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Biden Declares U.S. On Pace To Finish Afghan Operations One Week From Today, Sticking With Withdrawal Deadline; Biden Praises House Approval Of Budget Framework, Key Step In Funding His Sweeping Economic Package; Fauci Says, U.S. Could Have Pandemic Under Control By Spring 2022 If Most Eligible People Get Vaccinated; Biden Cites "Growing" Risk Of Terror Attack In Defending Afghanistan Withdrawal Timetable. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 24, 2021 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM with breaking news on the crisis in Afghanistan.

Tonight, President Biden is declaring the United States is on pace right now to finish operations in Afghanistan one week from today after deciding not to extend the deadline to American troops to withdraw. This comes as the evacuation mission has accelerated rapidly. The president says the U.S. has helped airlift more than 70,000 people out of the country in just ten days.

The president is warning that the withdrawal timetable depends on the Taliban continuing to cooperate with the evacuation. There are new questions about whether that will happen. The Taliban now says they will not allow Afghan nationals to leave the country as thousands are still waiting for flights out.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by as we cover this breaking story. First, let's go to Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, we heard from the president just a little while ago as he sticks with his withdrawal deadline.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. He is sticking with that. And that means the clock is now ticking. With just seven days left to complete this evacuation from Afghanistan before the president says he is going to standby August 31st as the exit date from there. Of course, this is raising questions about the number of Afghan allies that the United States is ultimately going getting out.

But President Biden says, really all of this hinges on the cooperation from the Taliban and whether or not they disrupt these last several days with the U.S. in Kabul as they try to evacuate U.S. personnel, Afghan allies and of course then at the end it's going to be the troops who have to get out as well.

And right now President Biden says one big reason he is sticking by that August 31st deadline, Wolf, is because of a threat of potential terror attacks and what it could pose to those U.S. troops.


COLLINS (voice over): With the deadline to leave just one week away, the U.S. has started evacuating the first troops from Afghanistan.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The sooner we can finish the better.

COLLINS: President Biden telling U.S. allies tonight he's standing by his August 31st deadline to remove all U.S. forces from Kabul.

BIDEN: The completion by August 31st depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate. In addition, I've asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans.

COLLINS: World leaders had pushed Biden to extend that deadline so there's more time to evacuate. But the president is concerned about potential terrorist attacks and risking the critical cooperation of the Taliban.

BIDEN: Every day we're on the ground is another day we know that ISIS- K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians.

COLLINS: Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirming actual evacuations must end before the deadline so the military has time to withdraw its forces.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That would be correct, yes, that there would need to be time to wind down the present.

COLLINS: Psaki making this appeal to any Americans still in Afghanistan.

PSAKI: If we are not in touch with this individual, give me their contact information and we will get in touch with them.

COLLINS: Biden's decision not to extend the deadline for now is unlikely to satisfy lawmakers who say it isn't enough time to get Afghan allies out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a date that the United States set, and we set that date under different conditions during a different time. Those conditions have changed.

COLLINS: In the highest level, face to face meeting between the Biden administration and Taliban CIA Director Bill Burns flew to Kabul on a secret mission to meet with their de facto leader as the group is now blocking Afghan nationals from reaching the airport.

PSAKI: What I'm talking about is the individuals we have prioritized, those who have fought alongside us who are eligible for special immigrant visas, who, otherwise, why we are facilitating their departure.

COLLINS: Despite the chaos outside the Kabul airport, the pace of evacuations is at an all-time high.

BIDEN: These numbers are a testament to the efforts of our brave service women and men.


COLLINS (on camera): And, Wolf, those numbers President Biden was talking about are huge. Right now, he says, since August 14th, the U.S. helped evacuate over 70,000 people from Afghanistan. And in the last 12 hours alone since we last got an update from the White House on those numbers, they say that there have been 19 U.S. military flights, about 6,400, 31 coalition flights, so with other nations with 5,600 people.

Of course, Wolf, one big question is how many Americans are still left there and exactly how many Americans the U.S. has evacuated so far. President Biden says he has told the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, to provide a detailed update on that tomorrow so we will be waiting to see what those numbers actually are, Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, I want you to standby. We will be back to you in just a moment. But I want to go to Afghanistan right now. Our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is over at the Kabul airport.

