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State of the Union

Interview With Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY); Interview With Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX); Interview With U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired August 15, 2021 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Under siege. Afghanistan is quickly crumbling under a Taliban offensive, as the U.S. rushes troops in to get Americans out. Is everything gained in Afghanistan now lost?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not regret my decision.

TAPPER: Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Republican Congressman Michael McCaul on the rapidly changing situation on the ground next.

And pain and regret. Hospitals are running out of beds, as the Delta variant continues to rip through the unvaccinated.


TAPPER: As children head back to school, how best to keep everyone safe.

Plus: new era. New York will welcome its first female governor after Andrew Cuomo resigns in disgrace.

LT. GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): No one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.

TAPPER: What's her plan to clean up New York politics? New York's Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul joins me ahead.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is watching a tragic foreign policy disaster unfold before our eyes.

Weeks before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the deadline for President Biden's complete withdrawal of U.S. service members, the Taliban are laying waste to all the gains in that country. Having seized much of Afghanistan, the Taliban are now at the gates of the capital city of Kabul. Their representatives are meeting with leadership inside the Afghan presidential palace.

The rapid crumbling of the country has caught the Biden White House flat-footed. On Saturday, after pulling out almost all of the 2, 500 service members there when he took office, President Biden said he would deploy more than -- more U.S. troops, 5,000 now total for the limited mission of getting Americans and others fleeing safely out of Kabul, warning of a -- quote -- "swift and strong U.S. response" if the Taliban interfere.

And with the constant thrum of helicopters overhead, sources tell CNN this morning that a total evacuation of Americans from our embassy in Kabul is well under way and should be completed by Tuesday.

That is, of course, a sharp turnaround from six weeks ago, when President Biden called it highly unlikely that the Taliban would overrun the country, an assessment that even at the time struck many experts in Biden's own administration as unrealistic.

And now, as American diplomats rush to shred embassy documents and escape, it seems shocking that President Biden could have been so wrong. The U.S. has not yet been able to evacuate the 18,000 Afghan translators and their families who risked their lives to help the U.S. and are now in grave danger.

And, across the country, desperate Afghans already struggling with extreme poverty and especially women and girls are now contemplating an even more dismal life under Taliban rule.

Joining us now to discuss, Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Secretary Blinken, thanks so much for joining us.

Take a listen to what President Biden was saying less than six weeks ago.


QUESTION: Your own intelligence community has assessed that the Afghan government will likely collapse.

BIDEN: That is not true. They did not -- they did not reach that conclusion. There's going to be no circumstance where you're going to see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy.

The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.


TAPPER: Secretary Blinken, as you know, the Taliban has closed in on Kabul. We're evacuating the embassy, burning documents.

Biden increased troops deployed to the country twice in three days just to rescue those there. This is not just about the overall idea of leaving Afghanistan. This is about leaving hastily and ineptly.

Secretary Blinken, how did President Biden get this so wrong?

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Jake, first, let's put this in context.

And as we have discussed before, we were in Afghanistan for one overriding purpose, to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11. That's why we went there 20 years ago. And over those 20 years, we brought bin Laden to justice. We vastly diminished the threat posed by al Qaeda in Afghanistan to the United States, to the point where it's not capable of conducting such an attack again from Afghanistan.

We're going to keep in place in the region the capacity to see any reemergence of a terrorist threat and to be able to deal with it. And on the terms that we went into Afghanistan in the first place, we have succeeded in achieving our objectives.

When the president came to office, he had a decision to make. The previous administration negotiated an agreement with the Taliban that said that our forces, our remaining forces, only about 2, 500, would be out of the country on May 1.

And the idea that the status quo could have been maintained by keeping our forces there, I think, is simply wrong. The fact of the matter is, had the president decided to keep forces in Afghanistan beyond May 1, attacks would have resumed on our forces.


The Taliban had not been attacking our forces or NATO during the period from which the agreement was reached to May 1. The offensive you're seeing across the country now to take these provincial capitals would have commenced. And we would have been back at war with the Taliban.

