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The Situation Room

Health Experts Warn Labor Day Gatherings Could Worsen COVID Surge As More U.S. Students Head Back To School; Terror Fears Ahead Of 9/11 Anniversary, Pro-Insurrectionist Rally; Louisiana Still Facing Power, Fuel, Shortages One Week After Hurricane; Texas Governor To Sign Voting Restrictions Bill Tomorrow; U.S. Attorney General Pledges To Protect Texas Abortion Clinics That May Come "Under Attack" Due To State's New Ban. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: A new window into the desperation in the northeast disaster zone ahead of President Biden's visit. Police release a video of their failed attempt to rescue a family trap in the flooded basement apartment, including a two year old.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta, and this is a SITUATION ROOM special report.

We begin this hour with the state of the COVID-19 crisis as we head into the unofficial start of fall. CNN National Correspondent Nick Watt is falling all the development for us.

Nick, the pandemic is at a worst point tonight than it was last Labor Day, hard to believe that, or even just a few months ago.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jim. You know, this Labor Day weekend looked like a normal Labor Day weekend. The beaches were packed out here in Los Angeles. The stands at the U.S. Open packed in New York, college football stadiums packed across the south. But our situation right now is not normal. It is far from normal. Take Georgia, for example. There are more COVID-19 patients in the hospital in Georgia now than at any other stage during this pandemic.



WATT (voice over): Summer is over. This week in the northeast, many schools start back, but ominous signs from the south. Kentucky schools opened already and already one in five districts have closed at some point due to case counts, quarantines or just lack of staff.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): We have a record number of Kentuckians in the hospital battling COVID, in the ICU battling for their lives. WATT: And they're overwhelming unvaccinated. South Carolina has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and the highest infection rate.

DR. HELMUT ALBRECHT, CHAIR, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA, PRISMA HEALTH: We'll have another uptick with the universities opening up. We'll have a further uptick with the schools not having masks on. And we'll have Labor Day travel on top of this. So, yes, there will be a further uptick.

WATT: Meantime, more data that vaccine booster shots are now necessary due to the delta variant.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The data from the Israeli studies are that there is a rather substantial diminution in protection against infection and an unquestionable diminution in the protection against hospitalization.

WATT: With a booster, that protection bounced back and then some, the plan was to start third shots here in two weeks, but might only be Pfizer that rolls out them. Moderna is delayed by a data review.

GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R-WV): We've got people that are well beyond six months that are 60 and older that need the booster shot. And we can't give it to them because we're being held up by, you know, the nation and on the federal level right now.

WATT: More evidence boosters are needed, a beginning and end of summer comparison. Four times the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 now, average new daily cases up over 800 percent. Back then, we were losing an average of 594 lives a day, now 1,561. The difference, fewer mitigation measures and delta.

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: We need to rev up our game against getting unvaccinated persons vaccinated.

WATT: Worldwide, officials now watching the new variant, not a threat, not yet, but could partially evade the current vaccines.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: The virus will continue to mutate until we have a level of immunity in our communities around this country and around the world.


WATT (on camera): Now, next week, Israeli health officials will brief our own FDA on their booster data. Now, I'm not saying we're getting ahead of ourselves with all this booster talk, but it is important to remember that more than a quarter of eligible Americans still haven't had their first vaccine shot. Jim?

ACOSTA: Yes. We still have to tackle that challenge. All right, Nick Watt, thanks so much.

Let's bring in our pandemic experts. Dr. Ashish Jha is the Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and Dr. Leana Wen as a CNN Medical Analyst, Emergency Room Physician and Author of Lifelines, A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health. Thanks to both of you.

Dr. Wen. Let me start with you, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is up, I can't believe I'm saying this, 300 percent compared to Labor Day last year. It just doesn't compute with this reporter. But how did we get here?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, we got here in part because we have the delta variant. That's a lot more contagious than anything that we have seen before. But a major reason of how we got here and why we're in this mess is the behavior of many people. There is a good portion of this country who are behaving as if the pandemic is behind us and, clearly, it is not when we have more than 1,500 Americans die every single day.


