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Trump to Hold News Conference on Coronavirus; Chuck Schumer to Request $8.5 Billion in Emergency Coronavirus Funding; Battered Markets Fueling Trump's Worry Over Virus; Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina to Give Influential Endorsement Soon; Democratic Rivals Target Front-Runner Bernie Sanders in South Carolina Debate; Buttigieg Notes Lack of Diversity Among Democrats on Debate Stage. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 26, 2020 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:27]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It's the top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

The breaking news this morning, President Trump addressing the nation at 6:00 p.m. tonight as the coronavirus spreads around the world. The president set to be briefed on the virus in just hours. This as a top infectious disease doctor says that we are inching closer and closer to a pandemic. And one day after the Centers for Disease Control says Americans should be prepared now for a crisis.

HARLOW: The administration now weighing additional travel restrictions to try to stop or at least contain the spread of the virus in the United States. Markets here and around the world again just battered.

We have a lot of headlines to get to. Let's begin, though, at the White House with our correspondent there, Jeremy Diamond.

I mean, the president brushing this off in India as under control. Larry Kudlow saying as much yesterday. But now addressing the nation tonight, having a press conference at 6:00.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Poppy. And it appears that the president has returned to Washington where he is watching what's going on around him, and he is seeing lawmakers battering his administration officials both Republicans and Democrats and he's also watching what's happened over the last few days on Wall Street. And we're told that the economy had been the driving factor in the president's exacerbating concerns about his administration's handling of coronavirus.

Remember initially the president yesterday downplayed the situation with coronavirus saying it's under control, going to go away, and he also downplayed that market sell-off of a thousand points on Monday. That according to one of our sources was at the urging of at least one particular aide and that is Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser.

Of course, that is the president's tactic frequently is to downplay developments like this and then when he sees that it's actually spiraling out of control, the president tries to jump in and take control of the situation, change the narrative. That is perhaps what we're going to see from the president later today when he has this news conference at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Before that, though, the president is expected to meet privately with his administration officials who were handling the coronavirus epidemic. And that is where we're told that the president may be weighing these additional travel restrictions that are currently under consideration. But again, the economy is the driving factor for the president here, particularly in a re-election year where he is banking on a strong economy to help deliver him four more years.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Right.

DIAMOND: Guys, back to you.

SCIUTTO: The question is, what are the facts about this virus? That's the most important thing. That's what we're going to bring you.

Jeremy Diamond, thanks very much.

CNN congressional reporter Lauren Fox joins us now on the hill.

So Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer now talking about $8.5 billion. This is seven times what the White House was requesting as soon as a couple of days ago.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're exactly right, Jim. Remember the White House requested $2.5 billion but only $1.25 billion of it was actually new money. The other funds were basically where they were going to move funding around to make sure that the coronavirus was covered. But yesterday, on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats alike were really taken aback by the briefing that they got.

Members coming out of that briefing said that they had concerns that the Trump administration was not ready to handle any potential pandemic. And while there are concerns about whether or not there are enough face masks in the United States for health care providers, there are also concerns about the speed of when this vaccine could be ready. Remember, the president said yesterday that he believed it could be ready very soon.

But lawmakers on Capitol Hill are saying, no, they've heard 12 to 18 months yesterday in that briefing. So Chuck Schumer this morning coming out with a proposal for $8.5 billion. That sets up a big spending fight on Capitol Hill about how lawmakers are going to deal with containing the coronavirus -- Jim and Poppy. HARLOW: Lauren, thank you very much for all of that. So many questions

to be answered by the administration tonight.

We're just minutes away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Let's get straight to our chief business correspondent Christine Romans.

I mean, Romans, 2,000 points off the Dow. $1.7 trillion in stock market value erased in a matter of two of days. What does today hold?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can see the futures are struggling here to try to find some footing to stabilize. You know, there's two choices. Either you have investors who say we're going to gun here for a correction, 10 percent down in stocks from the most recent high or about 2 percentage points away from there or they see a buying opportunity.

