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Florida Governor Threatens School Funds If Imposing Mask Mandates; Pentagon To Seek Vaccine Mandate To All Active Duty Military; Governor Andrew Cuomo Possible Impeachment Over Sexual Allegations; Top Aide To New York Gov. Resigns; Senate Moves Toward Final Vote On $1.2T Infrastructure Bill; Ex-DOJ Officials Detail Trump Efforts To Undermine Election; Taliban Seize Fifth Afghan City In Vacuum Left By U.S. Withdrawal. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 09, 2021 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @PamelaBrownCNN or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Florida's governor escalates the battle over masks in the classrooms, threatening financial consequences for school officials who violate his ban on mask mandates.

Also tonight, New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, is said to be in a fighting mood as his sexual harassment scandal explodes. And state lawmakers prepare for his possible impeachment.

And former Justice Department officials reveal the extent of then President Trump's pressure to back his lies about the election. U.S. senators say the frightening interference nearly plunged the nation into crisis.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."

We're following breaking news from the epicenter of the latest COVID surge. We're talking about Florida now seeing record numbers of new cases. Despite that, the governor, Ron DeSantis, is fighting to ban masks in schools and that fight is escalating very dramatically tonight. Our national correspondent Natasha Chen is in Orlando for us. Natasha, so, update our viewers on the latest.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, we have a statement from Governor Ron DeSantis' office explaining that after he had already threatened to withhold funding from school districts that have mask mandates, now he's threatening to withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members, school officials in these districts where masks are required.

And the statement goes on to explain that they want to narrowly tailor this financial consequence to the decision-makers, the people in charge of creating these rules for the students in those districts. And I want to read a part of the statement to you that says,

"Education funding is intended to benefit students first and foremost, not systems. The governor's priorities are protecting parents' rights and ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality education that meets their unique needs."

And we should mention that there are already a couple -- multiple lawsuits over this issue, some started by a group of parents with children with compromised immune systems. And so this is by no means something that the majority of people in the state agree on. In fact, the people we've talked to on the ground here in Orange County definitely were seeing tension with a difference of opinion among parents, among educators, local and state officials.

There's one parent we spoke to today who came to this vaccination site to bring his 12-year-old to get vaccinated. And he said, you know, his son will be masked, but what about all those other kids whose parents potentially opt out of taking them to school with the mask on especially the children under 12 who are not eligible yet to get vaccinated.

If you look at the seven-day average of new cases in Florida, you can see how that has really spiked in the last several weeks or so. And if we look specifically at the children, that trend is also increasing. And that's increasing right at the time when schools are bringing students back into classrooms in person.

Tomorrow, a number of school districts in Florida begin class in person, including Orange County, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Lee Counties. They currently all have mask mandates, but because of the state policy, are allowing parents to opt out of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And just to repeat, Natasha, Florida reported more COVID-19 cases over the last week than during any seven-day period during this entire year and a half pandemic here in the United States. All right, Natasha, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is joining us. Kaitlan, this will only escalate the battle between President Biden and Governor DeSantis, right?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly could, Wolf, because that message that you heard from President Biden last week to Republican governors who have been taking steps like this, like imposing things like banning mask mandates was essentially do no harm.

He was telling these Republican governors that if they are not going to help instituting these public health measures that the CDC and other public health experts say need to be put in place with the rise of the delta variant and school -- kids going back to school, then at least get out of the way and don't stand in the way of those who are trying to implement those efforts.

So, we have not gotten a response from the White House to this latest statement from Governor DeSantis' office, but we are checking on it, Wolf, as we are getting other CDC news about the vaccines and whether or not those booster shots are going to get any guidance on whether or not they should be recommended soon because we are now learning the vaccine advisers for the CDC will be meeting on Friday.


Whether or not we get a decision from that meeting remains to be seen because right now the agenda that we have just says they will be having a discussion about booster shots. And we know that our reporting shows that the FDA was eyeing an early September time line for laying out their strategy of who should get a booster shot and what that time line should look like.

