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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Administration Unprepared to Combat Coronavirus?; Dow Tanks Again. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 25, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we are going to start with breaking news in the money lead today.

For a second day in a row -- you hear the bell -- the Dow is taking a dramatic hit, down almost 900 points, more than 800, investors rattled by the steady spread of the novel coronavirus and fears that health officials around the world, including here in the U.S., are unprepared.

Let's go straight to CNN's Alison Kosik. She is at the New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, this was supposed to be turnaround Tuesday after meltdown Monday, but it looks as though investors are still quite spooked.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are, and we could be stuck in this downward trend at least for a little while longer.

All of the major indices are very close to a correction. And that is a 10 percent drop from a recent high, the Dow really taking it on the chin, losing 2,000 points in two days.

Today's trigger, the Centers for Disease Control saying expect to see the coronavirus spread here in the U.S., that it's not a question of if, but when. So, needless to say there is a lot of anxiety here on Wall Street.

Questions like, what are the implications of the coronavirus if it comes here to the U.S.? What does that mean for the economy? Already, we have heard from a lot of companies already issuing warnings about how the coronavirus will hit their sales.

The big one we heard from today, MasterCard, saying it will take a 2 to 3 percent hit in the first quarter, because it expects people to spend less money, which means they will be out there shopping less.

One trader telling me he would be surprised if any company escapes being touched by the coronavirus. That means we could see more selling ahead -- Jake. TAPPER: All right, Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange, thanks so much.

As health professionals warn the U.S. government the coronavirus will almost certainly become a pandemic and that the U.S. needs to be better prepared for it, moments ago, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar felt compelled to come before the cameras to brief the public and defend President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: This preparation has been possible in part because of how aggressively President Trump has responded to this outbreak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Secretary Azar forced to play clean up there after going before lawmakers this morning and essentially acknowledging that the U.S. is as, of right now, not prepared.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): Can you ensure every single American today that, if this pandemic hits our shores, that we have everything available, and we have stockpiled it and we're ready to go?

AZAR: That's precisely why we need to work with Congress for additional appropriations to enable procurement. But, right now, and we have been very clear -- Dr. Fauci has told you just this morning, we don't have a vaccine. One can't have a vaccine for...

(CROSSTALK)

MURRAY: No, I'm not asking about -- I'm asking about diagnostics and testing, which we aren't -- we don't have enough, correct?

AZAR: Yes, we have a diagnostics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Democrats and Republicans today warning that the Trump administration does not seem fully prepared for the virus to spread in the United States, while it continues to spread into and throughout Europe.

And, as CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports, even though sources say President Trump is frustrated privately with how his administration is handling the fallout of this all, he is publicly attempting to project confidence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sources telling CNN that President Trump has privately expressed frustration about his administration's efforts to contain the coronavirus epidemic, even as he attempts to project confidence publicly.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that's a problem that's going to go away.

DIAMOND: President Trump's optimistic note comes even as officials warned cases will rise in the United States.

TRUMP: And I think that whole situation will start working out. A lot of talent, a lot of brainpower is being put behind it.

DIAMOND: But sources tell CNN that, behind the scenes, the president is not so confident in that brainpower, and is upset that Americans who tested positive for coronavirus were quarantined in the United States and that his administration plans to quarantine some patients in the pro-Trump state of Alabama.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-AL): He was completely unaware of this. He was annoyed that these individuals had even been brought back to the continental United States while they were still infected, but assured me that he would get to work on trying to stop it.

DIAMOND: The president's frustrations reflecting a growing concern inside the White House that the viral outbreak will be a bigger challenge than previously thought.

Recent outbreaks in Italy, South Korea and Iran hiking global cases to 80,000 and triggering fears the disease could become a pandemic.

DR. BRUCE AYLWARD, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Folks, this is a rapidly escalating epidemic in different places that we have got to tackle super fast to prevent a pandemic.

DIAMOND: Weeks after lawmakers called for more funding, the White House now finally asking Congress for $1.25 billion in emergency funds to build out a $2.5 billion federal effort.

For some lawmakers on Capitol Hill:

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: It was too little and too late. The administration must increase its emergency budget request to at least $3.1 billion, with no cuts.