Sam, President Biden says the August 31st withdrawal depends on the Taliban's cooperating with the evacuation. But the Taliban did not sound very cooperative in remarks earlier today. Update our viewers.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Taliban made remarks today that, in a sense, could be to the United States advantage, if one was deeply cynical and that it could drastically reduce the number of Afghans seeking evacuation. Because what the Taliban have said, Wolf, is that they are blocking the road. This is my report.


KILEY (voice over): Tonight the Taliban is banning Afghans from fleeing their country on evacuation flights.

ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID, TALIBAN SPOKESPERSON: The road which goes to the airport is blocked. Afghans cannot take that road to go to the airport. But foreign nationals are allowed to take that road to the airport.

KILEY: This sudden announcement means that thousands of people who have worked for the international coalition and others who feared persecution under the extremist movement are now trapped. And these evacuees may be among the last flown to safety. The Taliban insists that there is no need to fear them.

MUJAHID: They should not go to other countries, to those western countries, where they will be working as laborers. KILEY: The number of Afghans crowding here are down because the numbers getting out have been going up. On this day, 9,000 people were put on flights by mid-day. In the day before, more than 21,000 were flown to multiple countries by an international coalition. The pace accelerated through new efficiency and the need to meet the deadline for the end of the evacuation just a week away.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: There has been no change to the timeline of the mission, which is to have this completed by the end of the month.

KILEY: The State Department estimates that there are thousands of Americans still in Afghanistan to be evacuated.

There is no doubting the success of the second biggest air lift in the history of mankind. Yes, there are thousands still to get on these planes. There are many people stuck in Kabul. But for most of these people, this is a moment of celebration in terms of their freedom but also bittersweet because of what they're leaving behind.

That bitterness is immediate to Husna (ph), her brother, Haida (ph), who has a visa for the U.S. has been trapped outside the airport. She's moments from flying. Marines do their best to help as he's close to a gate still controlled by the Taliban, but her plane is due to take off and she's swept away with her younger sisters to a new life, not knowing if her brother will ever join her there.


KILEY (voice over): That, Wolf, the individual tragedies are likely to be multiplied if the Taliban make good on this threat or announcement that they're going to block the road. It is not clear whether or not they will let through people with special immigration visas, those American visas and, indeed, many other people going to different countries around the world who worked with coalition partners who just want to get out.

This is all from the Afghan perspective about the brain drain, they're saying. They want to keep Afghans here to help run the country. And I think also speaking fairly cynically, by blocking the numbers of Afghans getting into the airport, they also know that the United States will probably meet its deadline for evacuations. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Sam Kiley is at the airport in Kabul for us. Sam, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on this evacuation that's going on. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is joining us live from Doha, Qatar, right now where so many refugees are being taken.

Nick, you were there at the Kabul airport last week. What are the major challenges that remain from your perspective in this evacuation?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURIY EDITOR: I think, to some degree, as you have seen over the last 20 years, this war, people will be able to define their own notion of success. No doubt getting 75,000 people out, as they have done is a quite extraordinary feat. But, essentially, it will be the number that were left behind people may focus on slightly more as time goes by. And we don't know what that number is.

We do know there are tens of thousands of SIV applicants somewhere out there in Kabul, people who would like to use that scheme, who may never get to the airport. I understand that a lot of this is down obviously for security concerns. This, it seems, expedited timetable. One source familiar with the situation on the airport said that if they're going to meet the departure schedule on the 31st of August, then they understand was that troops on that base would have to begin what's called the retro grade tomorrow.

And that's the moment when you start packing up and essentially working your way towards the exit, not taking off and departing but that process.


That process, of course, in itself, you want to be sure you are doing when you have complete control of the crowds, that you are not dealing with a 20,000 packed airport like they were a few days ago. That's not the case anymore. They seem to never really got above for 5,000 today in terms of the numbers on the airport. But you are, of course, going to get some degree of reaction in the crowd when people start to realized the Americans are probably going to be going soon.

