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State of the Union

Branson Safely Lands After Reaching Edge Of Space; Delta Variant Cases Spike In U.S.; Pfizer Moves Toward Booster Shot, CDC And FDA Say, Not So Fast; One-On-One With Top Biden Medical Adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci; U.S. Cases Climb To 19,000 Per Day As Delta Variant Spreads; Pennsylvania GOP Lawmaker Pushes Arizona-Style Election, Audit; Interview With Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA); Intel Community Warns Afghan Government Could Fall To The Taliban As Soon As Six Months After U.S. Withdrawal. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired July 11, 2021 - 12:00:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is, frankly, relieved. We just watched history. It was all smiles on board the Virgin Galactic space plane Unity, as billionaire Richard Branson has just successfully rocketed into outer space, officially becoming an astronaut and has just safely returned to Earth.

Branson's spacecraft flew more than 50 miles into the sky. We saw briefly the astronauts floating weightless above the Earth's atmosphere. We are expecting to see the astronauts emerge from the space plane back here on the Earth's surface any moment.

Joining us now to discuss from New Mexico is CNN innovation and space correspondent, Rachel Crane.

Rachel, the astronauts have just touched down after the historic Virgin Galactic flight. Sum it up for us.


RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): That's right, Jake. I'm just a few hundreds yards away from VSS Unity right now. It's taxiing back to the hanger here at Spaceport America. Hopefully that's when we'll see Richard Branson and hear his emotion and hear what this experience was like, after he took his historic space flight for him and his team.

Everyone has been pegging this as the billionaire space race. And today, Richard Branson, he -- you know, they got to where they wanted to go. This was a suborbital flight. Richard Branson passed that 50- mile mark and he has -- will now receive his astronaut wings. That's a ceremony we'll see in a few moments, him and two additional mission specialists on board.

They'll be receiving their astronaut wings today. Blue Origin, who is their direct competitor in the suborbital space, they're set to make their first crewed flight on July 20th.

I wanted to point out that Blue Origin has really brand goals here as well beyond suborbital. They're interested in going to the moon and beyond. So while, yes, in the suborbital space they are direct competitors. That's where this whole billionaire space race idea comes from.

But they are very different companies. So what Virgin Galactic achieved here today is nothing short of extraordinary. And I think space enthusiasts around the world, including everyone at Blue Origin, I'm sure is, as you said, breathing a sigh of relief that Branson and his team safely landed on the ground.

Also for the aerospace community more broadly because this is all about pushing the boundaries of space exploration and opening that final frontier to the rest of us, to really democratize space so more people can experience the beauty of weightlessness.

Only a little over 500 people have ever experienced space travel, have gone to space at all. So that's what they're trying to achieve here, is to really open up the heavens, democratize space.

And this space flight of Sir Richard Branson is a major milestone forward for the company now. The company, it's important to remember this was still a test flight. So the company said they have two additional ones before they start commercial operations in early 2022.

That's when they'll begin to send the 600 passengers, who have spent $200,000 a seat, a ticket. But the space plane, I don't know if you can see me, it's pulling in right behind me. And we know Richard Branson will be making a major announcement once he exits the vehicle.

So we're all very eager to hear what he has to say. But, certainly, there's going to be a lot of emotion from him and his team. And there's people speaking right now. Chris Hadfield is speaking right now. He's a former astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency. He was the astronaut that went viral for singing "Ground control to Major Tom," I'm sorry. Amid the excitement, I'm blanking on that exact name of the song. But you know exactly the one that I'm thinking of, Jake.

So any moment we'll be seeing the astronauts and hearing directly from them about their experience. Shortly thereafter, there will be a press conference and we'll hear additional details and I'll myself be speaking to Richard Branson, getting a one-on-one, hearing what this journey was like for him -- Jake.

TAPPER: Song "Space Oddity" by David Bowie, Rachel Crane, I believe that's the --


CRANE: Thank you. Thank you.

TAPPER: -- fantastic song.

CRANE: Yes, you got me. You got me. (LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much, Rachel.


TAPPER: Let's talk more about what we just saw.