[16:05:05]

DIAMOND: Bipartisan outrage grew as administration officials fielded questions on Capitol Hill.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): You're supposed to keep us safe. And the Americans deserve some straight answers on the coronavirus, and I'm not getting them from you. That's all I have, madam.

DIAMOND: As the administration tries to beat back criticism, a member of its coronavirus task force did not exactly inspire confidence, taking to Twitter to say he was struggling to access data about the epidemic. The Department of Homeland Security's number two official asking: "Has

the John Hopkins map of the coronavirus stopped working for other people, or just me? Seems like bad timing to stop helping the world. Here's hoping it goes back up soon."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DIAMOND: And, Jake, beyond the health impact that this could have in the U.S., one of the biggest concerns for the president and his administration is the economic impact this is having and could continue to have, particularly in a reelection year.

And with stocks continuing to tumble today, the administration sent out its chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, on CNBC to try and reassure investors. But he didn't manage to stop the sell-off. But what he did manage to do was to muddle the message.

And that's because while he said that the administration is successfully containing the virus, today, the Centers for Disease Control said to expect the disease to continue to spread in the United States, and that there might be severe disruption to daily life for Americans.

TAPPER: That's something of a contradiction.

Jeremy Diamond, thanks so much for that excellent report.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is here with me now.

Sanjay, thanks for joining us.

So, just to be clear, so our viewers can understand, the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, says the coronavirus is going to spread in the United States. But the White House today said that it's contained.

Who's right?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, that the CDC has been pretty clear about this.

I actually spent some time with the head of the CDC to try and better understand this. And I think I think Dr. Redfield could not have been more clear about this. I want you to listen to his words, but keep in mind that the quarantine that we saw in China, largest quarantine in the history of the of the world, never seen a quarantine this big, was probably never designed to stop the virus completely from spreading, but to slow it down.

That was one of the objectives. But listen to how Dr. Redfield put it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: This virus is probably with us beyond this season, or beyond this year, and I think, eventually, the virus will find a foothold, and we will get community-based transmission.

And you can start to think of it in the sense like seasonal flu. The only difference is, we don't understand this virus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: So, look, Jake, describing it like seasonal flu, I think, tells you what you need to know.

I mean, Dr. Redfield saying this is going to get a foothold in the United States, there will be community transmission, I mean, obviously, that that's concerning. But, again, the policies and the procedures that have been put in place were to slow this down, not to prevent it. They have known that all along, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, and, Sanjay, senators from both sides of the aisle today suggested that the amount of money that the Trump administration is requesting to combat this, to slow it down is $2.5 billion, that that's insufficient.

What do you think, what do experts think is actually needed for a smart, robust, sufficient response to this virus?

GUPTA: Well, one thing I would just like to say, Jake, at the beginning, because friends in the public health world, this drives them crazy, because there's been so many cuts that have been proposed to these various preparedness programs, including Office of Public Health Preparedness, hospital preparedness programs, cuts that were being suggested in the middle of a coronavirus outbreak, so, just as a starting point.

This $2.5 billion number, it's a little bit tough to say exactly how much is going to be necessary. They say about a billion towards vaccine and a billion-and-a-half towards other forms of preparedness. But I will remind you that, for the Ebola outbreak, which obviously the numbers weren't near what this is, the initial request was for $6 billion.

H1N1, the flu pandemic of 2009, which may have more similarities to this, as you just heard from Dr. Redfield, the request was close to $8 billion. So there's a lot that goes into these numbers. And this may be the first phase of money that's being requested.

I don't know. But as an initial starting point, it's a lot lower than what we have seen in recent history.

TAPPER: Past U.S. presidents have put in place a sort of epidemic czar, somebody to be -- to lead the response when there's an outbreak.

GUPTA: Right.

TAPPER: Overseas, that -- there's fears it will come to the United States.

President Trump has yet to do that. Is someone in that role? Can they help with preparedness? GUPTA: Yes, absolutely.

I mean, look, there's so many different facets of our society upon which something like this hits. We obviously talk about it in terms of vaccine development, but, look, surge capacity within hospitals.

We have 57 patients in this country right now. And we have seen the images of what it takes to be able to isolate people who need to be isolated, care for them in the hospital. It's significant.

[16:10:00]

You saw the images out of Seattle, that first patient being in that ward by himself, having robots sort of help administer some of his care.

