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Cases, Hospitalizations Surge As Delta Variant Fuels New Wave In U.S.; Interview With Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY); Dixie Fire Now Second Largest In California History; Future Variants Could Evade Vaccine-Induced Immunity; Taliban Take Kunduz, First Major City Since U.S. Withdrawal; Biden Admin's Hopes Of Reviving Deal Dimming; Olympic Games Come To A Close In Tokyo After One-Year Delay; Navigating The Isles Of Shoals. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired August 8, 2021 - 14:00:00   ET

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


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[14:00:26]

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: Ferocious flames. California's Dixie fire now the second largest in state history. Hundreds of structures lost. People still missing as thousands of firefighters try to get the upper hand.

Plus, stunning speed. Taliban forces overtake a major Afghan city, the latest in a string of victories. We have new details on just how dire the situation on the ground has become.

And going home with gold. The Olympic flame extinguished in Tokyo. How American athletes, especially American women, stole the show.

I'm Phil Mattingly in Washington, in this weekend for Fredricka Whitfield. Thank you for joining me.

Right now, the COVID pandemic is surging in the U.S. and shows no signs of slowing down. To know how bad it is, all you really have to do is just look at the numbers. The average number of daily cases has increased nine-fold since early July. The deadly delta variant fueling this rapid rise in news cases and overwhelming hospitals in many states. Hospitalizations right now at the height that we've seen since February.

Even more troubling is just how this new variant is affecting U.S. children. Childhood and teen cases, those have jumped 84 percent in the last week.

But despite those numbers, only half of the country is fully vaccinated. Health officials say the rise is being driven by the unvaccinated which make up most of the hospitalizations and most of the deaths we're seeing now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGIES AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We would not be in the place we are right now with this delta surge if we had been more effective in getting everybody to take advantage of these immunizations. And now we're paying a terrible price as the cases go up quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: State after state, governor after governor is desperately trying to slow that trend.

In Kentucky, the seven-day average of new cases is now around 1,800 -- the worst it's been in six months. Now, less than half of the state is currently fully-vaccinated, but there is a big push underway from state and federal leaders to change that.

Joining me now is the Governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear.

Governor, it's great to have you. I know you have no shortage of things on your plate right now.

Look, you and so many other governors around the country are seeing numbers that are only getting worse at this point in time. What are you doing? What do you think you can do in your office to combat this spread of the delta variant?

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): Well, the delta variant is the most aggressive and most likely the most deadly form of COVID-19 that we have seen. The rate of increase, how quickly it spreads is the fastest that we've seen at any time during this pandemic.

And yes, it is spreading primarily through the unvaccinated, but I think as we go, we're going to see more breakthrough cases than right now the data shows.

So for us, we started by trying to lead by example. We were the first state to reinstate masks in our state office buildings. We amped up our amount of testing to those state employees that were not vaccinated and we have pushed really hard for local leadership and the private sector to also step up with us.

Just this last week, we had every major hospital system in Kentucky come out and say that all their employees were going to have to get vaccinated. We had all our universities step up and say they were going to go to universal masking when the school year starts again.

We haven't had quite as much success with our local school districts though we continue to push. But the name of the game is vaccination. We have got to get more people vaccinated.

MATTINGLY: Yes. I don't think there's any question about that. It's been made very clear from public health officials across the country.

One thing, you know, when you're looking at what you should implement inside your state, you've got no shortage of pushback, even a myriad of legal challenges over some of the executive orders, some of the mandates.

You're a Democratic governor in a largely Republican state. I think, you're kind of at the heart of the political dynamic and back and forth that we've been seeing across the country right now.

How limited do you feel in what you can implement because of some of the politics in your state right now?

[14:04:46]

BESHEAR: Well, I don't feel limited because of politics. You know, I threw that out the window a long time ago because when you're in this role, you got to make unpopular decision after unpopular decision. And I would rather protect the health of my people than my own personal popularity.

