. I mean, nurses are phoning in sick, respiratory therapies are phoning in sick as well.

So we are having an issue with getting enough nurses so that we can provide the best possible care to the patients. It's bad. For me, this is a deja vu of what we've had last year.

PAUL: I was just going to say, what you are describing sounds like the conversation you and I had last year, not in the last few weeks.

Are you feeling then, because, I mean, I don't know if you even had time to breathe and recover from what happened last year because this has been such a fluid situation, but are you feeling and is your team feeling some battle fatigue at this point from this?

VARON: Oh, no question about it. Ordinary, I have a nurse that was crying on my shoulder because she was -- we have a patient that have a cardiac arrest and then another one and another one. It was one after the other.

We are exhausted. I mean, we are working non-stop. Patients keep on coming. And the worst part about this is that this was foreseeable and this was preventable.

So not only we are exhausted. We're annoyed. We're annoyed because people are not doing the right thing.

PAUL: And talk to people about doing the right thing. For anybody who is out there who, you know, maybe they're not looking at the vaccine as something that is political, but they have concerns about it from a physical standpoint. Everybody has their own reasoning, I suppose.

But is there anything you feel like you can say to convince people that that's what needs to be done? To get the vaccine?

VARON: I mean, I would just tell people, come spend the day with me. Come spend two hours with me rounding in my unit so you get an idea of why it is important to get vaccinated. It is very sad when you lose a 30-year-old, a 29-year-old or somebody without any pre-existing health conditions.

And stop politicizing the vaccine. The vaccine works. But also common sense works. Avoid going to large crowded places. Those are the things that I keep on telling people. Wear your mask. How difficult can that be?

PAUL: We had a story earlier this week of an 11-month-old girl with COVID who had to be airlifted more than 150 miles away because the initial hospital she had been admitted to did not have a pediatric hospital with the right services that were available, to treat what she needed.

[07:10:04] Are you seeing an issue with -- you said, obviously, your staff. Some of them aren't able to be there. But do you foresee more situations like this where people are going to have to be airlifted because the resources are starting to -- is this new? Is the resources starting to lack? Is it just that the resources aren't there or that the numbers of expeditiously going too high now?

VARON: I think it's both. I think you have both. You know, excessive number of people that are coming in, but also your resources are limited.

And, you know, this is Houston. We are talking about, you know, one of the largest cities in America. We are talking about like the Mecca of medicine. And yet you have a lack of resources. It's pretty impressive. And it's in every hospital in the Houston metropolitan area.

PAUL: Dr. Joseph Varon, we are grateful for you. We are grateful for your teams. There are so many people that are thankful that you are on this. Thank you for taking time out of your day to share with us. We are so sorry for what you have had to go through in the last 12 hours, as you mentioned. Take good care of yourself and your teams there.

VARON: Thank you.

PAUL: Of course.

SANCHEZ: An attorney for embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has forcefully pushed back on a recent investigation that lays out claims that the governor sexually harassed nearly a dozen women. In a one-on- one interview with CNN, Attorney Rita Glavin signaled that Cuomo intends to keep fighting the allegations as she railed against the New York attorney general's report, calling it biased.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RITA GLAVIN, ATTORNEY FOR GOVERNOR CUOMO: That report is shoddy, it is biased. It omits evidence and it was an ambush. And they haven't shared all of their evidence.

Here is the thing, I -- from his perspective, and I do think you are going to hear this from him, he didn't believe it was inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: The governor has denied the allegations against him, and while he appears to be preparing for a long legal fight, his political career is under pressure. Calls for Governor Cuomo to resign have grown louder by the day and they're coming from leaders within his own party, including President Joe Biden.

Meantime, the New York state legislature is signaling it will move ahead with impeachment proceedings.

We should also note the aide who says Cuomo groped her has filed a criminal complaint against him. CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Albany, New York, with the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi and Boris, yesterday, we were there as the Albany County sheriff publicly addressed that criminal compliant that was filed against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday. The sheriff saying it was sexual in nature, the actual compliant itself, and wouldn't go into great detail, saying that the investigation still its very preliminary stages here.