Miles O'Brien, let me get your reaction to this historic moment.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, let's put it into some perspective, Jake. It's not the first suborbital flight. We did that 60 years ago with Alan Shepherd.


O'BRIEN: It's not the first flight with a private astronaut; Mike Melvill did that in 2004, flying Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites Creation at that time, Spaceship 1. Richard Branson, of course, bought that technology right after that team won the XPRIZE in 2004.

Richard Branson really isn't technically an astronaut. He wasn't driving the bus, so to speak. But he did attain an altitude and, more importantly, to the larger picture of space, brought a lot of attention to this idea of sort of democratizing this latest frontier, this kind of manifest destiny.

Where do we go now?

Let's think about going to space and let's make it more widely available. NASA was never going to get us here. It required some audacious and, some might say, eccentric, in some cases, billionaires to do it.

Who else is going to put down the money to do this kind of thing?

And the hope is that it gets cheaper and more accessible as time goes on. We'll just have to wait and see on that right now. Right now, it's billionaires having some fun. Maybe soon it will be millionaires. And then maybe some day down the road, we all get to go.

TAPPER: Kristin Fisher, let me bring you in.

What does this moment mean for the future of space travel, not just democratizing it but also filling in some of the holes that perhaps need to be filled by the fact that countries are not, at least with the same enthusiasm as in the past, pursuing space exploration?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE & DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: I think Miles was spot on. NASA, governments, they were never going to do what Virgin Galactic just did and what Jeff Bezos will do in a few days, which is taking paying customers and sending them up into orbit.

I know there are folks, wringing their hands, upset that we're talking about these billionaires and very rich people going into space. But that's how big things happen and change is made. If you look back to the beginning of flight, airplanes traveling in

the sky, it was rich people that started doing that first. Then it became more readily available to the masses. I understand the frustration.

But this is the beginning of, as you said, the democratization of space. And, boy, that was a textbook test flight. I'm standing literally in the desert. The runway right over my shoulder.

The reason you do it in the desert is in case something happens. This is exactly the same kind of setup we'll see on July 20th, when Jeff Bezos attempts to launch on his new Shepard spacecraft.

The big difference here, this was the fourth crewed flight of Spaceship 2. Jeff Bezos, that's going to be the very first time that a person has actually been on board the new Shepard spacecraft and ridden it up into space.

So a key distinction, Jeff Bezos quick to point out quite a few other distinctions. But the bottom line today, Richard Branson fulfilling his dream of becoming an astronaut and the entire Virgin Galactic team, which worked for 17 years to make this happen.

They worked through tragedies, deaths and some financial hardships to get to this point today. We were talking earlier how that some may view this as a publicity stunt or one big commercial. But it's also incredibly inspiring to so many people. So this really is the start of something new and what an exciting time to be covering space -- Jake.

TAPPER: Miles, let me ask you a question. For decades really, skeptics of NASA would be told about all the technologies that were being developed for space travel that could benefit those of us on Earth.

What does this achieve, what Branson is doing, beyond theoretically the future democratization of space travel?

I guess what I'm saying is, given the fact that government investments in space exploration -- oh, we see Branson right now, with members of his family, getting off the craft. We'll just keep watching that while we talk, Miles.

What I'm driving at is, in the past, we were told, when NASA requested money, all the technological advances for space travel by the U.S. government meant advances for all of us down here on Earth, whether that meant satellites or whatever, that there were tangible benefits.

For this chapter of space exploration, what is there besides democratizing space travel?


O'BRIEN: Yes, it's the Tang and space food sticks and Teflon argument. If we go to space, we're going to have better ways to cook or whatever. You're not going to see a lot of that with this, frankly.

What we're doing is taking technology -- in some respects, is pretty tried and true here -- and applying it in a way that makes it more cost effective, repeatable, reusable and, thus, ultimately more affordable.

Imagine if every time you flew an airliner you had to throw it away. It would be kind of expensive to do that. And that's what we were doing for a long time in space, even with the space shuttle, which was supposed to be reusable. Big parts of it were thrown away. And reusability was very expensive.

What Elon Musk has proven at SpaceX is that reusability can be taken to a higher level. He's making it -- or is a magnitude cheaper to get to space. Something like this gets you to the cusp of space. You're not going to take this craft ever into orbit.