So if saving additional lives cost me re-election, that is fine by me. I can live with that. And I'd make that decision any day.

It's more about effectiveness, right? The effectiveness of any step we take is the step times the number of people that are willing to follow it.

And so what that means is you've got to communicate clearly about the steps you're taking. Typically you can't go from one to 100 immediately. You've got to gradually step in and gradually step out.

And you've got to make sure you have partners, whether that's in the healthcare sector or the private sector, that are willing to come with you.

Because just think about the vaccination side. Anybody who's willing to get vaccinated because the governor asks you to is already vaccinated. That's why those healthcare systems, hospital systems stepping up and requiring vaccinations is a game-changer for us.

So regardless the steps that we put in place and everything is still on the table, we got to make sure that we get that type of local buy- in so it's not just that we have, you know, this step or that step, but that people actually follow it and it works because this is life and death and we got to make sure we're as effective as we can be.

MATTINGLY: That actually brings me to your next question. You know, you have not imposed a statewide mandate or called for one at this point. You said nothing's off the table. But how much does that calculation that you were just laying out in terms of how many people would actually comply, play into that decision about whether or not to pursue a mask mandate?

Mk1: Well, for me, a mask mandate and our considerations on it come down primarily to two things.

Number one, our hospital capacity. Insuring we have a bed for everyone and that's not just people for COVID. If you're unwilling to get vaccinated and you're spreading this virus, it fills up hospitals for people with COVID and takes a bed away for people who have a heart attack or have a stroke or who have another need. It can cause death in ways that aren't directly related to COVID.

But then the other piece is my concern about our economic resurgence. I mean we have an economy on fire in Kentucky. We have announced 1,800 new jobs in the last two weeks. The only thing that's going to keep us from reaching a bigger potential than I ever knew was possible is if we can't combat this variant.

Masks are not a big thing to ask people to do. To save one another's lives or to ultimately help us become something economically that we've never been able to reach. Never, ever to be a flyover state again to be able to take our place in a post COVID economy.

So a mask, it's not that much to ask and we need to make sure that people aren't tired anymore. I think about our grandparents and great grandparents, who were asked to fight, some of them, in both World War I and World War II; or World War II and Korea.

They didn't get the chance to say, you told us it was the war to end all wars. They stepped up and did their patriotic duty.

We've got to do that, too. This is America and the world against COVID which is trying to kill us. Now, you're either with us fighting this virus or you're helping the virus.

MATTINGLY: It doesn't, the unity doesn't necessarily seem to be there nationwide and we don't need to wander into the kind of the political divot so much, but I do want to move over to vaccinations. You talked about masks. I want to talk about vaccinations, too.

Look, there is no secret here. This is the way out. Everybody has made that abundantly clear and the numbers back that up.

And we've seen all kinds of incentives in states. I mean we've got lotteries, gift cards, cash. Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin told me yesterday, free cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair.

You announced this week, that you'd give your executive branch employees an extra vacation day if they're vaccinated. How much do these incentives work versus, you know, the carrot approach versus the stick approach? And how do you balance that?

BESHEAR: Well first, we're excited about what we're seeing on the vaccination front. The last two weeks, we vaccinated almost two times more people than the two weeks before.

We think the incentives do work. It's really hard to calculate exactly how much because we have falling and falling and falling vaccinations.

We announced our shot in a million and free higher education for those lottery winners and it stabilized. Now we see it increasing. But I think what's really driving vaccinations is getting out real information about the seriousness of the delta variant. And what's really stopping vaccinations is misinformation that kills people.

You know, there's two types of misinformation. One that either downplays the delta variant or lies about vaccines being harmful to you.

But the second is just sowing enough division and enough doubt. That's people being unwilling to follow steps that are out there. People being unwilling to do reasonable things.

[14:09:50]

BESHEAR: Leaders -- national, state, or local -- who say that they won't go along with things that can reasonably protect other people.

