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Biden Addresses U.S. Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan; Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm Discusses Record Heat Plaguing Pacific Northwest, Droughts & Cyberattacks on Power Grids, Ransomware; 60 Confirmed Dead, 80 Missing as Search in Surfside Shifts to Recovery. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 8, 2021 - 14:30   ET




UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, if this isn't a "mission accomplished" moment, what is it in your view?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, there's no mission accomplished.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How would you describe it?

BIDEN: The mission was accomplished in that we got Osama bin Laden. And terrorism is not emanating from that part of the world.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, safety, as you just said in your remarks, are you satisfied with the timeline of relocating Afghan nationals?

Is it happening quickly enough to your satisfaction, if it may not happen until next month at the end?

BIDEN: Much of it has already happened. There's been people, about 1,000 people that have gotten on aircraft and come to the United States already on commercial aircraft.

As I said, there's over 2,500 people, as from January to now, have gotten those visas and only half decided that they wanted to leave.

The point is that I think the whole process has to be speeded up, period, in terms of being able to get these visas.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, why can't the U.S. evacuate these Afghan translators to the United States to await their visa processing as some immigrants of the southern border have been allowed to do? BIDEN: Because the law doesn't allow that to happen.


BIDEN: And that's why we're asking the Congress to consider changing the law.

But in the meantime, we can guarantee their safety if they wish to leave by taking them to third countries.

And/or while the wait is taking place to come to -- to -- and, hopefully, while they're waiting there, to be able to bring them back to the United States, if that's what they choose to do.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President -- (INAUDIBLE) -- woman, with a message, a good message for Afghan woman in future because they have achievement, they are really concerned about their achievement.

BIDEN: They are very concerned with good reason.

When I was in Afghanistan -- I have been there a number of times.

And I remember being in a school outside -- by the way, the schools in Afghanistan are not fundamentally unlike schools in the west coast, where they have, you know, an area in the middle as sort of like a -- looks like a playground and single-story buildings connected around it.

I remember saying to -- speaking to a group of young women. I guess they're roughly -- don't hold me to this -- they looked like they would be 14, 15 years old.

And they're in school and there's a tiered classroom with single light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, as I know you know.

And I said, you know, the United States came here to make sure that we got this terrorist, Osama bin Laden, and that terrorist didn't amass again to go after our country. Then we're going to have to leave.

The young woman said, you can't leave, you can't leave. It was heartbreaking.

You can't leave, she said. I want to be a doctor, I want to be a doctor, I want to be a doctor. If you leave, I will never be able to be a doctor.

Well, that's why we spent so much time and money training the Afghan security forces to do the work of defending that.

If every work -- wait a minute. So, yes, I'm aware.


BIDEN: I'm going to take one more question. (CROSSTALK)





UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- Taliban -- about the withdrawal.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President. The Taliban in Russia today --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, I -- thank you.

I wanted to ask, with the benefit of hindsight, you have spoken to the fact that the Taliban are sort of at their militarily strongest point that you have seen in 20 years.

How do you feel personally about that, with the benefit of hindsight and all of the dollars and investments and American troops that were sent there?

BIDEN: Relative to the training and capacity of the ANSF and the training of the federal police, they're not even close in terms of their capacity.

I was making the point. The point was that here we were, I was -- the argument is, well, we could stay because no one was dying, no Americans were being shot, so why leave.

Once the agreement was made by the last administration, we were going to leave by May 1st, it was very clear that a Taliban that had always been a problem was even a more sophisticated problem than they were, than before.

Not more sophisticated than the ANSF, than government. More than they were.

The point being that it would have increased the prospect that they would have been able to take more lives of Americans if they decided we weren't going and go after them. That was the point I was making.

Thank you all so much.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you spoken with any Taliban officials on the withdrawal?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK. We have been listening to President Biden, in the East Room of the White House, giving his most fulsome explanation publicly for why he has chosen now to end America's longest war in Afghanistan.

Victor, that was the most exercised I can remember hearing the press corps.

I don't know if our microphones were turned up or if they were just more energized than ever in terms of asking him --


CAMEROTA: -- all of these questions about what happens next.


BLACKWELL: Yes, because there are so many important questions here that maybe the president's prepared remarks did not get to, especially as it relates to the interpreters, the drivers, the strategy, what happens next.

Let's bring in now CNN's chief national affairs correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, and international correspondent, Anna Coren, live in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Let me start with you there in Afghanistan, Anna.

The reality, when the president says that it is not a guarantee that this country will fall to the Taliban, what do we know about the territory they now have, and the surge that we're seeing, and how the president's assertion reconciles with the facts there where you are?

ANNA COREN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, there's no denying that the Taliban are making incredible gains around the country. They're in control of more than 160 districts.

That translates to more than 50 percent of the territory. It is mainly in the north and northeast. But it is getting closer and closer to Kabul.

