A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, August 15, 2021 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” starts right now.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR (voice-over): Afghanistan in freefall, Taliban forces taking every major city outside Kabul, now at the gates of the capital. As U.S. troops arrive in Kabul, staff have been told to close down the American Embassy.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The deteriorating conditions are a factor, a big factor, in why the president has approved this mission.
KARL: President Biden still standing firm.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We’re going to continue to keep our commitment. But I do not regret my decision.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): It’s already costing the American people and our interests.
KARL: What does this all mean for U.S. credibility around the world? What are the repercussions here at home? Secretary of State Tony Blinken joins us this morning. The response from Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, plus analysis from Martha Raddatz, and Ian Pannell is live from Kabul.
The Delta variant surging coast to coast, hospitals pushed to the brink
JUDGE CLAY JENKINS (D), DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS: In Dallas, we have zero ICU beds left for children.
KARL: As the CDC forecasts it will only get worse. Dr. Richard Besser weighs in.
And devastation in Haiti, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake killing hundreds, the very latest this morning.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s “This Week.”
Here now, co-anchor Jonathan Karl.
KARL: Good morning, and welcome to “This Week.”
Twenty years of war, 2, 312 American service members killed, and many, many more left with life-changing injuries. They fought to keep Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for the kind of terror attack that struck America on September 11, 2001. They also fought to try to make Afghanistan a stable democracy capable of defending itself.
And now, before the eyes of the world, much of whatever was gained on the ground in Afghanistan has unraveled. Overnight, the Taliban seized Jalalabad, leaving Kabul as the only remaining major city not under insurgent control.
And this morning, this image, eerily reminiscent of the fall of Saigon, a U.S. Chinook helicopter flying near the embassy. American diplomats have been instructed to destroy sensitive documents, electronic equipment, and even images of the American flag that can be used as propaganda, smoke scene near the embassy roof as the evacuation gets under way.
Yesterday, the president announced he’s authorized additional troops totaling 5,000 to help evacuate Americans and some of the Afghans who worked with the U.S.
President Biden also said he’s warned the Taliban that anything they do that puts U.S. personnel at risk will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.
It’s a mess, to be sure. But, in his statement yesterday, President Biden said it’s a situation he inherited from his predecessors, saying — quote — “I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan, two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not and will not pass this war on to a fifth.”
This morning, there are deep concerns about the lives at stake, the long-term security implications for the United States and America’s standing in the world.
We will take all of that to Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Martha Raddatz, who traveled to Afghanistan in June, is also standing by.
But we begin this morning live in Kabul with ABC senior foreign correspondent Ian Pannell.
Ian, what’s the latest?
IAN PANNELL, ABC NEWS SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jon, good morning.
I have to say I was — been covering this war for 20 years. I was here on the day that the Taliban fled. And then it was a mood of celebration, of liberation, women throwing back the burqa, men cutting off their beards, and a sense of hope and optimism about the future.
Now the streets are dead. We hear the sound of helicopters overhead. But, otherwise, there’s a real climate here of fear and dread about what the future holds.
PANNELL (voice-over): Fear and desperation here in Afghanistan, as the Taliban almost completes its stunning and swift advance, taking over more than two-thirds of the country, Jalalabad among the latest to fall.
Video released by the Taliban appears to show their troops being welcomed by local crowds, the militants’ rapid advance cutting off the capital to the east.
KIRBY: We are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving.
PANNELL: It’s Kabul where U.S. troops have began arriving this weekend for an emergency evacuation of most U.S. Embassy staff and some Afghans who’ve worked for the U.S.
NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation.
PANNELL: And, as the 9/11 anniversary approaches, some are warning Afghanistan could become a safe haven for extremism once more.
GEN. SIR NICK CARTER, CHIEF OF THE U.K. DEFENSE STAFF: If we end up with a scenario where state fractures and you end up essentially with a security vacuum, then there’s absolutely ideal conditions for international terrorism and violent extremism to prosper yet again.
PANNELL: And the hard-won freedoms of women and girls likely to be stripped away.
This displaced school teacher says she watched girls lashed by the Taliban just for wearing sandals. The hope of a better future now turning to despair as the fundamentalists continue their staggering offensive.
PANNELL (on camera): Not abandonment. Not evacuation. It’s exactly those things here on the ground. We hear the constant sound of (inaudible) ferrying people out to the airport as they are desperate to get out the country. But the bewildering pace of events has caught everyone off guard and that’s why we’re seeing thousands of extra U.S. troops here.
The Taliban are on the outskirts of the city. We’re even seeing reports of some clusters of fighters inside the city. But the Taliban, interestingly, they’ve played a political master game. They’ve issued a statement ordering their fighters not to come into the city. They’ve sent a delegation already this morning to the presidential palace and another delegation is going to go to Doha and meet with Taliban leaders and discuss an interim government. Even the government here is now talking about some kind of negotiated peaceful settlement. That will be a relief to the people here, but again, the climate here is one of not knowing what on Earth is going to happen and that everything is lost.
