Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

President Trump To Address The Nation About Coronavirus; Preparations For Tokyo Olympics Continuing As Planned; Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) Endorses Joe Biden. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2020 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:25]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

As world leaders and health officials all around the world try to contain the coronavirus, President Trump is trying to control the message about what the outbreak is doing to not just the United States, but how well prepared we all are.

He will address the nation in just a couple of hours with the fast spreading illness that has now reached every single continent except Antarctica.

And as time draws near, the headlines mounts with 59 coronavirus cases now in the United States, more than 81,000 cases worldwide and nearly 2,800 deaths.

And a congressional clash is now underway about exactly how to fund a national response for when, not if, the coronavirus will spread in the United States. That is a warning coming straight from the Centers for Disease Control.

Democrats are accusing the President of being more concerned with the health of the economy than the health of the nation as he downplays this risk. Listen to this exchange at a hearing today on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK POCAN (D-WI): The tweet from this morning from the president talking about low rating fake news, doing everything possible to make the coronavirus -- spelt incorrectly, but I'm a journalism major -- look as bad as possible, including panicking markets if possible.

Markets being the concern. So help me. Does this contain the common cold, inevitable, two months, 18 months? Provide me some security that someone knows what's going on in this administration about the coronavirus.

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: What we're trying to do and we've tried to do with members of Congress, Senate and the public and the media is really flood you with information about this to make sure that we're being transparent about what we're facing. What we know and what we don't know, as well as what our plans are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's start at the White House with our correspondent there, Kaitlan Collins and Kaitlan, what do you expect to hear from the President when he addresses a nation at six o'clock tonight?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, it's really notable that you heard Alex Azar there saying that they've been trying to flood people with information to be as transparent as possible, because actually, the President has been frustrated with officials who are issuing these warnings, essentially saying that they do not know a lot about the spread of this virus and where it's going to go, how long it's going to last because he thinks that's causing further panic in the markets.

And as you noted, that is something he has been paying close attention to, really measuring his response to all of this based on that, and that is why you saw such an essential exacerbation in the President's response ever since Monday when the Dow plunged over 1,000 points and then, of course, continued to be volatile for a second day in a row, and that is what's causing the President's concern here.

Now, it's notable that Alex Azar of course is the Health and Human Services Secretary. He has been the point person on all of this, really in charge of coordinating the inter-agency response.

And today in that hearing, he described it as going smoothly. But there have been some people who have been calling on the administration to nominate someone else because they say that in 2018, the White House eliminated this position at the National Security Council that's really in charge of the response to something, some kind of pandemic, something that couldn't be like what we're seeing with coronavirus, and they say they do not have a point person on this, like the Obama administration had when it came to the Ebola virus.

So far, Azar has denied they're going to pick anyone like that. Whether or not that changes remains to be seen because we know we are going to see the President today, but he has been really frustrated by this privately even lashing out at people like Azar, because he doesn't like the response that he is seeing to their reaction to the spread of this.

So it's still a question that remains to be seen, what we're going to see today, though, Brooke, we have heard that we could see new travel restrictions coming from the administration. So you'll have to stay tuned to see what it's going to look like.

BALDWIN: Yes, we'll stand by for news there. Six o'clock Eastern, the President addresses the nation. Kaitlan, thank you.

There's some of the politics of this, and then there's just the real world ramifications that I know we all are tuned in for, right? There are major disruptions worldwide over the coronavirus. At least five universities here in the United States have canceled or

suspended study abroad programs in places like Italy, South Korea, Singapore and Japan. Other schools are calling for overseas staff to return to the United States. Still one of it not being derailed thus far, the Olympics in Tokyo.

Olympic officials say the event is still on track to kick off in less than six months despite the fact more than 800 cases of coronavirus in Japan. Officials say they are following the direction of the World Health Organization.

Our correspondents are all around the world tracking this deadly virus. We begin with CNN's Ivan Watson in South Korea.

Hi, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, I'm standing at the entrance to Camp Humphreys in South Korea. This is the largest U.S. military installation overseas and it's currently where a 23-year-old soldier is being treated in isolation after he tested positive for coronavirus. The first among some 30,000 U.S. military personnel here in Korea to have come down with this new disease.

[14:05:15]

WATSON: There are an additional 15 individuals, including 10 active duty soldiers and four Koreans attached to U.S. military units in quarantine there.

The U.S. military has issued a high threat level. It's banned troops from going to movie theaters, bars, clubs, restaurants any place with more than 20 people.