It's just not clear. I mean, this is either the beginning of some kind of stock market retrenchment on a global public health crisis or it's an overreaction. You just don't know here. One thing that's really interesting to look at is the global markets and Asian markets and that recover, European shares also were down.

[09:05:02]

So there isn't this feeling of oh, this thing was really overdone and we want to get in there and start buying. It's because of the lack of information, the lack of clarity about the extent of the coronavirus. Again it could be that it's an overreaction. But investors just don't know. And when you look at the bond market, you guys, what I see in the bond market, a record low on the 10-year note yield.

That might sound wonky, but what it's telling us is there's a global flight to safety. Money coming out of stock markets around the world and going into U.S. bonds because that is a safe place to, you know, wait out the storm. So it's still -- fear is still the number one story here for stock market investors, you guys.

SCIUTTO: The big question will be, how much does the Chinese economy slow down? How does that affect Europe, the U.S.? We'll be watching that closely.

I know you will. Christine Romans, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Dr. Celine Gounder. She's an infectious disease specialist at the New York University School of Medicine in Bellevue Hospital. She also hosts two podcasts, "American Diagnosis" and "Epidemic."

Dr. Gounder, you're in effect on the front lines of this. You're part of a team at Bellevue here in New York that's preparing to treat coronavirus. You hear the president here downplaying, saying everything is going to be fine. We're prepared. You hear other doctors saying we've got a lot more work to do. What is the reality on the ground?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Well, I think there's been tremendous reluctance to call this a pandemic. I think it is time to say this is a pandemic. The reluctance has been what is the impact going to be on the Dow, on financial markets, on -- in terms of political blowback. So you've been hearing folks like Dr. Fauci at NIH say we're on the verge. We need to start changing our response now.

HARLOW: Can you help people understand what pandemic actually means and what it would mean for the United States? Can pandemics be in one country and not another or are they global?

GOUNDER: So by definition, a pandemic is a novel virus that is spreading rapidly across different continents and it is spreading within communities. So we've seen that now. We've seen that in South Korea, we've seen that in the Middle East, we're seeing that in Europe. We may not --

HARLOW: But not here. We haven't seen the secondary cases here.

GOUNDER: Well, and part of the issue there is we don't have the testing capacity still. We're behind South Korea in terms of our testing. So the CDC still hasn't released tests to local public health departments. We don't have private labs producing tests. The FDA hasn't done anything to encourage private labs to do that.

SCIUTTO: So of course, this started in China. That's where the most cases, the most deaths have been, and really where the most draconian response has been. And it's remarkable. We've talked about this on the air.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: 780 million people, you know, under some sort of travel restrictions, staying in their home. And it was interesting, because we noted the WHO, the World Health Organization, and they have a project, a joint project with China, they say the following. It's the unanimous assessment of the team that they, this being China, have changed the course of this outbreak. What was rapidly escalating has plateaued and gone down faster than one would have expected.

HARLOW: That's right.

GOUNDER: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Can we say -- and I know it's early and I know it's popping up in other countries, but can we say that the measures taken there helped hem in, you know, perhaps this virus?

GOUNDER: Well, I would absolutely agree with that. You know, the Chinese have a pretty sophisticated health care system. They have world class basic lab scientists. And it's an authoritarian regime.

SCIUTTO: Right.

HARLOW: Right. You can't do what they did.

GOUNDER: Exactly. SCIUTTO: No. I mean, we showed the video of, you know, drones flying

over people's heads saying put your mask on. I mean, it's remarkable.

GOUNDER: Well, and I think the way we need to look at it is they bought us time. So we should not be squandering that time but that also means we need to start doing the things you do to control a pandemic. And we haven't really done those things.

HARLOW: What's the number -- so the president is going to take questions tonight. It's a good thing at 6:00, this press conference. What is the number one question you would ask him?