And I just worry so much because we know that the unvaccinated are at even higher risks than they were last Labor Day. But we have so many restrictions that are lifted. People are not wearing masks indoors in public places. Social distancing in a lot of places is a thing of the past.

And I just hope that people keep on remembering the vaccinated, yes, you are well protected against severe disease but you still have spillover effects from the unvaccinated, and the unvaccinated really must get vaccinated right now to protect themselves and so that we have any hope of ending this pandemic.

ACOSTA: And, Dr. Jha, the rise in cases has led to 80 percent of all ICU beds being in use. This means hospitals might once again have to make impossible decisions about who gets intensive care and who doesn't. How does this grab you right now in terms of that part of this crisis?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, Jim. This is so tragic because, again, as Dr. Wen said, this is all wholly preventable, right? Like, we do not need to be where we are. And I always remind people that ICUs were used for things other than COVID, and those things still exist, car accidents, heart attacks, heart failure, lots of things that need ICU care. And, unfortunately, those people who get into trouble and need ICU care are often not able to get it. And this is bad for everybody because we live in one society.

So, a really tragic moment, we have got to get the COVID situation under control. It's going to be good for people who get COVID, it's any good for everyone.

ACOSTA: And, Dr. Wen, when I spoke with Dr. Fauci about the booster shot, he said he expect Pfizer will likely be ready to roll out their boosters on September 20th but Moderna is going to be shortly behind. Who would you encourage to seek these booster doses this month? Obviously, there is a lot of people out there who are just sort of DIYing this and doing this on their own.

WEN: Right. I think there is several important things to keep in mind. One is that people who have moderate or severe imunocompromise. Those individuals are already eligible to get their third dose now. The second thing is that, if you are not yet vaccinated, the most important thing is for you to get vaccinated because that is the public health emergency, getting the unvaccinated vaccinated. The third is if you are a vaccinated person, you are generally healthy, then it is okay at this point to wait to see what the FDA and CDC are saying. Right now, we know over a million Americans have already received an unauthorized third dose. I hope that we'll get further clarity so that we can better advise individuals about who should be getting a third dose at this time.

ACOSTA: And, Dr. Jha, what does this mean for Americans who received either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines and want to get a booster shot quickly? What do you think?

JHA: Yes. My take is for people who got Moderna, there will be guidance very, very quickly, probably in the next weeks that follow the Pfizer -- the Pfizer guidance and but certainly by the end of September. I expect more clarity.

The challenge is J&J. People who got J&J got it later. We have less information about them. I suspect they will need a booster too, particularly if you got J&J and you are in a high risk group, elderly, obviously immunocompromised, certainly, if you have significant chronic disease.

So I'm hoping that the federal government and the federal policymakers really give guidance on all of these things in the upcoming weeks. And don't make people hanging for very long.

ACOSTA: Yes. And, Dr. Wen, Dr. Fauci suggests protecting children from the coronavirus by surrounding them with vaccinated people. How are you as a parent navigating this after a long wait for a vaccine that's approved for children? You know, people don't want to wait for this. They want to get going.

WEN: Yes. It is really hard. I have two little kids who are under 12 and are not yet eligible to get the vaccine. I think all of us parents are eagerly awaiting for when the vaccine is going to be authorized for younger kids. But we have to remember that in the meantime, it is the goal of society to protect our most vulnerable. I mean, adults, we're supposed to protect our children. And we as a society have utterly failed in this regard. We have not prioritized reopening schools initially. We're now not prioritizing keeping schools safe by even having something as basic as indoor mask mandates inside schools.

And the other really important thing that we as adults can do is to get vaccinated ourselves. And that includes, by the way, adolescents 12 and older who are eligible. They should be getting vaccinated to protect their younger siblings. Ideally, we are surrounding our unvaccinated children with this bubble of immunity where everybody around them is vaccinated. That is our obligation to our children. ACOSTA: And it is just not happening enough. Dr. Leana Wen, Dr. Ashish Jha, thanks so much for that. We appreciate it and happy Labor Day. Thanks so much.