But at the same time, CNN speaking to the attorney of that complainant, it does confirm that she is, in fact, the woman who's referred to as executive assistant number 1 in that attorney general report from the New York state attorney general that was released on Tuesday which 11 women are coming forward with these allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo.

Sheriff Craig Apple saying we can expect for the investigation to basically follow just what they usually do in these kinds of cases, assigning it to a team of investigators that specialize in this case. I want you to hear directly from Sheriff Craig Apple who says it's simply because the governor is a target of this investigation, it does not mean that they will either rush or delay this case.

SHERIFF CRAIG APPLE, ALBANY COUNTY, NEW YORK: I had a female victim come forward which had to be the hardest thing she has ever done in her life and make an allegation of criminal conduct against the governor. I have a young lady that came in was alleging that she was victimized and we're going to do everything in our powers to help her.

SANDOVAL: The sheriff also told us if this investigation does lead them to charges, then the governor could potentially face misdemeanor charges as part of this investigation. But again still in the early stages in this point after Cuomo continues to deny these allegations. His legal team going so far to attack the attorney general's report released on Tuesday.

But meantime, all of this really speaking to the possible criminal consequences that the governor may face in addition to everything else, including those impeachment efforts that have been led by Democrats here in Albany to actually get him out of office -- Christi and Boris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL: Polo Sandoval, thank you so much. And we'll continue, obviously, to keep you posted on what's happening with that case.

But President Biden is close to securing a big win. His infrastructure plan moving forward thanks in part to 18 Republicans -- 18 who voted to advance it. There are some hurdles here, though, to be clear.

Where things stand, after the break.

[07:15:02] SANCHEZ: Plus, why debate over COVID issues at one school in New Mexico led to an entire school board getting suspended. We'll discuss ahead this hour.

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SANCHEZ: There are new details this morning about efforts by one of former President Trump's allies to overturn the November election. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue both sitting down for interviews with the Senate judiciary committee and we're learning they shed new light on one specific former DOJ lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, and the lengths that he went to do subvert the election, including his efforts to get them fired for refusing to back up Trump's lies about the 2020 election.

CNN has learned that Rosen and Donoghue both told investigators they don't know whether Clark was acting on Trump's orders. They have also told investigators apparently that Trump himself never instructed either of them to do anything illegal.

[07:20:06]

PAUL: Well, the $1 trillion infrastructure bill clears another hurdle, move closer to a Senate vote, 18 Republican senators joined Democrats to shut down debate on the bill and to just move it forward.

Among them was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The American people need roads, bridges, ports, and airports to build our businesses, build our families, and build our lives. Republicans and Democrats have radically different visions these days, but both those visions include physical infrastructure that works for all of our citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: A rare moment of bipartisanship.

Let's get to CNN's Jasmine Wright. She's live for us in Wilmington, Delaware, traveling with the president.

Jasmine, things expected to heat up again on Capitol Hill in a few hours, right?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right exactly right, Boris. Look, President Biden is one step closer to victory but he is not there yet. Now that the Senate has cleared that additional hurdle, the Senate is back today with that rare weekend session trying to finish up on his would-be bipartisan infrastructure plan, trying to move it closer to those final stages.

But yesterday on the Senate floor after they took that vote, Biden ally and Delaware Democrat Tom Carper summed up the mood perfectly when he quoted Winston Churchill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM CARPER (D-DE): He said, it's not the end. This is not the beginning of the end. He said this is the end of the beginning. And while we are grateful to everybody who voted, it's not the end. But it takes us a step closer to the end. I just want to thank everybody who came in, took the time to get here to vote. We are prepared to take the next step.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT: So there you see that rare Senate floor camaraderie amongst Republicans and Democrats. But the question now is what comes next?