Whether they are a victim of their own success, the U.S. here, will all the extraordinary efforts, will remain to be seen here too. It does appear the Taliban who have been document checking from near the airport for a while are slowing down access but many, I'm sure, will try and push through and get closer because of this rapidly reducing window. But, really, the hope has to be we get to the stage where it's the 30th of August and there has been a minimal loss of life. It's been such chaos so far.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh at Doha Qatar for us. Nick, thank you very much. Let's get some more insight right now from CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson, along with CNN Military Analyst Retired Major General Spider Marks, CNN Contributor Evan Osnos and Kaitlan Collins is back with us from the White House.

Evan, President Biden is standing firmly on this August 31st withdrawal. Are you getting a better sense of how he plans to navigate through this crisis?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, what you hear him is sending messages to two different important groups of people who need to hear it. One is Americans. You know, it's been noticeable today that the tone was quite different in his remarks from where he was last week, when he was talking about heart-breaking images we were seeing.

Today, he was trying to convey a much clearer sense of confidence in the scale of the effort they have had underway, 70,000 people out in the last ten days. And what he's trying to convey to Americans is stay with me on this. I know it's been hard, but this is something you need to support. And he said, God bless our diplomats, noticeable for drawing attention to how important the vetting process and making sure that everybody is processed.

The other key piece, the other people who needed to hear this is the Taliban. And they are, as he said today, the key players in this, but that he will judge them by their actions. He's not trusting them.

But he wanted to send was a very clear sense that, yes, they're staying with August 31st, but if there is one important message in there today, was that he's also drawing up contingency plans, which says to the Taliban if you don't cooperate enough for us to get out of there by August 31st, then we have other ideas that we have to pursue.

BLITZER: Yes. That was really significant. I totally agree. General Marks, how complicated will it be for the U.S. military and the allies to complete this drawdown in just one week while also giving President Biden some wiggle room with the contingency plans that he discussed?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. A considerable effort needs to be taking place right now. As we see, it is really --

BLITZER: I think we have lost our connection with the general. We'll reestablish with him. We'll get back to him in just a moment.

But let me bring in Nic Robertson. Nic, let's talk a little bit about the President, what he said today. He says the meeting this deadline depends on the Taliban's cooperation in allowing access to that Kabul airport. Is that realistic in light of the Taliban warning today that Afghans are no longer allowed to leave the country?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. It is interesting, Wolf, because that was one of the sort of emerging lines from the G-7 summit as well. We talked all along about how it's important for all countries to be aligned in the way that they're going to deal with the Taliban right now and going forward.

We heard from the British prime minister saying that this access to the airport, for those Afghans that want to leave, is the number one precondition for everything else that flows from this moment forward in relation with the Taliban. And at the moment, we seem to be in a position of a potential showdown here. Are the Taliban going to hear this message and back down and quietly allow those SIV applicants and are those with the sort of equivalent status from other NATO and other allies, are they going to allow those Afghans to get to the airport? It's not clear.

The Taliban very clearly do understand that if they don't control access to the airport, that the closer the United States gets to that drawdown moment and that endpoint on the 31st of August, the airport will again see a massive rush of desperate people. So the Taliban at one point here sort of doing their own crowd control and essentially around the airport, setting up conditions to make that final exit a safe one, and that's very important for the United States and for all allies. But this idea that the Taliban are going to go toe to toe with the United States and allies and defy their wish and stop these Afghans getting out, that's going to potentially hamper aid getting to the country, investment getting to the country in the future, this much needed money to run Afghanistan, essentially, that the Taliban know they need.

So will they back down at this moment? They in their minds have set definitely the 31st of August as their moment when they take control of everything.


Are they going to back down? I think that's going to be a real test in the coming days because that is what surely going to set the future relationship between the United States and allies, partners with the Taliban going forward. So these next few days are critical to that.

BLITZER: Totally critical. You know, Kaitlan, how sensitive is President Biden to the fate of Afghan partners who have worked with the U.S., who have risked their own lives for the U.S., the moral obligation to Afghan refugees?

COLLINS: Well, he has said he's committed to it. And that's why you have seen such an undertaking by the U.S. military to get so many people out, Wolf. But I still there are questions at the end of the day of what this is going to look like when it comes to the numbers. Because you heard President Biden saying earlier, repeating a promise he's made, which is that once vetted and screened in other countries, Afghan allies who help the U.S. will have a home here in the United States.