The threat to the capital where we are is real. However, as you heard the president say, this is now a country that has a security force of 300,000 troops, police as well as military.

Among these military are commandos and Special Forces and, of course, an air force.

In fact, Victor and Alisyn, we were at Kabul Air Base today, speaking to those who control this air force.

Look, it is not the American Air Force by any stretch of the imagination. But there are planes and helicopters and, obviously, pilots who are launching airstrikes, launching airstrikes on the Taliban.

The Ministry of Defense, they issued footage today of the Taliban being hit by airstrikes. So this is happening and this is real. This is something that Afghanistan did not have in 2001.

You know, the Taliban does not have a convoy of tanks that are going to roll into Kabul and start bombing. They do not have the equipment to take down aircraft.

So, you know, the idea that the Taliban are going to take over, I think that is -- that's fanciful.

But will they attack? Will they carry out suicide bombings? There's no doubt about it.

Of course, that will happen as long as the peace talks continue to fail.

But you heard the questions, you know, from the journalists.

The corruption within the government, you know, what does that amount to as far as America deciding they cannot prop up a government any longer? They are not going to lose any more U.S. troops to this 20- year war.

You heard from the president himself. This decision was long overdue. How long can you hold the hand of a country where so much blood and treasure has been spent?

So, really, as the president said, it is now up to the people of Afghanistan to decide their future. For the government to come together to stop the political infighting, to serve the people, to unify the military.

And make sure that those bases that are being fled, you know, that you pay the soldiers who are at these outposts, that you stop corruption, you know, in higher places, that you give these people a reason to believe.

That is what this country needs. It needs hope. And it needs purpose.

And it certainly doesn't need the people of Afghanistan, the best and brightest of this country, to leave in droves because that is what is happening.

CAMEROTA: Barbara, it was so interesting to hear President Biden layout his calculation.

I mean, just what Anna was just speaking to. He said, "We provided the Afghan partners with all of the tools that they need, basically in terms of equipment and money, and we'll continue to do that for them."

I mean, in terms of the math, where he was spelling out there's 300,000 well-equipped Afghan army members versus, I think he was saying 75,000 Taliban, it sounds like the Afghan army should be able to be equipped to fight them.

But what is the Pentagon's assessment of all of that?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the Pentagon has a very realistic assessment.

Look, if you are talking about the Taliban never taking Kabul, it is not even clear the Taliban want to take Kabul any time soon.

What the Taliban militarily, with very low-tech weapons, are so effective at is intimidation of the people in these rural areas where they have no contact with their central government, where there's very little security.

The Taliban have done this for decades. They move through. They intimidate villagers.

They begin to foster an era of inevitability that the people of Afghanistan can't count on their security force, can't count on their government to come rescue them.

The Taliban are very effective at it.

And by going around in these rural areas already and sweeping through these districts, that's the strategy that they are embarked on.


That's what the big concern is for so much of the national security community, I think, here in Washington, is if they begin to put -- if the Taliban begin to put all of the pieces together around the country, they don't necessarily need to take over the government any time soon.

They just make such an air of uncertainty, of fear and intimidation. And that's going to be the big concern.

Will the Taliban -- pardon me. Will the Afghan national security forces continue to be able to fight? Perhaps.

But we are seeing in so many rural areas' security forces having no support from their federal government, from the central government in Kabul, giving up, and saying, "OK, well, we're not going to fight, we're going to stay in our villages, we're going back to our families."

This is Afghanistan. This is a very tribal society. Always has been.

The U.S., the western powers moving in after they got Osama bin Laden, as you heard the president say, nation building. This is not a country where any outside forces have ever been successful at that.

BLACKWELL: Jeff, from the political angle the White House was very clear, Jen Psaki said during the briefing today, this would not be a "mission accomplished" moment.

But on the exact opposite end of that spectrum, when the president was asked, and the question was framed about a failed mission, the president said, "Well, the mission has not failed yet."

I think that phrasing is going to potentially stick with him. And we have to remember he was in the White House in 2011 upon the U.S.'s withdrawal from Iraq.

What lessons has this White House taken from post-Iraq withdrawal as they look at what could come in the future for Afghanistan?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, Joe Biden, from Senate to the vice presidency to the presidency, has been on the front lines of really every chapter of this long American war that is just now shy of 20 years.

So when you put that in the context of history, President Biden has been remarkably consistent about his deep skepticism about what the U.S. troops can do to Afghanistan.

He is a student of history. He has spent so much time with historians reading about Afghanistan. Of course, we heard him talking about it there. He said this is not a country that has been unified.

So in the scope of that, this was a president that I saw there -- he was a bit cantankerous answering some of those -- the questions. But he is solid in his belief that he is doing the right thing. Of course, time will play that out.