JHA: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Just ahead, we'll break down a new warning about extremist activities surrounding the 9/11 anniversary on Saturday as well as concerns about violence during a rally being held by -- a week later by supporters of the January 6th riot.


This is Situation Room special report.


ACOSTA: Tonight, authorities are tracking the activity of foreign terrorists as the U.S. is just days away from marking 20 years since the September 11th attacks on this country.

Let's bring in our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, what are authorities monitoring ahead of this momentous anniversary? I mean, obviously, they keep tabs on this every year. I supposed the 20th anniversary, they're certainly keeping an eye on things.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. In addition to the 20th anniversary, you know, certainly the Homeland Security Department, the intelligence community, FBI are all looking at some of what they believe is an inspiration that could come from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.


For instance, Al Qaeda, media associated with Al Qaeda have been putting out videos, including one that takes in some of the recent news events and highlights the idea of the U.S. decline. And one of them says that essentially that the January 6th event could be -- could be considered more impactful than the fourth airplane. That's a reference to the airplane that went down on 9/11 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Again, this is something that they look for, as you pointed out, every year, Jim. But the ISIS and Al Qaeda media that homeland security keeps an eye on, certainly, they believe this is something that they could use to try to inspire people who are already here or in western countries to try to carry out something.

ACOSTA: Because they're embolden to some extent by what happened in Afghanistan over the summer.

PEREZ: Right.

ACOSTA: What about on the domestic front, because that is what hear from people all the time. This is the main thing this country should be focused on right now. PEREZ: Right. And certainly for the FBI and homeland security, that is one of the big things after January 6th. And as you mentioned, we have the rally coming up on September 18th in support of some of the rioters from January 6th. One of the things that they have been keeping an eye on is the number of domestic extremists who look at what happened in Afghanistan, the idea of smaller, less armed group being able to essentially push out the United States, the idea of perhaps domestic groups being able to do the same thing here.

ACOSTA: So ridiculous that some of these folks would actually try to take inspiration from what happened in Afghanistan, unbelievable. All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Let's turn out to more from our analysts here. CNN -- former CIA Counterterrorism Official Phil Mudd and CNN Commentator, and former Washington D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey, both CNN Commentators. Gentlemen, thanks so much.

Phil, what are CIA and FBI officials bracing for right now when it comes to 9/11 and this anniversary that's coming up?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COMMENTATOR: Boy, there's a lot of different world if you are looking at this from the Hoover Building FBI where I served and also the CIA headquarters in Langley. If you're looking overseas to Al Qaeda, I know what Evan talked about, putting out propaganda, but you cannot put together an operational plan for a terrorist attack in the United States that quickly. In other words, looking at the Taliban takeover and a few weeks later, saying we're going to attack in a place like New York and Chicago.

That's a recruiting video that what they're putting out now in terms of propaganda, that is Al Qaeda, is a message to people in places like Algeria and Jordan. Look, we in Taliban won, come join us. We're on the victor's side. I think if you are at the FBI building, you have a much bigger problem.

You mentioned one of the surprising aspects of January 6th, people looking at the Taliban success. Domestic extremists, like the ones that we saw at the Capitol saying, look at what the Taliban did. If we want a domestic insurrection, why can't we learn the same lessons that Taliban applied and apply them to the United States? That's what I would be worried about not only in terms of the message, Jim, but in terms of the breadth of the problem here, the number of states where you see extremists, the number of extremists there are. If you are in the FBI, you have got to be really worried, Jim.

ACOSTA: No question about it. And, Chief Ramsey, we expect many public memorial services for Saturday's anniversary. How did those officials coordinate with major cities like D.C. and Philadelphia where you serve as a police chief? I imagine a lot of these agencies are going to be talking to one another.

