Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Pentagon: U.S. Troops Moving to Afghanistan, Rapid Speed of Taliban Takeover "Deeply Concerning;" CDC Endorses Additional Vaccine Dose for Immune Compromised People. Florida Reports 150,000 Plus New COVID Cases in the Last Week; DHS Issues New Terrorism Threat Alert as 9/11 Anniversary Approaches; White House Facing Multiple Crises; Impeachment Probe Twist. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 13, 2021 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And you can also catch me starting at 6 p.m. this weekend. Our coverage continues now.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, the Pentagon says U.S. troops are now heading into harm's way in Afghanistan as the country moves dangerously closer to a complete takeover by the Taliban. I'll talk with the Pentagon Spokesman Admiral John Kirby.
Also tonight, CDC advisors recommend a third COVID vaccine dose for some with compromised immune systems endorsing the FDA's decision. How soon will others be eligible for booster shots? And Homeland Security just issued a new terrorism warning, citing the potential for attacks surrounding the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta, and you're in the Situation Room.
And we're following breaking news. U.S. troops right now heading to Afghanistan as the Pentagon expresses deep concern over the Taliban's rapid takeover of war territory and key cities. And moments, I'll speak to Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby. But first, CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the ground for us in Kabul tonight. Clarissa, what is the latest intelligence and how quickly Kabul may fall? It's very worrying right now.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The situation is definitely highly distressing for people who are living here. It is still calm in the capital of Kabul, but the prognosis is not good. Nobody expects necessarily for the Taliban to imminently enter the city. But the real fear at the moment, Jim, is that they could quite easily surround the city. They could isolate the city. We have seen now the Taliban continue this extraordinary offensive gobbling up territory across the country, more than half of the provincial capitals, including most significantly, Kandahar, the second largest city in the country. This is the spiritual heartland of the Taliban. This is the very place where they first declared their Islamic Emirate, and it was in fact the capital of their original Islamic Emirate. We have actually just spent a couple of days, Jim, with the Taliban in Ghazni province, that province also completely under the control of the Taliban. And we asked them, we really push them on the issue of whether they have any interest in negotiating with the government now that they have made so much ground in such a short space of time. And the Taliban governor we spoke to said simply we will do whatever our leaders in Doha said, say but it's not clear yet. That is not exactly reassuring news for the many Afghans who are desperate for some kind of a ceasefire agreement to be implemented or some kind of clarity as to what the future holds for the situation on the ground, Jim.
ACOSTA: And give us a sense of the evacuations taking place right now?
WARD: Well, so they're not calling them evacuations, Jim. They're calling them withdrawal U.S. embassy personnel, 3000 troops on the ground. I'm sure John Kirby will be able to speak to that much more incisively than I can. But what I can say is that it's being seen on the ground by ordinary Afghans as an evacuation, which is only been contributing to the sense of panic, as the sort of news appears to be tightening around Kabul.
Another thing that is really contributing to the sense of panic is the stunning silence from the Afghan government. We have not heard any thing from President Ashraf Ghani. People are desperately looking for leadership, rumors are swirling, is he going to resign? What's the future? And with that stunning lack of clarity comes uncertainty, with uncertainty comes anxiety, with anxiety comes panic. I think you get a sense of what the situation is. It's eerily quiet on the streets here in Kabul, Jim. But one official I spoke to earlier said, you hear that sound of silence. That's the sound of everybody in Kabul packing.
ACOSTA: There are so many questions to answer right now. Clarissa Ward, there in Kabul for us. Thank you so much.
Let's get some answers right now with the Pentagon Press Secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby. John, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it. In the last week alone, as you know, the Taliban have captured 17 of Afghanistan's provincial capitals. Was the Biden administration caught off guard by this rapid advance? They are sweeping across the country very quickly, and it seems more quickly than you anticipated?
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly, deeply concerning the speed with which the Taliban has been able to move, Jim, as well as the lack of resistance that they faced. But we had been watching Taliban advances even before the President made his decision to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan at the end the 20-year war for the United States there was something we were watching closely and we have been watching closely now for just the last few weeks.