What if you start having thousands of patients like that? What is the surge capacity? How do we care for patients, you know, within big cities? That's that's a big concern.

You need someone who's overseeing that, in addition to vaccine development, in addition to therapeutics, and all the other ramifications. So that's why someone in that position is important.

There's multiple different prongs to try to tackle a big outbreak like this.

TAPPER: There are now 57 cases of the coronavirus in the United States.

A global health expert told me earlier today: "I think this is going to get much worse. And I don't think we are ready, including not mentally prepared to do the necessary contingency planning" -- unquote.

Do you agree?

GUPTA: I do. I mean, I think that, again, Dr. Redfield has said that. I don't think the public health officials have been opaque about this.

I think, in the beginning, it was never a binary thing. Either it's coming or it's not coming. It was about buying time with these various strategies that they put into place.

One thing I will say Jake, though, is that when we talk about pandemic and epidemic and outbreak, we're really talking about how widespread something is, not necessarily about how lethal something is. Those are two different things.

And something can be very widespread and not that lethal. We know, for example, from the largest study of 45,000 people infected with the coronavirus, that about 80 percent, eight in 10, either had no symptoms or minimal symptoms, fatality ratio hovering around 2 percent.

So, you know, it's going to spread. I think most public health officials I have talked to have said that. It doesn't mean necessarily it's going to be some very lethal spread, lethal outbreak either, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta with interesting and important perspective, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

President Trump is picking a fight with a different branch of government, going after one Supreme Court justice for doing her job.

Then, his name had to be pulled the last time President Trump floated it to head America's intelligence agencies, but that's not stopping Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe from being considered again.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TAPPER: We're back with the politics lead.

President Trump right now returning from his two-day trip to India where he refused to answer the question as to whether he agrees that Russia is interfering with the 2020 election. It's a fact that his national security advisers have asserted on the record and publicly.

President Trump also declaring he has received no help from Moscow this cycle and does not want any help from any country. He also attacks Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, insisting that both should recuse themselves from future Supreme Court cases related to him.

As CNN's Boris Sanchez reports now from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump arguing members of his intelligence community exaggerated Russia's plans to meddle in the 2020 election, and saying that he does not want the Kremlin's help.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, I want no help from any country. I have not been given help from any country.

SANCHEZ: Without evidence, Trump claiming that the Democrats leaked details with a classified House intelligence briefing involving Russian meddling. And Trump is also using press conference in India to target U.S. Supreme Court justices and mischaracterizing Justice Sonia Sotomayor's scathing dissent on a recent ruling. Sotomayor criticizing the government for repeatedly asking justices to break with the traditional appellate process on controversial cases pushed by the White House.

The justice writing, quote: I fear that this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balanced decision-making process that this court must strive to protect. Trump suggesting that she is trying to pressure other justices.

TRUMP: When you're a justice of the Supreme Court, and it's almost what she's trying to do is to take the people that do feel a different way and get them to vote the way that she would like them to vote.

SANCHEZ: Meantime, just miles from Trump's meetings with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at least 11 people were killed in violent over Modi's citizenship law that discriminates against Muslims.

When asked about the violence, Trump praised Modi for fighting for religious freedom.

TRUMP: He wants people to have religious freedom, and very strongly, he said that in India, they have -- they have worked very hard to have great and open religious freedom.

SANCHEZ: But Modi has faced accusations of Islamophobia before. In 2002 as the top official in Gujarat, Modi was accused of condoning an ethnic riot that killed almost 1,000 people, mostly Muslim.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: And, Jake, President Trump revealed today that he and Modi didn't discuss those clashes that took place just a short distance from where they were meeting. President Trump saying that resolving those violence is simply up to India -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Boris Sanchez at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this with my panel.

Let me start with you, Bill Kristol, because a lot of people have been criticizing Bernie Sanders this week for his comments and also criticizing China and Cuba have also praised facets of their governments, and here we have President Trump with a real life, not a dictator, he was elected, but somebody accused of having blood on his hands, Prime Minister Modi, and not saying what a lot of people feel is a real anti-Muslim movement in India.

BILL KRISTOL, CONSERVATIVE WRITER: President Trump has a soft spot for sort of nativist and right wing authoritarians, some of them democratically elected at least first, others are not just even pretending to be democratically elected. And Bernie Sanders has something, has had something of a soft spot for left wing authoritarians. It's really a wonderful choice if it comes down to that.