But his call to not have a new generation of young American men and women fighting what is a civil war for Afghanistan clearly is something that has driven his policy.

And that really is -- reflects a broad popular sentiment across both parties in the American populous is here.

So the president is confident in his decision. Although, of course, uncertain at what the outcome of Afghanistan will be.

But he said, was it worth it? When you boil it down, of course, he said the lives of the many Americans wounded and who died there certainly were worth it.

But he also said Osama bin Laden was captured and killed. And he believes there's no longer a direct threat to the U.S. homeland from there.

But when we pause here and take a moment of what has just happened, from President George W. Bush in the treaty room of the White House right here in October of 2001 to right now when President Biden is effectively ending America's longest war, certainly we will study this for decades to come.

But he believes this is the right decision for the U.S. national security concerns.

Of course, the fall-out in Afghanistan is another matter -- Victor and Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Jeff Zeleny, Barbara Starr, Anna Coren, thank you for guiding us through that really interesting press conference that the president just held. BLACKWELL: Now to the devastating new figures tied to the extreme heat

across this country. According to a new report out today, drought has nearly doubled in size from this time last year.

Let's go to the Pacific Northwest, where conditions are the worst they've been since 1895. In fact, 93 percent of the western United States is in drought right now, the highest on record.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm joins us now.

Madam Secretary, thank you for being with us.

Let me add to the list. More than 100 heat-related deaths in Oregon, dozens in Washington. And records broken last week could be broken again this week.

Are we at the point at which it is too little too late to stop this from getting worse?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, ENERGY SECRETARY: Well, it is going to get worse. But we clearly need to accelerate our efforts on clean energy.


I mean, if we don't do what the president has asked, which is to implement a clean-energy standard, then we will continue to see these accelerate.

I mean, it is -- you know, our hair should be on fire, too. There's a sense -- there should be a sense of urgency here.

You see these continual records being broken. You see these incredible record events happening repeatedly, not just the drought, not just the wildfires, but the hurricanes and the accelerating number of them and the intensity of them.

I don't know how much more evidence people need that we have to act and act now.

That's why what the president has negotiated and what the reconciliation bill, the next step to that will include, which is the commitment to get 100 percent of our electricity from clean sources by 2035.

Those pieces are so important.

BLACKWELL: So let's talk about that. Let's talk about the clean energy and the effort to get that clean-electricity standard that you mentioned, requiring power companies to move to renewable sources and to no longer emit carbon dioxide.

That's not in the bipartisan infrastructure deal. We know that the reconciliation plan, which is Democrats only, that will have to be budget related.

Can you get it into that legislation? And if not, how do you move it forward?

GRANHOLM: Yes, I think it will be in that legislation. That's what is the important part, is that there will be a need to include something that allows the Byrd Rule to be met. That's a technical term.

But the bottom line is we're negotiating that right now and I think we can get that across the finish line.

Honestly, I think it is the most important piece. Of course, I'm the secretary of energy.

But, honestly, if you see this across the country, what is happening, if we do not lead on this, if we do not take seriously our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we can't lead the rest of the world either. I mean, we need to set an example.

So the bottom line is I think it can get in there. I think that there's a commitment on the part of the Democrats and, hopefully, some Republicans as well, that we have to act because we will continue to see these escalating events.


GRANHOLM: And let me say, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Go ahead.

GRANHOLM: You know, in the 1980s, we spent about $17 billion a year on extreme-weather events. In the 1990s, we spent about $27 billion a year.

Last year, we spent $95 billion a year on clean-weather events, cleaning up the mess afterwards, the horror afterward. That was a low year.

In the past five years, we have spent on average $125 billion a year. How much more evidence do we need?

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you, on the politics of this, you say you have Democratic support for the tax incentives and credits to pass some of the elements that we are discussing today to get into the reconciliation bill.

Again, you will need all of the Democratic votes. Do you have commitments -- does this administration have commitments from Senator Manchin, from Senator Sinema, of Arizona?

GRANHOLM: They're working on it.

BLACKWELL: So that's a no?

GRANHOLM: No, it is not. It is just that those conversations are happening right now.

And I think those Senators understand the importance of investing in clean energy. And, honestly, of helping their communities, particularly Senator Manchin of West Virginia, helping the workers, the miners, et cetera, transition.

They've powered our nation for the past 100 years. We want them to power our nature into the future using clean energy.

BLACKWELL: OK. Short of the reconciliation bill, we know that Leader McConnell has said that if Democrats go this route, try to get the additional elements that are of outside the bipartisan bill, there will be pushback from Republicans.

If all you get is what is in the bipartisan bill -- and much of what we are discussing is not -- what can this administration do, from an executive order perspective, to push through some of this legislation?


GRANHOLM: You know, I think the president really is committed to getting bipartisan support. So hopefully, we get that first piece done.