But he had told ABC News in a recent interview that he believed it would be going around 50,000 to 60,000 Afghan allies in addition to their families who ultimately were evacuated from Afghanistan. And so what that number looks like once they're all in the United States, how that actually gets processed is still a big one for the White House, still an unknown, and whether or not they will have evacuated that many by the end of this process.

Right now, what we're hearing from lawmakers is they're not confident that will happen by August 31st. And these are lawmakers, we should note, who are getting briefed by the president's top national security aides on what is happening and on the status of these evacuations. So I think that's going to be a big question because it wasn't just world leaders pressing the president to extend this deadline. We have heard from a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill as well who say they do not think it is enough time.

President Biden seems to think it is, barring any disruptions by the Taliban, any major disruptions. And so that really remains to be seen. It is going to be a critical seven days here at the White House.

BLITZER: I certainly is. Evan, the president, he came into office, as all of us know, as the image of a world leader with deep foreign policy experience, expertise. How much have the events of the past, let's say, ten days shaken that?

OSNOS: This has been a hard ten days, let's be blunt. You know, the images are not anything that an American president would hope to see on his watch. And what they're facing now, and you heard that in his remarks today, was about projecting to the American public that there is a competent hand on the tiller to say, look, we know what we're doing, we're making bigger progress than you might have thought we were going to be able to do three or four days ago.

But as Kaitlan just said, you know, this process is going to unfold, really, in quite dramatic fashion over the course of the next week. Because even beyond the 50,000 or 65,000 Afghans that the president identified as being allies of the United States, advocates for refugees say there are more beyond that. And there will still be pressure on this president to show he's striking a balance between getting American forces out of there safely so they're not exposed to the kind of risk from ISIS-K that he describe today, while also fulfilling America's moral obligation.

That's not an easy answer and he's going to be walking that line right up through August 31st and, in fact, if there are these contingency plans that have to go into effect, then it will go on beyond that. But this is period now about restoring some confidence in their ability to pull this off.

BLITZER: It certainly is. We've reestablished our connection with General Marks. The president, General Marks, says every day, U.S. troops are on the ground is another day ISIS and other terrorist groups, for that matter, potentially could target the airport, military forces, innocent civilians. What's the risk level day by day, especially the next seven days?

MARKS: Clearly, the risk level has increased as we continue to see the surge of the civilians towards the airport. Look, you got this unholy trinity of ISIS and the Taliban and Al Qaeda that's in Afghanistan. And they are not necessarily on the same page. The U.S. troop numbers are drawing down, so the risk profile goes up in terms of their vulnerability.

That's going to -- that makes it available to ISIS-K. But this is a non-permissible, non-evacuation operation. It could either be permissive or none permissive. It became non-permissive very quickly and it could escalate if ISIS-K decides to do that.

But bear in mind, the United States has incredible capability, along with coalitions, to make sure that we can look beyond the borders of the airport, to look down range into where some of these pockets might be existing right now that would be planning to do and to conduct these types of operations. So I'm confident that the U.S. is very much aware of that. But this is an operation, very much a combat operation.

BLITZER: I certainly is. All right, everybody standby. We're getting more information coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just ahead, we'll also get new reaction to the president's remarks out of Afghanistan. Is he making a mistake by declining to extend the withdrawal deadline? I'll ask Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who is standing by live.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, President Biden speaking at the White House the last hour about the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. The president saying the United States is, quote, on pace to finish operations in the country a week from today, sticking with his withdrawal deadline.

Let's get some more. Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, he's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, the president isn't backing down from this August 31st deadline. Is that a mistake, in your view?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, we shouldn't let the Taliban dictate when we end operations to rescue and save American citizens, period, stop.


But there is good reason why the president wants to wrap this up in the next week. We only have 2,500 troops there right now. We don't have any Afghan army partners, as we did over the course of the last 20 years. And so if we did get back into a shooting war with the Taliban, if they were assaulting the airport, it is probably likely, if not probable, we would have to surge tremendous new military resources into the country that we might be back involved in hand-to- hand urban combat inside Afghanistan.