So it has some certain limitations. But you could imagine, Jake, suborbital hops between New York and Tokyo. We talk about supersonic flight. This would far exceed that as far as speed. And maybe it's a more palatable way to do it when you consider the sonic booms and the environmental consequences.

So it's not so much a technology push as it is a marketing push and a public acceptance push, which goes back to your original point, the democratization of space is what we're seeing here.

TAPPER: Miles, Kristin and Rachel, stick around. We'll have more from the successful rocket launch next. We're expecting to hear from Richard Branson. He says he has a major announcement. We'll squeeze in a quick break. We'll be right back.





TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper. We're coming out of a historic moment for space travel. Billionaire Richard Branson has just emerged from his spacecraft after successfully traveling to the edge of space. Let me bring back my panel here.

Miles, now the ball appears to be in the court of Jeff Bezos. His flight is now just nine days away.

How will that be different from what we saw today?

O'BRIEN: Well, it's a little different look for sure, Jake. He's got the more traditional capsule and rocket approach. It's not the mother ship, which separates from the rocket at altitude. It's also completely autonomous. There will be no pilot on board, just the passengers and that's kind of interesting.

One of the things that's worth pointing out is the Bezos approach, the Blue Origin approach, does have a crew escape system. In other words, the capsule can be fired away from the rocket stack if something goes wrong as they're flying toward the edge of space.

So there is a level of safety there that, frankly, isn't available in the Virgin Galactic flight, which doesn't have a crew escape system. Beyond that, I think the other thing that's worth pointing out here is the PR panache of Richard Branson is absolutely galactic, right?

It's unsurpassed. Bezos doesn't quite have those chops. He's operated, for one thing, incredibly stealthily over these years, the exact opposite of how Branson has operated Virgin Galactic for these past 17 years.

And he doesn't have the natural affinity that Branson does to just, wherever he go, draw a crowd. I remember, Jake, back in 2005 in New York, Branson showed up at a news conference. There were 70 cameras there. I counted them.

I was there for that news conference and all they did was lift the curtain and reveal a scale model of the craft you just saw flying. And I thought, wow, this guy is good. He really doesn't have anything. Yet he can really get the media talking about him. So Bezos, I suspect, will be a much lower-key deal.

TAPPER: Kristin Fisher, you saw Richard Branson smiling, his family members running to hug him on the tarmac.

What does this moment mean to him?

FISHER: I don't think a smile could get any bigger than the one that we just saw on Richard Branson's face as he ran out and hugged his grandkids. On a personal level, he's achieved a lifelong dream.

But on a professional one, too, he helped steer this company through some tough times. He also had this vision. One of the very first things he did was trademark the name years ago, Virgin Galactic. So he had this vision for what this company could be.

In just a few months, now that it has -- the FAA has authorized Virgin Galactic to begin commercial operations, Virgin Galactic has said, hey, after today's test flight, they're going to do two more test flights and then open this up to all of the paying customers in early 2022.

So that's when -- I mean, keep in mind, there are about 600 or 700 people who put down deposits for these seats, which cost between $200,000 and $250,000. Could go up more after today's successful flight.

And they've been waiting years to cash in on that deposit. So we'll see that start to happen in 2022. But if you're Richard Branson, you have to be very, very pleased about this flawless test flight. And I'm very curious to hear what Elon Musk has to say.


FISHER: He flew in for this event. He actually spent the morning with Richard Branson before he launched. They tweeted out a picture of the two of them. But nothing quite yet from Jeff Bezos.

He wished Elon Musk well yesterday, wished him a safe and successful flight. Haven't heard anything yet but of course he just landed.

And one other thing, Jake, Richard Branson was just congratulated by the head of the Space Force, General Jay Raymond. He had congratulations on a flawless test flight. So this is something that, yes, this is a commercial space enterprise.

But this is something that is cheered on by the entire space industry, including NASA, including the U.S. military, and even all the way up at the head of the Space Force -- Jake.

TAPPER: Miles, I know you were supposed to go to outer space years ago.

Would you be willing to make the passenger trip on Virgin Galactic?