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, they will be talking to one another, and they coordinate a couple different ways. One, the Joint Terrorism Task Force that the FBI has is going a major way of getting, intelligence information from the federal agencies. The others is the fusion centers from the Department of Homeland Security. Between those two, state and locals are pretty much linked in to what's going on if they make preparations. Obviously, ever since the first anniversary of 9/11, there's been a heightened alert at the local level, particularly cities like New York and Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and so forth. And because this is the 20th anniversary, I'm sure that will not change this year.

ACOSTA: And, Phil, how do intelligence officials avoid making the same mistakes that led to the 9/11 attacks? I know that, that seems to be the conversation every year and, of course, many of these intelligence officials have made substantial changes. But more recently, there have been conversations about the underestimating of the threat that occurred on January 6th that we saw unfold on January 6th.

MUDD: That's a -- the January 6th question is a different question from the Al Qaeda problem. You can't underestimate what we saw at the Capitol. But remember this. Remember this as an intelligence professional. Let's say, Jim, on January 5th you walk into the Congress and said, we're surveilling a bunch of people, including looking at their email, looking at their social media and with informants traveling to Washington, we're surveilling people who are coming for a political rally to support the president of the United States.


On January 5th, the Congress of the United States would have said, you've got to be kidding me. We cannot be surveilling political rallies conducted by the president. I think it contrasts the Al Qaeda story, America becoming comfortable with surveillance on citizens who look like them is something in my view that hasn't happened yet. We haven't gone through enough pain for Americans to say, you can look at us, FBI. I don't think so.

ACOSTA: Interesting. All right, Phil Mudd, Charles Ramsey. Thanks so much, gentlemen. We appreciate it. Happy Labor Day.

MUDD: Thanks.

RAMSEY: Thank you.

ACOSTA: And coming up, gripping video shows how police tried and failed to rescue a family trapped in a flooded basement apartment as FEMA officials tour storm damage.

And New Orleans mayor speaks out about the death of nursing home residents evacuated because of Hurricane Ida after a sudden fatality.



ACOSTA: Tonight, parts of Louisiana may still be weeks away from getting their power back a week after Hurricane Ida hit with brutal force. CNN's Martin Savidge is in New Orleans for us. Martin, how much help do people still need there? It seems like it is still an awful lot.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they do. They need a lot of help. But let's show you some of the way that's being distributed. The lines are broken right here, but there are still cars filling up. This is a POD, point of distribution, Jefferson Parish, around near the airport just outside the city of New Orleans.

And as you can see, what happens here is the National Guard setup. You've got the Louisiana National Guard. They're going to be basically ask how much do you need? All right, you tell them, I got five family members and then you come on down the assembly line down here and then essentially you going to get two MREs per family member, you are going to get a box of water right here. And then after that eventually down the way something much needed, you are going to get ice.

It is an emergency drive-through. It is the basics and people pretty much are coming here every single day. There are many of these set up all throughout the area damaged by hurricanes.

One of the big issues in New Orleans today is talking about the situation that happened over the weekend with the city of New Orleans and its Health Department began evacuating hundreds of seniors that were found in at least ten buildings in the New Orleans area. These are privately owned or run by nonprofits and primarily for elderly living. And what they found in those units were just deplorable conditions according to the mayor.

Now, air-conditioning, people were trapped in the upper floors because the elevator didn't work. Many of the elderly relied on medical devices. They were truly suffering in the heat. So, hundreds of them were evacuated and taken to shelters over the weekend further north into Louisiana.

The mayor is not ruling out that there could be legal ramifications for those who own the buildings, especially in cases where it looks like the staff just simply left the building and left the elderly to their own resources. At least five people were found dead over the weekend, but that number continues to rise.

Let's talk about some positive things and that's the restoration of electricity. 70 percent of New Orleans, the city is expected to have power by the end of the day today. They are on track to have all the power restored by Wednesday. Still a half million, Jim, in a state that are without power and may not get it until the end of the month. That's it from here, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Martin Savidge, thanks so much. And thanks to those folks working hard behind you. We appreciate it very much.