And I would probably be on this program today explaining why we were sending tens of thousands of American forces back into Afghanistan and back to war, something the American people simply don't support.


BLINKEN: That is the -- that is the reality. That's the context that we're dealing with.

TAPPER: You cited the May 1 deadline negotiated by the Trump administration. You did blow back, blow through that deadline. We did have troops there after May 1.

But I think, again, the issue here is not just the withdrawal of U.S. forces. It's how they were withdrawn, the rapidity, the hastiness.

President Obama's former ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, he called the way this was done -- quote -- "a handover to the Taliban" and -- quote -- "We have hung them out to dry" about the Afghan people.

Crocker continued -- quote -- "I'm left with some grave questions in my mind about Biden's ability to lead our nation as commander in chief, to have read this so wrong, or, even worse, to have understood what was likely to happen and not care" -- unquote.

Does President Biden not bear the blame for this disastrous exit from Afghanistan?

BLINKEN: Jake, we have seen two things.

First, we have known all along, we have said all along, including the president, that the Taliban was at its greatest position of strength at any time since 2001, when it was last in charge of the country. That is the Taliban that we inherited.

And so we saw that they were very much capable of going on the offensive and beginning to take back the country. But, at the same time, we had invested over four administrations billions of dollars, along with the international community, in the Afghan security and defense forces, building a modern military with the most sophisticated equipment, 300,000-forces strong, with an air force that the Taliban didn't have.

And the fact of the matter is, we have seen that that force has been unable to defend the country. And that has happened more quickly than we anticipated.

TAPPER: Well, the idea of them, the force not being able to defend, I mean, what a lot of experts believe -- and you can disagree with this, if you want -- is that having U.S. air support, having U.S. intelligence there to help the Afghan troops on the ground is what stiffens their spine, enables them to do what they do.

And that's part of the larger issue about whether or not the U.S. should have left behind any sort of residual force. But beyond that is, again, the question of how poorly this was done. The idea that President Biden ordered 2, 500 service members out and now is sending up to 5,000 service members back in, does that not on its face show that the exit was inadequately planned?

And, again, look, you told me a few months ago on this program that you thought it was entirely likely that the Taliban would be taking over the country. But President Biden just last month -- quote -- "The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely."

He was wrong.

BLINKEN: Jake, what we have done, what the president has done is make sure that we were able to adjust to anything happening on the ground.

And the fact that we sent -- that he sent additional forces in, we had those forces at the ready, fully prepared to go in the event that this moved in a direction where we needed forces in place to ensure that our personnel was safe and secure, to ensure also that we could do everything possible to bring out of Afghanistan those Afghans most at risk.

That's exactly what we're doing.

TAPPER: Why didn't you have the troops in there and then let that happen first, before taking them out?

BLINKEN: Again, I come back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago, which is that that status quo was not sustainable.

Like it or not, there was an agreement that the forces would come out on May 1. Had they not, had we not begun that process, which is what the president did, and the Taliban saw, then we would have been back at war with the Taliban. And we would have been back at war, with tens of thousands of troops having to go in, because the 2, 500 troops we had there and the airpower would not have sufficed to deal with the situation, especially as we see, alas, the hollowness of the Afghan security forces.

And, by the way, from the perspective of our strategic competitors around the world, there's nothing they would like more than to see us in Afghanistan for another five, 10, 20 years. It's simply not in the national interest.

TAPPER: You keep changing the subject to whether or not we should be there forever. And I'm not talking about that.

I'm talking about whether or not this exit was done properly, taking out all the service members before those Americans and those Afghan translators could get out. That's what I'm talking about. And then you have to send people back in.

That shows -- that's the definition of, oh, we shouldn't have taken those troops out, because now we have to send twice as many back in.


BLINKEN: Look, I think it shows that we were prepared, the president was prepared for every contingency as this moved forward.

We had those forces on hand. And they were able to deploy very quickly, again, to make sure that we could move out safely and securely as the situation the ground changed.