Though Dr. Fauci has made pretty clear they believe a decision on immunocompromised booster shots could come before then. Based on what he told CNN yesterday, saying that we almost certainly will be boosting those people before we boost the general population. And he said we should be doing that reasonably soon.

And this comes, Wolf, amid these concerns about breakthrough cases for those who are fully vaccinated. But CNN has reviewed the latest data from the CDC on these breakthrough cases and what we are seeing across the United States.

And right now, it says that more than 99.99 percent of those who are fully vaccinated have not had a breakthrough case that results in hospitalization or death, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's really, really important. Bottom line, get a shot. If you haven't gotten a shot, get it right away. The U.S. military, as you know, Kaitlan, is now moving very quickly ahead with a mandate to vaccinate all active duty U.S. military personnel, 1.5 million troops we're talking about. What are you learning about those plans?

COLLINS: Yes. This is a memo that came from the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today saying that by mid-September he is going to be seeking a mandate from the White House to make these vaccines required for all military personnel.

Of course, that is not something that has been taken, that step, it hasn't gone that far yet because they were waiting to see if they were going to get full FDA approval since right now the vaccine just has authorization from the FDA, two different steps that they make when determining -- making decisions about the vaccine.

And so, essentially, this is not saying that all military members need to be vaccinated, fully vaccinated by September 15th, but by that date, that is when you're going to see the defense secretary seek basically a waiver from the White House that would let them require these vaccines among the military.

That is a decision that has to come down from President Biden, but citing public reporting, the White House and the Pentagon are both saying today that they believe that full approval could happen by then, which then of course, the Pentagon could require those vaccines for everyone.

Right now, they're essentially working on the plans to implement that and how they would actually get each unit of the military to get people vaccinated, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Just clearly, the FDA and the CDC, they're moving quickly for that full authorization use of these vaccines, also moving quickly on getting a booster shot authorized for certain individuals as well. Kaitlan, thank you very much. Kaitlan Collins reporting from the White House.

Let's get some more on all of this. Dr. Peter Hotez is joining us. He's the co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. Dr. Hotez, thanks so much for joining us.

So as you know, students are returning to schools all across the country. The Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, is now going one step further to prevent mask mandates for these kids in schools. You're seeing anti-mask efforts in your state of Texas as well. Are these officials, for all practical purposes, putting these kids at unnecessary risk?

PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT: Yes, that's absolutely right, Wolf. I mean, this is so self-defeating. Look what's happened even before schools have started, we've seen this sharp rise in something we haven't seen before, which are lots of lots of kids being hospitalized.

And for the first time that I can remember since the start of this pandemic, we're seeing kids in pediatric intensive care units in large numbers to the point where even pediatric intensive care units, PICU's, are getting overwhelmed.

Now, some of that is, there's also been a lot of -- another respiratory virus called RSV going around, but a lot of it is COVID as well. And if we're already seeing COVID-19 pediatric ICU admissions in children's' hospitalizations before school's open, what's going to happen after that?

Schools are going to be an accelerant for this if we don't have all of those kids masked. And I would even take it one step further, Wolf, which I'm talking about I haven't heard many others speaking about, it's not even going to be enough to have mask mandates in the schools.

We need all of the adolescents vaccinated, and really, we need to move towards vaccine mandates for the 12 to 17-year-olds in the schools, and here's why. Because in the south right now we've got states like Louisiana, Mississippi, et cetera, only about 25 percent of the adolescents are vaccinated. So the vast majority are not vaccinated.

We have counties not far from Houston where there are similar numbers either less. If we're going to give our kids a fighting chance to have a successful school year, we're going to need everyone who is vaccine eligible to be vaccinated and everybody masked, and that is the reality. People are operating as though this delta virus is the same as

previous lineages. It's not. It's much more transmissible. And now we have evidence that kids are getting sick and they have to step up.