O'BRIEN: In a heartbeat. I've got to say, Jake, this is going to sound like sour grapes. But I worked for years at CNN to negotiate a deal with NASA and had the Russians involved. I was going to fly on the shuttle and spend 10 days or so at the International Space Station.

Wouldn't that have been an amazing reporting assignment?

So the idea of five minutes in zero g kind of pales by comparison. But I certainly wouldn't turn it down just to explain that experience to people as best you can.

I mean, when you think about it, Jake, how many beats do we cover as reporters that you can't go to the location?

We go to war zones. We embed with people all over the place. We go to the far reaches of the planet. But no reporter, except for one Japanese reporter who went to Space Station Mir in the '80s but he was sick the whole time, didn't do much reporting, no reporter has ever gone to space to really tell people what it's like from that perspective.

We send engineers up there. You know, frankly, they're operating from the other side of the brain. They're not -- we need to send poets and writers and journalists. Now that we're seeing this happen, maybe this is opening up the door.

TAPPER: Let's hope so. I hope you get that trip.

Kristin, they traveled at the speed of sound, this craft.

Did you hear the sonic booms on the ground where you are?

What were you able to see?

FISHER: Oh, yes. We could really see it all. The first thing we saw was Spaceship 2, separating from the mother ship. You could actually see Spaceship 2 as it rocketed up into space. Just imagine what those now astronauts were feeling, just the G forces

on your chest as you rocket completely vertical at three times the speed of sound. Then we could actually hear Spaceship 2, the sonic boom from Spaceship ,2 as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere.

Then you could see the glorious landing. It was a corkscrew as it slowed down, as it made its way right here down into the desert, landing on the same runway it took off from about 90 minutes prior.

This is what paying customers are going to get to experience on Virgin Galactic's suborbital flights very soon. Elon Musk and SpaceX, they are entirely focused on orbital space flights. In just a few months, they are planning on sending the first crew of private astronauts to the International Space Station to conduct research and whatnot.

This is only open to the most wealthy of paying customers. Hopefully, those prices will come down at some point.

The other thing, Jake, that I'm thinking about, today we spend so much time -- tourism, it sounds so fun, like a joyride. A lot of these astronauts don't love the name "tourist." They prefer to be called an astronaut at this point in time.

This is all happening at a time when space is becoming an increasingly contested environment.

You have the creation of the U.S. Space Force here in the United States recently. And, increasingly, you have countries, U.S. adversaries, like China and Russia, becoming increasingly aggressive in outer space and threatening U.S. satellites, which are needed for everyday warfighting here on Earth.

So it's all coming together in really just the year 2021 after years of not a ton of focus on space. It is really entering the public consciousness in a very big way, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kristin, thank you so much.

We'll have more from the site of the space launch as it comes in. And coming up, I'm going to talk to Dr. Fauci about the Delta variant of the coronavirus and what it means for you. Stay with us. We'll be right back.





TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

With the Delta variant now the dominant strain in the United States, we're seeing COVID case numbers heading in the wrong direction in areas with low vaccination rates. And for those who are vaccinated, new confusion about booster shots, with vaccine company, Pfizer, raising questions about how quickly Americans may need a third booster shot.

As the FDA and the CDC say not yet.


TAPPER: Joining me now, the president's chief medical adviser on the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Fauci, thanks so much for joining us. I want to start with this new reporting from Reuters today that Israel, the government of Israel, is beginning to administer Pfizer boosters, third shots, to people that they consider vulnerable.


Here in the United States, the FDA and the CDC say that, we do not need booster shots. Do you think boosters could theoretically help vulnerable people?

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, certainly, they theatrically could. What the CDC and the FDA was saying, Jake, is that right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot, a boost, superimposed upon the two doses you get with the mRNA and the one dose you get with J&J. But that doesn't mean we stop there.

They continue -- I mean, there are studies being done now, ongoing as we speak, about looking at the feasibility about if and when we should be boosting people. So, this isn't something that we say, no, we don't need a boost right now. The story has ended forever. No. There's a lot of work going on to examine this in real-time to see if we might need a boost. But right now, given the data that the CDC and the FDA has, they don't feel that we need to tell people right now you need to be boosted.