And now to the flood zone in the northeast. President Biden is set to visit hard hit communities in New York and New Jersey tomorrow after signing major disaster declarations for parts of those states. CNN's Athena Jones has more on Ida's aftermath.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): New York officials and FEMA administrator toured storm damage in hard hit Queens, Monday, as communities across the region begin to put their lives and homes back together after the devastation brought by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

BARBARA AMARANTINIS, QUEENS RESIDENT: If you drive around Queens, it looks like a bomb went off. Everybody's personal belongings are out on the street. We just need someone to help us out.

DEANNE CRISWELL, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: What we saw today was absolutely heart-breaking, the amount of damage and destruction that these families have experienced.

JONES: State and federal officials say help is on the way with President Biden set to visit New York and New Jersey Tuesday after approving federal disaster relief for five New York counties and six in New Jersey to help families and businesses repair and rebuild.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): We're at least $50 million in damages, and we anticipate the numbers to go up. But that did trigger the threshold that we are eligible to apply for major declaration assistance.

JONES: The true extent of the storm's impact is still being realized, Ida claiming the lives of at least 50 people across the region with heart-breaking stories of loss. New York police sharing video of their attempt to rescue a Queens couple and their two-year-old, all three later found dead in their flooded basement apartment. Two other Queens residents died when a wall in their home collapsed in the flooding. At least four died in Pennsylvania and at least 27 people lost their lives in New Jersey, where Governor Phil Murphy toured flood damage, telling reporters he plans to ask the president to provide federal disaster relief to more counties.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): There were 50 other counties in New Jersey and we are in there fighting on behalf of any other those counties that were impacted.

JONES: State and local officials now focus on how to be better prepared for the next storm, by improving infrastructure and putting better warning system in place to alert people of the danger.

MAYOR TOM MURPHY (D-MAMARONECK, NY): We have sea walls that need to be raised. You know, we have sewers that were built 100 years ago. We really need help from the federal government to get back on our feet to get ready for the future because we can't abandon communities like Mamaroneck, New York.



JONES (on camera): Now, the federal disaster assistance to individuals and businesses includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, among other things. Mayor Bill de Blasio said today the city is going to be sending teams to go door to door in all storm affected areas to make sure people sign up for these federal storm relief benefits. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right, Athena Jones, so much work to do there in New York. We appreciate it.

Let's get more on the situation in New York. We're joined by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards. Donovan, thanks so much for doing this on this Labor Day. We appreciate it so much.

We watched the video of the attempted rescue of those three people from a flooded basement in your burough. The water level is alarming, and it's also just heart-breaking to look at this video. What are you going to do to make sure that no other family has to go through this after a big storm again?

DONOVAN RICHARDS, QUEENS BOROUGH PRESIDENT: Well, let me start by saying it's been such a tough year for Queens residents coming out of this pandemic and now to be hit hard by this storm. And, you know, in my formal capacity before, I was borough president, I was the chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee and the City Council where we actually did secure about $2 billion in infrastructure money to build out new sewer systems and storm sewers within Queens County.

However, you are talking about 40 years of disinvestment, Jim. We were behind the eight ball. People are talking about climate change that just arrived now. I know coming from the city council where my district was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy that climate change had arrived a long time ago, and I'm very grateful for the president's visit on tomorrow to Queens County where we will be pushing for certainly much more infrastructure investment in Queens.

ACOSTA: And can you walk us through the recovery efforts that are underway right now. We just heard one of your residents say it looks like a bomb went off in her neighborhood. What's it like right now?

RICHARDS: Well, I mean, you're talking about catastrophic devastation to families who lost every single thing they had in the basements, in some cases, residents who lost their livelihoods. Think about the affordable housing crisis we have in New York City where basements play a big role in subsidizing housing for many of our residents here in Queens County.