KARL: Heart breaking. Thank you, Ian.
I’m joined now by my co-anchor Martha Raddatz. Martha, you were in Afghanistan just two months ago. As you know, President Biden’s top military advisers advised against a total withdrawal here.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS CO-ANCHOR: They did not want all U.S. forces out of there. They wanted to keep a force of about 3,500 to 4,000 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan just to provide intelligence, to provide some security and to keep the Afghan forces on track.
We don’t know whether that would have made a difference but I can tell you of the failures, Jon, that are so obvious at this point. The training mission of those Afghan forces, $83 billion worth clearly failed. The negotiations with the Taliban, clearly failed. And you also had a really massive intelligence failure here that the U.S. did not realize how quickly the Taliban could take over. And we have been there for 20 years. We know the Taliban. We have people on the ground and yet the U.S. was caught unaware and completely off guard, Jon.
KARL: So what is your take? Why did this — how did this deteriorate so quickly?
RADDATZ: Well, I — and you’ve made the point today, Jon, that I know Joe Biden wanted to get out of there. It was very clear. It’s been clear for years that he — if he was president, he would want to get out of there. But you would think there was better contingency planning for this. Yes, we got U.S. forces out of there quickly and I saw that happen firsthand. But the contingency planning for the interpreters and others who are so vulnerable right now, it didn’t seem to really be done.
KARL: Martha, you have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, countless trips. You know the troops. You know the families who fought and paid a steep price. What are your thoughts? What are you hearing from them as this all unfolds?
RADDATZ: You know, Jon, I look at these cities fall. Each of these provincial capitals fall. I’ve been to probably every single one of them with our soldiers and marines over the years. And I have talked to many of them in the past few days. Many are horrified. Horrified mostly because we’re leaving Afghan partners, Afghan interpreters and those who helped the U.S. behind. And those soldiers and marines feel very helpless about that. Others, some of them feels it is time to go. I talked to a young marine last night who served in 2019 in Helmand and he said, it’s just time to go. We’re not doing any good.
KARL: Thank you, Martha.
And now, Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Secretary Blinken, thank you for joining us.
Let’s start with the —
ANTHONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Hi, Jonny (ph).
KARL: — status of our embassy in Kabul. Are you confident in the security of American personnel at the embassy even as the Taliban encircle Kabul?
BLINKEN: That is job one for me, Jon. We’re working to make sure that our personnel are safe and secure. We’re relocating the men and women of our embassy to a location at the airport. It’s why the president sent in a number of forces, to make sure that as we continue to draw down our diplomatic presence we do it in a safe and orderly fashion. And at the same time, maintain a core diplomatic presence in Kabul.
KARL: So let me just make sure I heard you correctly. You’re relocating personnel to the embassy. Does that mean you are shuttering the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul, that that building will be abandoned?
BLINKEN: Right now, the plan that we’re putting into effect is to move personnel from the embassy compound in Kabul to a location at the airport to ensure that they can operate safely and securely, also to continue to have people leave Afghanistan, as we’ve been doing since April — late April, April 28th. We’ve been on ordered departure ever since then. We’ve done it in a very deliberate way.
We’ve adjusted, depending on the facts on the ground. It’s why we had forces at hand that the president sent in to make sure that we could do this in a safe and orderly fashion. But the compound itself, our folks are leaving there and moving to the airport.
KARL: An internal document that went out to embassy personnel on Friday instructed American personnel at the embassy to reduce the amount of sensitive information on the property. And it also said: please include items with embassy or agency logos, American flags, or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts.
So, clearly, the concern here is that the Taliban — and this is also why I assume why you’re relocating people to the airport — that the Taliban would overwhelm and take over that embassy compound.
BLINKEN: This is standard operating procedure in any such situation. There are plans in place, if we’re leaving an embassy compound, relocating our people to another place, to take all of those steps, the ones that you just listed. So this is exactly what we would do in any of these situations.
And, again, this is being done in a very deliberate way. It’s being done in an orderly way. And it’s being done with American forces there to make sure we can do it in a safe way.
KARL: Respectfully, not much about what we’re seeing seems too orderly or standard operating procedure. I just — just last month, President Biden said that under no circumstance, and that was his word — those were his words, under no circumstance would the U.S. personnel, embassy personnel be airlifted out of Kabul in a replay of the scenes that we saw in Saigon in 1975.
So, isn’t that exactly what we’re seeing now? I mean, even the images are evocative of what happened in Vietnam.
BLINKEN: Let’s take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.