ACOSTA: Well, I want you to watch what President Biden said about this almost one month ago, because I think it goes to this question, let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The jury's still out. But the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban, overrunning everything, and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: That was just on July 8. Admiral Kirby, I mean, the President -- if the President is saying that on July 8, and we're seeing the Taliban sweeping across the country in the fashion that they're doing right now, that would seem to suggest that you were caught off guard and that the White House was caught off guard, am I wrong?
KIRBY: Jim, what I would tell you is we've been watching this very closely and the intelligence community as well. We certainly been monitoring this. It's not like we haven't been able to see it happen. What we can --
ACOSTA: We're seeing it happen and not anticipating it, to the level and to the speed that we're seeing right now are two different things.
KIRBY: Jim, what we couldn't predict was the lack of resistance that they were going to get from Afghan forces on the ground. And as you heard the President speak just a couple of days ago, what's really needed is for political and military leadership in Afghanistan, no outcome here has to be inevitable, Jim, but it has to be led. And Clarissa talked about leadership in her, just comments with you just a couple of seconds ago. And so I think what has been disconcerting to see is that there hasn't been that will that political leadership, the military leadership and the ability to push back on the Taliban, as they've advanced, because quite frankly, the Afghan forces have all the advantages they need. They've got more troops. They've got more equipment. They've got an Air Force.
ACOSTA: But John -- and we heard you say that earlier today, John, forgive me. Why has the -- why have the Afghan security forces melted away in the fashion that they have, after all of the money that the United States taxpayers have put into arming them and equipping them, as you said, they have an Air Force. And so are they using that Air Force? What has happened?
KIRBY: They are using the Air Force, Jim. In fact, they're flying more airstrikes than we are on a daily basis. But you can't, you know, money can't buy will, will has to be there. The ability to exert leadership and exude leadership on the field, that has to be there. And again, we just need to -- I think the international community would like to see more well, more political and military leadership on the ground in Afghanistan so that there is no inevitable outcome here of a Taliban overrunning the whole country.
ACOSTA: Well, I asked you about this, because today you said you can't speak on whether the U.S. will meet the August 31 deadline to withdraw. President Biden said he has no regrets. But is moving that withdrawal date at all possible at this point? Is this a hard no from the White House? KIRBY: The President, the commander in chief, he said, you know, being commander in chief means making difficult decisions and he has decided that we are going to complete this drawdown by the end of the month and we're on track to do that. Obviously, we are flowing more forces in temporarily, to help our State Department colleagues draw down their presence in Kabul as well, and to help them with the processing of people applying for Special Immigrant Visas. But the President made clear too, when he approved the State Department reduction in force that they would do that and have that complete by August 31. That's what we're on track to do. I certainly can't speculate beyond that.
ACOSTA: I understand you're saying you're on track to do that. But John, as you know, conditions can change on the ground. And if things deteriorate more quickly than you anticipated in the White House anticipated, surely you have to be open to some possibility that you'll have to move that date. If you have assets on the ground there that have to be moved out of there are key Afghan resources, there are people there that we promised to get out. And you haven't gotten them out. You're just not going to leave them hanging in the wind, I imagine?
KIRBY: Well, look, that's going to be a call by the commander in chief. And he'll be advised by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs if it comes to that. What I can tell you is that our job is to tee up options for the President to make sure that he has decision space. That's one of the reasons why in addition to the 3,000 troops that we're going to be getting into the airport, there in Kabul by the end of the weekend. We also have about another 3,500 to 4,000 that are going to be forward staged in Kuwait just in case they're needed. Again, for us here at the Pentagon, Jim, it's all about making sure that the President has options before him.
ACOSTA: And today you said Kabul is not under "imminent threat."
ACOSTA: But how can you say that when U.S. troops are evacuating Americans, Clarissa was saying it's not evacuating, you're moving Americans and diplomats. They're being instructed to destroy sensitive materials, sounds like there's some threat there.
