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U.S. Tells Taliban, Stop Military Offensive in Afghanistan Now; Senate Democrats to Work on Budget Resolution after Infrastructure Vote; China Reports Highest Daily COVID Cases since January. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 10, 2021 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: I don't want to ask you before I let you go. You mentioned the mask mandate last night in Austin, obviously, that vote to mandate masks in schools, which goes against the governor's ban. Where do you see that headed?

STATE REP. VIKKI GOODWIN (D-TX): I see the more school districts that go ahead and require masks in schools that other smaller school districts may follow. So far, Dallas has said that they are requiring masks. I've heard that Houston, Austin and San Antonio are considering that move right now, so then maybe other districts will follow suit. There is strength in numbers.

HILL: We will be watching. Vikki Goodwin, please keep us posted any developments. I appreciate it and welcome home.

GOODWIN: Thank you.

HILL: A U.S. peace envoy is in the Middle East today to deliver a message to the Taliban. Stop taking control of Afghan cities. Will that stark warning work? More after the break.

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[10:35:00]

HILL: Out west this morning, more than 12,000 people across eight California counties under vaccination orders. This as the Dixie wildfire just keeps growing. So far, the flames have burned nearly 500,000 acres, destroyed more than 800 buildings with thousands more at risk.

CNN's Camila Bernal is on the ground in California near that fire. Camila, what is the latest at this point?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, we've seen some progress, containment went up by 1 percent. It is now at 22 percent containment. And it doesn't seem like a lot, but firefighters are trying to show that this 1 percentage point means about 5,000 acres that were contained, so for them, that is progress.

I've talked to a lot of firefighters. There's one hotshot who is describing it as God being angry. Another said, look, this fire is stubborn. They're doing everything that they can but they feel like and even though sometimes the fire is calm, then it takes off again.

And I asked this firefighter, are you frustrated, are you tired, and his answer was, I'm still here, and that should answer your question.

This fire has been burning for 27 days. There are some of these firefighters that have been here for almost a month. And they say this is also taking a toll on their families.

The people in this area who are under evacuation orders are also frustrated. They're asking the sheriff, when can we go back home, when can we assess the damage. So far, the sheriff saying it is too soon, it is unsafe to go back into these areas.

This fire has already destroyed more than 870 structures, it's consumed half a million acres. It's a huge area and, unfortunately, it is probably going to keep growing. So there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. Erica?

HILL: A lot of work in that area and also there are new concerns too about the Pacific Northwest expecting another heat wave this week.

BERNAL: Yes, it is really unfortunate because it is going to be hot and dry, not just today but all week. We're expecting temperatures to be around 100 degrees. And so it all complicates things for firefighters when you're talking about a heat wave and a fire. It is only increasing the chances for this fire to grow.

And so much of the firefighting efforts depend on the weather. For example, yesterday, they finally had a three-hour period where they could fly over the fire. So you need that time, you need the weather to cooperate in order to fight this fire on the air and on the ground. And, unfortunately, for the next couple of days, the weather is just not cooperating. Erica?

HILL: Yes, the last thing they need to hear. Camila Bernal, I appreciate it. Thank you.

A U.S. peace envoy is in the Middle East to try to pressure the Taliban to stop the military offensive and negotiate a political deal. The insurgents now claiming they've taken over the city of Farah, the seventh of 34 provincial capitals to fall in just about a week's time.

Meantime, the Pentagon says it will continue to support Afghan forces when and where it is possible.

Nick Paton Walsh is following all these developments for us from London this hour. So, the impact of this envoy, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. I mean, essentially, it shows what the U.S. position is reduced to. They're sending the same man they've been sending for years to the same place, Doha in Qatar, to probably talk to very similar Taliban interlocutors in the hope that now the Taliban are seeing significant gains on the ground territorially that he can use probably a similar argument to hope to slow that progress down.

Now, obviously, in the past the U.S. had the leverage of forces on the ground and significant deployable airpower. They're still using airpower now but -- and the Afghan minister of defense, in fact, suggested there was airstrikes around Helmand just recently. But that is reduced and has a clock ticking on it of about three weeks. It will stop when the U.S. has fully withdrawn.

So, it may be that we hear a similar diplomatic argument from Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, saying if you want to have power, the Taliban have power and have some international aid come in, some international recognition, then you have to submit to a peace deal with the Afghan government. But, frankly, looking at scenes you're seeing now and hearing of the seventh provincial capital, Farah, falling today to the insurgency, it doesn't look like they really have a particularly strong case there.

The Taliban have been very clear that they want a ceasefire just in the last 48 hours. So, it is entirely possible, I think, that that meeting will eventually be seen as exposing what many critics say is the sham of this peace process, and that some of the Taliban have gone along with and managed to get the U.S. to agree to withdraw as a result of and then essentially ignore the bits they don't like of.