So, the bottom line is climate change is certainly interlinked with the inequalities that exist in the city already. They're intertwined together when you think about housing and climate and health and safety. All of these things are intertwined. So it is a tough time for anybody who lost everything in their basement, and I'm very happy to be working with the governor and the mayor and our president to ensure that these residents get immediate financial assistance, that they can be housed tonight in the event that they lost where they live in.

ACOSTA: And you're not going to be able to stop people from living in these basements. I mean, that is an affordability issue, Donovan. Could more safety equipment be added to some of these basements so people aren't drowning in their homes like this? I mean, that -- the video we saw earlier is just devastating.

RICHARDS: Well, there was a pilot in East New York, Brooklyn, that goes back to last year some time where the city was looking at ways to bring these basements, especially the illegal ones, up into compliance. What we need from the state, the federal and the city is investments into these dwellings to bring them up into compliance so that residents who can't find affordable housing who are living in these basements -- let me just remind you, there are over 300,000 people in New York City that live in basements.

So in order to bring them up to code (ph), homeowners who normally are subsidizing their mortgage with the rental payment from both living in the basements, they need assistance. And I think the government should be at the forefront of funding these dwelling so that individuals can bring them up into compliance.

ACOSTA: I suspect if you get a chance to talk to the president tomorrow, you will mention that. We know President Biden is heading into the region tomorrow. All right, Donovan Richards, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it. Good talking to you, Sir.

RICHARDS: Thank you so much, Jim. Take care.

ACOSTA: All right, you too.

Just ahead, the pressure is on President Biden as he juggles crisis after crisis during this increasingly critical month for his administration.



ACOSTA: As the nation marks the end of summer, President Biden is heading into a very challenging fall with multiple crises unfolding and his approval rating at the moment at least falling.

Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly has more. Phil, the president is expected to be at the White House at any moment. He has got a lot on his plate.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It is certainly wasn't the summer of President Biden or his top advisers envisioned. Certainly, it wasn't one that they expected. But it is here now. And while there are no shortage of challenges on the White House's plate, the president and his team make clear they will make a significant push on the domestic front in the days and weeks ahead to rebound.


MATTINGLY (voice over): Tonight, President Biden set to return to Washington at the start of a critical month, his administration facing a series of major crises. From natural disasters in a foreign policy crisis to a resurgent pandemic and critical hurdles to his sweeping legislative agenda, a president facing the ultimate test. Secretary of State Antony Blinken landing Monday in Doha.

RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We believe it is around a 100.

MATTINGLY: As the U.S. grapples with more than 100 American citizens on the ground in Afghanistan.

KLAIN: We are going to find ways to get them, the ones that want to leave, to get them out of Afghanistan.

MATTINGLY: The U.S. facilitating the departure of four Americans through an overland route, according to a senior State Department official, but with reports of some Americans stuck at an airport ready to depart, concerns on Capitol Hill about what happens next.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): They're not allowed to leave. We know the reason why is because the Taliban want something in exchange.

MATTINGLY: A persistent headache for a president facing a tangible dip in approval over the last several weeks, numbers on the economy and handling of the pandemic dropping alongside. The driving factor, the dramatic surge in COVID cases, average daily cases up more than a thousand percent compared to the level on July 4th.

FAUCI: The first thing we have to do, we can't be having 150,000 new infections per day. That's pandemic numbers. That's the first thing. We've got to crack that one right away.

MATTINGLY: White House officials saying Biden plans to lay out more aggressive steps in response in the days ahead, keenly aware of the direct correlation to a robust economic recovery that is now showing signs of slowing in the latest jobs report.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I know people were looking, and I was hoping for a higher number.

MATTINGLY: The U.S. adding 235,000 jobs in August, a major drop-off from the more than one million in July, driven in large part by hospitality, services and retail industry sharply affected by the pandemic.

BIDEN: There is no question the delta variant is why today's job report isn't stronger.

MATTINGLY: All as millions face the loss of pandemic emergency unemployment benefits.