You know, that pushes people again, away from the information, away from the responsible steps. And we need everybody on board.

And you're right that not everybody's on board, but I do want to make sure I make the point that I see more Kentuckians and more Americans willing to do the right thing than I don't.

And a lot of the social media and a lot of folks trying to get noticed out there, they create a level of noise that I think sometimes makes us mistake the trees for the forest.

Here in Kentucky, we've got a whole lot of people trying to do the right thing. We've got to reach more of them. We've got to get more of them vaccinated.

But frustration doesn't help with that. It's patience. It's continuing to push the information. And it's getting local leadership, employers, the private sector and others all out there doing the same thing.

MATTINGLY: And you've had a big push on the private sector in terms of mandates.

I want to get to infrastructure. It's (INAUDIBLE) a huge piece of what's going right now. But I do have a quick question. Do you believe the federal government's communication particularly over the last couple of weeks has been helpful or harmful to what you're trying to do in your state?

BESHEAR: Well, I've now worked with two presidential administrations and believe that we have been able to work well with both of them. I give credit for communication generally to both. The Trump administration certainly helping to create this vaccine.

The Biden administration for increasing the pace of vaccinations more so than I ever thought was possible.

It was incredible. But recent communication coming out of the CDC and other areas really needs to improve. It makes us all kind of feel like we're in a whiplash and it doesn't have to, right?

We have to change our approach because the virus changes, the variant changes. And just like any war, and this is a war, we've lost 7,300 Kentuckians.

You know, our tactics have to change as our adversary changes. But the way the communication has come out has left people confused and maybe in pushing us all in the right direction. Now I say that wanting it to work and wanting the federal communication to be as good as it can and being willing to do whatever it takes to work with them.

But can we see some improvement on that? Absolutely. And I think they'd say the same.

MATTINGLY: Yes. No question about it.

Flipping to infrastructure. You know, this obviously $1.2 trillion bill seems like it's on the path to pass in the U.S. Senate. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Kentucky a C minus for its infrastructure. I've driven across the Brent Spence Bridge quite often back to my home state in Ohio.

How great is the need for your state right now for this bill not just to get through the Senate but actually get across the finish line?

BESHEAR: This bill is desperately needed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and all of America. Our infrastructure in the entire United States is crumbling and it's such a life blood.

That Brent Spence Bridge has a huge portion of our country's GDP, not just our area, go across it every single day. This bill will create, oh, hundreds of thousands of jobs and it will do something we didn't do in the Great Recession. It will invest our dollars at a time we want to stimulate our economy in ways that pay off for decades to come.

This is one that everybody ought to be on board with. You know, COVID is not red or blue. Democrat or Republican, right. It's just a virus that wants to kill us.

Infrastructure is not red or blue. It's just the safety of the roads and the bridges that we drive our kids on and that ultimately our economy runs through.

And the more that we can stop pulling all of it this side or that side wins or trying to turn everything into a political talking point and just treat it as the necessity that it is, that's what this infrastructure bill is. A necessity. Then maybe the more we can get done.

MATTINGLY: Yes. All right. It's interesting. It may actually happen. It's been infrastructure week for about the last five years. We might actually have a very real point. Governor Andy Beshear --

BESHEAR: And let me --

MATTINGLY: Sure, go ahead.

BESHEAR: Let me just mention that bridge will get done if that bill passes and that should drive everyone in Kentucky and Ohio to support it.

MATTINGLY: Including your senior senator based on what we're seeing so far. We'll see by the final vote.

Governor Andy Beshear, thanks so much for your time, sir. I know you're a busy man.

BESHEAR: Thank you. MATTINGLY: All right. Coming up. A developing story out west. The

Dixie fire rose to the second largest in California history. I'll talk live with a member of the Red Cross who is on the front lines helping victims.

Plus, the Taliban gains new ground in Afghanistan after U.S. troops pull out of the country. The latest on the heavy fighting that broke out in a major city.

