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U.S. Troops Leave Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base after 20 Years; U.S. Airports Expecting Busiest Day of Travel in 16 Months; U.S. Economy Adds 850,000 Jobs in June, Jobless Rate at 5.9 Percent. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 2, 2021 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Make time in your day. The fun begins on July 4th at 7:00 P.M. only here on CNN.

Thanks for your time today on Inside Politics. I hope you have a safe and enjoyable 4th of July weekend. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM: Happy Friday. Thanks for being with me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And America's longest war is nearly over as the U.S. reaches a major milestone in Afghanistan. For the first time in nearly 20 years, there are zero U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base, a site once considered the epicenter of U.S. operations in the region. That base is now solely under Afghan control. This as President Biden outpaces his goal to fully withdraw troops by September 11th. But surging Taliban violence is raising fears of a civil war.

Here's President Biden just hours ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I met with the Afghan government here in the White House. I think they have the capacity to be able to sustain the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: We know as many as 1,000 U.S. troops will stay in Kabul to protect the embassy. And since 2001, more than 2,000 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan, more than 20,000 wounded in action.

CNN's Anna Coren is live in Kabul for us. Anna, what is the latest reaction there to this threat of potential civil war and President Biden's confidence that the Afghan government is prepared to handle it? ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, unfortunately, the people of Afghanistan do not necessarily share his optimism. They do not believe that the government and the armed forces can protect them, which is why we are seeing this mass exodus of Afghans from this war- ravaged country. They know what's coming, or at least they fear what is coming, which, as you mentioned, potential civil war, if not, outright Taliban rule.

And we're seeing the Taliban launch a massive offensive around the country. They're making significant gains, particularly in the north of the country, which has caught the government and forces off guard.

We spoke to Dr. Abdullah Abdullah yesterday, who is head of the peace council. He is in charge of the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. He was in Washington, D.C. last week to meet with President Biden. And he said that if it was up to Afghans, the Americans would not be going. But this is the reality.

And Afghanistan needs to rise to the occasion that the 300,000 Afghan forces, they need to fight the Taliban. But he admits that they have gained momentum, and that there will be dark days ahead. Ana?

CABRERA: Anna Coren reporting in Kabul for us, thank you, Ana.

Back in the U.S., Americans are on the move. According to the TSA, more than 2,147,000 passengers were screened at U.S. airports just yesterday. And that's just short of the new pandemic high set last Sunday. But TSA officials expect the record last weekend to fall this weekend.

And if you are keeping your feet on the ground and the rubber on the road, get ready to pay much more at the pump, because gas prices are at a seven-year high for July 4th.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is in Chicago for us and CNN's Pete Muntean is at Reagan National Airport in Washington.

Adrienne, you first. Let's begin with highway travel. You're at a gas station. What are you seeing and what do people need to know?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, it's the holiday weekend and people are looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family they haven't seen in over a year. But they need to know filling up on fun is a pricey predicament.

We're at a gas station in the heart of downtown Chicago, and it's about $4 a gallon here. That's a little bit higher than the national average of about $3.13 a gallon. Some people traveled here to Chicago to beat the holiday traffic but they cannot escape these high gas prices.

Now, for those of you who plan to leave later today or even tomorrow when you're out on the roadway, you will be in good company. AAA estimates that about 91 percent of travel this holiday will be by car. AAA also estimates 43.6 million Americans will drive to their destinations. Now, that's a record. That's the highest for this holiday. And it's 5 percent more than the previous record set in 2019. And, again, for some across the country, they are looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family, but they aren't so happy about these gas prices. Listen in.

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ARLEEN REED, CHICAGO: I think they're ridiculous in Chicago. I mean, I'm sure the whole state is like that. But, actually, this gas has been $3.99 probably for the last month-and-a-half. It has not gone up yet.

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BROADDUS: And the shortage is linked to a labor shortage. It's not that there's an issue of not enough gas, but the tanker truck drivers who transport the gasoline from the terminal stations to gas stations like this one, they need more drivers to get that job done.

So if you're traveling, pack patience and some extra cash as you fill up at the pump. Ana?

CABRERA: The pain at the pump is back. Thank you, Adrienne. Stand by as we turn to Pete. How are airports handling the surge in travelers?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: You know, Ana, the TSA says some airports like Nashville and Myrtle Beach are already seeing numbers higher than back in 2019 pre-pandemic. Now we will see whether or not today will set a pandemic air travel record nationwide. It seems the numbers only go up from here.

But with so many people coming back to air travel, this whole experience is not without its problems.

