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AT THIS HOUR

Trump Privately Frustrated Over Administration's Response To Coronavirus But Says "Threat Under Control In U.S." Dow Drops Over 1,000 Points Over Fears Of Coronavirus Impact On Global Economies; Former Deputy Labor Secretary, Chris Lu, Discusses Trump Administration's Response To Coronavirus & Dow Drop; Trump Won't Say If Russia Is Interfering In 2020 Election; Sanders Stands By Comments Praising Fidel Castro Ahead Of Debate In S.C.; Bloomberg Expected To Focus Extremely On Sanders At Debate As Biden Focuses on S.C. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 25, 2020 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, FORMER PRO BASKETBALL PLAYER: The day Kobe gained my respect was the guys were complaining, Shaq, Kobe's not passing the ball. I said I'll talk to him.

(LAUGHTER)

I said, Kobe, there's no "I" in team. And Kobe said, I know, but there's an (EXPLETIVE DELETED) in me.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Wow. That's was great.

Listen, Kobe and Gianna were laid to rest earlier this month in a private ceremony.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks to all of you for joining us. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

This morning, President Trump declared the fast-spreading and still somewhat mysterious coronavirus is, quote, "very well under control" in the United States. Everything is fine, he insists. He's optimistic, he says. But behind the scenes, CNN is learning that is not necessarily so. According to sources, the president is privately frustrated about how his administration is confronting the virus. Trump threatening to fire folks in his administration over it.

This is after the Dow suffered its worst losses in two years yesterday. Ending the day down more than 1,000 points amid fears that the coronavirus outbreak could turn into a pandemic possibly and also disrupt economies. Today, the market is down again at the moment.

Let me play for you President Trump talking about it all this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that's the problem that is going to go away. But we lost almost a thousand points yesterday in the market and that's something -- you know, things like that happen where -- and you have it in your business all the time. Had nothing to do with you. It is an outside source that nobody would have ever predicted. If you go back six months or three months ago, nobody would have ever predicted.

But let's see. I think it will be under control.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So right now, President Trump is wrapping up his India visit. He and the first lady will be heading back to Washington in a few minutes.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is standing by at the White House with much more on this.

It is clear here, Jeremy, that the president is downplaying concerns over the coronavirus. But what more are you learning about what is happening behind the scenes and what is motivating the president's frustration?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, publicly, as you can see there, the president is expressing optimism about this situation, saying that coronavirus will be going to -- is going to go away soon. And expressing confidence in his administration's response so far.

But privately we're told, Kate, that the president is expressing frustrations, about how his administration has been responding to this coronavirus outbreak.

Specifically, the president has been upset, initially at least, about how some Americans who tested positive for coronavirus were brought back to the United States, to be quarantined here.

And he's also told Alabama lawmakers and officials that he was unaware of plans to quarantine some of those coronavirus patients in Alabama. Of course, a red state where the president is extremely popular. Ultimately, we heard the president say today he thinks it was the

right thing to bring those Americans who tested positive for coronavirus back to the United States to be quarantined here.

But the president's frustrations privately really are a sign of some of the growing concerns within his administration, not only from the president, but from other administration officials, who are realizing now that coronavirus could be a bigger challenge than they initially thought it would be.

We are seeing this administration beginning to step up its response. They just put in an emergency funding request for $1.25 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus and to prevent its further spread in the United States.

But we are already seeing, Kate, concerns from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans. The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said that this request is not enough. And we are even seeing Republican lawmakers frustrated and lashing out at some administration officials over what they see as an insufficient response -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you so much.

So top Democrats aren't staying quiet about their concerns over the government response or, from their perspective, lack thereof.

Here is Senator Chuck Schumer a moment ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The administration has no plan to deal with the coronavirus. No plan. And seemingly no urgency to develop one. Even now, after the virus has already become a worldwide a health crisis with rapidly growing economic risks. The Trump administration is scrambling to respond.

Four words describe the administration's response to the coronavirus, towering and dangerous incompetence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Democrats pointing to the more than a billion dollars in emergency funds requested yesterday by the White House to help with the coronavirus response as too little and too late at this moment.

This morning, the president accused Schumer of playing up the crisis for, in the president's words, "publicity purposes only." But is he the only one doing that?

Joining me now, former cabinet secretary and former deputy secretary of labor under President Obama, Chris Lou.

Thank you for coming in.

CHRIS LU, FORMER CABINET SECRETARY & FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF LABOR UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you.

[11:05:01]

BOLDUAN: You've been really fired up about this. I've been watching you talk about this, writing, the president, in your view, "is more concerned about the health of the stock market than the actual public health."