TAPPER: And, Mr. Harwood, take a listen to President Trump speaking to reporters earlier today, when asking about whether or not he believes what all his intelligence officials and national security officials have said publicly that Russia is attempting to interfere in the 2020 election.

[16:20:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They told Bernie about something having to do with they want Bernie to win. Intelligence never told me and we have a couple of people here who would know very well, they never told me anything about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And just to be clear, based on my sources and other people at CNN, the intelligence does not say that they want Bernie to win. The intelligence says they have no preference and they are working right now to disrupt the primaries, helping Sanders that way, but they don't actually have a preference. But it looks like they are really going to politicize the intelligence this year.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question about it. President Trump has a primal impulse to absolve himself of responsibility and project on to other people fault or in this case, yes, the Russians want him and not me.

That's simply a reflex for the president. It's not about his reasoned consideration of the intelligence evidence. He did this in 2016 saying, oh, yes, Russia, go out to find the emails and saying that, well, they probably wanted Hillary rather than me. He -- that's what he does.

TAPPER: Yes.

And, Laura, the president has long downplayed Russian interference. Critics say he hasn't punished Moscow enough. Take a listen to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today, however.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The Trump administration is going to work to protect the integrity of the elections, period, full stop. Should Russia or any other actor takes step to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, that's a very muscular, you know, pushback on Russia, and what they are doing. But I wonder, you know, is it mixed messages?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and then there's no telling when the president, which he has in the last year, will go out on to the lawn and say, go ahead, and meddle, China, and go ahead and meddle to Russia. And he's done that repeatedly and there's no telling whether or not he will continue to do that heading into the general election. He did it in 2016 as well.

So, there remains --

HARWOOD: He does that. Should we take it literally or figuratively?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes, exactly.

HARWOOD: I think both at this point.

BARRON-LOPEZ: So, I mean, there's mixed messages constantly from the officials that work for Trump, that work in the government agencies and from the White House, itself. There's no telling what he is going to do.

HARWOOD: And, Jackie, I want to get your view on President Trump. He was asked whether it's inappropriate what Justice Sonia Sotomayor had to say. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The way I look at it, he is trying to shame people with perhaps a different view into voting her way. And that's so inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But this is exactly what Sotomayor said in her opinion, quote, claiming one emergency after another, the government has sought stays in a number of cases. It is hard to say what is more troubling that the government would seek this extraordinary release, seeming as a matter of course, or that the court would grand it. It seems to like she's kind of just doing her job.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and trying to convince other justices to side with her is what her job is. But this president has shown that there are not any boundaries between the executive and the judicial branch and trying to assert himself into both. So, this is more of the same, but it's just the latest liberal justice he has attacked. He went after Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year. So, this is very on brand.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about. We're just hours from the last debate before Super Tuesday and the Democratic presidential hopefuls are making it clear whom they plan to target. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TAPPER: The center of the stage and likely the main target for the Democrats tonight, Senator Bernie Sanders, who says that he is absolutely prepare as the Democratic frontrunner for the barrage of attacks he expects to face this evening when seven Democratic presidential hopefuls face off in just a few hours in the last debate before the crucial South Carolina primary this Saturday.

Let's discuss.

So, Sanders knows that he is going to face a major incoming, but after a dominant win in Nevada and New Hampshire and popular vote win in Iowa, is it too little, too late? KUCINICH: And there's already early voting going on in these massive

states.

TAPPER: California, yes.

KUCINICH: California and Texas, yes.

So, there is a lot for Sanders to lose here, but he also has gained so much, because he has been on the ground. He's had these massive operations. Now, if he turns in a solid performance tonight, and manages to fend off all of these daggers that are coming his way, South Carolina, he could and right now, he's within striking distance of Joe Biden. And that, I mean, that would be a major upset in this race.

TAPPER: One issue that a lot of the Democrats have been attacking Bernie Sanders over has to do with his qualified praise of what Fidel Castro has been, was able to do when it comes to education and literacy in Cuba. He was given a chance to clear it up on CNN, he was asked about comments he made decades ago on "60 Minutes" and then he said nice things again, while criticizing the authoritarian government.

And then last night on CNN, he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He formed a literacy brigade, you may read that. They went out and they help people learn to read and write. You know what?

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