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MUNTEAN (voice over): Long lines and high stress are back at airports across the country with passengers packing into fewer planes staffed by fewer workers. Southwest Airlines is now offering flight attendants double pay to work extra July 4th trips, telling them in a company memo, if you are healthy and it is safe to do so, please help.

It is the latest move by airlines to avoid a ripple effect of delays and cancelations as they struggle to keep up with pent up demand for travel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leisure demand is more than 100 percent recovery and indicates a huge desire for people to get back to living life.

MUNTEAN: Data from FlightAware shows in June Southwest Airlines delayed or canceled the most flights of any U.S. carrier followed by American Airlines. To stem off even more cancelations, American is preemptively trimming 1 percent of flights from its schedule through mid-July citing bad weather and staffing shortages.

Consumer advocates say airlines should have been prepared for this travel surge, especially after receiving more than $50 million in aid from the federal government.

BILL MCGEE, AVIATION ADVISER FOR CONSUMER REPORTS: We need to have a national discussion about how the airlines are using taxpayer dollars and yet, they're still not serving us and they're still inconveniencing us.

MUNTEAN: Passengers are taking out their frustrations on board flights and facing thousands in federal fines. The FAA now says it has received more than 3,000 reports of unruly passengers since the start of this year, more than 2,000 over the federal transportation mask mandate.

Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants says flight crews are facing a harsh new reality.

SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: Now the public is coming back and treating flight attendants as punching bags. And they're doing that verbally and physically.

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MUNTEAN: These fines are serious, Ana, up to $35,000 per violation. The FAA says it has assessed people a total of a half million dollars in fines.

CABRERA: I've been noticing a lot more people wearing -- without masks, I should say, as they go out and about. So we've got to remind travelers that masks are stilled required on these airplanes.

The TSA is also reminding passengers to behave as they return to travel. You mentioned all of the unruly passenger reports. Tell us about more what the TSA is doing now.

MUNTEAN: Well, the TSA is saying a lot about this. It's reinstating flight attendant self-defense classes. But what's so interesting is that the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, is taking an interesting social media approach to all this, putting out a new video today featuring kids telling those who are acting out on planes to grow up. Here's what they said.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fighting is not good when you're on a plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll go to jail if they keep doing that stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MUNTEAN: The FAA has also resorted to making memes and putting them on social media. The most recent one of a truck and it says you could buy a new truck for $35,000, instead you're facing a fine for punching a flight attendant.

CABRERA: Oh, my, that first kid, fighting is not good on planes. Amen, brother. All right, Pete Muntean, I appreciate it. Thank you.

What a difference a year makes. Last July 4th, the U.S. was averaging nearly 50,000 new cases of coronavirus a day and about 500 new deaths. But this week, the daily average is just under 15,000 new infections and under 300 deaths.

Experts say those new numbers only underscore the importance of getting vaccinated. And a new study suggests nearly all COVID deaths in the last six months were in an unvaccinated people in some of the states. And it comes as the CDC says cases are up 10 percent now as this highly contagious delta variant is spreading.

Joining us now is Dr. Rachel Levine. She is the U.S. assistant secretary for health.

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She's also a pediatrician. Doctor, thanks for joining us. There's a lot to celebrate certainly this weekend but the battle against this virus isn't over. To those who are planning to celebrate by going to fireworks or concerts or barbecues with friends and family, what's your advice?

DR. RACHEL LEVINE, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Well, you are correct. There is a lot to celebrate in terms of the progress that we have made against COVID-19 under President Biden's leadership. But we do still have to be concerned about the spread of the delta variant.

To those who are celebrating this weekend, if you are vaccinated, if you are fully vaccinated, then you are protected and you do not have to wear a mask, you do not have to social distance and we want people to have a wonderful, safe time.

If you are not vaccinated, then we're recommending the same guidance that we have been talking about since the beginning of the pandemic. Please wear a mask, social distance, avoid large indoor gatherings and wash your hands.

CABRERA: Well, as a country, we are at a better place, as we've discussed. There are still pockets now where this delta variant is becoming more and more worrisome in Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation. Officials say cases are surging, even in California, in Los Angeles County, where the vaccination rate is slightly above the national average. They just reported their highest number of cases in one day since April.

How bad could this get?

LEVINE: Well, we are concerned about the spread of the delta variant. The delta variant has been shown to be more transmissible, more contagious than previous variants. It is also more virulent, which means that it can cause more severe disease and more hospitalizations than the previous variant.

So, in communities that have low vaccination rates, counties, states, we are concerned about localized outbreaks of this delta variant.

CABRERA: And when you say you're concerned, what could that look like? We know that this idea of herd immunity is still something that's out there for our country. Did that move the goal post?