Why is that?

LU: Well, you've seen that right now in his statements, Kate. He keeps looking at the 1,000-point drop in the stock market. That seems to have gotten his attention as opposed to the public health crisis.

And what is interesting about the billion dollars that he's asked for, it is a fraction of what the Obama administration requested in 2014 when we had the Ebola crisis.

And it comes in the face of continued budget cuts that his own administration has requested, whether it is a 16 percent cut for the Centers for Disease Control, $3 billion cut for the National Institutes of Health or $3 billion for a global health crisis.

It is like they have been underfunding, stressing the system for the last three years and, all of a sudden, they're going put a billion dollars, which I think, as you point out, people on both sides of the aisle say is inadequate.

BOLDUAN: What do you see in his response, though, and the government's that lead you to think that what is happening now in terms of the requests, the attention, the focus on it, is motivated more by politics than the health crisis?

LU: Well, look, it is not only your own reporting, Kate, it is the reporting of other media outlets what bothers the president about is how this might affect the economy, how it might affect his re-election prospects and that's dangerous at this time.

What we need is competent stable leadership willing to make decisions based on the science and the facts. And you need to have a president who is willing to have bad news told to him, willing to be candid with the American people. And see this kind of blase attitude he has in India, saying everything is under control.

It doesn't take much to look at news accounts from the United States and around the world and his own reaction to these concerns of the lawmakers in Alabama that everything isn't under control at the moment.

BOLDUAN: And to that point, our reporting and others is that privately the president was upset that some of the Americans who tested positive for the virus were going to be allowed back into the United States. Today, the president did say, as Jeremy points out, it was the right decision to bring those folks home to be quarantined here.

Does it matter to you then that he initially clearly opposed that idea?

LU: Well, look, again, whether that was smart decision or not the smart decision, the critical part is that needs to be based on the science and needs to be based on facts. He needs to rely on experts, public health officials who can tell him the right decisions.

And that doesn't seem to be what is guiding his decision-making. It is all about the public perception.

When Alabama lawmakers make a fuss, he jumps in and said, no, no, we're not going to put them there in Alabama. That's not the right way to deal with the response.

BOLDUAN: Many more days to come. Not only will the president be keeping an eye on the market, but also this is far from over as we can tell on how things are moving globally with this virus.

Chris, thank you so much for coming in.

LU: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: In that very same press conference today, where the president was downplaying concern over the coronavirus, he made quite a statement about Russian attempts to interfere in the 2020 election. And on that -- by that statement, it is more what he didn't say that is actually noteworthy.

The president was asked if he believes Russia is trying to interfere in the 2020 election? Which let's be honest, folks, shouldn't be a surprise that Russia is trying to, considering recent history. And also shouldn't be a tough one to answer considering recent history.

Here's how the president responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: -- Schiff in my opinion. He shouldn't be leaking things like that. That's a terrible thing to do.

But basically, they would like to see Bernie is probably winning and looks like he's winning and he's got ahead of steam and they maybe don't want him for obvious reasons. So they don't want him so they put out a thing that Russia is backing him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Earlier, just to be clear, the president was asked that very directly, what I was saying, he did think Russia was trying to interfere? He did not answer the question.

Here with me now, national security correspondent for the "New York Times," CNN political and national security analyst, David Sanger.

Good to see you, David.

So consider what we know -- DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Good to be with you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: -- from the 2016 ad 2018 elections, the least surprising thing would be that Russia is trying to interfere with another U.S. election. What did you learn from the president's response to these questions and to this today at that press conference?

SANGER: You know, what's remarkable here, Kate, is that the president's response, just on the question of whether Russia is interfering, not questioning whether they are interfering on behalf of him, runs contrary to everything that we have known since 2016.

That the Russians never stopped, that his own national security agency had to go intervene during the midterm elections, shut down the Internet Research Agency in Russia, send warnings to GRU officers, that his own Justice Department indicted GRU officers, that the NSA turned out warnings, as has the Department of Homeland Security just in the past few months about various Russian activity that could be a prelude to interfering in the elections.

[11:10:20]

So it is not as if any of this comes from leaks. The fact of the Russians interfering has been out there in public.

The only part he might dispute is whether or not they are interfering on his behalf and there's some question about whether that is actively begun yet or the assessment is merely that they prefer him on the Republican side and prefer Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side.

BOLDUAN: And I want to ask you about that, because you did interesting reporting on that.

One top FBI official spoke at a D.C. conference, security conference just yesterday and spoke directly to -- about what Russia intentions are with the U.S. election.