BLITZER: Yes. We're going to have to take these steps if we want these kids in the classrooms as opposed to learning remotely, and we do want them in the classrooms. And these are precautions that need to be taken. You're joining us from Houston where we have new images, look at this, from the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital where a tent has now been set up outside as the ICU units, the intensive care units, are nearing capacity. Are we really back to this, Dr. Hotez?

HOTEZ: We are, but even in a different and perhaps more ominous way, which is that it's a lot of young people now in those tents and being hospitalized. So, the median age in our Texas Medical Center, which is the world's largest medical center in ICU's, is far younger than anything we've ever seen before.

So this delta variant is essentially hitting anyone who's not been vaccinated. So, if you've been lucky enough to get away without being vaccinated, right now your lucks are going to run out because this delta variant is two to three times more transmissible and that's what we have to emphasize.

BLITZER: Yes. And I'm glad you are. Dr. Hotez, thank you so much for joining us.

Coming up, what one U.S. lawmaker is calling frightening testimony showing just how hard former President Trump and his allies were working behind the scenes at the U.S. Justice Department to try to overturn the election and for all practical purposes, stage a coup.



BLITZER: Two top former senior U.S. Justice Department officials describing what the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is calling frightening behind-the-scenes moves by allies of then President Trump to help him push his election lie and try to overturn the vote of the American people.

Our senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid, is working this story for us. So Paula, what were these two Justice Department officials so concerned about? You're getting some new information.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's so interesting. Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, he said that Rosen specifically, he testified to how personally and directly involved Trump was in trying to pressure these top Justice Department officials.

BLITZER: And he's the former acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen. REID: Exactly. Exactly. And helping trying to get them to help him

overturn the election results. Now, Rosen says the former president never specifically asked him to overturn the results, but was asking him to sort of get involved in specific state elections, helping them to help him in this larger effort to basically steal the election. Now, let's take a listen to what Durbin said. We have a clip from what he told CNN on Sunday.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): What was going on in the Department of Justice was frightening from a constitutional point of view, to think that Bill Barr left, resigned after he had announced he didn't see irregularities in the election and then his replacement was under extraordinary pressure.

The pressure he was putting on Jeffrey Rosen, it was real, very real, and it was very specific. This president's not subtle when he wants something, the former president, is not subtle when he wants something. And I think it's a good thing for America that we had a person like Rosen in that position who withstood the pressure.


REID: Here you hear him sort of praising Rosen for being able to stand to this pressure. Well, we also know that the former president was eyeing another top justice official, Jeffrey Clark, to potentially replace the acting attorney general if Rosen wasn't willing to do the former president's bidding. Eventually, this committee will issue a report and we will likely learn more about the kind of pressure these officials faced.

BLITZER: I think we're only just beginning to get the real inside story. Very, very disturbing. Paula, stick around. I want to bring you into the conversation. The former FBI deputy director, CNN senior law enforcement analyst, Andrew McCabe is joining us as well. He's the author of the book "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump."

Andrew, thanks very much for coming in. If you were questioning these former Justice Department officials and you served as the acting FBI director during the Trump administration, what would you be anxious to learn?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, not only, Wolf, did I serve in the FBI during -- under President Trump, but I experienced some of his direct pressure myself. So having had that experience, I would be asking these former Justice Department officials exactly what the president said to them, not just the words that he used but the way those statements were made, the context they came in, how they reacted to him, how the president reacted to their repeated indications to him that the information he had received was false, that they had found no evidence to indicate that there was any sort of substantial voter fraud in Georgia or anyplace else, and the repetition with which the president went back and insisted that the Justice Department provides some sort of cover to enable the president to move those claims forward.

BLITZER: Do you see any potential criminal behavior?