So we can expect to see some several rounds of debate, 30 hours is the time that they have for the debate, trying to push the vote closer and closer to that final stage -- unless Democrats agree today to speed it up, but they have not come to that consensus just yet.

So, in the meantime, White House officials have said over and over that President Biden even though he is here in Wilmington, Delaware, not in D.C., he will be following the day's events closely because this is a legacy-building legislation for him. This would be his first major bipartisan legislative piece -- piece of legislation, something he campaigned trying to get his economic agenda.

So, yesterday, he sent the vice president up to Capitol Hill where she had multiple meetings with the Democrats on infrastructure, including Tom Carper, including Senator Amy Klobuchar, Jon Tester and others.

And so, really, Democrats are hoping to really finish this up and quickly because they want to move forward and really move to that $3.5 trillion spending package that would be passed among Democrats-only as the bipartisan framework faces an uncertain future in the House -- Boris, Christi.

PAUL: Jasmine Wright, we appreciate the update. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Jasmine.

PAUL: So, Governor Cuomo isn't laying low. He is speaking out, holding press conferences, saying he's not guilty of sexual harassment. The question is, will this media strategy work?

CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter is with us next.

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[07:27:54]

PAUL: Shoddy, biased and an ambush. That's how the personal attorney for Governor Andrew Cuomo is describing the attorney general's report that found the governor sexually harassed 11 women.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, one of those women has filed a criminal complaint claiming the governor reached under her shirt and groped her.

The political crisis that threatens his career placing hip at risk of criminal prosecution, though Cuomo's attorney, Rita Glavin, says the governor does not believe he has done anything inappropriate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RITA GLAVIN, ATTORNEY FOR GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: Here is the thing. From his perspective, and I do think you are going to hear this from him, he didn't believe it was inappropriate. He does slip at times. He's not perfect. But, yeah, I get it.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: He does slip, what do you mean by that?

GLAVIN: Oh, he said it in his video -- he said it in his video statement, which is that, you know, he does make the mistake. He will say darling, he will say sweetheart. He does ask people questions about their personal lives. He didn't think that that was improper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Here to discuss is the anchor of "RELIABLE SOURCES" and CNN's chief media correspondent Brian Stelter.

Brian, always great to see you. Good Sunday morning.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

SANCHEZ: What do you -- what do you think of how Governor Cuomo's legal team is handling the media strategy here, that nearly one-hour interview yesterday on CNN?

STELTER: Right. If you think about it, there are two different audiences that the governor and his lawyers are trying to reach. One is the broad New York public, every voter in the state of New York. But then more specifically, they are trying to persuade state assembly members, the men and women who are going to vote on impeachment if indeed it reaches that point. It's pretty clear that the Democrats believe there are the votes to impeach Governor Cuomo. And so it does seem like these lawyers are trying to reach that audience and maybe trying to change some minds.

But I think our colleague Craig Cregg (ph) said it really well in that story at CNN.com. He said the governor is running out of time and friends. That has been clear all week-long.

And you mentioned this case that's now about with the Albany sheriff and the prosecutors' office, these allegations of unwanted touching. That woman who has not been identified, she is going to speak out tomorrow morning, Monday morning, in an interview with CBS and "The Albany Times Union".

So, for as many times as Cuomo's lawyers might be on TV, the press conferences, they hold, the accusers are also speaking out at times in places of their choosing, and I think in many ways, the next couple of days is going to be driven by whatever this anonymous accuser says in her first interview.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: You know what's interesting, Brian, in that sound bite that we listened to, and I think his attorney said it earlier when she was talking about the trooper who has made accusations against him as well, and she said the same thing, he didn't believe that he did anything wrong. He feels very, very badly about that. I do know and I know he is going to address this.

So she has been on the news an awful lot.

STELTER: Right.

PAUL: There is an expectation we will see him again. There are a lot of attorneys might say I don't know if you want to do this.

What is the thought behind the potential success or failure or harm that might come from him speaking out personally?