TAPPER: And, as you know, Pfizer disagrees. Pfizer is recommending a booster, a third shot. I wonder, are you worried at all that if the CDC and FDA change their recommendations and boosters do become recommended in a few months, that some Americans will see this as -- and some demagogues in the media in politics will portray this as another flip-flop and it will undercut trust in the FDA and CDC?

FAUCI: Yes. Well, Jake, I mean, you have a very good point there. Inevitably, something like that will happen. I think what people need to understand, and it's really important to understand that, that when you have an organization like the CDC and the FDA that are responsible for the regulatory components of what we do, as well as the public health, when they make a formal recommendation, it has to be based on data that's evidence that proves we need to go in this direction.

Before you get that data, there will always be people, well-meaning people and well-meaning companies will say, you know, the way we look at the situation, it looks like you might need a booster. So, let's go ahead and give a booster. But that's not a formal recommendation. I mean, even individual physicians, we know some physicians right now that I know that are saying, you know, I want to take the extra step, go the extra mile with someone who might actually have a lower level of immunity. Those are the things that are out there. But if you're looking at formal recommendations from organizations, it's always based on data. And as we've said so many times, Jake, data evolves. You get more information as the time goes by.

So, when you get to the point where you have enough information to make a firm recommendation, that is not flip-flopping. That is making recommendations as the data evolve. And I know sometimes it's difficult to understand that, but that's what happens when you get formal recommendations from organizations like the CDC and like the FDA.

TAPPER: The CDC used to track what are called breakthrough infections. That's fully vaccinated individuals who have been infected with coronavirus. They used to track it. Now, they have stopped. They're only tracking breakthrough cases that result in hospitalization or death.

Does it not seem premature to stop tracking all breakthrough cases given the fact that there's this even more contagious delta variant, not to mention the questions about boosters? Shouldn't the CDC just continue to track breakthrough infections?

FAUCI: Yes. And they will be doing that, Jake. You make a very good point. I mean, one of the important issues that -- and you didn't ask this, but it is important to emphasize, that the vaccines that we have now, even when you have breakthrough infections, the protection against severe disease, hospitalization that might ultimately lead to death, is still very, very high in effectiveness, well into the 90s.

So, even though you do get these breakthrough -- the question that you're asking is a great one, and you will be seeing much more testing being done. This is being very actively discussed right now.

TAPPER: The number of new cases in the U.S. has almost doubled now from its lowest point. It's up to 19,000 new cases a day from about 10,000 new cases a day last month. The delta variant is now causing more than half of new infections. We know the U.S. has more than enough vaccines for everybody who is eligible. Why are we not able to stop this? What is the problem with getting as many people as possible vaccinated to stop this pandemic in the United States?


FAUCI: You know, Jake, it's an inexplicable pushing back on the part of some people about getting vaccinated. I heard it when you were talking just a while ago to the congressman about the idea of people saying you got a government who is knocking on your door trying to force you to vaccinate.

That is not the case at all. We're getting trusted messages to try and get people to understand and appreciate why it's important for their own safety, for that of their families and for the community in general. There's no reason not to get vaccinated.

You make a very good point. There are places in the world, many places, where the vaccination availability is practically nil. Those people would do anything to get a vaccine. We in the United States have enough vaccinations to give to everybody in the country. And they're lifesaving. I mean, we've got to put aside this ideological difference or differences thinking that somebody is forcing you to do something. The public health officials, like myself and my colleagues, are asking you to do something that will ultimately save your life and that of your family and that of the community.

So, Jake, I don't know. I mean, I really don't have a good explanation, Jake, about why this is happening. I mean, its ideological rigidity, I think. There's no reason not to get vaccinated. Why are we having red states and places in the south that are very highly ideological in one way not wanting to get vaccinations? Vaccinations have nothing to do with politics. It's a public health issue. It doesn't matter who you are. The virus doesn't know whether you're a Democrat, a Republican or an independent. For sure, we know that. And yet, there is that divide of --

TAPPER: Let's go back to New Mexico where Richard Branson is speaking on stage.