MCCABE: It's hard to say, Wolf, with any specificity what criminal violations may have occurred here by the president or by Mr. Clark or anybody else involved in this. But I don't think that's a closed issue by any stretch. I think we need to get down right to the meat of who said what to whom and see what sort of corroborating evidence we have to see if there are potential violations along the lines of obstruction of justice or false statements, things of that nature.

BLITZER: You're doing a lot of reporting on this. Excellent reporting, Paula, I should say. There are multiple investigations going on right now. So where do you see this heading in the short term, medium term, and the long term?

REID: Well, we know the next witness for this particular panel will be the former U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Georgia, BJay Pak. He resigned suddenly in January after that audio recording of former President Trump pressuring the Georgia secretary of state to try to find enough votes to change the outcome in that state. So that we'll be later this week.


And then we know there's going to be a lot of other people they're going to try to talk to. For example, they would like to talk to Jeffrey Clark, hear his side of the story.

We've also learned from our reporting that inside the White House during this time there were people who were trying to enable the president, but there were also people who were trying to push back. And they're likely going to want to talk to a lot of the people who were inside the White House at this time.

So definitely trying to pursue a lot more witnesses, a lot more documents to get a fuller picture of what exactly what's happening.

BLITZER: And sort of a related development, Andrew, the Department of Homeland Security, we have now learned, has issued a new warning of what is being described for increasing online calls for violence related to all these crazy conspiracies that are out there. How do officials deal with this in order to avoid the disaster that occurred on January 6th?

MCCABE: Well, I think this is incredibly significant today, Wolf. I think this is the Department of Homeland Security again ringing the bell of the concerns about potential extremist violence in the month of August.

They say there's not enough specificity to point directly to a specific intended attack, but they would not be issuing this warning without acting on specific intelligence.

So, I think we need to take all precautions leading into this month to keep a close eye on public statements from those figures, from the former president down through the members, the leaders in the extremist community to see -- to try to uncover any sort of information we have as to specifics.

BLITZER: I read this public safety notification and it's very, very disturbing indeed. Let's hope it doesn't materialize, but they're gearing up for a worst-case scenario. Andrew McCabe, thanks very much. Paula Reid, thanks to you as well.

Up next, the embattled New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, described as being in a fighting mood right now, even as aides try to persuade him to resign amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment.



BLITZER: Today we learned the impeachment inquiry into the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, could wrap up in just a matter of weeks. And now top state officials are already planning a possible future without him. A source tells CNN that Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is huddling with her staff in Buffalo today laying out a road map of the first steps she wants to take if Cuomo is removed from office.

Let's go to CNN's M.J. Lee. She's joining us from New York right now. M.J., you have some new reporting about Governor Cuomo's aids who are now trying to persuade him to resign, is that right?

M.J. LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Let me give you a sense of what transpired over the weekend. Sources are telling us that some of Governor Cuomo's confidants tried to convince him over the weekend that he should resign that no one around him really believes that he is going to be able to survive this, but that the governor himself has been in a fighting mood. That he believes that he can wait this out and that he really simply can't accept that this governorship may be coming to an end potentially some time soon.

And really what he is indicating to people around him, Wolf, is that he simply needs more time.


LEE (voice-over): New York Governor Andrew Cuomo fighting for his political life as a ballooning scandal threatens to undo his decades- long career.

CARL E. HEASTIE, NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY SPEAKER: The governor has clearly lost the confidence of the majority members of the New York State Assembly.

LEE (voice-over): The three term governor accused of sexually harassing almost a dozen women, including former and current employees. Allegations detailed in an explosive report released by the New York attorney general last week. In Albany, the New York assembly's judiciary committee convening on Monday to continue their impeachment investigation of the governor.

HEASTIE: I'm heartbroken. Let me be clear, no one should have to endure the type of behavior detailed in the attorney general's report.

LEE (voice-over): Now, one of his accusers publicly speaking out.

BRITTANY COMMISSO, ACCUSER OF GOVERNOR CUOMO: To me and the other women that he did this to, it was not normal. It was not welcomed, and it was certainly not consensual.