[14:14:40]

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MATTINGLY: Turning our attention out west. The massive Dixie fire in northern California has now grown to be the second largest in the state's history. At 463,000 acres, it's currently the largest fire burning anywhere in the U.S. And it is now just 21 percent contained.

The fire tore through Greenville, California destroying 75 percent of that historic town. And it's one of more than 100 large active fires currently burning across 15 mostly western states. Get this -- more than two million acres have already burned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CARLTON, FOREST SUPERVISOR, PLUMAS NATIONAL FOREST: We're seeing truly frightening fire behavior. We have a lot of veteran firefighters who have served for 20, 30 years and have never seen behavior like this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: For more, let's bring in meteorologist Tom Sater in the CNN Weather Center. Tom, you know, weather is such a key component of fighting these fires. What's the latest on these big fires and is there any relief on the weather front in the horizon?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Unfortunately no, Phil. In fact, we're looking at winds in excess 20, 25 mile per hour gusts with that Dixie fire. Look, this number is going in the wrong direction.

Notice in South Dakota, the area ahead of Minnesota, the peak of the season really is not until the end of August through September.

[14:20:01]

SATER: But look at the top ten. Dixie fire is a single fire. Notice the complex, complex, complex -- these are where fires merge. So for a single fire to get in the top ten, that says something.

And those who deny climate change, all top ten are in the last two decades. But the top eight are all from 2017 -- that is staggering.

Now you're going to talk about more fires. We're way ahead of schedule from last year. Almost 39,000 -- 40,000 fires as opposed to last year where 2.3 million acres were scorched. And now with the drought, Montana's been added to the list. Now, we have seven states with 100 percent drought. And that's affecting everyone.

Take a look at what the lack of rain and snow does in just two years. 2019 California, just in the southern part. Then last year, central, northern areas and now the entire state. That dark color is exceptional highest level of drought and that's almost 50 percent.

Now, the reservoirs they're dropping Phil. Lake Orville, 24 percent capacity. Typically, in August, it's at 71. Therefore, they had to halt all hydro electric power output just yesterday.

It's going to be a long season and still another heat wave now for the middle of the week, moving in to the Pacific Northwest.

MATTINGLY: If you don't think this moment is different, I'm not really sure what you're watching.

Tom Sater, great report. Thank you very much, my friend.

SATER: Yes.

MATTINGLY: The American Red Cross has been on the front lines helping those displaced and impacted by those fires Tom was talking about.

So far, the Red Cross has provided nearly 2,500 overnight stays and shelters, thousands of meals and hundreds of relief items.

Adam Istas is a spokesman and volunteer for the Red Cross and has been helping in communities near the Dixie fire. Adam, thanks so much for taking the time to join us.

I guess I want to start with, you know, giving people a context of what's actually happening right now. How many shelters do you have open in northern California and how many people are you actually assisting at this moment?

ADAM ISTAS, SPOKESMAN/VOLUNTEER, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Good afternoon, Phil. Thanks for having me.

Right now, we have about 15 shelters open just across northern California and the numbers last night, we accommodated about 280 evacuees.

MATTINGLY: And we know the Dixie fire devastated the Greenville community. We were showing video of that earlier. What are you hearing from residents who live in that community who have lost homes and have been impacted by that fire? What are they telling you and your colleague rights now?

ISTAS: As you can imagine, it's a really wide range of emotions. I have certainly spoken to people who have lost their homes, who have lost everything. At the same time, they were very grateful for the sheriff deputies who knocked on their door to evacuate them with a half hour notice. You know, people are going through a whole range of emotions right now. It is waiting for the weather to clear. These conditions change every day. The people that I've been talking to, some don't know if their house is still there. Others (AUDIO GAP), others are worried about their livestock, worried about their animals, et cetera.

So I think the uncertainty and the unknown and the unpredictability of the fire is kind of, that is the air and the climate here. Although I will say there is a lot of optimism and a lot of support and these mountain communities are very tight knit.