KIRBY: Certainly, we're mindful of the potential threat here posed by the isolation that the Taliban appear to be trying to put in place around Kabul. And I also said today, Jim, that time is not a luxury that we have and that's one of the reasons why we know we're flowing these forces in to help the State Department reduce their footprint, but there's no intention right now to close the embassy or to close all the diplomatic presence in Kabul, we still want to be able to have that in place. And as Clarissa reported just a few minutes ago, this situation in Kabul is calm right now. Yes, there's unease, yes, there's uncertainty and we understand that. But as we looked at it from a military perspective, the city itself, as you and I speak is not under an imminent threat of collapse at this point. But obviously, we're watching this closely. We wouldn't have made this decision to send in another 3,000 troops if we weren't mindful of the deteriorating security situation there. [17:10:21]
ACOSTA: And the State Department says the message to the Afghan people is one of "enduring partnership" but Afghan civilians are terrified. And what they see is Americans leaving. Is that the message from the vice administration, is that appropriate to be sending that kind of message, considering what we're seeing unfolding right now? It doesn't look like a partnership. It looks like the partnership is over.
KIRBY: I wouldn't say that at all, Jim. Again, no outcome has to be inevitable here. We still want to see a secure, safe, prosperous Afghanistan, and Afghanistan that is led by Afghans who have -- who they have chosen to be their leaders, and that they have a choice in their future, we want to see that -- we want to see the progress of economic, political, social progress continue in Afghanistan, and we want to stay a partner. That's why here's the Defense Department, we're working on by a bilateral relationship with Afghan forces after we're no longer on the ground there that can help them sustain their capabilities. And I don't think --
ACOSTA: But John, they don't seem to have any capabilities right now. They're just melting away. So how can you have a partnership with Afghan security forces that are just going to be non-existent in a few weeks?
KIRBY: They do have capabilities. Yeah, like I said, they have a capable Air Force, they've got 300 --
ACOSTA: They're not holding any of these cities, they're not holding any of these areas in Afghanistan, if you don't mind me, I mean, that's just the case right now?
KIRBY: Now, Jim, I'm not arguing. The disconcerting nature of the security situation on the ground, not at all, as I said, you know, for all the support you can give, you can't buy somebody, the will, you can't buy somebody the ability to exude leadership. And we're going to keep at this. We want a bilateral relationship with Afghanistan going forward. We're still committed to that.
But what the President also had to make some tough choices about the kinds of threats and challenges that this country is facing. And quite frankly, the terrorism threat has migrated in the region. It's not as heavy in Afghanistan. It's migrated to other parts of the world like North Africa, and the Levant area. And we have to focus on that too. Plus, there's always -- there's larger nation state threats and challenges that we need to be ready for and prepared for. The threat posed by Russia. They're continuing aggressive actions by China in the South China Sea. And in that part of the world, there's a lot of choices and priorities that have to be made too and we're focused on that as well.
ACOSTA: And John, do you acknowledge, we could be in a situation where the United States marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, with the Taliban and complete or near complete control of Afghanistan. What an awful tragic wave for this chapter in American history to end, what is going to happen to the women and girls of Afghanistan that we made all these promises to over the last couple of decades? John, I know you've been in the heart of this for so long. I know you must struggle with this.
KIRBY: Nobody wants to see Afghanistan slide backwards, absolutely not. And it's in the international community's interest to make sure that the progress that has been made in Afghanistan can be sustained in Afghanistan. And that's why we still believe there's time and space for some sort of a political settlement here that will help preserve those gains. And if the Taliban, as they say they do want international legitimacy and a hand in good governance or governance that has the legitimacy of the international community, they would do well to get back to the table and try to help procure and negotiate a political settlement that can preserve these games, so that the Afghan people can have a voice in their own future. And that's what we all want to see.
ACOSTA: Certainly is. All right, Rear Admiral John Kirby, thanks for taking time with us. Lots more to talk about it, of course, we'd like to have you on again soon. Thanks so much.
KIRBY: Thanks. You bet.
ACOSTA: There's more breaking news next, the final decision just out from the CDC on booster COVID shots for some Americans.