RICHARD BRANSON, BRITISH BILLIONAIRE: An enormous thank you, obviously, to our incredible spaceship pilots. And to our mothership pilots. I think they must -- I don't know where they are. If they're here, they should come and join us on stage.

They have -- anyway, just to say -- and, obviously, sorry, Beth, Collin and Sirisha, if you didn't know who they were. Anyway, thanks to all of you for being here at Spaceport America. It's hot. I'm sorry. But thank you for standing out here. The Spaceport is the most stunning building. When you come in the morning and see this thing emerging from the desert.

I think it could be one of the 10 wonders of the world. So, it's so awesome to arrive on a bicycle across and -- to this -- across this beautiful New Mexico countryside. And thank you, thank you to New Mexico for hosting us, for building this, for everything.

Khalid, thank you for performing. The -- we love -- hello. And he is -- where is his lovely wife? Come up. Come on. There. Right.

He's had quite a month. This beautiful new baby will be born this month, and this beautiful baby was born a couple years ago. And thank you for letting him come with us. I just would also like to thank my wonderful, beautiful wife, Joan, who is hopefully here somewhere. Yes.

We've been lucky enough to have been together -- where is she, there -- for 45 wonderful, wonderful years, and we've been very blessed. And we've got Holly and Sam here, our grandchildren, and pretty -- well, everything, all my -- lots of friends. Thad -- I'm from England. So, to you We'll get you out here one day. But love you lots, all of you. And I just by now -- now, I said it from the spaceship, I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to every single person who has believed in Virgin Galactic, the team who have worked so hard to make this dream come true. Love you all. It's 17 years of painstaking work and the occasional horrible, down, but by and large, ups with it. And today, was definitely the biggest up. So, thank you all of you. Love you all.


So, the mission statement that I wrote inside my spacesuit was to turn the dream of space travel into a reality for my grandchildren who are here, for your grandchildren, and for many people who are alive today, for everybody, and having flown to space, I can see even more clearly how Virgin Galactic is the space line for earth.

We're here to make space more accessible to all. And we want to turn the next generation of dreamers into the astronauts of today and tomorrow. We've all -- us on this stage have had the most extraordinary experience, and we'd love it if a number of you can have it too. And with that in mind, I have some news. So, today, Virgin Galactic is thrilled to announce that we have partnered with Amaze to open space for everyone.

So, ff you go to to enter, you have a chance to go to space. And every donation supports a charity called Space for Humanity. And you'll be entered into the Amaze sweepstakes for the chance to win, not one, but two seats aboard one of the first commercial Virgin Galactic space flights. And with my Willy Wonka hat on, a guided tour of Spaceport America given by yours truly and I promise lots of chocolate in the factory.

I mean, the exciting thing about this is that if enough people all over the world participate, it just means we can just keep on -- you know, the charity can keep on doing tickets for people. So, it's a lovely sort of self-propelling, yes, way of just trying to get lots of people who couldn't have otherwise afforded to go to space to go to space. So, just imagine a world where people of all ages, all backgrounds, from anywhere, of any gender, of any ethnicity, have equal access to space. And they will, in turn, I think, inspire us back here on earth. If you ever had a dream, now is the time to make it come true.

And I'd like to end by saying welcome to the dawn of a new space age. Thank you.


TAPPER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper. Arizona's Maricopa County, home of the one-sided spectacle of a sham recount of 2020 election is now planning to scrap all the voting machines that were turned over. The big lie fever is, in fact, spreading, including to Pennsylvania where a republican state lawmaker is pushing that commonwealth's own so-called audit.

Joining us to discuss, Democratic Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania.

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

So, Republican Pennsylvania state senator allied with Former President Trump is launching his own Arizona-style audit of Pennsylvania's election results. Officials in at least three counties say that they have received requests to turn over election materials. What's your response to this so-called investigation? What effect might it have on Pennsylvanians' confidence in the election?

REP. CHRISSY HOULAHAN (D-PA): Sure. And thanks for having me.