The fact of the matter is this, we went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission in mind, and that was to deal with the people who attacked on 9/11. And that mission has been successful. We brought Bin Laden to justice a decade ago. Al-Qaeda, the group that attacked us, has been vastly diminished. Its capacity to attack us again from Afghanistan has been — right now, does not exist.
And we’re going to make sure that we keep in place in the region the capacity, the forces necessary to see any reemergence of a terrorist threat, and to be able to deal with it.
So, in terms of what we set out to do in Afghanistan, we’ve done it. And now, all along, the president had a hard decision to make. And that decision was what to do with the remaining forces that we inherited when we came to office that were in Afghanistan, with a deadline established by the previous administration to get them out by May 1st. That’s the decision he made.
We’ve been in Afghanistan for 20 years, a trillion dollars, 2,300 American lives lost. And, again, thankfully, having succeeded in doing what we set out to do in the first place.
The president made the determination that it was time to end this war for the United States, to get out of the middle of a civil war in Afghanistan, and to make sure that we were looking at our interests across the world, around the world, and that we were set up to advance those interests. That is what we’re doing.
KARL: But the president was also advised by his top military advisors, as I understand, to leave some military presence in the country, of about 3,000 to 4,000 U.S. troops.
Is there any regret now that he didn’t take that advice, the advice of his top military advisors to leave some military presence in Afghanistan?
BLINKEN: Here’s the choice the president faced, again, remember that a deadline was established by the previous administration of May 1st to get our remaining forces out of Afghanistan and the idea that we could’ve sustained the status quo by keeping our forces there, I think, is wrong, because here’s what would have happened if the president decided to keep those forces there.
During the period from when the agreement was reached to May 1st, that Taliban had ceased attacking our forces ceased attacking NATO forces. It had also held off on this major offensive that we see now to try to take over the country to go for these provincial capitols, which in recent weeks it has succeeded in doing.
Come May 2nd, if the President decided to say — all gloves would have been off. We would have been back at war with the Taliban. They would have been attacking our forces. We would have had 2,500 or so forces remaining in the country with air power.
I don’t think that would have been sufficient to deal with what we’re seeing, which is an offensive across the entire country, and I would be on this program, in that instance, probably having to explain why we were sending tens of thousands of forces back in to Afghanistan to continue a war that the country believes needs to end after 20 years, a trillion dollars, and 2,300 lives lost, and success in achieving the — the goals that we set when we went in, in the first place.
KARL: Well, let me play you something that President Biden said earlier this year when he was asked about the prospects of what, basically, we’re seeing right now, a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: So was he misled by his own intelligence agencies? Did he not listen to them? Why — why was he so wrong about that?
BLINKEN: Two things. He said, and we’ve said all along, that the Taliban was in a position of strength. When we came to office, the Taliban was at its strongest position at any time since 2001, since it was last in power in Afghanistan, before 9/11. And it’s been able to build up its capacity over the last — the last couple of years in a very significant way. So that was — that was something we saw and — and foresaw.
Having said that, the Afghan security forces, Afghan security forces that we’ve invested in, the international community has invested in for 20 years, building up a force of 300,000, equipping them, standing by an air force that they had that the Taliban did not have, that force proved incapable of defending the country. And that did happen more rapidly than we anticipated.
KARL: So what — what does this all mean for America’s image in the world and for what President Biden has spoken so forcefully about, the need to — to — to fight on behalf of democracy and democratic values, to see us leaving and a — an extremist group coming if and taking power that wants to close down the rights of girls to go to school, that is executing, surrendering soldiers, that is anything but representative of those — of those democratic values that President Biden has said that the United States must stand for.
BLINKEN: So I think there are two things that are important there. First, I come back to this proposition that in terms of what we set out to do in Afghanistan, the reason we were there in the first place, to deal with those who attacked us on 9/11, we succeeded in doing that. and that message, I think, should ring out very strongly.
It’s also true that there’s nothing that our strategic competitors around the world would like more than to see us bogged down in Afghanistan for another five, 10, or 20 years. That is not in the national interest.
But the other thing is this, when we consider women and girls, all those who’ve had their lives advanced, this is searing. It is hard stuff.
I’ve met with a number of these women leaders who have done so much for their country and women and girls in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, including as recently in April when I was in Kabul. And I think it is now incumbent on the international community to do everything we can, using every tool we have, economic, diplomatic, political, to try to sustain the gains that they’ve made.
And, ultimately, it is in the Taliban’s self-interest. They have to make that determination. But it’s in their self-interest if they truly seek acceptance, international recognition, if they want support, if they want sanctions lifted. All of that will require them to uphold basic rights, fundamental rights. If they don’t and if they’re in a position of power and they don’t do that, then I think Afghanistan will become a pariah state.