Let me play what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE PORTER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, FBI FOREIGN INFLUENCE TASK FORCE: It is also designed to weaken the adversary from within by identifying existing dissonant political and social issues and driving wedges into those fracture lines.

To put it simply in this space, Russia wants to watch us tear ourselves apart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: It was so interesting to hear him speak on that.

You reported extensively on the Russia -- Russian game plan here. Is there a clear government response to combat that at this point, that their intention is for us to tear ourselves apart?

SANGER: Well, we're doing a good job in helping them along. But the Russian playbook has always been the same, which is to say to take existing divisions and try to widen them.

In 2016, that's what the fake Facebook posts were, the Black Lives Matters posts and ads were, the ads over gun control related issues. They all exist in the American democracy and widen them and create a sense of chaos and take the sheen off of American democracy.

Now, you can argue --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: So, David, let me ask -- can I ask you then how we fold into your reporting when you talk about the chaos it seems to so many people that Russia would at the same time try to be propping up Bernie Sanders as they are trying to prop up Donald Trump in this election. You say it is not necessarily so contradictory?

SANGER: It is not contradictory at all, Kate, because what they see in Donald Trump and in Bernie Sanders are two candidates who are sort of the more extreme ends of their parties. And that then creates the space for exactly this kind of chaos, where you can enflame hardcore supporters at both ends.

What the Russians don't like is dealing with sort of a compromising middle. Moderate candidates don't work as well in their strategy as candidates who tend to polarize their opponents. So it makes perfect sense that they would be interested in both Trump and Sanders.

It also makes sense because when they look at the voting record for Bernie Sanders, in 2017, when there were new sanctions being proposed to go on Russia, Iran, North Korea, they passed 98-2 in the Senate. So almost all Republicans voted for it.

There are only two people who voted against it. Bernie Sanders was one of them. Now, he said he did so because of concerns that new sanctions on Iran would undercut the Iran nuclear deal and that's a reasonable concern.

But the Russians look at it and say, here is somebody who does not want to increase sanctions, and who is likely to spend more on domestic spending than on military.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, David. Thank you so much.

SANGER: Thank you, Kate.

[11:13:51]

BOLDUAN: Coming up, Democratic frontrunner, Bernie Sanders, is also doubling down on his praise of Fidel Castro. And his rivals are keeping up their attacks on that very point. How will this play out in tonight's debate? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:18:35]

BOLDUAN: It is the debate day once again. The Democratic candidates will be facing off tonight in South Carolina. And with just four days until that primary, and the week until Super Tuesday, the importance of tonight's event cannot be overstated, as we often state.

One clear strategy emerging is the candidates are expected to focus their fight on Senator Bernie Sanders, the frontrunner following his decisive victory in Nevada.

Sanders is likely to face more criticism for praising Fidel Castro, comments he doubled down on during his CNN town hall last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Fidel Castro first came to power, which was, when, '59?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: In '59-60.

SANDERS: OK. You know what he did? He initiated a major literacy program. There was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate and he formed the literacy brigade, you may read that. They went out and they helped people to learn to read and write. I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I say that in our one shot to defeat Donald Trump we should think carefully about the consequences of nominating Senator Sanders. I don't want -- as a Democrat, I don't want to be explaining why our nominee is encouraging foam look on the bright side of the Castro regime when we're going into the election of our lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Joining me now, CNN Political Commentator and spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, Karen Finney, and Peter Hamby, contributing writer for "Vanity Fair" and host of SnapChat's "Good Luck, America."

Good to see you guys.

[11:19:59]

Karen, we know three things. Bernie Sanders is not apologizing for supporting what is -- was not a purely benevolent literacy program from Castro. Two, he's going to face attacks on this tonight. And, three, this isn't the only repressive dictator that Sanders has praised. Look no further than Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. This now seems to be a thing.

What happens with it tonight?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think it is problematic for him, not because of the nature of the Castro regime, but this is the way Senator Sanders plays it. And he's leaving out an important point, the reason that Castro wanted to make sure people could read and write, was so he could control access to what they saw and read, and indoctrinate them into his Communist beliefs.

You have to tell the whole story. Sometimes with Senator Sanders, we don't get that.

That being said, he seems -- from the town hall last night, he seems prepared actually. He seemed very relaxed, having a good time with it. So I'm sure he's prepared for the attacks.

The candidates have to be careful. This is their last opportunity to make a big strong case to African-American voters, as to why they're the right person. They need to walk that fine line between maybe attacking Sanders, but, you know, you do have Donald Trump out there trying to spend a little money and say to African-Americans again, what do you have to lose. Folks have to make that case.