TAPPER: Let me just ask you, is the Biden administration right now offering the Taliban anything in exchange for a promise of safe passage for Americans and others out of Afghanistan?

BLINKEN: No, we haven't asked the Taliban for anything.

We have told the Taliban that, if they interfere with our personnel with, our operations as we're proceeding with this drawdown, there will be a swift and decisive response. That's what we have told them.

TAPPER: How many Americans are left in Kabul, do you think? And how long will it take to get them out? Can you promise that all Americans will get out safely?

BLINKEN: That is job number one. That is our number one mission. And that's what we're working on with a whole-of-government effort led

by the State Department right now. And so we have our personnel at the embassy. We have some American citizens who are still mostly binationals who are left in Afghanistan. If they want to leave, we have in place the means to do that.

And, beyond that, Jake, we have men and women who've worked for us, worked for the military, worked for the embassy over the years as interpreters and translators. We are doubling down on efforts to get them out, if they want to leave, and also other Afghans at risk who may not qualify for these so-called Special Immigrant Visas that the folks who worked directly for us qualify for, to do everything we possibly can, for as long as we can, to get them out, if that's what they want.

TAPPER: Why now? Why are you just doing that now?

On this show, we have been talking for months about the need to evacuate these thousands of Afghan translators and others who helped U.S. service members during the war. President Biden just named an ambassador just a few days ago to run an interagency task force on this.

Thousands of these folks are now trapped in their homes. They cannot even try to get to Kabul. It's not safe. I know two lieutenants, veterans who are like setting up a GoFundMe to save their translators from COP Keating.

Why did President Biden wait so long to set up the interagency task force?

BLINKEN: In fact, that task force has been going for many, many weeks now.

And Ambassador Jacobson, who is leading it, has actually been in place for many, many weeks. And we have been working this from day one. We had to put in place an entire system to deal with this. Unfortunately, none of that work was done when we -- when we came in. And we had to put that in place.

As you know, the refugee admissions process and support system was decimated in recent years. We have been working to rebuild that. And it's taken time to get all of that in place.

But we have a whole-of-government effort going on right now to do everything we possibly can to get people out of harm's way, if that's what they want to do.

TAPPER: People I know who are active in this, veterans, say that they only heard from the State Department within the last few days asking for their lists of people.

BLINKEN: The embassy has had lists of people for a long time. We are doubling down, making sure that we know, to the best of our ability, everyone who may be at high risk and trying to find ways to account for them. So, all of this is consistent with the effort to make sure we have the

best possible information. And we're doing everything we can to get people out of harm's way.

TAPPER: China is reportedly prepared to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government. Would the Biden administration ever consider doing that?

BLINKEN: A future Afghan government that upholds the basic rights of its people and that doesn't harbor terrorists is a government we can work with and recognize.

Conversely, a government that doesn't do, that doesn't uphold the basic rights of its people, including women and girls, that harbors terrorist groups that have designs on the United States, our allies and partners, certainly, that's not going to happen.

And, beyond that, to the extent that the Taliban has a self-interest, if it's leading the government in Afghanistan, assistance from the international community, support the international community, none of that will be forthcoming. Sanctions won't be lifted. Their ability to travel won't happen if they're not sustaining the basic rights of the Afghan people and if they revert to supporting or harboring terrorists who might strike us.

TAPPER: Well, I mean, that sounds like a no, you would never recognize them, because, based on what we know about the Taliban, they don't respect the rights of women and girls.

There are reports from Afghanistan right now that they are forcing young girls into sexual slavery.

BLINKEN: Jake, this is heart-wrenching stuff.

I have met myself, as I know you have, with remarkable women who have been leaders in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, who have advanced the rights of women and girls, with our very, very strong support. I met with a number of them just a few months ago the last time I was in Kabul this spring.


I think it's incumbent on the international community, including the United States, to do everything we can, using every tool that we have, economic, diplomatic, political, to work to sustain their rights and, at the same time, as I said, to make sure that, if the Taliban does not do that, if it's in charge, that it clearly faces the penalties for not upholding those rights.