KARL: Secretary of State Tony Blinken, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
BLINKEN: Thanks for having me.
KARL: And now Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, a member of the Armed Services Committee and a former State Department official.
Congresswoman Cheney, when you look at this, this effort, nearly 20 years of a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, $83 billion spent to train and equip the Afghan Security Forces, why has this been such a colossal failure?
REP. LIZ CHENEY, (R) WYOMING: Well, I think if you look at where we were, if you look at what it would have taken in terms of maintaining the status quo, 2,500 to 3,500 forces on the ground, conducting counterterrorism, counterintelligence operations, this disaster, the catastrophe that we’re watching unfold right now across Afghanistan did not have to happen. And it’s not just that people predicted that this would happen, everyone was warned that this would happen.
We’ve now created a situation where, as we get to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we are surrendering Afghanistan to the terrorist organization that housed al Qaeda when they plotted and planned the attacks against us. It’s inexcusable. It’s devastating. And it is going to have ramifications, not just for Afghanistan, not just for us in Afghanistan, not just for the war on terror, but globally for America’s role in the world, the extent to which America’s adversaries know they can threat us and our allies are questioning this morning whether they can count on us for anything.
KARL: Now, ultimately, this is President Biden’s decision. He is the one that has called for this withdrawal, is going forward with it. But this is — this didn’t happen in a vacuum.
CHENEY: That’s right.
KARL: I mean, it was President Trump that negotiated the agreement with the Taliban to have a complete withdrawal that was supposed to actually happen by May 1st. So who bears responsibility?
CHENEY: Look, I think absolutely President Biden bears responsibility for making this decision. But there is no question that President Trump, his administration, Secretary Pompeo, they also bear very significant responsibility for this.
They walked down this path of legitimizing the Taliban, of perpetuating this fantasy, telling the American people that the Taliban were a partner for peace. President Trump told us that the Taliban was going to fight terror. Secretary Pompeo told us that the Taliban was going to renounce al Qaeda. None of that has happened. None of it has happened.
Today, as we watch, the Taliban, for example, release prisoners across Afghanistan, there’s very real concern that there are not just fighters in those prisons who will join the battle in Afghanistan, but the terrorist groups globally will in fact be fed new soldiers in their war on terror from those prisons.
This is — it’s a devastating set of circumstances but the delegitimization of the Afghan government, the notion and the Trump administration, the suggestion that at one point they were saying, “We’re going to invite the Taliban to Camp David.” They —
KARL: On September 11th.
CHENEY: Yes. I mean, they — this disaster certainly began — and, look, the notion of we’re going to end endless war, that campaign slogan, what we’re watching right now in Afghanistan is what happens when America withdrawals from the world. So everybody who has been saying, “America needs to withdrawal. America needs to retreat,” we are getting a devastating, catastrophic real-time lesson in what that means.
KARL: Well, let me ask you about something your former colleague Justin Amash said. He said, “The Taliban’s rapid gains in Afghanistan underscore the futility of permanent occupation. The United States wasn’t able to meaningfully shape circumstances through 20 years of war. We — we’d have seen the same results had we pulled out 15 years ago or 15 years from now. End the wars.”
That is something you hear — I mean, you hear from Republicans and Democrats.
CHENEY: This is not ending the war. What this is doing actually is perpetuating it. What we have done and what we’re seeing in Afghanistan is instead of keeping 2,500 forces on the ground, which with air power, working with the Afghans, we were able to keep the Taliban at bay. We were able to prevent the Taliban from establishing safe havens with 2,500 to 3,500 troops on the ground.
What we’re seeing now is actually the opposite of ending war. What we’re seeing now is a policy that will ensure — ensure, that we will in fact have to have our children and our grandchildren continuing to fight this war at much higher costs.
So everybody — the Rand Paul, Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, Joe Biden view of the world here is fundamentally dangerous and irresponsible and wrong.
KARL: But quickly, let me ask you, as you know poll after poll for the last several years have shown that most Americans wanted us out of Afghanistan. So can you really maintain for the long term a military operation that most of the American people do not support?
CHENEY: Look, as leaders we have an obligation, no matter what the issue is, to tell the American people the truth. And we have an obligation to explain what’s necessary. There’s one question, one question that matters when it comes to Afghanistan or any other deployment of U.S. Forces, and that question is, “What does American security require?”
And if American security requires that our enemies can’t establish safe havens to attack us again, then our leaders across both parties have the responsibility to explain to the American people why we need to keep the deployment of forces on the ground.
This has been an epic failure across the board, one we’re going to pay for for years to come.
KARL: All right. Congresswoman Liz Cheney, thank you very much.
CHENEY: Thank you.
KARL: Coming up, COVID cases are surging, as students return to schools. Dr. Richard Besser is here to answer the questions we’re all asking.