ACOSTA: There's breaking news just coming in, a final decision on COVID vaccine booster shots for some people with compromised immune systems. CNN National Correspondent Nadia Romero is in Jacksonville for us this evening. Nadia, what's the latest on your end?
NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we know that the CDC voted unanimously to approve a third booster shot for people who are immunocompromised, and that's big. So the CDC falling in line with the FDA approving this for those folks. And we saw some a research study that came out from Johns Hopkins University that showed that vaccinated immunocompromised people are 485 times more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19 than other vaccinated people, right? So that is a huge statistic. This could be life changing for them. That's just happening today. Jim.
ACOSTA: And we've just gotten some grim numbers, grim new numbers just how dire is the situation in Florida right now. It does seem like just things are heading in the wrong direction.
ROMERO: They absolutely are, another record-breaking moment for the state of Florida going in the wrong direction, 151,000 new cases of COVID-19 over the last week. So, we know that more people are being hospitalized. That's the number that we're seeing all across the state of Florida. And it's not just older people like what we saw during the beginning of the pandemic, people who were in nursing homes, 65 and older. We're now seeing a kids in children's hospitals and (inaudible) even who are being hospitalized with COVID-19 because of the Delta Variant. It's spreading so quickly. It is so powerful, and kids are not immune to COVID-19. And that's a big concern especially here in the state of Florida because schools have already started this week. Some schools will begin next week and they're concerned about the safety of the children, the educators and the administrators as well. Jim.
ACOSTA: Absolutely. And there's also breaking news in the fight between the White House and Governor DeSantis. What are you learning on about that?
ROMERO: We are watching political boxing match gym. I mean, the first punch was landed by Governor Ron DeSantis, who told school districts that you cannot have a mass mandate. He says that wearing a mass should be left up to parents. And he said that districts who defied those orders would then see their funding stripped and if you were a superintendent, and you push forward with a mask mandate, he would take away your salary.
Well, just moments ago, the U.S. Department of Education sending letters to Governor Ron DeSantis here in Florida to Texas Governor Abbott, and to Florida superintendents saying no, they're swinging back and a counterattack against DeSantis, telling him that you don't have the authority to do that. And if you try, we will use our federal money to supplement those school districts. We'll make sure that they have their salaries and that they'll have all the funding that they need. And remember this is an official letter from the U.S. government but in bold print. In that letter to Florida superintendents, it says the U.S. Department of Education stands with you. They stand with science, they stand with mask mandates, or whatever that the school districts believe will keep the students safe. And so that is the latest in this political boxing match this back and forth. And we're still awaiting to hear what the response will be from Governor Ron DeSantis. Jim.
ACOSTA: All right, we're waiting as well. CNN's Nadia Romero, thanks so much.
We want to bring in CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, the CDC Director just moments ago, gave the final go ahead for third vaccine doses for certain immunocompromised people. That is such a big deal. Who does this apply to exactly? Is it a big group?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's probably about two or 3% of the population, Jim, you know, maybe 7 to 9 million people. And we can put the list up of people who sort of fall into this group of immunocompromised, people who've had organ transplants, they take medications to suppress their immune system. It's a busy screen of things there. Most people who are on these medications that weaken their immune system, know this, it's not clear you can find this information, CDC website, our website as well. But the point is, Jim, people who have weakened immune systems, if you give them a vaccine, they may not generate the same amount of antibodies, the same amount of protection as people who have regular immune system, healthy immune system. So that's who they're really targeting here. You know, people who have had autoimmune diseases, take medications for that, people who have had recent chemotherapy for cancer. If you're not sure about it, you can talk to your doctor. And one of the things that struck me today, Jim, it's sort of an honor system, there's not going to be a prescription for this third dose, it's going to be self-attestation to the pharmacist, you don't have to show an antibody level or something like that. So I think it's going to be a, you know, a discussion, but people who are concerned about are probably going to be able to get that third shot.
ACOSTA: That's good news. And how did advisors determine who needs these additional doses first, how did that process work?