And we will do everything we can to make sure that's the case.

TAPPER: Everything except for use the U.S. military.

President Biden is intent on avoiding a Saigon moment. That's a reference, of course, to the hasty and humiliating U.S. evacuation from Vietnam. But with this troop surge to airlift Americans out of Afghanistan, aren't we already in the midst of a Saigon moment?

BLINKEN: No, we're not.

Remember, this is not Saigon. We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission. And that mission was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11. And we have succeeded in that mission. The objective that we set, bringing those who attacked us to justice, making sure that they couldn't attack us again from Afghanistan, we have succeeded in that mission.

And, in fact, we succeeded a while ago. And, at the same time, remaining in Afghanistan for another one, five, 10 years is not in the national interest.

The British were there for a long time in the 19th century. The Russians were there for a long time in the 20th century. We have now been there twice as long as the Russians. And how that's in our national interest, I don't see.

And, as I mentioned a moment ago, I think most of our strategic competitors around the world would like nothing better than for us to remain in Afghanistan for another year, five years, 10 years, and have those resources dedicated to being in the midst of a civil war.

It's simply not in our interest.

TAPPER: You don't think that Afghanistan now is going to become a hotbed of terrorism?

BLINKEN: Jake, we have tremendously more capacity than we had before 9/11 when it comes to counterterrorism.

In places around the world where we don't have forces on the ground, in Yemen, in parts of Africa, in parts of Syria, we're able to deal with any potential terrorist threat to our country. And we're doing that every single day. We're going to retain in the region the over- the-horizon capacity, as we call it, to see and deal with any reemergence of a terrorist threat.

And, look, I can't tell you what the Taliban is going to do. But, again, in their self-interests, allowing a repeat of what happened before 9/11, which is a terrorist group to reemerge in Afghanistan that has designs on the United States, well, they know what happened last time, so I don't think it's in their self-interests to allow that to happen again.

TAPPER: All right, Secretary Antony Blinken, thanks so much for taking our questions today. We appreciate it.

BLINKEN: Thanks for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: The top foreign policy Republican in the House of Representatives says the debacle in Afghanistan makes Americans less safe.

Congressman Michael McCaul will join us next. Plus: In 10 days, she will make history as the first woman governor of New York state. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul on the state of New York politics and her plans to change things.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And welcome back to the STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

As the Biden administration scrambles to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan, top Biden officials are briefing all members of the House of Representatives this morning on the rapidly deteriorating situation.

After 20 years, trillions of dollars, thousands of American and Afghan lives lost, some lawmakers, not to mention veterans who fought in the war and lost friends, are wondering, what was it all for?

Joining us now, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

So, I do want to give you an opportunity to respond to what you just heard from Secretary Blinken.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Yes, I think the secretary has been devoid of reality this whole time since the decision was made in May.

I think it's an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. And I think the president -- this is going to be a stain on this president and his presidency. And I think he's going to have blood on his hands for what they did.

For months, we have been warning. Ambassador Crocker and I wrote an op-ed in "The New York Times" about what we need to do now to save the interpreters, what we need to do to have our ISR, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance capabilities in the region.

Now we are going dark. They totally blew this one. They completely underestimated the strength of the Taliban. And Jake, they didn't listen to the intelligence community, because every time I got an I.C. briefing assessment, it was probably the grimmest assessment I have ever heard on Afghanistan.

And yet they -- the State Department, Secretary Blinken, the politicos in the White House wanted to paint this rosy picture that somehow these peace talks in Doha were going to deliver a rabbit out of the hat at the 11th hour.

Well, guess what? That didn't happen. And now they're sending 5,000 troops in to try to save our embassy personnel. They are destroying classified documents as I speak. The visa process has stopped. And now I'm -- President Biden said in July this is not going to be a Saigon, it's not like South Vietnam.

And guess what? When I talk to Ambassador Crocker, we think it's going to be worse than Saigon.

TAPPER: President Biden...

MCCAUL: When they raise the black flag of Taliban over our United States Embassy, think about that visual.