You see a lot of neighbor helping neighbor. You see a lot of community partners stepping up, delivering meals and other things. So while it's a very, you know, heinous, stressful situation, there's a lot of optimism and a lot of grace happening here.

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's so important at a time like this. I guess, you mentioned the uncertainty. How does the Red Cross prepare for something like this given the fact California is already well ahead of the pace of fires for a typical year?

You know, what are the needs that you guys have right now and how do you try and be agile in a moment where we're seeing things at a scale we just simply haven't -- never have before?

ISTAS: That's exactly right. You said the two keywords which was -- prepare and be agile. And we have done both this year in preparation for this. We have, we are currently I think at about day 44 of an expected 120-day fire season. So we have been at this for weeks.

As Tom said, this is very early already in the season. We're ahead of schedule. So our job is to be ready to provide relief to evacuees when it's necessary. And we've been able to do that this year with a new type of structure. A command post, for lack of a better phrase, a command center, at Sacramento and running everything down to there.

And as these different fires pop up, we've been able to mobilize people quickly to them. I got to say, that's what makes the magic of the Red Cross happen is the volunteers. And so we have volunteers from all over the country and all of these mountain communities and all of these shelters that are coming here, donating their time, their compassion to these evacuees.

[14:24:53]

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's so important, the volunteers -- the volunteer element of that. Folks, keep that in mind when you're looking at how to help out west.

Adam Istas, I appreciate your time. I appreciate everything you're doing out there. Thank you very much for sharing that context.

And for more information on how to help the wildfire victims out west, visit CNN.com/impact.

Still to come, a new warning from Dr. Anthony Fauci. Get vaccinated or a new variant could be even worse than delta and could be on the way.

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[14:29:49]

MATTINGLY: The U.S. is now averaging more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases per day. For context, we have not seen numbers this high since February according to data from Johns Hopkins.

[14:30:00]

Now this comes after new infections sank to their lowest levels of the year just seven weeks ago. It's the delta variant that's fueling the surge in cases and hospitalizations and death and it's almost exclusively among the unvaccinated. Dr. Anthony Fauci says, so long as half that nation remains unvaccinated, future variants could create chaos for everyone come.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: But if you give the virus a chance to continue to change, you're leading to a vulnerability that we might get a worse variant and then that will impact not only the unvaccinated, that will impact the vaccinated because that variant could evade the protection of the vaccine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Joining me now to discuss is Syra Madad, the senior director of the Special Pathogen Program at NYC Health and Hospitals.

Syra, I don't think that's news to you, but for normal people, perhaps listening to that, it's a little bit jarring. How alarmed should Americans be by the possibility that Dr. Fauci laid out there?

SYRA MADAD, SENIOR DIRECTOR, SPECIAL PATHOGEN PROGRAM AT NYC HEALTH AND HOSPITALS: It's very concerning. I think if we're all looking at what's happening around the United States and around the world, right now, we're seeing a significant rise in cases throughout all of the United States. We're especially seeing, you know, larger pockets of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths in areas that have low vaccination rates.

So, just looking at the CDC map, where it's saying mask mandates, scenarios of high and substantial community transmission, that's almost all of the United States, that's over 2,800 different counties. And so, you know, I think this is certainly a very unfortunate situation that we're in. And as you've mentioned earlier, a majority of the cases are in hospitals that we're seeing and number of people that are dying are in the unvaccinated group. So, we need to do a much larger portion getting people vaccinated because this is not going to end anytime soon. We're probably -- you know, probably a few more weeks out from the peak of this current surge that we're in.

MATTINGLY: You know, the discussion about different variants or what may be coming, you know, at this point in time, obviously, everybody's focused on delta, but experts are closely following the lambda variant, which has been identified in the states. A variant not nearly as worrisome as early delta variant at this moment, but studies suggest it could be more transmissible than the original strain of coronavirus.