Now, maybe that's what's necessary in order to protect Americans and get everyone out. But speaking for myself, I want to be briefed on the extent of that operation before signing off on it. I think our goal should be to finish this operation in the next seven days, have a contingency plan, but be perfectly honest with the American people about what it may mean, the cost to American lives if we choose to stay beyond the 31st.

BLITZER: Your Republican colleague, as Senator Mitt Romney says, and I'm quoting him now, he says, leaving vulnerable Afghans to face the wrath of the Taliban would be an utter disgrace and moral failure. Do you agree with Senator Romney? Will the Afghans who can't get out pay the price of this U.S. withdrawal?

MURPHY: Well, our focus needs for the next seven days to be on continuing to get out our closest partners. Now, remember, we are not going to evacuate every single Afghan who ever enrolled in their military. We are looking at our closest partners, those that are going to be most likely targeted for harm by the Taliban. But the president has said that we are on pace to be able to bring those closest partners out by the end of next week. I hope that to be true.

But I also don't want to let my Republican friends who cheer-led this war for the last 20 years get away without assessing the long story that led us to this moment. We have twice as many Afghan partners we have to evacuate because we stayed in this war ten years longer than we should have. And so when we do an accounting of this moment, Congress should also make sure to do a full review of how we got here over the last two decades.

BLITZER: What do you make of the Taliban's statement today that they no longer are going to allow any Afghans to even reach the airport so they could leave the country? And they're saying that's a done deal, only Americans, people with U.S. passports, will be allowed to go on that road to the airport.

MURPHY: Well, I think President Biden has made clear that, you know, his commitment to leave on the 31st is dependent upon the Taliban's ability to allow individuals to get to the airport over the course of the next week. I don't know that it's in the Taliban's best interest to get back into a shooting war with the United States.

They will fair very badly in that engagement, and they will lose all total credibility with the world community cutting off any access they may have to economic aid or economic investment in the future. They may be crazy enough to start that engagement with the United States, but it won't end well for them in the short run or the long run.

BLITZER: The president says the evacuation that depends clearly on Taliban cooperation over these next seven days. Does this give the impression out there that the Taliban, for all practical purposes, are dictating the terms of this withdrawal to the Biden administration?

MURPHY: Well, the Taliban does control the city outside of the airport, so there is, you know, no way around the fact that they have a lot to do with whether or not individuals get to the airport. And the message that President Biden is sending is that there are going to be costs in the short-term and the long run if they impede the progress of Americans or our Afghan partners to the airport.

But, you know, this is a consequence of an Afghan military and government that collapsed overnight. I don't know that there was any way to be able to avoid this kind of chaos when you have a 20-year U.S. investment go up in smoke literally in one day.

So for those that say the Biden administration should have sort of held control of all of Kabul in the wake of the disintegration of the Afghan military, I think that's a fantasy that is not based in reality. The Biden administration has been dealt a very tough hand here, and in the last 12 days, they have gotten 60,000 people out of that country. I think that that's a significant achievement.

There will be all sorts of opportunity to go back and correct for what went wrong, but we shouldn't shy away from saying that our military has done a commendable job under very difficult circumstances of getting a lot of people out of that country in a short period of time.

BLITZER: Yes. I think it is more than 70,000 now.

[18:30:01] And you have to give the U.S. military, the diplomats, you have to give all of those personnel a tremendous amount of credit for this past week getting those people out. But as you know, there are still tens of thousands of other Afghans, and we don't know how many U.S. citizens and their family members are still stuck in there. Some may be in Kabul, maybe in other parts of the country who can't even get close to the airport. What do you do about them?

MURPHY: Well, I have Connecticut residents that are still stuck in Afghanistan, and we're working those cases as we speak right now. Every day, we're trying to work on new and innovative means to guarantee safe passage. So we have been able to work, for instance, with Qataris, in order to use their resources to get people to Kabul.

Obviously, when you are talking about parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban has controlled for years, that's much more difficult. We sent out a notice to American citizens back in May that they should leave the country. Many didn't, and, admittedly, for those that are far outside of Kabul, it is going to be very, very hard to get them to the capital in the short run.