TAPPER: President Biden released a statement yesterday defending his decision, saying -- quote -- "One more year or five more years of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country, and an endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict was not acceptable to me."

What do you make of that argument, if, after 20 years, the Taliban could take over so easily, the Afghan military would fold so easily, that no amount of time would have solved the problem?


MCCAUL: Well, I think history is repeating itself.

Remember, it was Obama and the vice president, at that time, Biden, who decided to withdraw completely out of Iraq, and look what happened. ISIS reared its ugly head.

I persuaded President Trump to keep the residual force in Syria. And now you're looking at a very light footprint, a very, if you will, insurance policy for stability in the region. And they knew, given the icy assessment, what was going to happen if we withdrew. They do, if it wasn't conditions-based -- and that's very important here, had to be conditions-based, as the February agreement stated -- if it wasn't done that way, and we allowed the Taliban to hit the provincial capitals, they never cut their ties to al Qaeda.

I don't know what the secretary is talking about when he says that we can maybe recognize them as a legitimate government. They have never cut their ties to al Qaeda. We're going to go back, Jake, to a pre- 9/11 state, a breeding ground for terrorism.

And I hate to say this. I hope we don't have to go back there, but it will be a threat to the homeland in a matter of time.

TAPPER: Your fellow Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger tweeted that -- quote -- "Between Trump and Biden, they own this." Congresswoman Liz Cheney, another Republican called, it the -- quote -- "Trump-Biden calamity," saying this began with -- quote -- "Trump administration negotiating with terrorists."

Senator Ben Sasse put out a similar statement.

Does former President Trump share the blame for what we're seeing in Afghanistan because of the deal he made with the Taliban and the fact -- Secretary Blinken wasn't wrong when he said that the Taliban was stronger in January of this year than it has been since 9/11.

MCCAUL: Well -- and I have talked to the national security adviser, O'Brien, about this whole -- it was always going to be conditions- based.

They are violating two principles of that agreement, one, attacking provincial capitals, two, never cutting ties with al Qaeda. In his words, when he talked to President Trump, he told him that I will not allow to have another Saigon on my watch. And they even talked about B-52s.

So, but we can talk hypothetically about what the prior president may -- may or may not have done. But Harry Truman once said, the buck stops here. And for President Biden to try to throw all this on the former administration is a lack of responsibility and accountability.

He owns this, absolutely, 100 percent. He owns it. He made the decision. And what's worse, Jake, is when you and I started to get engaged on this, once he made the decision, he could have done certain things. He could have planned for it. He could have had a strategy for this.

But, instead, they had no strategy. And now they're knocking on the doorstep of Kabul. The noose is tightening around the Kabul neck. And there's still no strategy, other than race to the airport and evacuate as many people as you can. This is a really sad day, not only for America, but for the Afghan people, the women left behind, and I would say our international standing in the world.

We look so weak. And it's so embarrassing. And you're right. China hosted the Taliban in China, saying they would call them the legitimate government. Don't think for a minute now the Chinese are not going to go into Afghanistan, get the rare earth minerals, and put a base of operations in Afghanistan.

We have negotiated out of weakness here. And the Taliban -- I'm sorry -- our foreign adversaries are emboldened, that being Russia, China, Iran. Remember, we have no ISR capability anymore.


MCCAUL: We're going dark in Afghanistan as a dark veil covers the country.

TAPPER: What do you make of the pushback from the Biden administration -- and I don't disagree, the buck stops with whoever is behind the Resolute Desk -- but the pushback that Trump set the stage for all of this, in the sense that he was talking about inviting the Taliban to Camp David, that last year, just last year, Trump and Secretary Pompeo were suggesting that the Taliban would be a partner with the U.S. in fighting terrorism?

Trump said that the Taliban would be -- quote -- "killing terrorists." Pompeo said that the Taliban would -- quote -- "work alongside us to destroy, deny resources to al Qaeda."

First of all, have you seen any evidence that that's happening?