And later, after the Senate moved forward with President Biden’s infrastructure and budget plans, could House Democrats blow up the entire deal? Our roundtable weighs in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Ninety-three million people in this country who are eligible for vaccination who are not yet vaccinated, they give the virus a lot of leeway to circulate and ultimately perhaps be an even more difficult variant.
When you give them free rein to be circulating in the community, you give them ample opportunity to mutate even more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Dr. Fauci on the surging Delta variant, as the U.S. reported over 140,000 new COVID cases on Friday. That’s the highest single-day total since January. And hospitalizations are also on the rise in 42 states.
What does it all mean, as students at all levels start to go back to school?
Joining us now to help make sense of it all is Dr. Richard Besser, the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former acting director at the CDC.
Dr. Besser, before we get to COVID, I want to ask you about the breaking news out of Haiti, another devastating earthquake. You were there in 2010 as Haiti suffered one of the deadliest earthquakes in history. What is your sense on the challenge that Haitians are facing on the ground right now in this relief effort?
DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Yes, you know, Jon, that was some of the first reporting I did for ABC News.
But when you see a tragedy, a natural disaster of this extent in a country that already has challenges to begin with, both political and economic and in terms of infrastructure, this is going to be absolutely devastating.
We have not yet been able to see the full extent of this, the toll in terms of lives, lives lost, and the challenges they’re going to face in terms of providing the basics of food, water and shelter.
KARL: It’s just horrifying.
Let me ask you about — and, of course, they have a major COVID problem in Haiti, and virtually no vaccinations.
In terms of the COVID challenge we’re seeing now, with hospitalizations up, infections up, how bad do you believe this is going to get? Is it going to get to the level where we’re going to have to see once again shutdowns, restaurants closing, the economy essentially grinding to a halt? Is it going to get to that level again?
BESSER: I don’t think so, Jon.
I think what we’re going to see is schools closing when cases spread through schools. We’re going to see more recommendations for use of masks. The reason it’s not going to be the same as it was early in the pandemic is that there is a vaccine, and we have — we have done a very good job at vaccinating people who are at the greatest risk, so elderly people, people with underlying medical conditions, front-line health care workers.
So, there has to be a full-on press to get people vaccinated who aren’t vaccinated. That’s what’s going to do the most. But it’s not going to be the same kind of situation that we saw a year ago.
KARL: For much of this pandemic, we have seen it hit especially hard among older people, but now we’re seeing an alarming number of infections and even hospitalizations with children.
What — what has happened? Is this the changing variant? Or what is going on?
BESSER: Yeah, you know, I’m — I’m a general pediatrician and it gives me great concern.
Not that it’s getting more severe for children. I don’t think the evidence for that is very strong. But the fact that so many more children are getting infected, the fact that there are that many cases that this variant spreads so easily means that there will be thousands of more children who are hospitalized and, unfortunately, there will be more children who die.
What we can do to try to make that not a foregone conclusion is to take all the steps to protect kids and the biggest one is to get vaccines to people who aren’t yet vaccinated, get people to have their questions addressed by trusted health care providers and make decisions around vaccination, and not allow people who aren’t vaccinated to be in situations where they’re potentially exposing those who are unvaccinated, including children.
KARL: Can you clear up something for me? I’ve seen conflicting reporting on the question of those who have already had COVID. Is there a need to get vaccinated if you’ve already been infected?
BESSER: Yeah. You know, there’s more and more data coming in on that, that you will get longer lasting higher levels of protection if you also get vaccinated. You know, it’s not true for every infection. There are many infections where getting a natural infection provides you with life-long protection. But here, what they’re seeing is that people who are vaccinated have a higher level, stronger level of protection. So, even if you had COVID infection, you should get the vaccine.
KARL: All right. Dr. Richard Besser, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
Up next, the stunning fall from grace for Andrew Cuomo and the busiest month for illegal border crossings in two decades. Why now? The roundtable is next.
KARL: The roundtable is here. We’ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone. But I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.
The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN KARL, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s sudden fall from power.
Our roundtable is here.
Sarah Isgur, a veteran of the Trump Justice Department, now a political analyst for “The Dispatch,” former DNC Chair Donna Brazile, Philip Rucker, “Washington Post” senior Washington correspondent and co-author of the bestselling new book “I Alone Can Fix It,” and Jane Coaston, host of “The New York Times” podcast, “The Argument.”
Before we get to Andrew and all of that, Donna, let me ask you about Afghanistan because I — I — we just talked to the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, who said that all we’re seeing is standard operating procedure, an orderly process. It sure as hell doesn’t look orderly.
DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR AND ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, orderly? Bringing in helicopters to, you know, get people to the airport? Operation Enduring Freedom is now operation, you know, get out of town.