LEVINE: Well, so we don't exactly know what the herd immunity percentage would be for COVID-19. And it would be different for the delta variant and higher, because it is more transmissible. So we will be continuing to watch that.

But we know, as you pointed out, that people who are vaccinated are protected against this delta variant. And they are extremely unlikely to get sick and it's virtually impossible for them to require hospitalizations.

For people who are unvaccinated, the delta variant poses a threat. So in areas that have low vaccination rates, those communities and counties and states are vulnerable.

CABRERA: Polling this week showed about a third of people who haven't gotten vaccinated yet say they're waiting for full approval. When might that be?

LEVINE: Well, we don't know the exact date that full approval will come. We know that the company is producing all of the different data that is necessary in giving that data to the FDA. So we'll be looking for then the FDA's consideration and a report to come out for full authorization.

What we do know is that the vaccinations are safe. Over 325 million doses of the vaccines have been given in the United States. And the safety record is excellent. We know they're effective and they're more important now than ever.

CABRERA: Before I let you go, I do want to highlight that you made history becoming the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed federal official, and we're starting to see a number of states implement anti- transgender laws. In fact, the ACLU reported this year at least 33 states have introduced more than 100 bills that aim to curb the rights of transgender people across the country, mostly focused on prohibiting transgender girls from participating in sports. Why do you think there's a focus on this?

LEVINE: Well, I think there is a focus on many states because of politics. I mean, I think that there are those that are using transgender individuals and vulnerable transgender youth as a wedge issue.

These bills are extremely challenging and very difficult for vulnerable youth who are at risk of bullying and harassment. We need to advocate for those youth and to support them, not pass laws that limit their participation in activities or sports. And the most egregious ones actually limit their ability to access gender-affirming medical care.

CABRERA: What do you tell the lawmakers who argue transgender girls would have an unfair advantage athletically?

LEVINE: Well, so there are standards of care for treating transgender youth. Those standards are established by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and its U.S. arm, and in addition, by the Enderkin (ph) Society, which is an international organization.

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So there are very well-published standards of care. There is a strong research evidence-base to support that standard of care. That includes the treatment of trans youth who are going to be participating in sports, and there are sports bodies that have established guidelines for trans girls to participate.

So I think that, again, this is politics and not science.

CABRERA: You mentioned the risk of bullying for transgender youth. What's your message to transgender youth in these states that have seen some bills pass, states like Mississippi and Arkansas and Tennessee, where bills have been signed into law this year?

LEVINE: Well, my message to those youth is that the federal government supports them. Our president supports them. And he has vocally come out in support of LGBTQ+ individuals, LGBTQ+ youth, and particularly the vulnerable transgender youth, including in a speech to Congress. You know, I was at the White House just a week ago for their pride celebration, and he articulated his support again.

So I think that we have federal support from the president across the administration and we'll be continuing to look at policy initiatives that support the LGBTQ+ population.

CABRERA: Okay. I know you've been in their shoes, and so that's why I think it's really important to hear your voice on these issues. Dr. Rachel Levine, thank you for taking the time. We appreciate it.

LEVINE: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.

CABRERA: A better than expected boost to the economy, the U.S. adding an impressive 850,000 jobs in June, but we're still millions of jobs shy of where things stood before the pandemic. What's really keeping people on the sidelines? We'll dig into that.

Plus, she was expected to compete for Olympic gold, and now this U.S. track star, Sha'carri Richardson, may have to stay home after testing positive for marijuana.

And two more victims identified in Surfside, Florida. And one of them is the seven-year-old daughter of a local firefighter.

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[13:20:00] CABRERA: America coming back and hiring is heating up, the economy adding 850,000 jobs in June. That is better than expected as the nation inches back toward normal.

And with us now Robert Reich, he was the U.S. labor secretary during the Clinton administration. He is also the author of the new book, The System, Who Rigged It, How We Fix It. Mr. Secretary, it's always good to have you with us.

Let's start with your biggest takeaway just from today's jobs report.

ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Ana, it looked pretty good. That is it's kind of a goldilocks recovery so far. It is not too hot to spur fears of inflation, but it is big. That is a lot of people are flooding back into the job market, and even better, they're getting higher wages.

CABRERA: Okay. So, we'll talk more about that in a minute. But why do you think we're seeing this increase in that the president saying American rescue plan might have something to do with it, what do you think?

REICH: Well, by and large, this is the opening of the retail restaurant hotel sector of the economy after the pandemic. I mean, this is the big deal. People are, again, free to go out and a lot of these places need workers, and they're not necessarily the same workers they had before. A lot of workers these days are still holding back because they're worried about the possibility -- still the possibility of getting the coronavirus or they have childcare problems, or -- and there's a lot of evidence out there that some workers just want to change jobs. They don't want to go back to the same routine they had before.