GUPTA: I think there's two main things. And the primary thing is because immunity is so complicated, they wanted to see people who are vaccinated, is there a population of people who are getting severely ill? And when they started to look at that data, they found that it was the immunocompromised, who were most likely to develop an infection, a post vaccination infection, and get sick enough to actually end up in the hospital. So you can see of all the breakthrough infections that ended up requiring hospitalization, 40 to 44% of them were in immunocompromised people.
The second part of it was looking at the just overall effectiveness of the vaccine. I can show you this one graph, Jim, this was in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this week, but basically showed people who had some response, that's going to be the left red bar there, you can see they generate some response after the first two shots, not enough. But when they got that third shot, these were responders to that third shot and had significant improvement in their overall antibody levels.
Jim, there may still be people who just have no response, right? They didn't respond. They didn't develop antibodies after the first two shots, and they may still not even after the third shot. And that again, you know, we don't know for certain who those people are, but they should be talking to their doctors about whether or not the third shot still makes sense for them.
ACOSTA: And this is an interesting question, Sanjay, CDC data shows more than 1 million people have already received on authorized booster doses ahead of this FDA decision. Is that problematic? What do you make of that? I mean, you do hear rumblings of people saying, oh, I'm just going to go and get another booster shot on my own?
GUPTA: Yeah, I mean, I've gotten tons of tweets about this and people emailing me. Here's what I'd say. I don't think it's dangerous. You know, I think the side effects that they've seen in some of these trials with people who got third shots. The side effects are similar to what you get with the first two shots. So I don't think it's dangerous. We know that there's about half the country that needs to get the first shot still. So while the third shots, you know, there's people who are doing that may not be dangerous for them. The real focus needs to be on protecting people who need to be protected and getting the unvaccinated vaccinated in the first place.
ACOSTA: Yeah, let's get those folks vaccinated, absolutely. All right, Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much as always. We appreciate it.
GUPTA: Have a good weekend, Jim.
ACOSTA: You too.
Up next, the new warning about the potential for violence in the U.S. within the next few weeks, you're in the Situation Room.
ACOSTA: With the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks less than a month away, there's a new warning tonight about the threat of violence. CNN's senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt is working the story for us. Alex, what are you learning about what this new one?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIOANL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this is a very disturbing bulletin from DHS. And what DHS usually does in these situations essentially put out these bulletins to tell the American public the threats that they're watching out for the terrorist threats, and they break down the types of terrorists into two potential categories, those who are inspired from groups abroad, like Al Qaeda, and those that have more of a domestic focus that are fueled by grievances that are anti-government or white extremists, for example.
In that first group, they say that with the fast approaching anniversary of 9/11, the 20th anniversary, that al Qaeda could be looking to inspire potential attackers in the country. They note that al Qaeda has just put out their English language magazine, also called Inspire for the first time in four years.
And in that second category, they say that the health restrictions that have been imposed because of COVID, that could also fuel people to carry out some sort of attack. Again, these are people who are motivated by racial grievances. These are people who might have grievances with the government. And another target, they say, could be religious institutions.
I want to read you part of that bulletin from DHS, which says the reopening of institutions, including schools, as well as several dates of religious significance over the next few months, could also provide increased targets of opportunity for violence, though there are currently no credible or imminent threats identified to those locations.
So Jim, that's important. There are no known threats right now.
Another thing that we have to talk about is the head of intelligence at DHS, told our colleague Jeeva Sans (ph) exclusively, that a lot of the chatter that they are seeing in online forums, is just like the chatter that they saw in the lead up to January 6. It is not just -- this is not just chatter that could lead to violence. But there has been an uptick in this kind of chatter. So it's doubly worrying. And there is a thread that runs through all this chatter. It is the big lie, this perception, this belief, misguided that Donald Trump was had the election stolen from him last year.
ACOSTA: Right. And there was all of this is a goofiness that he was going to be reinstated today.
ACOSTA: He has not been reinstated today.
ACOSTA: But it's a part of what's out there. Alex Marquardt, standby, we want to bring you in on this discussion the former director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Bill Evanina is also with us.