KLAIN: We have more unfilled jobs in this country than at any time on the record of measuring unfilled jobs. So we think the jobs are there, and we think the states have the resources they need to move people from unemployment to employment.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Jim, as President Biden ramps up his aggressive approach to the coronavirus, expect, in parallel, the administration to ramp up efforts to pass its domestic agenda. Critical weeks ahead on Capitol Hill in both the Senate and the House behind the scenes for the last several weeks White House officials and their counterparts on Capitol Hill have been working feverishly to draft the details of the president's $3.5 trillion expansion to social safety net. Now is the moment they know at least in the weeks ahead to try and get that across the finish line. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Joining me now are CNN Military Analysts Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and CNN Senior Political Analyst and Presidential Adviser David Gergen.

General Hertling, let me go to you first. President Biden, he may want to turn the page to domestic subjects, but we're hearing reports of the Taliban blocking planes of Americans and Afghans from leaving the country. What do you think? I guess much of the nation is going to be focused on Afghanistan as we head into this very pivotal anniversary of 9/11.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Jim. As Phil just said, Afghanistan will certainly be one of many stories that we'll be talking about this week as we head toward the 9/11 commemoration on Saturday.

But I suggest in terms of the blockage of America that, as always, we should be wary of first and sometimes incomplete reports that suggest the Americans are being held hostage. I think Representative McCaul from Texas claimed that this morning on a Fox News interview. Yes, there are six planes sitting at the Mazar-i-Sharif Airport and they have been there for the last couple days. State Department has information on those. But McCaul jumping the gun and suggesting these flights are being held hostage when, in fact, that it certainly could be the fact that the Taliban is trying to get their act together as they attempt to govern and control the air space over Afghanistan is certainly part of the problem. So I'm not sure I'd jump all over this as being a deep concern just yet until we get more information.

ACOSTA: Certainly, more information is needed. We have been making that clear, I think, since yesterday when McCaul made this comment on Fox. You're right about that.

David Gergen, let me ask you this. President Biden faces multiple crises right now. Afghanistan, COVID his stalled legislation, the approval numbers. You know as a presidential adviser all too well they do pay attention to this inside the White House. They have been dipping ever so slightly, maybe a little more than they want, obviously, to see. How high are the stakes right now for President Biden to get on top of this and turn things around?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sky high. The stakes are sky high. As you know, Jim, there is a rhythm in the presidency as an institution and, ordinarily, a new first term president wants to come into September roaring ahead with a lot of momentum, having come through the first eight or nine months of his presidency having significant accomplishments. And that's when you really want to pick up steam and go. And this president, unfortunately, is going in just the opposite direction. After a terrific start, he had a really good start. And his team impressed. He was impressive. For some reason, they lost some of their mojo and they let some of these things slip through.

I must tell you, to add to the crisis that could be over the horizon that are really going to be facing the president, I was very shocked by the comments of General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this weekend.


And I'd be really interested in General Hertling's view. But he was saying that given where things were in Afghanistan, that the possibility of a civil war, it's like -- he called it likely. And if that were to happen, you would find nests of terrorists coming back and then hiding -- hiding out and trying to give us grief all around the world.

ACOSTA: What about that, General Hertling? What do you think?

HERTLING: Yeah, no doubt about it. I agree with David that, you know, General Milley, in fact, kind of surprised me. His statement surprised me when he said the likelihood of a civil war in Afghanistan is strong. We all know civil war has been occurring for months now, in fact years with the Taliban one of the elements being part of that civil war. It's likely going to continue for a very long time depending on the Taliban's ability or inability to effectively govern and gain diplomatic support from the countries in the region.

That's going to be the biggest problem, Jim. I think we're going to see both from a financial standpoint and a diplomatic standpoint that the Taliban are going to struggle and there are going to be many, many forms of competition within Afghanistan that are going to try and knock down it from power.

ACOSTA: Yeah. The conventional wisdom, folks, here in Washington, they just have to wait and see what unfolds in Afghanistan to try to predict everything all the time.

All right. David Gergen, General Mark Hertling, thanks so much. We appreciate your time. Happy Labor Day.