BLITZER: As you know, there have been some critics out there who have argued that this U.S. withdrawal is simply former President Trump's America first approach continued by President Biden. Trump wanted all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. He wanted them all out of Iraq. I think he wanted them all out of Japan and Germany and South Korea as well. Is this a fundamental reset right now that's going on of America's role in the world?

MURPHY: Well, President Biden sees the fight of the next 50 years as being between American-style democracy and Chinese and Russian-style autocracy. And so he is seeking to reorient our focus towards that fight. Iraq and Afghanistan have been a distraction from that fight. They have been a bug, not a feature, of alignment with America getting dragged into these conflicts on the other side of the world.

It is no longer in America's national security interest to be occupying Afghanistan, not if we can keep Al Qaeda at bay through other means. It allows the United States, the Department of State, the Department of Defense to be able to orient towards the real threat to America, which is coming out of China and Beijing and Moscow. So, yes, this is a reorientation, but it is not a continuation of Donald Trump's policy to just pull up stakes and withdraw inside American borders. It is, I think, a broader orientation to other foreign policy threats presented to the United States.

BLITZER: Senator Murphy, thank you so much for joining us. I know you got a lot going on. We really appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thank you.

BLITZER: And there is more breaking news we're following right now here in The Situation Room. President Biden, just a short time ago, praising House passage of a budget framework paving the way potentially for Democrats to spend trillions of dollars on a sweeping economic package, a top item certainly on the president's agenda. Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles. Ryan, this was a very significant step. But explain how there is still a very long way to go before either of these two bills actually become law.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's exactly right, Wolf. And it looked like just 48 hours ago that perhaps this whole process could be turned upside down after a group of nine moderates suggested that they were not going to vote for this budget framework without also getting a vote on that bipartisan infrastructure package. But the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, cut a deal with that moderate group. She asked if they would pass the budget resolution, that she would promise a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27th.

But to your point, Wolf, that creates a dynamic here in Congress where a lot of work has to be done in a short period of time and much of it could run into a number of roadblocks along the way. The House will now begin the process of taking that $3.5 trillion top line number and then filling it out through various committees assigning where that money will go. That will have to be agreed upon. The Senate will then have to agree upon it. And then they can get to the bipartisan package, which has already been passed in the Senate.

So, there are a number of steps that still need to be crossed throughout this process before either of these pieces of legislation become law and then can be practically applied to the American public in terms of infrastructure investments and human infrastructure, as the Biden administration has described it.

But, Wolf, this was a significant accomplishment today for House Democrats as it looked to just 48 hours ago as if things were in real trouble. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, found a way forward. She's going to have to do that a number of more times before either of these become law.

BLITZER: Yes. It's not a done deal yet. Ryan, stay with us. I also want to bring in our CNN Political Director David Chalian.

What is your take on what has happened between progressives and moderates in the House of Representatives, all Democrats, over the past 24 hours?


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, or even before that. I mean, one of the big takeaways of this moment is how little trust exists between the progressives and the moderates inside the Democratic caucus. Each one wanted to make sure their priority bill, whether the $3.5 trillion spending bill or the $1.2 trillion hard infrastructure bill was the one that got out first, right?

And, obviously, the moderates here said they weren't going to vote for budget resolution package unless they got to vote on infrastructure first. That didn't happen. They backed off that. But they got this date certain. But there is very little trust between these factions. I mean, you are dealing with this narrow majority where Nancy Pelosi could only afford to lose three votes on anything. Each side has real sway. BLITZER: Because they only have a three-vote majority in the House of

Representatives. There were ten moderates who were threatening to vote no against this. That would have been a huge disruption.

CHALIAN: Yes. There are many more progressives in the Democratic caucus than there are moderates. But when you have ten moderates willing to hang together and, as you noted, you only have a three-vote margin, well, that means you get to be listened to. You get to be heard and you get to be at the negotiating table in some way, and that's what happened here.

I think what Ryan said is so important, Wolf, to understand. I know Nancy Pelosi earlier today said, I think we're going to land the plane. I don't know if that's the right metaphor. To me, it seems more like she got them to close the boarding door and let the plane go away from the gate. We have got the whole flight to go here now about actually getting these two bills passed through the House, the big bill passed through the Senate and then on to the president's desk for signature.