GOUNDER: What are we going to do to help employers and school districts, frankly, keep people at home? So, you know, what are we going to do for people who really need to be staying home, working from home? What is that going to mean for wage workers who are paid by the hour? Maybe in your street, you know, local bodega or grocery store. How --

SCIUTTO: You are saying that is a recommended step in this? I mean, because that's what we saw China do, you know.

GOUNDER: Yes.

SCIUTTO: More than double the population of the U.S. was in effect under those kinds of restrictions with enormous economic consequences. Are you saying we may reach a point where people watching might be told don't go to work today, don't go to school today?

GOUNDER: And we need to be making plans for that. So what are going to do if you have to close down schools? Are you going to be able to do some of this remotely? What are you going to do for child care? These are the things we need to be planning for now and we are really behind the 8-ball on that.

HARLOW: When you listen to the two different statements from the CDC yesterday, the one at 12:00 noon that said this may be overwhelming and a disruption to everyday life may be severe. And then three hours later at 3:00, the CDC says we believe the imminent risk here remains low. What are the American people -- which one should the American people believe?

GOUNDER: Well, they're both true.

HARLOW: But it was a real turn in tone, don't you think?

GOUNDER: Right. So I think it depends on who you're worried about. So are you worried about yourself? Are you worried about the elderly who might die from this? Are you worried as a health care worker on the frontlines about the massive influx of patients you're going to see? You know, those are different questions. So I think for the average American, this is going to be a big inconvenience.

[09:10:02]

Yes, you're going to take a financial hit in terms of your 401(k). But I think the people who most need to be worried are the elderly, especially people over 65, and health care workers.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. And that's where we've seen the concentration of many of the fatalities from this in other countries.

Dr. Gounder, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: You're very helpful. Of course we're going to bring you all the information as we have it. And we're going to be following the developments later this morning as well, including as the president speaks.

Just moments from now on another story of course we're following, the race for presidency.

HARLOW: Yes. A big one.

SCIUTTO: James Clyburn, congressman from South Carolina, is expected to announce his influential endorsement of a candidate in the Democratic primary. Lots of candidates want that endorsement. We're going to learn in minutes who got it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: In moments, perhaps in the next minute, we'll hear a key endorsement in South Carolina. House majority whip Jim Clyburn will be speaking shortly. His support in this race could give one candidate a major boost ahead of Saturday's primary there. And with that contest just days away there was no time to play nice on the debate stage last night. It was messy to say the least.

[09:15:00]

HARLOW: For sure, Bernie Sanders was finally treated like the front- runner that he is, and attacked over and over again. Several of his rivals making the case to stop him now or risk what they had deemed to be an electoral bloodbath in November with a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist on the ballot. Joining us now, CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Good morning, Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Jim and Poppy. No question what a bruising night. But today at least, Joe Biden is expecting to receive shortly the endorsement from Congressman James Clyburn. Of course, the number three Democrat in the House of Representatives, the highest ranking African-American elected official.

So, he is counting on that endorsement here to propel him through into the South Carolina primary on Saturday. But, boy, back to that debate last night, all the knives were out for Bernie Sanders coming from every single direction as his rivals tried to slow the momentum that Senator Sanders has coming into the South Carolina primary and into Super Tuesday next week. But Sanders stood tall through all of it. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I would make a better president than Bernie.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bernie, in fact, hasn't passed much of anything.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not think that this is the best person to lead the ticket.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, Joe has voted for terrible trade agreements. I will tell you, Pete, what the American people want and Joe, what the American people want, they don't want candidates to be running to billionaires for huge amounts of funding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So, there's no question it was a, you know, a messy night to say the least on the debate stage. Donald Trump was barely mentioned. But, look, I think when you sort through all of that, sitting there through it, Bernie Sanders, sure, he took a lot of incoming but still remains the strongest candidate in this race. But the question is about Joe Biden.

He had one of the strongest debate performances so far. It was the tenth debate, he was very forceful, he knows that he needs to do well here in South Carolina, and he's counting on that endorsement from James Clyburn to try and push him over into South Carolina. But then the question is, what does that mean going into Super Tuesday next week.