LEE (voice-over): Brittany Commisso, previously identified as executive assistant number one in the A.G. report, describing instances of unwelcome advances and touching from the governor.

COMMISSO: I then felt while taking the selfie, his hand go down my back onto my butt and he started rubbing it. Not sliding it, not, you know, quickly brushing over it, rubbing my butt.

He walked over, shut the door so hard to the point where I thought for sure someone downstairs must think -- they must think if they heard that what is going on. Came back to me and that's when he put his hand up my blouse and cupped my breast over my bra.

I exactly remember looking down, seeing his hand, which is a large hand, thinking to myself, oh, my god, this is happening? It happened so quick. He didn't say anything. When I stopped it, he just pulled away and walked away.

LEE (voice-over): Commisso filing a criminal complaint against Cuomo with the Albany Sheriff's Office last week and says she wants accountability.

COMMISSO: What he did to me was a crime. He broke the law.

LEE (voice-over): Cuomo's attorneys declining to comment on Commisso's interview. The governor denying the allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment, staying low over the weekend.


LEE (voice-over): Overnight, one of Cuomo's closest senior aides, Melissa DeRosa, announcing her resignation.


DeRosa appearing throughout the A.G. report including for allegedly spearheading retaliation against one of Cuomo's accusers. DeRosa has yet to respond to allegations regarding her role. Some of the biggest names national politics calling for Cuomo's resignation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Governor should resign.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): These actions are inappropriate for the Governor of the United -- the Governor of New York State. And I do believe he should resign.


LEE: (voice-over): But the Governor giving no indications of stepping down.

RITA GLAVIN, ATTORNEY FOR GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: I am not aware of the Governor having plans to resign.


LEE: Now, earlier today, we did get an update on that New York Assembly's impeachment investigation into Governor Cuomo. This could conclude within weeks is what the assembly members are saying. Now remember, these Democratic members of the assembly have widely said and indicated that they simply do not have confidence in the Governor anymore. So the bottom line, Wolf, is that it is very, very difficult right now to find anyone in New York who has confidence that he can survive this. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, M.J., thank you very much. Don't go away.

I want to bring you into this conversation with Joey Jackson. He's a criminal defence attorney, a CNN legal analyst. Joey, an incredibly powerful account from the Governor's former assistant. How strong is her case against Governor Cuomo?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think we need to wait and see. And let me just back up and tell you why I say that. Listen, there are allegations of sexual harassment which have no place in our society, whether they be civil in nature that is respecting the workplace and creating a hostile work environment, making people feel uncomfortable, having unwelcome advances, shouldn't happen. Also, it shouldn't happen with respect to any criminal allegations where you may be either rubbing, touching, grabbing, groping which the statute would call for, right?

There's a forcible touching statute and, a, misdemeanour punishable by up to a year in jail not to get too technical. And if he did that, it would meet those standards if you did it for purposes of sexual gratification or for degradation of a woman. Additionally, a b, misdemeanour up to 90 days if it was unwanted sexual contact. But as a defense attorney, I have to hasten to add that I think we're in a dangerous place, and let me tell you why.

I think the report is damning. All of us could agree to that. I think its talks to significant misconduct, we can all agree to that. But we can also agree that, I, in practicing in these courts of New York, recognize that a person is entitled to due process. It's never been the case that I've got a report in my career, got a client who's been indicted in my career, read a criminal complaint in my career and said, that's it. At the end of the day, you have to be able to challenge that.

You have to subject people to cross examination, you have to understand what if any motivations there could be for people saying what they said. Are they credible? Are they not? Do they withstand the weight of other evidence, don't they? And so what am I saying? I don't know what occurred. I know what the report indicates. I've known Letitia James for 20 years, a brilliant woman, intelligent, beyond imagination. That being said she didn't do the report or write the report, other people did.