BLITZER: There is no guarantee that big bill, the $3.5 trillion bill is necessarily going to pass a 50/50 Senate, is it?

CHALIAN: No guarantee at all. In fact, two Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have already stated $3.5 trillion is just too high of a price tag for them. So it is probably not going to end up being that big. Because, as you noted, it is not just in the Senate. You need the entire Democratic Party of both Houses, basically, onboard with this notion, which means there are going to be real intraparty battles for everyone to get their way and get these bills across the finish line.

BLITZER: Yes. You are absolutely right, and as Ryan said, not a done deal yet. There is still plenty of work left in this process.


BLITZER: All right, David, thank you very, very much. We are going to have much more on all of the breaking news out of Afghanistan. Coming up, evacuations right now are accelerating dramatically in the face of a growing terror threat.

Also ahead, will the second year of a COVID pandemic stretch into a third year? Dr. Anthony Fauci says vaccinations are the key. We'll update you on that when we come back.



BLITZER: The coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. could stretch into a third year unless more Americans get vaccinated. Dr. Anthony Fauci says if they do, the country could have things under control by next spring.

CNN's Nick Watt has the latest.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: As we get into the spring, we could start getting back to a degree of normality.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): That's more than six months away and won't happen unless we make it happen.

FAUCI: If we keep lingering without getting those people vaccinated that should be vaccinated, this thing could linger on, leading to the development of another variant which could complicate things.

WATT: After the FDA's full approval of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday, fresh vaccines mandates agreed or announce for government workers in New Jersey, Disneyworld cast members, many Chevron employees, students at the University of Minnesota.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: You have the power to protect your communities and help end the pandemic through vaccination requirements.

WATT: Now, Louisiana has among the worst vaccination rates in the land and LSU Tiger fans, you are now going to need proof of a vaccine or a negative test before coming to football games.

FAUCI: The time has come. Enough is enough. We just got to get people vaccinated.

WATT: So when might the FDA green light vaccines for the under 12s?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: I think it's possible that we might see that process complete by the end of the calendar year.

WATT: So masks in schools in the meantime? Well, a federal judge ruled Kentucky's governor can't mandate them right now so he canceled his mandate, even though he knows it works.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): It is everything from a District in Kentucky that went back for three days masking optional and had 700 quarantines in just the first three days.

WATT: Nationwide the average daily COVID-19 death toll is now over 1,000 and still climbing. The average new cases a day more than 150,000, hasn't been that high since January. But is that leveling off?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH: Maybe you could kind of peek at that curve and say maybe it is trying to find its way from this steepest slope into something a little more gradual, but, boy, no reason to be too confident of that.

WATT: Paige Ruiz, an unvaccinated mom from Texas died from COVID-19 before she could hold her newborn. Here is a very simple message from Paige's mom.

ROBIN ZINSOU, LOST DAUGHTER TO COVID-19: Mask up. Get vaccinated so this doesn't happen to your family.


WATT (on camera): Now, today, the CDC did confirm that, yes, the delta variant has dented the efficiency of the vaccines down from 91 percent to 66 percent against infection. But the vaccines are still very effective at preventing severe diseases.


A study just carried out here in Los Angeles found that the unvaccinated are five times more likely to be infected and 29 times more likely to wind up in the hospital -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah. Just get a shot. So critically important.

Nick Watt reporting for us, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this. CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen, is joining us. She's the author of the important new book entitled "Lifelines." There you see the cover.

Dr. Fauci now predicts that we could start getting back to a degree of normality in the spring, but that's only if enough people get vaccinated, about 82 million Americans who are eligible for a vaccine still haven't gotten their first shot. Another variant potentially could emerge if that continues along that way. Is that right?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: That's right. And spring feels like a very long time away. I think we need to acknowledge that we squandered our best opportunity, as in we could be in a place where we could be approaching normality right now except we didn't get enough team vaccinated.