Bernie Sanders still has so much momentum here. But Mike Bloomberg also, certainly a stronger debate performance than last week, OK, it's so much harder debating than running all those TV ads, even his aides will agree to that. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: That's right, challenge in the moment, no question. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much. Let's speak about all of this with CNN political commentator Jen Psaki and Errol Louis. Errol, you heard Jeff Zeleny there, saying that Biden is expecting to receive this endorsement of James Clyburn. How influential is that in the state of South Carolina?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a very big deal. One of the reasons James Clyburn is one of the most powerful people in the country is, he picks winners, and not necessarily winners who will make it all the way to the White House, but winners who can win South Carolina so that his endorsement is much coveted, it is much sought after. I remember I was in the state in 2008 when he pulled this what was really kind of a surprise endorsement of Barack Obama, and it was a big deal. Not just for Obama, sort of helped him on his way to the White House,

but it was a big deal for James Clyburn to sort of bucked the establishment, the Clinton establishment --

HARLOW: Yes --

LOUIS: He's a very wise and very shrewd political figure, and for him to select Joe Biden means, if nothing else that Joe Biden is probably going to win South Carolina.

HARLOW: And Jen, Joe Biden knew he had to -- he had to pull it off last night because Clyburn --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HARLOW: Waited to make the endorsement until this morning which is also telling, given his history with Biden. And you saw Biden come to play last night.

JENNIFER PSAKI, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: That's right. I think that was certainly in the back of his mind that James Clyburn would be watching, that he is a hugely influential and powerful figure in South Carolina, Democratic politics. And he wanted and needs his endorsement. And you know, I think to add to what Errol said, I think it's an important time for Cly -- I'm sorry, for Joe Biden to get this endorsement.

It could be reaffirming for people who are leaning towards Joe Biden who have long been supporting him, and now this may be reaffirming for them. But there is a kind of a divide in the African-American community in South Carolina, and it will probably be more influential with older African-Americans, maybe with African-American women than it will be with some of the younger African-Americans who have been stalwart Bernie Sanders supporters.

So, it's not going to --

HARLOW: Sure --

PSAKI: Swing the entire population, but certainly an important endorsement and coming at an important time for Joe Biden.

SCIUTTO: Yes, well, speaking about early this week, you know, these folks don't -- no one moves in blocks, right? I mean --

HARLOW: No --

SCIUTTO: There's no monolith. Listen, the debate last night was messy. It was contentious, etc. I do want to highlight a moment from Pete Buttigieg on the question of race which is, of course, front and center in South Carolina because of so many African-American voters because it was, in the midst of this, a thoughtful moment. Have a listen and I want to get your reaction.

[09:20:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I come to this with some humility because I'm conscience of the fact that there's seven white people on this stage talking about racial justice. None of us --

(APPLAUSE)

None of us have the experience, the lived experience of, for example, walking down the street or in a mall and feeling eyes on us, regarding us as dangerous without knowing the first thing about us just because of the color of our skin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Errol Louis, no one is going to win the Democratic nomination or the general as a Democrat without strong support from African-American voters. Did Pete Buttigieg get it right on that point last night?

LOUIS: He said things that needed to be said, and he said them in the right way with you know, as he said, he used the word "humility". Like look --

HARLOW: Yes --

LOUIS: I'm not going to pretend that I can sort of put myself in the shoes of somebody else who has inherited centuries of racial discrimination. On the other hand, if I'm president, I have to understand it. I have to be able to talk about it, I have to be able to sort of guide us through policies that will ameliorate some of the problems.

And he said the bare minimum that you have to say. But he got the language right, which is important, and I would attribute that to some of the advisors around him who have walked him through what had been some pretty disastrous outings when he's tried to talk about race in the past.