And so all I would ask is that there be a due process with a governor be permitted in either the impeachment proceeding. Should it go that far, so that he could really indicate what his defences are, as he indicated, or at least as attorney did in the Pamela Brown interview this past weekend.

BLITZER: Yes, Letitia James, the New York State Attorney General.

M.J., you're following all the developments in Albany right now, as the state assembly is getting ready to hold these impeachment proceedings. How's this likely to play out?

LEE: Well, what we know is that the timing so far is that this impeachment investigation could conclude in a matter of weeks. But, of course, we don't know whether that means that this could conclude at the end of the summer, or even sooner than that. What I think is so interesting right now that we are seeing happening, as my colleagues and I have been reporting throughout the day, is that we are starting to see people who are close to Governor Cuomo, starting to say whether in public or more in private, that they simply do not believe that he can survive.

Governor Cuomo is very well known across New York for running the state in sort of an all powerful way. A lot of people have said, again, in private and in public that they are -- the he is somebody who is feared among political circles, but now we are really seeing an outright sort of consensus from folks around him, from people up in Albany that he simply does not have a way to survive. As I said earlier over the weekend.

That was not where Governor Cuomo was. This is according to the sources that we have been talking to all day, that he simply is not there, that he doesn't believe that he has to face his governorship coming to an end. But as we saw with Melissa DeRosa of resigning, that was a huge, huge blow to the Governor because he -- she has been one of his most closest and most loyal advisors for a number of years.

BLITZER: And she didn't even mention the Governor in her statement announcing her resignation.

You know, Joey, there were what, 11 women whose claims of sexual harassment were detailed in the state Attorney General's report. When you look at the totality of Governor Cuomo's legal exposure, what's stands out to you?


JACKSON: I think a lot stands out. Obviously, you look at the allegations that are criminal in nature. You look at the fact that there's been a complaint in Albany. You look at the Manhattan district attorney and looking to investigate that. You look at the Westchester District Attorney's Office as well, the Nassau County District Attorney's Office, so all of that should be vetted. I think that's important. I think it's important when a woman feels uncomfortable to indicate you're looking down her blouse or you're, you know, kissing her when you shouldn't on the cheek or otherwise. So I think the collective nature and the weight of the evidence is significant.

But, again, I hasten to add that the way we do things in New York and throughout the country is not to allow investigators to prepare report. We allow them to prepare report, however damning it may be, but then we allow the person upon whom the report is based to challenge that, and that's all I'm indicating that he certainly would be entitled to his due process as damning as reported.

BLITZER: All right, Joey, thanks very much. M.J., thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, we could be just hours away from the U.S. Senate passing the massive infrastructure bill. But will the House of Representatives put up roadblocks to this massive piece of legislation? We'll be right back.



BLITZER: The massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill is expected to pass the U.S. Senate in just a matter of hours after months of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats. But there could be major roadblocks ahead and getting this deal passed in the House of Representatives.

CNN's Manu Raju is joining us live from Capitol Hill. Manu, let's start with this key Senate vote. How soon could we see the bill get passed in the Senate?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just a matter of hours, Wolf, that this Senate right now is moving at a rather slow pace because of the objection of one senator, Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, who has declined to consent to allow the process to move quicker. So what that means under the Senate rules is that at the moment, they're looking at a final passage vote if 3:00 a.m. But there's an expectation that there will be ultimately be an agreement in this bill will pass later in the morning hours. But there's no question about it.

There are enough votes to pass this bill. Eighteen Republican senators yesterday voted to advance it to this final up or down vote, joining with all Senate Democrats included in that was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted to advance this as well as a number of other Republicans, most of them who are not up for re-election.

But after passing the Senate, the question will be, how does move through the House? Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker has made it very clear that she will not move on this package unless the Senate first moves on a $3.5 trillion democratic only package, that includes a wide range of priorities by their party, whether it's expanding health care, whether it's expanding immigration provisions that deal with the undocumented workers as well as dealing with climate change, a major democratic priority, a wide range of provisions in that.