BOLDUAN: Peter, this line of attack is what has some Democrats freaking out as Sanders rises in the polls. The argument is he cannot win in a general.

You posed the flip side, maybe Bernie Sanders is the only Democrat who can actually beat Donald Trump. Why is that?

PETER HAMBY, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, "VANITY FAIR": I think the caution and worry about a state like Florida and the general election are totally warranted. Cubans, not just Cubans, Venezuelans, and, frankly, a lot of people from Ohio who live in central Florida and moved there and watch FOX News all day. Florida is going to be very hard for Bernie Sanders.

On the flip side, I think it is important to urge caution about our assumptions about these things. One of the biggest problems with the political press in 2016 was we dismiss all the obvious things staring us in the face.

Donald Trump had all this energy and excitement. Donald Trump was an insurgent and outsider. Donald Trump had a message, like it or not. A lot of these things apply to Bernie Sanders, too.

Voters are responding these days to people who come from outside of traditional institutions, from outside of the Democratic Party. The fact he's not a Democrat is sort of whined about in Washington but is an asset for him.

Bernie has a message. He understands distributed media, he understands that oftentimes YouTube and podcasts are just as important as CNN.

He has an army of Internet trolls. That's bad in a lot of ways because of the sexism and harassment that we have been seeing lately. Honestly, though, it is also partly good. It is part of the warfare of contemporary politics.

I think Bernie Sanders, on paper, has a message. He can raise money. He understands modern media. If we look at that on paper, we think that guy is the frontrunner.

The problem is, to what we're discuss, he is a Democratic Socialist and doesn't shy away from that label.

At the same time, people do find his authenticity and his, frankly, stubbornness around his principles to be part of his appeal. And I don't think that should be completely dismissed.

BOLDUAN: Fair point.

And, Karen, another thing we know is that Mike Bloomberg has said he knows he needs to have a better debate performance. The strategy is to go hard against Bernie. Joe Biden has also called South Carolina his firewall.

I pose all of that to ask what could tonight's debate mean with Democratic voters in South Carolina? Do you think voters there are still deciding?

FINNEY: I think a lot of them actually are. I think a lot of them are looking to tonight as a way to help them decide. And the CNN town halls.

But, you know, for Mayor Bloomberg, he's got to be careful how hard he goes right at Senator Sanders. We saw a little bit in the first debate with Bloomberg. He can be a bit snarky. And I think if that comes out, that does not serve him well. And he still has a lot of his own record to account for.

And then, that being said, I actually think Elizabeth Warren is the person to keep an eye on and I'll tell you why. Remember that very early on in this process, she came to South Carolina and the southern states and did a lot of events with black women. And she was getting standing ovations. They really liked her. There's no -- I have no indication to suggest that they don't still really like her.

And so I would say let's take a look at her performance tonight, because she may be able to galvanize black women voters in South Carolina.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, Peter, can you check me on this? I was told over and over again yesterday by Biden surrogate, the former Democratic governor of South Carolina, I should say, this race really just only starts with South Carolina.

What is your sense there? You know South Carolina politics. Would Biden win there by any margin, is it likely to reset the field?

[11:25:09]

HAMBY: I honestly think it could. Look, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren are going to the places where they need to go to get delegates. They're going to college-educated pockets of the country on Super Tuesday, places like Seattle and Denver.

Look, it is -- if Joe Biden wins South Carolina, he's back in the game. There's only three candidates polling in a variety of Super Tuesday states over 5 percent. It is Bernie Sanders, it is Joe Biden, and it is Michael Bloomberg.

And Bloomberg and Bernie at least will have the financial resources to move forward. A lot of these other campaigns are running out of cash. Where do they score? It is hard to see where they put points on the board on the map.

So, yes, Biden wins tonight, he has a very good chance of emerging as the Bloomberg alternate. But, you know, he doesn't have money, whereas Bloomberg does.

BOLDUAN: That's true. And by tonight --

FINNEY: Kate --

BOLDUAN: -- my friend, Peter, means on Saturday.

It's good to see you guys. Thank you so much.

Great to see you. Thank you so much.

FINNEY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Programming note. A CNN special two-night town hall event continues tomorrow, live from Charleston, with four more Democratic candidates taking questions from voters. That's tomorrow night beginning at 7:00 Eastern only on CNN.

Still ahead for us, President Trump calls on two Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from any cases involving him. Why is he taking his criticism of the courts now to this new level?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)