Even so, we've got about -- 850,000 new jobs in June is a terrific benchmark. It is better than a lot of economists thought. We are still down from what the economy was in January of 2020. That is we're about 6.5 million jobs to go. So there's a lot of room to grow.

CABRERA: So when we look at the 7 million jobs that haven't come back to the pre-pandemic levels, I want to just break down some of the reasons, because you mentioned this. 25 percent have COVID concerns. 20 percent have a financial cushion. 20 percent cite childcare issues. 12 percent say unemployment insurance is the reason they are not rushing to get a job. And this was according to Axios in a survey compiled by indeed.com.

What do you think is the answer then to getting those folks back to work?

REICH: Well, it's going to happen. I mean, a lot of those people, if they get vaccinated, or -- the more and more people who get vaccinated as coronavirus recedes as a concern, a lot of the people who are worried about that are obviously going to go back to work.

Childcare is a bigger problem. If we don't get any childcare assistance and any childcare program in place, you have got a lot of parents, mostly single parents, mostly women, who are going to hold back as long as they can from the workplace, because it just doesn't pay them to go back into work. They've got to pay the cost of childcare.

And the residual, that is that some people who may be holding back because they're getting unemployment insurance, I frankly think this is very, very tiny. I mean, you've got 24 states that have -- the governors of 24 states have ended that $300 a week extra unemployment insurance from the federal government.

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But in those states, there is absolutely no indication that you have an increase in jobs over the rate of increase any place else. So I don't think that's a big deal.

CABRERA: Let me just, I guess, push back a little on that because the Wall Street Journal reported this week that the states that ended that extra $300 unemployment benefit early have seen unemployment declining faster. Do you think that's a sign that that was the right call for them to make, to end those unemployment benefits sooner?

REICH: No, because most of those states, you don't have any kind of eligibility. Fewer than 30 percent of the unemployed are eligible for state unemployment insurance. So that means that those people who are holding back, if they're holding back on the basis of $300 a week federal unemployment benefits, that's $15,000 a year, Ana. That's not going to hold people back from work if they want to work. I mean, $15,000, you try to work -- you try to live on $15,000 a year. No, that's just unrealistic.

CABRERA: You mentioned, and you have been for a while a big proponent on increasing wages. And you mentioned we're seeing that. Do you think the economy has now hit that sweet spot coming back from COVID when it is related to wage increases?

REICH: I think we're beginning to see it, again, mainly in retail restaurant, hotel, hospitality, in general. These are low-wage jobs. These are low-wage workers. They haven't had a raise in years. It is a good thing that they are getting a raise. I know that there are some people out there, particularly small business owners that are worried. They say, oh, I can't afford it. Well, the fact of the matter is that it's a good thing for the economy and it's a good thing for people if they have a raise after all these years. So I don't think we ought to worry about it.

CABRERA: We talked to some business owners here in the last couple weeks who have said, well, if we increase wages, we're going to have to raise prices. Chipotle is an example that is doing both, and you have the nonpartisan Budget Congressional Office saying $15 minimum wage, when they took a look at this, would lead to 1.4 million jobs lost. It would increase the federal deficit. Are those valid concerns?

REICH: Up to a point, they're valid concerns. But, again, I think we ought to celebrate when people get wage increase. Chipotle is a good example. They gave their top executives millions of dollars. One of the major executives that got big increases last year, up to about $15, $16, $18 million. Well, if you can give your executives huge increases, then perhaps you can afford to give your bottom line workers a little bit more from $7.25 to $15 an hour.

I mean, $15 an hour, let's face it, that has not been the case for most workers at the bottom. We have had the minimum wage -- no minimum wage increase since 2009. And what was $7.25 in 2009 because of inflation since then is much, much less today. So the minimum wage hasn't even kept up with inflation.

This is a disgrace. It's also bad for the economy, because if you have more low wage workers with more money, they have more money to spend, and that spending creates more jobs.

CABRERA: I did speak with an ice cream shop owner in Pennsylvania who raised wages almost doubled what he was paying some workers from $7.25 an hour to $14.50 an hour or $15 an hour. And he said he's actually making more money. He's having happier employees. He doesn't have the job openings that were hard to fill initially and customers are happier. So he was a huge advocate and said it worked for him as well.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich --

REICH: There's a lot of evidence that it just slows turnover. That is, it saves employers money because you actually have less turnover than you had before.

CABRERA: Well, it's great to have your expertise on this issue. Thank you very much for joining us.

REICH: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: A U.S. track star's Olympic dreams dashed after testing positive for marijuana. This is now sparking some serious debate. We'll talk about it just ahead.

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