But Moderates in the House, Wolf, are pushing back. They want an immediate vote on this infrastructure proposal. That's something that she's going to have to navigate in the weeks ahead, a very narrow majority, and she can't afford many defection. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, there's not much of a democratic majority for -- what four (ph) votes in the House of Representatives. Manu Raju, thank you very much.

How long are House Democrats willing to put off this infrastructure deal to get their other priorities passed? Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse of Colorado. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. I know you say the bipartisan infrastructure deal is, quote, a good step. But that, in your words, more needs to be done. So in your view, is this a letter from Moderates pushing for a vote on the infrastructure bill that's about to pass the Senate without passage first reconciliation, $3.5 trillion piece of legislation? Is that a non-starter?

REP. JOE NEGUSE (D-CO), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, it's good to be with you, Wolf. Look, I think that the infrastructure deal that the Senate is poised to pass here in, hopefully, the next 24 hours is a very strong step in the right direction. Any decision ultimately as to the timing of the consideration of that particular bill will be up to the Speaker. And I certainly trust her judgement.

In that regard. I'm confident that at the end of the day, Democrats in the House and the Senate will be united in terms of delivering on President Biden's Build Back Better agenda, which means passing both the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill, I think on a parallel path. And I suspect that both of those will be done in short order. I'm very appreciative of the work that the Senate has done with respect to the infrastructure bill, in particular, the wildfire funding in terms of resiliency and mitigation.

But as you know, Wolf, there are a number of other priorities, including priorities to tackle the climate crisis. Here in Colorado, we had the worst air quality in the Western Hemisphere this past weekend. And the IPCC's report released today makes very clear that there is no time to waste. So we intend to act boldly and again, I'm confident that we will get both bills done in short order in the next several weeks.

BLITZER: Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate says this reconciliation bill, the $3.5 trillion piece of legislation is a once in a lifetime -- once in a political lifetime opportunity for issues like immigration. How likely is it that immigration or voting rights will make it into this legislation?

NEGUSE: I think it's likely, I certainly hope that that's the case. I've long believed in the old adage that, you know,, your budget is a reflection of your values. And I think America is at its best, when we are the beacon of hope and liberty to so many across the world who are fleeing political violence and war. As you know, my parents are immigrants. I'm a first generation American and believe strongly in the moral imperative in terms of immigration reform, and ultimately, the economic benefits that also come from immigration reform.

So I'm hopeful, I was very heartened to see the reconciliation instructions that were released earlier today, which include a pathway to citizenship for our dreamers and other forms of immigration reform. And we're certainly going to be working on that in the House.

BLITZER: We're also learning, while I have you, Congressman, new details from testimony by former top Justice Department officials on then-President Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. You investigated this, of course, as one of the impeachment managers.


Was the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, a last resort after this Department of Justice pressure campaign ultimately failed?

NEGUSE: I think clearly, Wolf, that the insurrection was part and parcel to this larger effort to try to subvert the will of the electorate and ultimately overthrow the election. And that was well articulated, as you'll recall, during the impeachment trial in the Senate, back in February.

I think the allegations that you were articulating or describing in terms of Mr. Rosen, that were released earlier this weekend are certainly disturbing, but not all that surprising. I mean, again, there were many of us, who were ringing the alarm bell back during the course of that impeachment trial, warning about the large scale effort that the former president had engaged in to try to subvert the peaceful transfer of power, the first time in the history of our republic.

So, the Select Committee certainly has its work cut out for it, and I'm very confident that they will get to the bottom of everything that happened both on January 6th, and the days and the weeks and the months leading up to that terrible day.

BLITZER: Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse of Colorado, thanks very much for joining us.

NEGUSE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And don't forget to catch the premiere of The New CNN series "BEING", that's tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern. CNN's Dana Bash sits down with Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Again, that's tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN "BEING AOC."