We didn’t have a contingency plan. We didn’t have a follow-through.
What worries me — and I — and I’m not a war (INAUDIBLE). I mean 20 years, a $1 trillion, the sacrifices of our men and women, but 20 years and what’s happening now? We’re seeing this chaos. We’re seeing the Taliban circling the biggest city. We’re seeing the Taliban come back to power.
They waited for us to leave. But I’m worried that we may have to go back because the terrorists, the people that we went in to stop, they’re going to go back into Afghanistan.
KARL: Sarah, you were, I hate to say, I think you were in, like, what, high school? Middle school?
SARAH ISGUR, DISPATCH STAFF WRITER AND ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: College.
KARL: Come on. College? OK.
ISGUR: College, yes.
KARL: When — when we — when the war in Afghanistan started.
I think that this is a moment where polling — the political moment may be lost on both administrations. Obviously this started in the Trump administration. Republicans wanted to get out of Afghanistan just as much, if not more so, than the Biden administration. And they’re looking at this polling that saying Americans want to leave. But I think there’s a limit to what you can ask people in a poll.
What they are seeing now on their TVs is really different. Did you want to leave like this?
KARL: Yes. Right.
ISGUR: And to exactly what Donna said, al Qaeda is deeply enmeshed with the Taliban. We’re talking about the Taliban taking over Afghanistan. And what I don’t think we’re hearing nearly enough of, al Qaeda now runs a country as well, and that’s very 1999. That’s where we were before. That’s the problem.
KARL: Or — or at least a government that is simpatico, to some degree, with — with al Qaeda.
It was — it was the Trump administration that — that — that struck this deal.
JANE COASTON, NEW YORK TIMES ‘THE ARGUMENT’ HOST: Right. Right. And it was a deal that people seems to be in agreement with because my concern is, I was in high school when this started. I was a freshman in high school when 9/11 happened. I was a freshman in high school when 9/11 happened. I was a freshman in high school when we launched the invasion of Afghanistan.
COASTON: This has been my entire adult life, we have been in Afghanistan. And I think it’s important to note that we had an opportunity to end this in December 2001 with the Taliban losing. We had an opportunity to end this in 2003 and an opportunity to end this in 2010.
And I think what Donald Trump and the people around him rightly recognized is that, while a host of Republicans were saying, “Well, we basically have to stay for an indefinite period of time,” he recognized that this was a time to go.
And I think that the challenge we have here is that it was never going to look the way we wanted it to. And I think that the way to be honest about this is not to, like — not to say that there was a better way to leave, but to say that this is — this was always going to be bad. This was always going to end in a way that was going to be detrimental to how America looks in this region and in the world.
And I think the best thing to do is to think about the refugees who will be left by this absolute debacle and also thinking about, like, what can we do next? What can we do next for the people of Afghanistan, the people whom we put in this situation, in some ways, by not just our actions since 2001 but our actions since the late 1980s, our actions in the early 1990s?
ISGUR: What do you say to the gold star mothers right now? And what do you say to future gold star mothers the next time we want to go into a country and we say that we have to go and we need your sons to fight and die in the next war, and, by the way, we’re just going to pull out and let the whole thing go back to the Taliban again?
COASTON: I would say “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry that this keeps happening. I’m so sorry for the people that I know that fought. I’m so sorry for the people I know that went to Iraq and never really came back the same way, the kids of the people who went in Afghanistan who now are old enough to go. I’m so sorry.”
That’s what I would say. Because I don’t have any better answer to this.
BRAZILE: We can also say that we left it better than when we first went there. We can say that we gave you a police force. We trained you. We — we provided resources.
KARL: So much of that seems to have faded away.
I mean, Phil, the — President Biden was focused on this every bit as much as, by the way, Donald Trump was, but more successful in overruling the military advice. Because he had military advice from his secretary of defense, from his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to leave some force in Afghanistan, at least for a while.
RUCKER: That’s right, Jon. And this has been planned for months. This exit was known about in Washington for a long time. And what’s amazing is President Biden ran for office as the foreign policy expert, decades of service in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
And yet look at how poorly planned this seems to be right now. It is a calamity playing out hour by hour on television and one that the experts in the government here had not anticipated happening.
And it speaks to how challenging the situation is, but it also raises some serious questions about the lack of intelligence or lack of foresight among the national security team to not foresee that — that these cities could fall so quickly.
KARL: And the fate of those who worked with the United States.
KARL: And, by the way, it’s not just those who literally worked for the embassy or worked as interpreters; it’s those who worked for Western organizations that were there, you know, nonprofits, news organizations.
RUCKER: And all…
KARL: They are going to be on the target list for the Taliban.
RUCKER: And the Afghan journalists who now have to go into hiding, can’t reveal who they are, can’t reveal where they are. All of these people are under threat, and the U.S. cannot really do anything at this point to save all of those lives.