HARLOW: Jen, I think we saw one of Bernie Sanders' biggest vulnerabilities on the stage last night, which is actually his past votes on guns, whether it was again, you know, five times against the Brady bill, but also not that 15 years ago, the 2005 law that he voted for, that gives immunity to gun manufacturers from mass shootings. And his answer to that was, it was a bad vote, and oh, by the way, Joe Biden voted for the Iraq war. Was it sufficient?

PSAKI: For people who care deeply about that issue, I don't think it was sufficient. You know, he's somebody who has a scattered record on this issue. His answer also included the explanation that he kind of changed his positioning once it wasn't politically palatable to be --

HARLOW: Right --

PSAKI: In the place where he was on guns which --

SCIUTTO: Yes -- PSAKI: Doesn't sit well with anyone. You know, it's surprising, too,

because this is -- has been one of Bernie Sanders' vulnerabilities, back to 2016. He's had time to develop a better answer for it. Yes, he's in a better place on that issue now for people who care deeply about gun safety. But, you know, I still think his answer needs some work. And then he still --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

PSAKI: Has some work to do to prove to women in suburbs, women who are sending their kids to school and they're doing gun drills at 5 -- you know, at 4 and 5 years old that he really cares deeply about this issue --

HARLOW: Yes --

PSAKI: And that he's going to take real steps on it. I don't think he crossed that bar last night.

HARLOW: It was interesting to hear him compliment Mike Bloomberg on that front, on that action.

SCIUTTO: People forget Vermont -- a lot of people in Vermont are in favor of gun rights. Say --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: You know, look at Gillibrand's experience when she was in the house. She was in a --

HARLOW: A great point --

SCIUTTO: She was in a gun-friendly district, it was 4 and then in the Senate, you know, the kind of classic, I was for it or against it before I was for it or however you line --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: That up. Errol, as we see there, North Charleston, South Carolina where we're waiting in moments the House Majority Whip James Clyburn's endorsement here as Jeff Zeleny was reporting a short time ago, the Biden camp at least expecting that they're going to win that endorsement. Let's talk, Errol Louis, if you can, just bigger race for a moment.

Because if, say, Biden wins in South Carolina and in effect, to some degree his firewall as he's described it among African-American voters holds up, how much does that change this race going into Super Tuesday. Does it take away the -- you know, the sort of unchallenged front-runner status --

LOUIS: Well --

SCIUTTO: For Bernie Sanders? Yes --

LOUIS: It keeps him in the race -- SCIUTTO: Yes --

LOUIS: For one thing.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

LOUIS: I mean, you know, he built up -- Joe Biden built up such expectations around his performance in South Carolina that anything short of a convincing win is going to be a real problem for him. If he does make it past Saturday with a convincing win, that he's got the wind at his back going into Super Tuesday where, God only knows what's going to happen because it is such a gigantic terrain.

To think about North Carolina and Texas and California, all on the same day, 1,700-plus delegates at stake. Unless Joe Biden has a plan that we haven't seen to pull this off by some means other than a big, convincing win and some free media --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

LOUIS: Coming out of Saturday, he could be in sort of the same problem -- he could have the same problem that he started out with, which is that he's falling behind in the delegate count and he's got to win some states --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: OK, so this announcement is imminent as you can see by all the people lined up there just waiting for Congressman Clyburn. We're going to get a quick break, we'll be back with this on the other side. Stay with us for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:00]

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Live pictures from South Carolina. That looks to be the answer to the James Clyburn endorsement question because he's appearing there with the former Vice President Joe Biden. This is something we've been waiting for all morning -- well, for days, in fact, leading up to the primary on Saturday, given the Democratic Whip's enormous influence in the State of South Carolina.

HARLOW: Let's listen.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): The Democratic National Convention in 1972. And we have maintained a friendship ever since. We had no idea that we would end up getting elected to Congress the same year. And I owe a great deal to Ed, I never would have become chair of the Congressional Black Caucus were it not for tutelage. And I thank her so much for being here today.

Several other of our colleagues wanted to join us today.