Coming up hear in The Situation Room, as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan nears completion, five key cities, five key cities in Afghanistan have now fallen to the Taliban in just a matter of days.



BLITZER: In Afghanistan right now, the Taliban have taken control of five provincial capitals in just a matter of a few days in a deeply disturbing sign of what may lie ahead is the final U.S. and NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan after 20 years. Let's discuss with the former Defence Secretary William Cohen. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us. How devastating is it to see city after city after city, major cities in Afghanistan fall to the Taliban right now?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, there's some minor good news, I would say, in the sense that we're glad that Americans are coming home. The bad news is there's going to be a bloodbath. The fact is, I don't think the Afghan forces are going to be able to survive without American support. So, I would hope that we'll at least consider intensifying the air campaign.

But as long as the troops are coming out, they're going to be on their own, with some limited air support. I think you're looking at a bloodbath taking place with the Taliban coming in and going after all of those who support us. I think it's mandatory upon us that we provide a place for the Afghans who have helped us and fought with us, lost limbs and lives with us to have a place in the United States.

BLITZER: But the clock is ticking. All U.S. and NATO forces have to be out within what, 20 days or so --


BLITZER: -- from Afghanistan. There's not going to be -- the U.S. Embassy is in deep trouble, other security issues, all Americans have now been told to get out of Afghanistan --


BLITZER: -- as quickly as possible.

COHEN: Yes. Well, one of the difficulties when you set a timeline, that we're getting out on 9/11 or now in August, then that just emboldens the Taliban who broke every agreement they made in Qatar, and they need to be punished in a way. And certainly, we should never talk to them again. I would advocate going after them with a much more intense bombing campaign from the year to support what's left of the Taliban, left of the Afghan army. But it's a sad story --

BLITZER: It's a pitiful situation because they were trained by the U.S., armed by the U.S. and NATO allies. They can't even control their own country. Wouldn't it have made any difference really if the U.S. stayed another five years or 10 years? It probably wouldn't. And what concerns me most, and I know you're concerned about those Afghans who helped us --

COHEN: Right.

BLITZER: And I'm concerned about them. But I'm also concerned about the girls and the women, under Taliban rule, we know they're not going to get an education. This is going to be an awful situation in Afghanistan. After 20 years, billions and billions of U.S. dollars, a lot of American lives lost for what? COHEN: Well, we did some good, we gave the Afghan people an opportunity to see if there's any way they could engage in self- governance. That effort hasn't been successful. But we have succeeded in giving these women an opportunity for an education --

BLITZER: But it's going to go away now.

COHEN: It will go away and that's what -- and I said, the bad news is, all of those gains that were made will go away without U.S. and allied support, not just to us, but our allied support. I think it calls into question we've got to think about -- there's book written years ago by two Harvard professors called thinking and time. We need to study history in order not to make the same mistakes over and over. And it was Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist who said, no country has ever benefited from a long war.

BLITZER: If you were advising President Biden right now, he's got 20 days or so, would you tell him, change your mind, keep the troops there?

COHEN: I would say be inconsistent. Now, I wouldn't advise him at this point to change anything. It looks like where push me, pull you, on again, off again, sends even the wrong signal. I would say, do what you can to intensify the year campaign and do the best to support those forces remaining in power today.


BLITZER: Looks like it's going to be a real, real horrible disaster that's unfolding in Afghanistan --


BLITZER: -- right now. My heart goes out those people. You know, we were hoping for the best, especially for the girls and the women. Looks like it's going to go away.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.

COHEN: My pleasure.

BLITZER: There's breaking news coming up here in The Situation Room. Florida's Republican Governor now escalating his fight to stop school mask mandates now threatening to actually withhold salaries from school officials who defy his ban.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Florida's Governor takes the battle over mass in schools to a new level, threatening financial punishment for educators who violate his ban on mask mandates.