So, I think the full approval for the Pfizer vaccine is really important. But I also hope that we do a lot more. For example, I hope that the Biden administration requires vaccinations in order to travel on planes and trains and to enter federal buildings. I also hope that more employers step up and that health insurance companies might do innovative things, for example, providing discounts for people who are fully vaccinated. We need to be taking these drastic steps at this moment in order to increase vaccination rates or else we're not going to get back to normal.

BLITZER: A new CDC study, you heard Nick report this, finds that vaccine effectiveness dropped from 91 percent to 66 percent once the delta variant was introduced here in the U.S. Is that dip as significant as it sounds?

WEN: I think it is. But I also think the study is a glass half empty, half full scenario in that part of the study isn't great. It is finding that the effectiveness of the vaccines are either waning over time or because of the delta variant. That's bad news. Although, we do have the boosters that I think that again affirms the Biden administration's decision to potentially offer boosters as soon as next month.

I think the other part that's really good news actually is that they are still finding that the vaccines protect at least five times from infection and 29 times from hospitalization and death. That's really, really important.

And for anyone who questions whether vaccines work just because there might be breakthrough infections doesn't mean that they don't work. We wear seat belts, but seat belts don't protect you every time. We should still be wearing a seat belt even if it doesn't protect you 100 percent.

And we really need to be looking at vaccines the same way. They are safe. They're effective. They work very, very well. But they work the best if everybody around us gets vaccinated.

BLITZER: Well said, indeed.

Dr. Leana Wen, thanks as usual for joining us.

Coming up, new concerns emerging right now that the Taliban have seized enormous amounts of digital data on former enemies. We've got new information when we come back.



BLITZER: There is serious concern right now that the Taliban have their hands on very sensitive digital data they could use against their Afghan enemies.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He's working the story for us.

What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we got new information tonight on the kind of data the Taliban might now have in their hands, from phone and personnel records to fingerprints. The group now has access to more personal information on its enemies.


TODD (voice-over): In addition to the U.S. made armaments they got their hands on, new concerns tonight that the Taliban have seized another more subtle weapon that could help them track down and kill their enemies. Digital databases left behind on computers and hard drives, records stored away that could be a treasure trove for the terror group.

THOMAS WARRICK, FORMER DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: That includes things like tax records, who is on whose payroll? Who talked to whom? Who were the confidential sources of some of the police units? It includes who received payments and checks and where they came from.

TODD: Information that former intelligence officials say the Taliban are now likely using to fill in the intelligence gaps on who they're looking for.

MICHAEL PREGENT, FORMER U.S. MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: They can go into a computer and, you know, they have smart people. They will pick an al Qaeda guy. Hey, can you look at this and find out who -- who in Afghanistan worked for the Americans and they put them on a target list.

TODD: The group Human Rights First has tweeted out a warning, saying they believe the Taliban has access to biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan, quote, including some left behind by coalition military forces. A concern echoed today but a Republican member of Congress who served there

REP. JIM BANKS (R-IN): The Taliban now has biometric devices which have the fingerprints, eye scans and biographical information of the Afghans who helped us over the last 12 years.

TODD: A defense official tells CNN they cannot confirm reports that Taliban have seized certain handheld devises that contain biometric data like finger prints and iris scans. Regarding the larger stores of data, experts aren't so much worried that the Taliban have gotten their hands on the data of Americans since U.S. forces and diplomats likely destroyed most of that on the way out. It's the information on America's Afghan allies they're worried about, data that could be sitting in the office was of civilian telecom companies in Kabul.

WARRICK: This is scattered everywhere. It's almost impossible to control and impossible to delete enough copies to really protect all the people who we would like to see protected.

TODD: So, Human Rights First is urgently warning activists and America's allies in Afghanistan to protect themselves.

WELTON CHANG, HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST: They can take steps to secure their identities. They can request their data be deleted by social media companies who are aware of the threat that's happening right now and are taking extra measures to delete that information.



TODD (voice-over): We reached out to the State Department and the Pentagon regarding Taliban data seizures. The State Department did not respond but a defense official told us there is legitimate concern in the Pentagon the Taliban now have massive stores of data that they could use to track down their enemies and those American allies in Afghanistan. It's very worrisome tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very worrisome indeed.

All right. Brian, good reporting. Thank you very much. We'll follow up on that story and we'll have more news right after



BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks for watching. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.