Bill, you're such a respected expert in this area. So thanks for joining us. This new terrorism bulletin that Alex was just talking about, it outlines a huge range of possible threats. But when you look at this, what concerns you most this evening looking at this morning?
BILL EVANINA, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY CENTER: Well, thanks, Jim. Thanks for having me. I think there's a multifaceted aspect to these threats. I think DHS and FBI are doing the right thing by making the public aware what they're seeing on the online forums.
But as Alex pointed out, there's two different angles here, the foreign and domestic. I think we also have to be concerned with what Russia and China can do, primarily Russia on online forums to stoke the arguments on both sides. We saw the Russian intelligence services do that in both of the last two election cycles, as well as during George Floyd and Black Lives Matter and the COVID and vaccines. So the Russian intelligence service that can play a big role what happens between now and September 11.
ACOSTA: And this comes as the homeland security intelligence chief says online calls for violence now are very similar to what they saw in the lead up to what happened on January 6, the deadly insurrection. How do intelligence officials avoid repeating the same mistakes because we did hear we have heard anecdotes about signs that were missed?
EVANINA: It's very difficult and my hat's being tipped here to all the members of law enforcement intelligence community to do their best with the authorities they have to watch into the inner circles of chat rooms, but they can't watch online conversations from person to person. So identify that, as well as look at external forces what is Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab washed intelligence services, how are they manipulating and amplifying domestic voices here in this argument. They're very good at taking both sides of the argument in inflaming those arguments. So there's a potential violence in the middle. ACOSTA: And Alex, you also have new reporting on intelligence reports that show that Russia is trying to capitalize on this moment of American Division. I guess it's new information. It's new reporting, but it seems like the old game, it's a part of the Russians.
MARQUARDT: That's exactly right. And it's exactly what Bill was talking about. It is Russia taking two sides of different issues, and simply trying to divide us. The point is the chaos that is the point is to undermine American democracy. So it is not the strategy that has changed. It is the tactics that have changed. It is the sub checks that have arisen January 6 COVID, the vaccines, mask mandates, things like that.
New things for the Russians to seize on and amplified that are already in our conversation. And we know that this has been noticed by the intelligence services, who are obviously analyzing and watching the Russians very carefully. And we know that it has concerned the administration so greatly and the Intelligence Committee so greatly that this has been briefed to the President himself.
In fact, he made a reference to this in a speech to the intelligence community very recently. Let's take a quick listen to that.
ACOSTA: We don't have the sound of that.
MARQUARDT: OK. Well, essentially what he says is that it is a violation of our sovereignty. And he pointed to the fact that the Russians are not just doing this on a general basis, but they are also going after the elections in 2022.
And of course, Jim, this comes on the heels. Not too long after that that summit between the two presidents back in June, in which President Biden essentially told President Putin to knock it off. He's clearly not doing that.
ACOSTA: He is not knocking it off. Bill, and you are in charge of briefing presidential candidates on threats to the 2020 election. What would you say to candidates now about what the Russians are up to? They're just they won't cut it out?
EVANINA: Yes, good point. And I think we have to be as transparent as possible at all angles. And I would say the intelligence community and law enforcement is going to continue to enhance the effectiveness of those transparencies provide all the information that's viable for a potential candidate to see what that influence looks like, not only to their campaigns, but those inside their campaigns.
And also, the folks in your back home and their business entities and what the social media template looks like against them as well as against their opponent.
ACOSTA: All right, Bill Evanina, Alex Marquardt, thanks, gentlemen. Both, you have a good weekend. Appreciate all the insights and great information, thanks so much. Just had crises piling up for the Biden administration at home and abroad if (INAUDIBLE) the White House is next.
ACOSTA: President Biden is facing multiple crises at home and abroad. The Taliban are quickly gaining ground in Afghanistan. Coronavirus cases are surging, and hospital ICU are filling up very quickly and there's an unprecedented number of migrants illegally crossing the southern border. CNN Jeremy Diamond takes a closer look at the escalating emergencies from the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, President Biden is facing a rapidly mounting list of challenges, a break neck offensive by the Taliban, surge in coronavirus cases at home and a crisis on the southern border are all testing the president, while democratic infighting threatens his signature legislative priority.