MCCAUL: Well, I think their strategy was, they knew that a transitional government would have to necessarily include the Taliban.

I don't think anybody likes the Taliban. I equate negotiating with the Taliban like negotiating with the ayatollah. I'm not -- personally think that's a very great idea. But I think that was the thinking at the time. But, again, this agreement was conditions-based. And the conditions have not been fulfilled.


And I do think Biden does own this. He's reversed so many policies of Trump's in the past, whether it be remain in Mexico, to the Paris accords, the Iran JCPOA. The idea that President Biden couldn't come in and reverse this the agreement, why this one, right?


MCCAUL: He's the president of the United States. He's the commander in chief.

And for him to skirt this responsibility, when it was his decision, and it's -- the consequences from a national security standpoint are severe, because now they can say they defeated the United States in Afghanistan, the infidel, just like they defeated the Soviet Union.

This will have long term-ramifications.

TAPPER: Congressman Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, thank you for your time, sir. Good to see you.

The U.S. is among the nations with the highest rate of new COVID infections, and now school is about to start.

New York's new governor, Kathy Hochul, on how she will manage that. That's next.



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

The state of New York is soon to be under historic new leadership, after longtime Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace this week in the face of 11 claims of sexual harassment by former aides, a state trooper and others, some of which the governor denies. Others he says are just misunderstandings.

Cuomo's replacement, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, will be the first woman ever to lead New York state, a delicious bit of irony to emerge from this whole sorry and ugly mess. And one of Hochul's first goals is to clean up the -- quote -- "toxic workplace" in Albany.

Joining us now, the soon-to-be-Governor of New York Kathy Hochul. Madam soon-to-be-governor, thanks for joining us.

I want to talk to you about New York politics in general. For those who don't know your story and your history, you won a House seat after a Republican congressman resigned and during a sex scandal. You lost that House seat to a congressman who was later indicted.

You will now be governor after Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, resigned over a prostitution scandal. Democrat David Paterson pulled out of his race after he was accused of intervening in an aide's domestic abuse case. And now, of course, Democrat Andrew Cuomo has resigned.

So, first question, what the hell's going on in New York? And can you promise New Yorkers that you will end this legacy of sleaze?

HOCHUL: It won't be difficult for me.

Everyone who's known my career, over 27 years of elective office, know that I have very high ethical standards. And I will go in there and literally say it's a whole new day, zero tolerance. I'm going to be very firm in my expectations in how my administration conducts themselves throughout the entire work force.

But, also, I want people to know, particularly young women, like I was once a young intern working in Buffalo in Democratic politics, I want them to know that this is a place they're welcome, they will feel safe, they will know that their ideas are valued.

So I don't think it's going to take a lot for that tone to change on day one. And I'm excited about that.

TAPPER: Well, while you bring that up, I want to ask you that I heard from a Democratic official, a young woman, which is about you, and why did you stay silent for so long, she wanted me to ask you, about Governor Cuomo's alleged abuses and scandals?

What do you say to women who might be thinking that?

HOCHUL: Well, the people who know me know that I have not been close to the governor. I have not been in the rooms where any of these actions are -- occurred.

And my role as lieutenant governor for seven years, has really been to spend as little time in Albany as possible, except when I'm presiding over the Senate. I have reached every corner of the state. I have met thousands and thousands of people. I have championed policies, from paid family leave, to increase in the minimum wage, to child care, to economic development.

I'm in charge of economic development for the state. So, I'm not in the room. So, if you don't know something, you can't talk about it. But what we have seen in this report -- and I called for this investigation -- I have called the findings absolutely repulsive and unlawful.

So, my position is unwavering in my tolerance for the future work force, which is what I'm responsible for, that this will not occur.

TAPPER: One last question on Cuomo.

He did an interview with "New York Magazine" on Friday. And here's part of what he said -- quote -- "I did the right thing for the state. I'm not going to drag the state through the mud, through a three- month, four-month impeachment, and then win, and have made the state legislature and the state government looked like a ship of fools."