CDC is monitoring several other variants of concern right now. Does the fact that there are so many different variants emerging mean that COVID-19 is basically here to stay and we're just going to have to learn to live with it?

MADAD: So, I do think when I look at the end game of what is this going to look like down the line, we know this is not something that we're going to, you know, have to -- I mean, when we look at it, we have to constantly wear masks, you know, forever, the answer is no. The end game is, A, obviously, we want to get as many people vaccinated, but we want to transition into this virus being endemic, just like we have a number of other virus like flu and many others.

And so, to get to the point of being endemic, that means we need to ensure that the cases that we're seeing today are not resulting in hospitalizations. We have milder infections, less number of death. So, we can't only get there, it's just, obviously, we need to all continue doing the non-pharmaceutical interventions, like masking, social distancing, (INAUDIBLE), vaccination.

In regards to the multiple other variants concerning of interests are circulating, this is of no surprise. As the virus continues to spread, you know, locally and around the world, we're going to continue to see multiple different mutations happen that can result in variants of interest and variants of concern.

Here, for example, in the United States, we have four main variants of concern. We have alpha, delta, beta, gamma. If we're just looking at the percentages of these variants of concern, delta, obviously, is taking the center stage, you know, with 90 percent of cases being confirmed as delta.

But here locally, I'm in New York City, we're seeing gamma and we're seeing, you know, beta basically about 5 percent, which dives well with kind of the national, you know, trends as well. And then we have multiple variants of interest. You've mentioned lambda. Lambda is something that was detected in Peru.

This is something that we certainly need to continue to keep an eye on. It's a variant of interest, meaning that it has potential impact to, you know, more transmissibility, severity of illness, impacted diagnostics and therapeutics. So, certainly, these are number of variants of interest that we're going to continue to keep our eye on. But it's going to continue to happen as more spread continues across the world.

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's the wild part about all of this is get vaccinated, not just because it keeps everybody safe around you, but also because it snuffs this out before more variants develop.

Syra Madad, your expertise is extraordinarily welcome, as always. Thank you very much for your time.

All right. Up next, September 11th families call on President Biden to be their hero. Find out what they're demanding weeks before the 20th anniversary of those attacks.

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[14:35:00]

MATTINGLY: The Taliban have taken their first major city since U.S. forces started withdrawing from Afghanistan. Local officials say Kunduz is mostly under Taliban control though Afghan commandos are currently fighting to take it back.

CNN international security editor, Nick Paton Walsh, is following this for us.

Nick, you understand the dynamics there better than most. Can you walk me through what this means for the entire situation right now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: It seems like the falling of Kunduz pretty much caps an unprecedently bad 72 hours for the Afghan government, the obvious key ally of the U.S. presence there over the last 20 years. Hard really to understate that, Phil. This is a seismic period of time and changes in territorial hands inside the country.

[14:40:00]

Kunduz is the first major city to fall. We've seen it briefly fall to the Taliban over the last six years and back then, U.S. air strikes and commandos on the Afghan army were pushing and keep the Taliban out. They don't appear, thus far, to have managed to pulled that off in Kunduz.

But that isn't the limited scope of the bad news. Since Friday, when the first provincial capital fell, Zaranj, near the border with -- to Iran, there's been drumbeats of bad news. Another provincial capital, Sheberghan, fell shortly afterwards. We have heard reports, also, of a place called Sar-e Pol falling today, too. And there is an intense fight for another provincial capital, Taloquan inTakhar Province.

These are not places that was well-known as Kunduz by far, but it essentially shows a sea of change here that provincial capital after provincial capital have been falling since Friday, and that is a real problem for the Afghan government security forces because their strategy has basically been to allow the Taliban, it seems, to run awry almost in the opening spaces of rural Afghanistan, but hold on to the cities.