STELTER: Without getting into the governor's head, think about what has happened in the past 18 months. He was at the highest of highs in many ways leading not just New York, but many parts of the country through COVID. Now he is at his lowest lows.

I think he might believe if he gets back on TV the way he was so confidently doing at the worst of the pandemic in New York, maybe he thinks that connection via television will help him this time. However, we saw in his first response, his first defense was that he was responding to some really specific claims from specific accusers making a long argument about how he does give hugs and he gives comfort to his friends.

The details in the report are so much more damning, much more meticulous. It's about so much more than just hugs and kisses.

PAUL: Brian Stelter, we so appreciate you breaking this down for us this morning. Thank you so much.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Brian.

PAUL: And know that you are going to see a lot more of Brian today. He is on "RELIABLE SOURCE," of course. His show at 11:00 a.m., right here on CNN.

SANCHEZ: Up next, the New Mexico secretary of public education joins us to discuss a local school board which refused to comply with mask guidelines and other COVID safety protocols. The entire school board ultimately suspended. Details after a quick break.

Stay with us.

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[07:42:11]

SANCHEZ: The divide over COVID safety measures is ramping up all over the country, especially as schools start to reopen. In New Mexico, one local school board was suspended last week, the entire school board, after refusing to comply with the state education department's guidelines on masks and other protocols.

The head of New Mexico's Public Education Department, Ryan Stewart, says it was a step he did not want to take, but, quote, it's incumbent upon us to lead her and step in and say we have to create safe environments for our kids.

Joining us to discuss that decision is Secretary Ryan Stewart.

Good Sunday morning, Ryan. We appreciate you joining us and sharing your thoughts on this.

Give us a little insight into this decision. You ultimately suspended the Floyd School Board. Why and where do you expect things to go from here?

RYAN STEWART, NEW MEXCO SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: So just as you said in the intro, Boris, and thanks for having me on.

This is a very tough decision, but at the end of the day, the school board made it clear they were not willing to put forth any of the baseline safety measures to keep kids safe. And at the end of the day, our goal is to get kids back in school, get them their safely and keep them there.

They deserve that after the year they had. The board wasn't willing to comply with the mask requirements and not willing to comply with the air filtering requirements despite the fact that the state is reimbursing the district for that cost and not willing to have any social distancing requirements leaving it up to each individual teacher and that's just not sound public health in this emergency and crisis.

SANCHEZ: And what are they saying to you? What's their rationale?

STEWART: So, the conversation comes down to a fundamental disagreement about, quote/unquote, you have your science, we have our science. And so, it's very difficult when we are trying to follow CDC guidelines and the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics to create safe environments to fully come together and understand what the implications are of those decisions.

SANCHEZ: Right. And, Ryan, what is their science? What are they basing it off of?

STEWART: You know, I really couldn't tell you. I think there is a lot of information out there, some accurate, some not. We are following the CDC and the AAP guidelines and they just fundamentally don't believe in those.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, it sounds like they are getting a lot of misinformation. One message that we have heard from some local leaders like Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis who is trying to ban mask mandates is that parents should be the ones responsible for determining what is best for their children. What's your response to that argument?

STEWART: Well, you take the case of a place like Floyd where we have about a third of the adults in the county, only a third that are vaccinated.

[07:40:06]

We have kids who are going to be walking in and it is our number one job to make sure that they have a safe, healthy learning environment, and we can't do that if we're asking each individual teacher, family, and parent to choose the public health strategy that they feel is important. We have to make sure that we are leaders in this and that we stand up. These are tough conversations because this is a passionate and divided issue, but we have to lead and say we're going to create a safe environment for our kids and our teachers and our staff.

SANCHEZ: So you mentioned the vaccination rate in areas like Roosevelt County, which is where the Floyd school district is. Roughly 33 percent of residents there are fully vaccinated.