[10:40:13]

It is an extraordinarily important week for Afghanistan here, little sign at this stage that Taliban advances into urban areas almost unthinkable six months ago are being reversed, just more and more towns being added to that list.

And so the question I think is when does that become troublesome for the capital of Kabul, when do the key towns in the south, like Kandahar or Lashkar Gah, begin to look perilous towards the Taliban and what is going on in the mindset of Afghanistan's government in Kabul here? Are they seeing these losses and rethinking strategy?

It appears that they're appealing to sort of local militia to get on board and become part of the security forces, that is a sign some may say of desperation or possibly the beginning of a turnaround. But, my gosh, many knew it was going to be bad, I'm not sure they thought this would be this fast.

HILL: Yes, that certainly has been quick. Nick Paton Walsh, I appreciate it, thank you.

In just minutes, a big moment for the Biden presidency and the fate of his bipartisan infrastructure deal. Can the Problem Solvers Caucus get the deal over the finish line? I'll ask both co-chairs, next.

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[10:45:00] HILL: A bipartisan infrastructure bill just minutes away from passing in the Senate. The work though is far from over. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says, Senate Democrats will immediately move to pass a budget resolution to begin work on a $3.5 trillion plan. Without bipartisan support and with heavy skepticism from moderates in the House and Senate though, it is not clear if it could pass.

Joining me now, Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and New Jersey Democrat Representative Josh Gottheimer, they are the co-chairs of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. Good to have you both with us.

I have to say, just before we came on the air, I was just witnessing a really lovely moment between the two of you. And it would -- it would be nice if we saw more of that. So it is good to have you both here.

As we look at what is happening today and, frankly, where we move from here, Representative Gottheimer, I know you sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi over the welcome asking her to hold a vote on this bipartisan measure as soon as possible. That, of course, as many Democrats, including President Biden, as we know, are linking it with the passage of the $3 trillion budget plan. So do you feel your concerns are being addressed?

REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Well, I think the president came out pretty clearly and said that we should vote on the infrastructure package. It is bipartisan. And it's going to -- as you know, today is a historic day. The Senate is going to pass the largest investment infrastructure in a century, including everything from water to electric vehicles to roads, bridges and rails, to transit.

Honestly, it is a significant bipartisan effort that has gone on. We worked in the Problem Solvers Caucus, Brian and I, the 58 of us in the caucus working closely with our Senate colleagues now for months and now we have to get it done in the House. There is no reason when you have got 2 million jobs a year on the line and a crumbling infrastructure in places here in Jersey that you'd wait a single day longer than you have to get this done.

And it doesn't mean that we shouldn't consider other legislations as well but I think we should get this up for a vote, a standalone vote as quickly as possible.

HILL: Well, what do you think the chances of that are at this point? Because while the Democrats have that slim majority in the House, in some ways, you're in the minority.

GOTTHEIMER: Well, actually, no. I'm optimistic that we're going to get a vote on this, that there won't be a delay, that we'll get this done. The country wants it and the momentum that is building here with Democrats and Republicans, the fact that you're going to have plenty of Republicans in the Senate behind this as well.

What the country wants, they want to see that we can govern, that we can work together, that we can solve problems for them. And this just makes sense, is there is no reason after all of these years of waiting for physical infrastructure when I got the third worst roads in the country here in Jersey and the third of the bridges are unsafe that we would wait. We should get this done and get shovels in the ground as quickly as possible.

HILL: So, Representative Fitzpatrick, as you know, some Republicans have already said they will vote no on infrastructure because the CBO says it would add $250 billion to the national debt. How concerned are you about that when it comes to the House?

REP. BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R-PA): Thanks for having us, Erica. We just have to explain the reality. The CBO scores what it scores. We knew this. We knew that we were going to get about half of the pay-fors in hard dollars, and the other half in soft dollars that the CBO does not score but are legitimate pay-fors.

I'll give you one example, Erica. About $54 billion or so of money that was authorized and appropriated but unspent in unemployment insurance compensation that many of the states returned, that is part of a pay-for. That's something CBO has to score. So that's a legitimate pay-for.

So we believe this bill is paid for, it does so with no tax increases. It provides a historic investment in our nation's infrastructure. We are the wealthiest country on Planet Earth and yet we rank in the 30s when it comes to infrastructure, and we are behind China, by the way.

So we have a lot of great arguments to make. The best one, Erica, is that, for the first time in this Congress, and the first time in this administration, you have a bipartisan, bicameral historic investment that is supported by the White House.