Now, the cities are slipping. And if a place like Kunduz doesn't fall back into government control, it will lead many to be fearful that this could happen in other key cities, too. There is an intense fight happening in the southern city of Lashkar Gar in Helmand Province where so many American and NATO soldiers lost their lives. Will have to see how that one plays out. U.S. air strikes have always been key in these. They are continuing at this point. The Taliban not themselves particularly responsible when it comes to civilian casualties at all. They suggested that some air strikes had, in fact, hit civilian targets in Lashkar Gar or Helmand over the past days. We haven't heard a response from that from the U.S., but they do confirm they are continuing air strikes. And it's really, I think, the civilians who are going to get caught in this continuing fighting here.

Make no mistake though, Phil, this is absolutely awful. We have not seen a period like this in the whole 20 years of the war at all. And I think many are wondering whether this is the beginning of a summer in which more parts of the country come fully under Taliban control and the full extent of what Afghan government-led security forces are actually capable of becomes visible. Can they control the whole country? Probably not. Just certain parts of it. But real fears here that we could be beginning to see something unravel. Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes. No question about it. Fears in the U.S., too. The tone of U.S. officials who pay close attention to this has changed so dramatically over the course of the last several months as the tempo of the Taliban offenses has increased, Nick, as you know very well.

Nick Paton Walsh, in London, thanks so much.

All right. The Biden administration is still hoping to revive nuclear talks with Iran, but those hopes, at least for a final deal, are dimming. Officials were hoping to restart negotiations by now, but they have been pushed aside by a new hardline president officially to power and the Iranian nuclear program continues to accelerate.

Natasha, my good colleague joins me now from Washington.

Natasha Bertrand, I guess the big question right now, we're trying to figure it out every day, you've got a great piece on this, does the White House believe that a deal is even still possible at this point?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, for the White House's hopes of returning to the original nuclear deal are really fading fast and their tone is becoming increasingly pessimistic. I mean, this ongoing delay in restarting the nuclear talks and the inauguration in Iran last week of a new hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi.

So, talks stalled at the end of June after the sixth round of negotiations. And while U.S. officials do want to stay at the table and return for another round of talks, they're telling us that they're still unsure when that next round will even begin.

Now, part of the problem is that as time goes on, officials are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the chances of a return to the deal known as the JCPOA because of Iran's quickly advancing nuclear program. After Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018, Iran began developing and testing centrifuges. And officials now believe it would take less than a year, that breakout time of a year, for Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a weapon. So, Iran has also severely restricted international monitors access to its main nuclear site, making negotiators very pessimistic about a return to that origin deal. So, that is why according to the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, time here is really of the essence. Take a listen to what he had to say last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: This process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it's undertaken with regard to its nuclear program. Activities that, of course, have broken through the constraints imposed by the JCPOA.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERTRAND: So, a number of officials have expressed the same sentiment to us, Phil, with one emphasizing that as Iran proceeds with enrichment, there will come a point when there's no JCPOA to return to. They say they're not quite there yet, but the clock is ticking down. Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes. The biggest question in Washington, what is the deadline, is there one for President Biden? This thing seems to be very influx right now.

Natasha Bertrand, great reporting as always in Washington. Thanks so much.

[13:45:00]

All right. More than 1,600 people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks are issuing an ultimatum to President Biden. They want him to release the government's records on the attacks as he promised during the campaign or stay away from the memorial event planned at the 9/11 memorial next month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRETT EAGLESON, LOST FATHER IN 9/11 ATTACKS: There is concrete evidence that supports our allegations that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia materially supported the hijackers and we need the president to be our hero. Be our hero. Be our champion, Mr. President. This is a direct appeal to you. Help us in this fight. Stand by our side. Allow us to have the justice and closure that we deserve.

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MATTINGLY: It has been a long running fight. White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, says the president remains committed to keeping that promise and will continue working with the Justice Department to release those records.

We'll be right back.