New Mexico actually generally speaking, broadly speaking across the state, has a 57 percent vaccination rate, higher than the national average. What is it about this area when you talk to folks in that community that has made them so hesitant to get vaccinated?

STEWART: Well, one of the tough things when you get down, especially along the border area and people look across the border into Texas and other communities, and they see a different approach, a different strategy. They are very deep and sharp often political divides about how you best approach this virus.

We've taken a very different approach. We think it's saved many lives by doing it. And so fundamentally it comes down to the larger political divide we are facing in this country.

SANCHEZ: I imagine that you're probably going to get some pushback from folks there, and I'm curious as to how you try to bridge that gap moving forward. You're talking about leading, but in this situation it's also about persuasion, right? So how do you persuade these folks that seem to have, from what I read, some animosity towards you?

STEWART: So, when I have individual conversations with board members, and it's not just this board, they are always polite. They're cordial. We try to find ways that we can work together.

I think we are really looking to try to invest in more outdoor classroom, outdoor learning spaces where masks aren't as necessary. We're trying to invest in finding ways to connect team with good information with our em epidemiological teams. Anything we can do to help bridge that gap and make implementation easier. But again, there are hardened positions here, so it's a difficult road.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, it is an unenviable task that you are facing to try to keep kids safe in this environment which, as you noted, is needlessly complicated by politics. Ryan Stewart, we thank you very much for your time.

STEWART: Thank you, Boris.

PAUL: Breaking news out of Afghanistan to talk to you about right now. There is heavy fighting going on between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in the city of Kunduz. That is the capital of the Northern Province.

And the Taliban -- this is part of an aggressive push to country claim territory ahead of full withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country.

CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is with us live.

Clarissa, what do you know about what's happening there? And let's talk about the significance of this city.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, Christi, this is absolutely a big one. From what we know, in the last couple of days, four provincial capitals have fallen to the Taliban. If Kunduz falls to the Taliban, it's by far the most significant.

This is a large city, roughly 375,000 people living there. It's Afghanistan's sixth largest city, it's a border area and strategically very important to the Afghan government.

The Taliban have actually tried to take it twice before successfully in 2015 and again in 2016. But for a very limited period of time because in both of those instances, Afghan forces with the support of U.S. airstrikes were able to take it back.

What we are hearing now from Afghan military on the ministry of defense's Facebook page is that they have indeed sent commandoes in. They are trying and doubling down on their efforts to push the Taliban back and reclaim parts of that city. They said on -- during this post they have taken the radio and television center back, that they've also taken a major central square.

But I think that really underscores to you just how important this one is because unlike some of the other provincial capitals taken in the last couple of days, where not even a shot was fired, Afghan forces understand implicitly here they cannot afford to lose the city. It would be devastating strategically and it would also be devastating for morale because here on the ground, Christi, there is a real sense that the situation is unraveling and that it is unraveling fast -- Christi.

PAUL: Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for the update. You and the team certainly do stay safe there. Thank you, as we continue to watch what happens there.

SANCHEZ: There is plenty of news ahead on NEW DAY. But, first, we want to give you a quick preview of tonight's episode of "JERUSALEM: CITY OF FAITH and FURY."

[07:45:08] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I started out with diving to face my fears of the water. When I was a kid I got trapped under a jet ski.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: That is not the right preview. But you can watch the entire new episode of "JERUSALEM: FAITH AND FURY" tonight at 10:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:50:14]

SANCHEZ: The closing ceremony for the Olympic Games is underway in Tokyo right now. It's a games that many people didn't think would happen because of COVID concerns, but it was one rife with memorable moments, especially for Team USA.

PAUL: No doubt.

Coy Wire is in Tokyo for us right now.

Hi, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Good to see you, Christi and Boris.

Seventeen days of competition wrapping up in Tokyo. Team USA topping the medal board. A majority, coming from women. There are 66 medals would have finished third among all countries.

Domination, including that of U.S. women's basketball, claiming their seventh straight Olympic gold. Their win streak is now at 55 games after beating Japan. Their size advantage is too much for the host nation whose tallest player is 6'1".