The president is also committed to the rest of this agenda, the Build Back Better agenda overall. He spoke about this yesterday, as you know, in Illinois.

It is critical that we get this through. I think there's a significant commitment on the part of all Democrats to see large pieces of this move forward. So we'll have to see about that.

The preference is to do it through Congress and not through executive order.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about cyberattacks and the ransomware. You have acknowledged that some of these criminal outfits have the capability to take down power grids across this country.

If that happens, what capabilities does this country have to get back up quickly in a deadly heat wave or in the dead of winter?


GRANHOLM: This is another reason why, Victor, it is so important why we invest in the transmission grid, which is part of the first bill, the bipartisan infrastructure framework.

We need to invest not just in adding capacity but in resiliency and in protecting ourselves from cyber intrusions.

So we need to do this. We don't have -- we need to, right now, do all we can to protect our people.

But I will say that individuals and businesses also need to protect themselves. So we are working on increasing our cyber defenses on public-energy infrastructure.

But we need to have -- I mean, you saw the ransomware attacks this weekend. We need to make sure that everybody understands that they need to put up their own cyber defenses, that there needs to be healthy cyber hygiene, as they say.

They need to install the protection that they need to do on their own software because we cannot allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

But one important piece of that is the investment in the transmission grid.

BLACKWELL: But, Madam Secretary, I want to go back to the question because it's a bit concerning. My question was, do we have to capabilities to get back up quickly if they are taken down, which you acknowledge that these --




GRANHOLM: It depends on what happens, right? It depends on how broad it is. I mean, certainly, we work very closely with the electricity infrastructure, with the utilities, et cetera.

We've got a whole counsel that works on this. And we have very good relations.

We have very good relations in terms of them telling us when there's an attack and us being able to send out warnings across the system.

We've got a very nimble system on the electronic side. I'm confident we'll be able to get it up and running. If it's very, very broad, obviously, that will take some time.

The bottom line is we need to do some key investments to protect our grid and pipelines as well.

BLACKWELL: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, thank you so much for your time.

GRANHOLM: You bet.

CAMEROTA: All right, in a minute, we're going to go back to Surfside, Florida. There, of course, you know the search efforts have shifted to recovery. And now family members are speaking out.



CAMEROTA: Let's head to Surfside, Florida, where the search-and-rescue effort is officially now a recovery operation.

CNN's Rosa Flores is there. She joins us now.

I can just imagine what the families are saying and how they're feeling, Rosa.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Alisyn, it's really truly devastating.

But officials made one thing very clear. The terms do change. The words that they're using to describe this do change. It's from "search and rescue" to "search and recovery."

The work, the intensity in which they're working is not going to change.

They say they're going to continue working 24 hours a day, using every single tool they have very aggressively to try now to identify all of the victims.

Officials were very clear. They say that they looked at the facts before making this transition.

They looked at the equipment. For example, the sound equipment that they were using was no longer responding with signs of life. K-9s were no longer detecting signs of life.

They also looked at just the physicals limits of the human body, how long can we last without food, water and air.

Then they also calculated the collapse itself. It's a pancake collapse, which means one layer, one floor on top of the other. Very little voids.

This, of course, is devastating for the families. But this news was given to the families first, including the thought, the idea that their loved ones have perished under the rubble. That is the reality of what the recovery phase means.

Now, some of these family members grieved with first responders yesterday as they transitioned into the recovery phase. It all started with a very somber moment of silence.

Then the families and first responders walked over to the memorial wall. Some of the family members spoke, thanking the first responders for everything they have down so far.

Some of the family members also released statements.

And here's one. I want to read it to you. This is from Mike Strattan. He's the husband of Cassy Strattan, who remains unaccounted for.

He says, quote, "This wasn't the miracle we prayed for but it was not for lack of trying by the rescue crews whose tireless bravery will never be forgotten."

And, Alisyn, we've seen these men and women work 24-hour shifts. Their team members telling us that they were only taking breaks to check their pulse, to check their oxygen levels to make sure they can continue looking for survivors.

But overnight, this mission here in Surfside switched from search and rescue to search and recovery.

CAMEROTA: What a beautiful sentiment of one of the family members to remember these searchers and what they're going through.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Yes. And for days, weeks now, it's been going on. And the emotional connection they have to these families they're searching for.

Rosa, let me ask you about, beyond this building, the expanded safety reviews for condos in that area. What do you know?

FLORES: You know, there's been a huge effort to urge other condo associations to do their due diligence, to make sure that their residents know that they're doing everything they can to make sure that the buildings that they live in are safe.

So we learned about this letter that the Surfside mayor sent to all condos in this area. And this applies -- and this recommendation applies to all the condos east of Collins Avenue.


Champlain Tower South, the building that collapsed, is on Collins Avenue.