Cuomo goes on to say -- quote -- "I'm not disappearing. I have a voice. I have a perspective. That's not going to change."

He also has millions of dollars in the bank for his campaign reelection. He seems to be painting himself as righteous, as a victim, preparing to remain in public life, which seems to be possible in part because state lawmakers in Albany have halted the impeachment proceedings.

What do you make of those comments? And are you OK with Andrew Cuomo sticking around in New York politics?

HOCHUL: The governor will do what he chooses to do.

I will be laser-focused on dealing with COVID, getting our economy back, getting kids back in schools, and dealing with a whole host of other challenges that I'm prepared for. I'm ready for this. I'm ready to lead.

And what happens off to the side, I won't have control over, but it will not distract me.

TAPPER: So, let's turn to the pandemic.

Sixty-seven percent of eligible New Yorkers are fully vaccinated. That's higher than the national average, but it still leaves millions of New Yorkers who have not gotten the shots. New York City is requiring proof of at least one shot for many indoor activities, such as restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters.

Do you think that's a good idea? Are you open to mandating that statewide in New York?

HOCHUL: I'm open to all options.

And I have been assembling a team of experts. I already had a conversation with the health minister. I will be contacting the CDC in a matter of days. I plan to talk to Dr. Fauci as well. I want to bring the best and the brightest to deal with this.

Now, here we are; 74 percent of people have at least had one dose, people over 18. But there's a lot of anxiety out there. I'm going to be focused on a targeted approach within the communities where there is the greatest hesitancy. Some areas are very high. Others are low.

[09:40:02] And I have a trusted voice in the state that I have cultivated over many years of seeing my sincerity and my genuine passion for the state. We're going to get this right.

I will be looking at possibility of mandates, but not saying they're in or out until I know all the facts. Also, masks for kids in schools, this is something that I believe has to occur to make sure that our teachers are safe, the administrators are safe, and above all, each child that a parent sends off to school and trusts that that school is going to take care of their most precious child in their entire lives -- I'm a mom. I know how this feels.

I will get this right. I want to just assure people that circumstances continue to change. And I don't want to have a hard-and-fast rule from day one that's going to be in effect necessarily even a month later, depending on what this variant does.

The number one thing we need to do is get more people vaccinated. I know that challenge. What I want to do, I want to roll up my sleeves and sit down with the mayor of New York, the current and the incoming mayors, and say, let's solve this together. You have smart people. I have smart people. How about doing it together and not in competition?

TAPPER: If you're in favor of masks mandated in schools, what about vaccines mandated for teachers, staff and anyone who's eligible?

California is requiring that teachers and other school employees get vaccinated. That's really the best way to stop the spread of the virus. Masks are fine, but the vaccine is really what works. Would you potentially support that?

HOCHUL: I don't have the executive power to do that. The legislature gave it to the governor for the last two years dealing with the first wave of COVID. But it is not some power that I have right now.

But I'm willing to speak to our legislative leaders and to take whatever action I need to, to protect people.

TAPPER: "The Buffalo News" is reporting that your husband is going to stay in his job as a top executive for Delaware North. That's a major food service, lodging and gambling company.

Obviously, there's a lot of overlap with state regulators and state dollars on everything from liquor and gambling boards to corporate sponsorships. You have talked about recusing yourself. And your husband has talked about recusing himself. Some ethics experts say, though, that that's not good enough, that your husband needs to take a leave of absence while you're governor.

Given the horrific legacy of sleaze in New York, might that be the best way to start reinstilling confidence in government, having your husband take a leave of absence?

HOCHUL: Well, the word sleaze has never been associated with either one of the Hochuls. My husband was a federal prosecutor for 30 years. So, even when I was in Congress, we're well-accustomed to keeping our

work very separate. He served as Barack Obama's U.S. attorney for eight years. So, no one can touch the integrity with which we have brought to our positions in the past and currently.

But, however, I understand concerns, and I have reached out to outside ethics experts to come up with a ironclad policy, so no one will ever question that there's any involvement with my husband in anything pertaining to the state of New York.