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[14:50:00]

MATTINGLY: After a one-year delay, much of the competition overshadowed by COVID-19, these fireworks marked the end of the Summer Games in Tokyo. The U.S., of course, reigned supreme, winning the medal count for the seventh straight Summer Games, gold medal too. American athletes scored 113 medals in 28 different sports. But these games were about so much more than sports.

CNN's Coy Wire has more on the significance of the summer in Tokyo.

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COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: The closing ceremony of these Tokyo Olympics marks the end of one of the most unique, polarizing and inspiring Olympic Games ever. Sportsmanship was on full display. More than any Olympics I've covered, athletes showed respect for one another and celebrated each other. It's tough to make it to the Olympics in normal times. Amid a pandemic, even more so.

By the time the caldron was lit, a wide range of emotions was already burning. After all they've been through, all the added discipline it took just to make it, athletes turned to each other, no matter the color of their uniform, and acknowledged what they had just overcome together.

And these Olympics will always be remembered for the light they shined on mental health. Simone Biles, one of the greatest athletes ever, removed herself from competing on her sport's biggest stage to prioritize her mental health over her medal count. She raged against a long-engrained culture in sport that says baring serious injury, you keep pushing forward no matter what.

There's a movement happening before our eyes. Athletes becoming advocates for mental health having an impact far beyond just the world of sports. Simone Biles has now become one of its greatest champions. My most heartfelt reflection of these Olympics is of the host nation, Japan and of the people of this special place.

This isn't the Olympics Japan that envisioned and hoped for, it is heartbreaking because the people deserved the best circumstances to show off who they are and how they are to the world. They respect everyone and everything around them.

I'm part Japanese and the more time I've spent here and the more time I've learned about my family's history, the more I love this place, this culture and the people of Japan. I'd hoped that as competitions began, these athletes and these games could do what Olympics so often do, inspire uplift, and unite and that's exactly what's happened.

As for the athletes from Japan, they have won more gold medals than any games in which they have ever competed. Something of which this host nation can be so proud.

Coy Wire, CNN, Tokyo. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Our thanks to Coy Wire, who hopefully now will be able to sleep for the first time in two weeks.

Now, the mayor of Paris has officially taken possession of the Olympic flag as France prepares to host the Summer Games in 2024. The French Air Force painting the Paris sky red, white, and blue during a celebration at the Eiffel Tower. A handful of French medal winning athletes attended the celebration. Paris last hosted the games in 1924.

And the world of college football is mourning the loss of an absolute legend today. Longtime Florida State coach, Bobby Bowden, passed away peacefully at his home early this morning according to a statement given to the Tallahassee Democratic newspaper. The hall of fame coach was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in July.

Now, Coach Bowden molded the Florida State Football team into an absolute powerhouse in the '90s, winning two national championships, 12 conference championships during his 34 years at the university. He retired in 2009 and remains the second winningest coach in college football history. Coach Bowden was 91 years old.

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[14:55:00]

MATTINGLY: Off the coast of New England, you'll find a group of islands stuck in time. We head to the Isle of Shoals in this week's "Off the Beaten Path."

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PETE REYNOLDS, OWNER, GRANITE STATE WHALE WATCH: So, the Isle of Shoals are a group of nine islands off Southern Maine and New Hampshire. They're very rugged, remote islands for being only six miles offshore. The most popular islands are Wildlife Station, home to new Hampshire's only offshore lighthouse. Very picturesque. Duck Island is a really fun island to visit mainly because there are so many seals there. Star Island is the easiest to get to by public ferry. The main island in terms of activity and visitation (INAUDIBLE) to get to, Isles of Shoals.

JOE WATTS, CEO, STAR ISLAND CORPORATION: We're looking at the Oceanic Hotel, one of the very few examples of a remaining grand hotel from the grand hotel era. We have buildings and the facilities dating back, in some cases, to before the United States was formed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, it's just a very amazing experience.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I just love that it's so untouched. And it's really just beautiful and peaceful and a wonderful place to explore.