Team USA's Brittany Griner is 6'9". She led with 30 points, the most ever by an American in the gold medal game, 90-75 win, giving legend Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi each of record fifth gold medal. U.S. women team has dominated so long, half this year's roster wasn't even born the last time they lost an Olympic Game back in 1992.

And congrats to U.S. women's volleyball team who just won their first- ever gold medal, beating Brazil in straight sets. The emotions flowing, the coaches and players savoring this moment. They medaled five times before, so this first gold is sweet. Coach Karch Kiraly, making a bit of history, just the second person to win volleyball gold as player and a coach.

Allyson Felix surpassed the great Carl Lewis to become the most decorated American Olympic track star ever with another golden effort. Felix and Team USA continuing a dominant run, winning a seventh straight gold in the women's 4x400 relay by nearly four seconds. Felix now has 11 Olympic medals to her name.

Congrats to Mama Felix, who gets to go home to her 2-year-old daughter Cammy and husband, Kenneth, to celebrate together.

The U.S. taking home the most medals with 113, also the most gold medals after trailing China most of the games. U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland says the whole world has come together to make these games a success.

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SARAH HIRSHLAND, CEO, U.S. OLYMPIC & PARALYMPIC COMMITTEE: When you're in the trenches, you do, you build bonds, unlike those you can build any other time. And I think the world has been in the trenches together. These games should unify and inspire. They always do. And this time perhaps just a touch more than normal. And the world is going to be just a little better place on the back end.

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WIRE: You know, what Sarah says resonates so well, Christi. These athletes have to sacrifice so much, take extra precautions to even be able to allow these games to go on and show their commitment and sacrifice was well worth it in the end. Certainly a reflection of what it takes for our society and world at large to continue to move forward in a positive direction.

PAUL: I just think that the camaraderie we saw between different teams and different countries was what I think I will remember most. How about you?

WIRE: Yeah. It certainly -- I think because everyone has had such a rough year and a half, right, Christi and Boris? And we all had to pull this thing together. No matter where you're from, no matter what walk of life, no matter race, color, creed, socio-economic status, whatever it may be, you recognize and appreciate the others who are trying to do things the right way and try to make this world as good as it can be.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, no question. So, incredible, inspiring performances from these athletes and, Coy, you should get a medal as well. Really great coverage the last two-plus weeks. What's been the most inspiring message you've heard so far from all the Olympians you've talked to?

WIRE: You know, it always sounds cliche, but never give up. You hear about these cancer survivors who have overcome the unthinkable to make it to these games. But, you know, the resounding respect that you heard from the athletes for this place and for these people of Japan, who, despite much resistance, you know, they open their country to us. They were so gracious to everyone who did come in to this country. And pulled off one of the most memorable games in Olympics history.

PAUL: No doubt.

SANCHEZ: No question about that. Coy Wire from Tokyo, it's been a pleasure watching. Thanks so much. WIRE: Thank you.

PAUL: Thanks, Coy.

SANCHEZ: So, President Biden and the first lady met with Olympic Team USA in a live stream virtual reception yesterday. President Biden giving shout outs to gymnasts Simone Biles, runner Isaiah Jewett and swimmer Katie Ledecky, who said could probably swim a mile faster than anyone could run a mile.

Here's how proud he says the team makes him.

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[07:55:02]

JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You remind us of what an amazing country we are, and you make us look so good as a country. These are the things that people look at around the world more than anything that I do as your president or other people do in public life. They get the impression of who we are as Americans, who we are. And you handle yourself with such grace and such decency, just made me so damn proud.

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PAUL: We saw a lot of character in who they are.

Before the call ended, the president did invite the team to the White House. I'm sure they will make that happen once everybody is back in the same country. Thank you so much for starting your morning with us. We hope you make good memories this week.

SANCHEZ: And don't go anywhere.

"INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY" is up after a quick break.

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