TAPPER: New York City mayoral nominee Eric Adams has made some broad critiques of the national Democratic Party. He told me on this show last month that national Democratic priorities on guns, for example, had been misplaced.

He told me Democratic voters don't just want -- quote -- "an ideological approach," but a pragmatic approach."

Do you agree? Do you see people like Eric Adams as the future of the Democratic Party?

HOCHUL: I am so excited to work with Eric Adams.

I have had a chance to work with him while he's been Brooklyn Borough president. He was very supportive of me in my past two statewide elections. And I appreciate that.

I will not be pigeonholed into a label. I will look at each issue as it arises. I have already reached out to all quadrants of our party, the very left, the very right. It doesn't matter to me, because, Jake, I have got a job to do. And I will not be sidetracked by labels or how people want to characterize my administration, other than I will fight like hell every day for New Yorkers.

So, our party is broad. It's inclusive. I have represented -- the most conservative district in the state of New York is in a Republican area that I won because I said I would support protecting Medicare. I stood with the Obama administration to my own detriment.

So I'm a fighter, but I also know the issues in New York City and how there's a different philosophy. I'm the one person who can bring it together. So, people should not worry about the future of the Democratic Party in the state of New York under my watch.

TAPPER: Governor Hochul, we certainly wish you the best of luck in the Herculean task ahead of you.

Good -- best of luck, and our thoughts and prayers with you and the good citizens of New York.

HOCHUL: Thank you very much, Jake. I appreciate that.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: As you might imagine, it has been a particularly intense week for those in the U.S. veteran community, including especially for Gold Star Families who lost loved ones in Afghanistan. And based on those veterans and Gold Star Families I have the honor of knowing because of my coverage of the war and veterans, I can tell you the emotions seem to be all over the map from the Gold Star mom asking if this all means her son's death was for nothing, for no reason, to the more hardened former officer who told me he always knew it was going to end this way and he is glad no more Gold Star Families will be created in Afghanistan to the two former lieutenants who started a GoFundMe to try to rescue two interpreters and their families.

And right now I want to take a moment, if you'll indulge me to talk to them, talk to those who sacrificed over there, whether losing a friend or a loved one or a limb or the ability to sleep soundly at night or whatever.

I have worn this bracelet for years now. It has the name of the eight men who were killed at Combat Outpost Keating on October 2nd, 2009; Kevin Thomson, Josh Kirk, Michael Scusa, Chris Griffin, Josh Hardt, Justin Gallegos, Vernon Martin, and Stephan Mace. Every one of those eight men, every one of them was killed that day trying to help defend the camp, trying to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. And, yes, that Combat Outpost was ultimately abandoned and, yes, we can question why they were there defending an outpost that served little purpose at that point other than defending itself. And that's an important question, as are similar ones about the war in general.

And I'm not downplaying any of them. I covered these issues extensively and will continue to do so. But the way I look at it on an individual level, on a personal level, separating it from the larger foreign policy debates, which we must have for those mourning. I have to say that those acts of heroism and selflessness, as is written in the Book of John, greater love has no one than this that someone laid down his life for his friends. And, to me, that's why they were lost, for that act of principle.

There's no soldier who volunteers to defend this country and its principles to step into harm's way, on behalf of all of us and on behalf of his or her fellow service members. No service member does so thinking that the United States public, the United States politicians, the United States generals always make the right decision, always know what they're doing. Our service members know the risks of our system and of dangerous terrain. And it's that continued willingness to continue walking down that road knowing this, knowing that they're walking towards trouble, that's what makes them all the more heroic.

The act of volunteering to go to a dangerous place, the mere presence as a service member in Afghanistan, that selflessness, that, to me, is why your loved ones are no longer here because of their love of country and their fundamental strength of character and because of their love of the rest of us. And that is how I think of these eight men whose names are on my wrist.

We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Stay with CNN for updates on all the breaking news this weekend including the very latest on the state of American personnel in Afghanistan. Thank you so much for spending your Sunday morning with us. The news continues, next.