[10:50:01]

And that, by the way, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO both support. You don't get those opportunities very often and we can't let this opportunity pass.

HILL: You're both sounding very confident, which is good to hear. We do know there is -- look, we'd be lying if we didn't say there wasn't some pushback and even pointing out as many as 18 Republican senators expected to vote to pass it today in the Senate. But we know that the former president is threatening to primary lawmakers, Republican lawmakers. How much of a concern do you think that is, Congressman? How much of a hold does he still have on your party?

FITZPATRICK: Yes. Well, I guess we'll find out, right? I mean, we believe, our caucus believes, and that is who Josh and I speak for and work with, that you don't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We'd rather get 80 percent of something than 100 percent nothing, then you take every single individual bill and vote it up and down on its own merits irrespective of what comes before or after it.

So, we're engaging with our party leadership on both side, Josh, on his side, and I'm certainly engaging with our leadership. We're overcommunicating. There are no surprises here. Everything is open and honest and transparent. We're educating people on bill that we helped write, that we built from the ground up starting in a bipartisan, bicameral summit with Governor Hogan at his mansion in -- the governor's mansion in Annapolis, where we had governors present. And it all started and culminated to this. A lot of hard work has gone into this.

So, the only thing that I ask of my colleagues, and I know Josh feels the same, if you are going to criticize something, you better have an alternative that you can point to that's better than the one we've created. But it is not okay to criticize those people doing the hard work, rolling their sleeves up early mornings and late nights to try to get to 60 votes in the Senate when you have done nothing and offer no alternative.

HILL: It sounds like what I tell my kids. If you have a complaint, bring me a solution.

Congressman Gottheimer, before you we let you go, look, there is a long recess happening here. The House is not back until September 20th. How is that time going to be used?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, I was at the Warren County Fair in Northern New Jersey the other day and I can't tell you how many people came up to me, Democrats and Republicans, and said, hey, I can't believe you guys can actually get this done. I'm so sick of hitting the potholes in Jersey when we're driving. And there's that tunnel between New York and New Jersey is 113 years old, you have to fix that. And I said, don't worry, we're going to do it.

And I think we should come back in August and vote on it as soon as the Senate sent it to us in the House, and, hopefully, today, we should vote on it in the House. And as Brian said, the idea that we wait until November when you have not just the business community but you've got labor behind this and 2 million jobs on the line a year, why we would delay, it makes no sense.

We certainly can consider other legislation, as we always do, and we should. But the bottom line is we should bring this for a vote. It just makes sense, the (INAUDIBLE) behind it, and Democrats and Republicans are behind it. And I really believe this is the model for how we should governor together.

HILL: Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and Josh Gottheimer, thank you both, nice to have you with us this morning.

GOTTHEIMER: Thanks so much.

HILL: Well, just like the United States, China is battling a surge in COVID cases, but there, lockdowns, mass testing, heavy travel restrictions all back in place. We are live in Beijing after the break.

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[10:55:00]

HILL: Technically but we're fewer than six months away from the start of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, and China is seeing its highest daily number of COVID cases since January. Health officials there reporting 143 new infections, the majority spread locally within four provinces.

David Culver is live in Beijing. Is it here we go again, David?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It feels that way just a bit, Erica. And when you think about these games that are coming up in less than six months, well, China thought that they would be dealing with geopolitical issues, which are still there, as well as allegations of human rights abuses. They thought as far as COVID situation was concerned, that it was buttoned up, that it was taken care of. They have this zero policy approach, really, when it comes to how they handle it. They want no new cases to surface.

As you mentioned, they are now in triple digits, which, when you look at the rest of the world, it may not seem that bad. It may look like a success story, not here. In fact, some of the officials who oversee certain jurisdictions with just double-digit new cases, they've been punished and they've been fired.

We're seeing those extreme targeted lockdowns in places like Beijing. People in their residential communities, if you have one person that lives nearby, well, tens of thousands of people are going to be locked down if that individual tested positive.

And that is the case that is playing out right now, not only here in Beijing but across China. So you have these travel restrictions in place though to protect the capital because of what's coming up in just a few months. And so they want to treat this like a fortress.

And we have seen this before with Beijing, in particular, but they are prohibiting anyone coming from medium to high-risk areas to come into Beijing. They are tracking you through contract tracing, through your Q.R. codes, and they're making sure that the virus, if it's found here, it is quickly suppressed.

They're likely to get it back under control but it really poses a huge threat when you're looking at bringing the rest of the world into China for these Olympic Games, Erica.

HILL: Yes, it does. Gosh, and hard to believe too, it is just six months away.

[11:00:00]

David, I appreciate it. Good to see you. Thanks.

Thanks to all of you for joining us today. I'm Erica Hill. At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts right now.