Over 3,000 troops now headed to Afghanistan to help evacuate US embassy staff.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: In addition to the 3,000 troops that we're going to be getting into the airport there in Kabul by the end of the weekend. We also have about another 3,500 to 4,000 that are going to be forward staged in Kuwait just in case they're needed.
DIAMOND: Officials said the quick deployment shows the U.S. was prepared but the President and his team were caught off guard by the speed of the Taliban advance.
Last month, Biden insisted a Taliban takeover was unlikely.
BIDEN: It is not inevitable. But the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything, and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.
DIAMOND: But Biden is having no second thoughts about the withdrawal. Even as half of Afghanistan's provincial capitals are now in Taliban hands.
KIRBY: We've been watching this very closely. The intelligence community as well. What we couldn't predict was the lack of resistance that they were going to get from Afghan forces on the ground.
DIAMOND: A surge of Coronavirus hospitalizations driven by low vaccination rates in a handful of states and the fast spreading Delta variant also testing the White House. A CDC advisory board today recommending some immunocompromised get a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, one day after the FDA approved the three dose regimen.
As for the rest of the population - DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We are assuming that sooner or later we're going to have to give boosters. So what we're doing right now the decision is we don't need to do it right now. It's not imminent, but we're preparing as if it will be imminent.
DIAMOND: Biden also facing questions and criticism about his immigration policies as U.S. border officials apprehended more than 212,000 migrants last month, the highest monthly total in 21 years.
ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We are encountering an unprecedented number of migrants in between the ports of entry at our southern border.
KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bill as amended is passed.
DIAMOND: Just days after clinching Senate passage of his infrastructure plan, Biden hitting hard political realities within his own party. In a letter to the House Speaker, nine moderate House Democrats threatening to withhold support for the $3.5 trillion budget resolution unless the House first passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill, a non-starter for dozens of progressives.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DIAMOND: And Jim President Biden is now at Camp David where he's expected to remain until next Wednesday. White House officials insisting to me that the President is still fully set up to do his work from there. And already today, you can see on his schedule all of these different crises on his schedule in terms of an a briefing with his legislative affairs team about the state of play on Capitol Hill, meeting with his Coronavirus team.
And also the White House just now tweeting this photo of President Biden speaking with his Secretary of State -- defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, as well as his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, to get the latest on the situation on the ground in Afghanistan certainly top of mind for the president this weekend. Jim.
ACOSTA: He will certainly be busy with that subject. All right, Jeremy Diamond, thanks so much. And joining me now is one of the nine moderates and sent that letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.
Congressman, why go this route? Why risk passage of this legislation at this point?
REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): I think just the opposite, Jim, and thanks for having me. The route we're going is let's get a vote right now on that great bipartisan infrastructure package that came out of the Senate last week. That is so key to getting 2 million jobs a year, going every year for the next 10 years, not to mention key projects in tubes, including roads, bridges, rail, mass transit, the tunnel between New York and New Jersey to train tunnel, so many things in regarding the environment and climate, electric vehicles are on the line.
The key is not risking the momentum we've got for that and getting it done. And then of course, we can also work on the reconciliation package. But all we've said is, let's vote on that now. Let's not delay, and let's take a win for the country here.
ACOSTA: And your democratic colleague, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal says anyone who votes to slow down progress on this reconciliation package is voting quote, against the President and the Democrats agenda. What do you say to that?
GOTTHEIMER: Just the opposite. Anybody who wouldn't vote for an infrastructure package now is directly going against what the President asked when it passed the Senate, he said, get it to my desk as soon as possible. And that's what we're focused on.
And so, I'm really confused by some of my colleagues who actually holding this bipartisan infrastructure package hostage, and refusing to let it come to the floor for a vote. And all we're saying is, yes, he's got the backing of Democrats and Republicans, labor, the AFL-CIO was behind it, the Chamber of Commerce is behind it. Let's just get this great thing done for the country, show that we can operate a move forward with shovels in the ground and jobs moving.