BRAZILE: And don’t forget the women and girls that we helped…
BRAZILE: … that we inspired. And now they will have to go back to waiting for their husbands before they go out. That’s a — that’s a shame.
KARL: And we’re seeing burqas required. We’re seeing militants asking for lists of — of girls, 15 years old…
BRAZILE: But, at the end of the day, Jonathan, we put so much money, so much of our own in this country, and they’re not even standing up. The Afghan security forces that we trained, they’re not even standing up right now. They are basically withdrawing and allowing the Taliban to take up more and more territory.
ISGUR: That’s the military intelligence failure, this idea that we had 300,000 trained troops…
KARL: Yeah, we didn’t.
ISGUR: … and the Taliban only had 75,000. Who’s raising their hand and saying “That was me”? Because you need to lose your job over this.
KARL: So — so let me — let me switch topics to — to what we saw in New York. And I want to — I want to ask you, Donna, because I know you’ve known Andrew Cuomo for a long time. Your thoughts, as you saw him talk about how he was unaware of how the line had moved?
BRAZILE: Oh, my God. I mean…
I’m not going to take that. And, by the way, I am — I am very proud of my party because, from President Biden to Speaker Pelosi, former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, they all said he must go.
He’s not out of hot water. He’s still in hot water. He still has a criminal probe.
KARL: Well, they dropped the impeachment, right? They’re not moving forward with impeachment.
BRAZILE: Yeah, they — because they don’t think it will pass constitutional muster. But he has a criminal trial. They’re also investigating him over the nursing home situation.
COASTON: Which I would argue is like — that’s — if he was going to be pushed out for something, it’s kind of funny that it’s for being just a horrifying person within the workplace and not for killing people in nursing homes.
It’s kind of like there are a lot of reasons why he needed to leave.
ISGUR: And Joe Biden saying, by the way, like, but for the sexual harassment, he sure was a great guy, maybe we should take down some points for, like, yes, he said he should leave, but also said he was a pretty good guy.
BRAZILE: And he used — possibly used some of his government aides to write that bestselling book.
I’m looking at the bestseller sitting across from me.
RUCKER: I wrote my own book.
RUCKER: We didn’t use any government aides.
BRAZILE: You didn’t use no government aide, OK.
KARL: Yes. Yes. Yes.
But, Phil, he seems to think that he has a political future.
RUCKER: He does.
KARL: I mean, doesn’t he? I mean, that’s the way I was reading that.
That was a very long resignation letter.
RUCKER: And he’s got $18 million in his campaign account that he can spend any way he chooses.
RUCKER: He would probably want to have a comeback and a rebirth, which is why the question of whether the state legislature will try to impeach him to prevent him from running for office in the future is so essential right now.
There’s an effort, obviously, among Democrats in Albany to do that.
KARL: This has echoes of somebody else we have we have…
RUCKER: Very Trumpy. Very Trumpy.
BRAZILE: Defiant, arrogant.
COASTON: But also the support from organizations around him. We have seen a host of Democratic-tied organizations where either people have stepped down or been called to step down…
COASTON: … because all of them assisted him for their own political purposes.
And I think that what repulses me about the situation is the same thing that repulses me about kind of the Trump sexual harassment cases, is that people knew that this was taking place for years, and, basically, they were like, well, but he’s helpful. He can help me or he can help this cause.
And I’m like, there are very few causes that are worth this, especially when he was the person who was talking about MeToo and talking about sexual harassment being rife. And I’m like, the call is coming from inside the house, dude. Like, come on.
KARL: You know, Phil…
ISGUR: Worst resignation speech, though, ever.
To say that I didn’t know the standards had changed, so I didn’t do anything wrong, no, no, it was always wrong. We all knew it was always wrong. The fact that other men were getting away with it in the ’90s was just because women didn’t have the power to stop it. It was still wrong.
ISGUR: So, to say that you should still be able to get away with it because people used to get away with it, truly, I have never seen a more tone-deaf speech in my life, let alone a resignation speech.
KARL: And his acknowledgement that the — that what was alleged by the state trooper, if she believes it, then I don’t dispute it, and then he pats people on the stomach?
I don’t know.
RUCKER: The hugging montage was a lot.
COASTON: Even you saying that, I’m like, I’m out.
KARL: Yes. Yes.
COASTON: Nope, don’t like it.
KARL: So, let me ask you the other major story that has been unfolding is this situation at the border.
KARL: I mean — I mean, Donna, we have seen border apprehensions this month at a 20-year high, illegal border crossings.
Look, the situation is not going to get better. I mean, normally, in the summer months, the numbers go down.
KARL: Which is what Biden said would happen.