What I would say is, we first need to kind of look to the source of where this is coming from. This investigation or this audit is coming from a gentleman named Doug Mastriano. And he was present at the January 6th insurrection and he also has designs to serve as the next governor of the State of Pennsylvania. And of course, he has one person that he needs to impress and that is President Trump to be able to be successful and being able to gain that nomination for the Republican side of that ticket.

And so, I believe it's his interest to design this kind of audit, false audit to make sure that he gains the support of President Trump in that way. Unfortunately, this is a suppress to impress kind of tactic. And I think to your point, it's destructive, it's enormously destructive. In many ways, the call is coming from within the House in terms of ways that we are going to destroy our democracy and the people in it.

People really need to believe in the sanctity of their vote. People need to believe that their vote is -- will count. And this kind of opportunity to try to disdain political influence is really destructive to, not just Pennsylvanians, but to the nation at large.

TAPPER: You're an Air Force veteran. I wanted to ask you, President Biden is disputing reports that the intelligence community has concluded that the Afghan government could fall within six months of the U.S. withdrawal. You sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee. You sit on the Armed Services Committee. Based on what you've seen, how worried are you that the Afghan government will fall?

HOULAHAN: So, to be really honest, I am worried. And this is where we have the opportunity now to step in. President Biden has made his decision. The decision to withdraw has happened. And we are where we are. And so, right now, it's our obligation to make sure we're protecting civil society site in Afghanistan and we can do that through a number of ways. We can make sure that we're supporting the Afghan Defense Forces

through resources and money. We can make sure that we shoring up our support of vulnerable populations like women and children. And we can make sure that our State Department as well as USAID and UNFPA are well-funded and well-resourced to be able to support that very fragile society that exists right now.


TAPPER: President Biden says the U.S. accomplished its goal, which he defines as eliminating the terrorist threat in Afghanistan. How long do you think Afghanistan will no longer be a safe harbor for terrorists given the fact that U.S. troops have left and the Taliban is taking control?

HOULAHAN: So, frankly, all over the world there are opportunities for safe harbor for terrorists, not just in Afghanistan, but other parts of the world, in Africa and Asia. We have our hands full of those kinds of opportunities.

But if it's OK, I'd like to sort of pivot over to the real importance of supporting those vulnerable communities, women particularly. If we're able to support the progress that we've made because of the decades we've been in Afghanistan, to be able to make sure women continue to be a part of the solution, I think we have an opportunity to keep the Afghan society safer.

Women have been, in the last couple decades, involved in the release of hostages. Afghani women have helped negotiate the release of hostages and prisoners. They've been involved in negotiation with insurgent leaders of the Taliban.

And so, even though I know people think, why should we protect women and children in Afghanistan? The reality is our country is safer, the world is safer when women are involved in the solutions and when women are engaged in their societies.

TAPPER: Obviously, the safety of Afghan women and girls is a top priority for you. I want to hear your response to something that then Presidential Candidate Joe Biden said about this issue in an interview last year. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can think of 10 countries where women and/or children and/or people are being persecuted or being hurt. But the idea of us going to being able to use our armed forces to solve every single internal problem that exists throughout the world is not within our capacity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But then, don't you bear some responsibility for the outcome if the Taliban ends up back in control and women end up losing the rights?

BIDEN: No, I don't.


TAPPER: What is your response? I mean, that is the now commander-in- chief saying that he bears no responsibility for what will happen to Afghan women and girls if the Taliban take over after he has withdrawn U.S. troops?

HOULAHAN: So, I think that the United States is a leader in the world. And I think it's our obligation with our power, both soft and hard to be helpful to making sure we have an inclusive and equitable world. I think that it is in our national best interest to support societies, civil societies that are inclusive and that allow women to be a very large part of the society. We are indeed 51 percent of the population globally.

So, I would say, I think it is important through soft power, at this point in time, because we have withdrawn from Afghanistan, that we are helpful in maintaining the gains that we've made with our presence in that area.

TAPPER: Air Force veteran, Democratic congresswoman from the great county of Pennsylvania, Chrissy Houlahan, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

HOULAHAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: More on CNN's coverage of Richard Branson's historic space flight. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: That is it for us today. Thank you so much for spending your Sunday morning with us. Richard Brandon will take questions about his flight, that's next. Stay with us.