GERGEN: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Coming up, we're learning that a bill imposing new restrictions on voting in Texas is just hours away from becoming law.



ACOSTA: We're following two very important stories involving Texas Governor Greg Abbott just announced that tomorrow, he will sign legislation imposing restrictions on voting in that state. This comes amid backlash over the total abortion ban now in effect in Texas. Tonight, the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is vowing to protect abortion clinics that may come under attack because of the ban.

Let's discuss with two CNN legal analysts who are former federal prosecutors, Jennifer Rodgers and Elliot Williams.

Elliot, let me start with you first. These voting restrictions are about to become law after a long battle. We saw everything taking place this summer. How big of a blow is this for voting rights particularly for communities of color? This is a huge, huge deal.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a huge, huge deal. Look, it has already profoundly large state in America that over an extended period of time has been rolling back. You know, access to polling places and people's access to vote.

So, yes, This is quite significant all rooted to some extent in several years including from the last president of the United States casting doubt on election systems that were typically free of fraud or if not free of fraud, very little fraud. So, people sort of bought the lie and are significantly changing voting laws to reflect that.

ACOSTA: And, Jennifer, Texas is also in the news because it has also just passed the nation's strictest abortion law. The attorney general, though, here in Washington says the Justice Department will use a federal law that prohibits threats against patients seeking reproductive health care.

How far will this go in your view? And what do you make of the attorney general weighing in in all of this?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you're right, Jim. It is unusual for the attorney general to need to weigh in and in our system the courts usually block laws that are blatantly and clearly unconstitutional, which this law is. So, it's really unusual for the attorney general to have to say anything. I think it's important given the Supreme Court's refusal to block the law he does what DOJ can do.

The problem is, the FACE Act, which is the act he referenced the DOJ would be utilizing resources to enforce isn't really a good fit this because it's designed to stop people from blocking access to clinics, from threatening people who want abortions and abortion providers. It's not really designed to stop people from filing lawsuits. It requires force or threat of force of physical obstruction.

So, you know, I think DOJ should do what it can. The problem is they very cleverly drafted this law so that the FACE Act doesn't really apply very well to it.

ACOSTA: Interesting.

Elliot, does the Justice Department in your view have any good options to explore here? WILLIAMS: This -- you know, I'll piggy back on what Jennifer said.

This is one of the best options they have but it requires them to have a really expansive definition of the idea what it means to intimidate someone from having an abortion.

Now, that freedom access law was targeted at people attacking abortion clinics, and that's not quite the case here. In fact, at the end of the day, this provision doesn't stop anyone from suing someone else for $10,000, but if the Justice Department is being as aggressive as it looks they are, they are attempting to use the law here in that way. This is, you know, this is what they've got.

The real option is for Congress to pass a law, which is fully within Congress's authority enshrining Roe v. Wade in statute. That would be the thing that would ultimately protect people's right to have an abortion at this point. But this is sort of -- the Justice Department's hands are tied somewhat and this is sort of the best they can do right now, I think.

ACOSTA: And, Jennifer, a few Republican governors hinted they could enact their versions of the Texas law. This is spreading like wildfire in some of these red states. What do you expect the state by state struggle to look like in getting to the theme of this conversation? Is there much the Biden administration can do about it?

RODGERS: Yeah, it's going to look like chaos, Jim. I mean, probably nearly half the states in the Union will make an attempt to do what Texas has done, ultimately, which is to basically out-law abortion all together.


And the problem here is because of the way they constructed this law by giving private citizens the right to sue, it's not easy to enjoin. I mean, you really -- to get this into the court on the merits, you have to wait for someone to file that kind of lawsuit and then, you know, you can step in and sue that person and see how it goes. So, it's just going to be a big mess, lots of litigation and we won't see the results for awhile.

ACOSTA: All right. Well, we appreciate the discussion this evening. Happy Labor Day. Thanks to both of you.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: We'll see you again real soon.

And we'll have more news just ahead.


ACOSTA: And a happy Labor Day to everybody. I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now. Have a good night.