BRAZILE: Yes, but it didn’t go down. It ramped up.
And now the number of people that are being deported and sent back to either their home countries or Southern Mexico continues to ramp up.
Look, we have to figure out what’s happening, not just at our border, but what’s happening, more importantly, with the policy that we said we would put in place in the Northern Triangle countries to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
This is a crisis. Yes, I use the word crisis. Don’t condemn me for it. But it is a crisis, because there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who are trying to come here illegally. And it’s wrong.
ISGUR: We have a huge political problem for the Biden administration here. They were patronizing when they first came into office. Oh, this is just rising because it seasonally. Don’t you know that? How dare you suggest otherwise?
And, once again, huge intel failure within the Biden administration, to have your principal go out there and say that in March, when it was pretty clear to everyone this was not just seasonal. We have an enormous number of people, highest in 21 years, unaccompanied children.
And you know who’s benefiting from this? The cartels. They’re making millions upon millions of dollars. And these are not good people.
KARL: Phil, we’re almost — we don’t have much time left.
But I want to ask you about the other major political story here, which is the passage of this — of this infrastructure bill.
KARL: The aspect I want to ask you is, Donald Trump came out strongly against this over and over and over again, basically called it a socialist takeover of America, and 19 Republicans in the Senate voted for it.
What does that say about Trump’s hold on the party?
RUCKER: Including Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. I mean, it…
KARL: Not a big Trump fan, by the way.
RUCKER: Not a big Trump fan, but significant nonetheless that he would vote for this bill.
Look, it tells you that Trump’s hold on telling his party’s members what to do from a policy standpoint is a little bit tenuous, even as he remains by far the most popular Republican among voters.
But the big challenge for Biden, this was such a big victory for him, and yet it might be totally washed away because of the disputes among Democrats on Capitol Hill about that additional budget reconciliation package which we’ve had the broader piece of his infrastructure.
KARL: Democrats on both sides, progressives and moderates, are threatening to tank it.
COASTON: Right, it seems to be — it’s this intra-party warfare, that has to do more with procedure than what’s actually in the bill, because people seem to be fans about what’s actually in the bill. And I think it’s such a complex moment, but it’s one that I’m just — I want to back up a little bit from the actual debate on this, which is that this is a giant victory for Joe Biden and one that he will likely not get to enjoy.
But it is interesting because the argument that Trump is using, or has been using about this bill, is that it’s a socialist takeover which tells me in a lot ways that that populism thing, we’re done with that now. We’re back to, quote/quote, “principled libertarianism” because the same idea, the same — remember infrastructure week? Which we’re going to have for four consecutive years — this is infrastructure.
KARL: All right.
BRAZILE: This is the bad weather —
KARL: Jane gets the last word, or maybe Donna did right there. We are out of time.
BRAZILE: It’s the bad weather season in the Democratic Party.
KARL: Coming up, is a more diverse and more urban and older America, what those stunning changes in the census mean for at least another decade in politics?
KARL: The first district level 2020 census results were released Thursday, showing the white portion of the population declined for the first time as Hispanic and Asian populations boomed. It also showed growth in U.S. cities and suburbs, setting off redirecting battles that could help determine which party will control the House of Representatives after the 2022 midterms.
So, who has the upper hand? Here’s Nate Silver.
NATE SILVER: It’s true that the United States is becoming more urban and more racially diverse. But what that means politically isn’t so straightforward.
One reason is that the voting preferences of different and racial groups are not static and no racial group votes as a monolith.
Democrats, for example, went from having 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2016 to 63 percent in 2020.
Also, while the white share of the population is declining, it still is the majority, down from 64 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2020.
And keep in mind that this data represents what happened in 2020, an election year when Democrats just barely won the Congress and underperformed in states like Iowa where 62 percent of voters were whites without college degrees.
Just as important, it matters where those voters are distributed. Democratic voters tend to be concentrated in dense, urban areas, mostly in coastal states. So while states such as California are very blue and very diverse, the median state, either Arkansas or Massachusetts in the latest data are still 68 percent non-Hispanic white. And, of course, Arkansas gets just as many senators as California does.
Meanwhile, Republicans have control of the redirecting process in 43 percent of congressional districts as compared to 17 percent for Democrats. The rest are non-partisan or split.
This week’s news will help Democrats at the margin. In New York, for example, where Democrats run redirecting and where the unexpected growth of New York City, the 8.8 million people could help them eliminate Republican districts upstate.
Still, non-partisan analysts expect that redirecting will help the GOP game. Perhaps a half dozen House seats overall. A big deal given the Democrats won the House by only 4 seats last year.
Bottom line, I don’t buy that demographics are destiny.
KARL: Thank you, Nate.
That’s all for us today. Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us.
Check out “WORLD NEWS TONIGHT” and have a good day.