And then of course, we can also work on the reconciliation package. So, I don't really understand the hesitancy of some of my colleagues to vote on that package. And I'm just hoping that we can do that.
ACOSTA: Are you worried? Are you calling some of these progressive colleagues to try to work something out? Are there discussions underway?
GOTTHEIMER: Of course.
GOTTHEIMER: Of course, we're, you know, we're good colleagues, and we're always talking to each other. And my hope is we'll work it out together. As you know, I co-chair group called the Problem Solvers Caucus, we work with Democrats and Republicans in the House and work with our colleagues in the Senate. It's what helped get this infrastructure package going.
And, and frankly, you know, I'm hoping that kind of spirit, both within the party and between parties will get it across the finish line into the President's desk. This will be a huge win for the President. It's a key part of his agenda. And it's great for the country. So, we'll get it done. And of course, we can also look at the other priorities. There's no reason we need to hold that up, either. But let's just get this done.
ACOSTA: And since you're from New Jersey, I really want to ask you about this. I want to get your reaction to some disturbing news, the Department of Homeland Security issuing a new terrorism bulletin, a warning of a range of possible threats. This comes as we're approaching the anniversary of 9/11, obviously, the 20th anniversary of 911.
And the DHS intelligence chief is warning that online calls for violence right now are very similar to what they saw in the lead up to the January 6 attack. Have you been briefed on this? What what's your sense of the threat right now? And what are you telling your constituents who may be asking about this?
GOTTHEIMER: I'm on the Homeland Security Committee. I did have a briefing last week with Homeland with top officials there on the threats. And like all Americans, you know, I'm -- we know that the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is around the corner, a very solemn time for the country. And of course, here and in the New York area, and we lost so many people.
And I think our law enforcement is remaining vigilant. We've got the best intelligence and law enforcement in the world. And frankly, I know they're on top of it right now and why they briefed us on it. I don't want to go into any more specifics than that, except to say that I feel very confident that they're taking all the action necessary. And you know, we'll make sure that we protect the country, it's our number one responsibility. And at the same time thinking about all those we lost on 9/11 and since.
ACOSTA: Absolutely, we certainly will do that as that anniversary approaches an important moment for this country. Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it. Have a good weekend.
GOTTHEIMER: Thanks for having me. Have a good weekend.
ACOSTA: All right. Coming up, a new twist in the impeachment investigation of disgraced outgoing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, coming up.
ACOSTA: York State lawmakers have decided not to pursue impeachment against Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is already set to leave office and just days after a state attorney general report found he had sexually harassed 11 women. CNN's MJ Lee is in New York for us. MJ, why are they suspending this impeachment investigation?
MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this impeachment investigation had been hanging over Governor Cuomo for a number of months now. The speaker of the Assembly offering two reasons for why they have decided to suspend this investigation. One, he says the purpose of the investigation was to determine if Governor Cuomo should stay in office now that he is resigning that is no longer relevant. And two, he said that the constitution doesn't give them the authority to remove someone from office when they are no longer in office.
We know that this was a legal question that they were trying to get to the bottom of over the last couple of days. But there's an important part of the statement that we got from the speaker, speaker of the Assembly. It said that the committee did uncover credible evidence related to allegations surrounding the governor and let me just read a part of that statement. It says this evidence concern not only sexual harassment and misconduct, but also the misuse of state resources in relation to the publication of the governor's memoir, as well as improper and misleading disclosure of nursing home data during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now the speaker said in the statement that all of this evidence is going to be turned over to the relevant authorities. So just an important reminder that there are other investigations that are ongoing even if this impeachment investigation is now coming to an end, Jim.
ACOSTA: All right, MJ Lee, thanks so much for that breaking news. Next, the CDC signs off on COVID vaccine booster shots for some people with compromised immune systems.
ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news is significant new endorsement of COVID booster shots. The CDC just signed off on a third vaccine dose for some people with compromised immune systems.
Also tonight, the Pentagon calls the Taliban's rapid takeover in Afghanistan, deeply concerning as U.S. troops are now heading to the country.