Meanwhile, the host country, Korea struggles with the outbreak with more than 1,200 people diagnosed positive and 12 who've been killed by the disease.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ben Wedeman in Milan in Northern Italy, where large areas have been set aside in so-called red zones, where about 50,000 people live in areas where the level of infection from coronavirus is highest.

There are now 12 recorded fatalities from the disease up one from Tuesday. Now, one positive development perhaps is that the first two recorded cases of coronavirus, two Chinese nationals, a couple have apparently recovered from the disease.

Earlier today, we were speaking with a doctor who deals with Infectious Diseases at the largest hospital in Milan and he suggested that perhaps the number of new infections is starting to level off.

BALDWIN: Ben in Italy and Ivan in South Korea, thank you very much. We have also just learned that the number of coronavirus cases recorded in Italy is now more than 400.

So let's get a deep dive for you on this specific coronavirus, Dr. Celine Gounder is an Infectious Diseases specialist and Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU Med School and Bellevue Hospital.

And so Dr. Gounder, welcome. We have been getting a heck of a lot of questions just from viewers and folks on cnn.com, like a thousand just today.

So I want to just run through some of these viewer questions just starting with the fact that people are aware that you cannot show symptoms and it can be contagious. So how does coronavirus spread?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: Well, we know coronavirus spreads through droplets. So like if you cough, if you sneeze you, you spray this fine mist into the air. So we know that that is a mechanism of spread. What we don't know -- there are a couple of questions. One is, people who have minimal symptoms or no symptoms, can they spread? Can they transmit through what we call oral-fecal spread?

So basically, if you don't wash your hands very well after you go to the bathroom, could you spread to people that way?

And finally, we still aren't 100 percent sure that this is not airborne.

BALDWIN: So to a lot of these questions, we don't know.

GOUNDER: We don't know.

BALDWIN: Another question from a viewer is when will this become a pandemic? And what will that mean if and when it is a pandemic?

GOUNDER: You know, there's been hesitancy to declare this a pandemic, because there are going to be implications for financial markets and political blowback.

Personally, I think we have met the criteria for pandemic. We have a novel virus that is something people have not been exposed to, don't have immunity to. It is spreading rapidly, and it's highly deadly in certain populations. So the elderly, and people with chronic medical conditions.

BALDWIN: Another question, are those masks effective?

GOUNDER: So there are two different kinds of masks. There are the masks that we really want sick people with symptoms to be wearing. So those are surgical masks, and the idea of those masks is to really trap those infectious droplets inside the mask so it's not spreading more widely. So that's one kind of mask.

The other kind of mask is the N95 mask, which is a respirator that healthcare providers use. You have to remember, we as healthcare providers, were coming really up close to people. You know, I am within inches of somebody's face, you know, Dr. Li, the ophthalmologist, if you think about examining an eye, you're literally up in somebody's face.

BALDWIN: Sure. GOUNDER: So our level of exposure -- when I see somebody in the

emergency room at Bellevue, they may have soiled their sheets. They may be coughing up sputum, it's a very different thing you're protecting against.

BALDWIN: Can you just quickly, bottom line, like for people who are sitting here and seeing the number of cases in the States grow, is this a, oh my gosh, I need to run out and buy masks and really panic or okay, I just need to wash my hands a whole heck of a lot more.

GOUNDER: I think the latter for most people. You know, I think you have to remember, majority of deaths have been in people over the age of 65, some over the age of 50. Children, you know, I've been getting this question, I have little kids at home and the question, what do I do? We have not seen death in that group.

So you really have to sort of adjust your level of risk depending on who you are.

BALDWIN: OK. Dr. Celine Gounder, thank you very much. And if you have questions about the coronavirus, we will get answers. You can submit your questions, go to cnn.com/coronavirusquestions.

Big day in the 2020 race. The man known as the kingmaker, hands down his endorsement just days before that precious South Carolina primary. How might Jim Clyburn's support help Joe Biden?

And Secretary of Defense Mark Esper gets a grilling on his decision to divert military funding to pay for the border wall?

And is the U.S. prepared for a coronavirus outbreak? We'll continue this conversation this afternoon. I can tell you that the acting D.H.S. Secretary has been slammed for his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): You're supposed to keep us safe and the American people deserve some straight answers on the coronavirus, and I'm not getting them from you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. His name was on the lips of several candidates during last night's Democratic presidential debate.

But today Congressman Jim Clyburn, the House Majority Whip and the highest ranking African-American in Congress made his thoughts on 2020, crystal clear, he is voting for Joe Biden.

[14:15:14]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): I can't think of no one better suited,

better prepared. I can think of no one with the integrity, no one more committed to the fundamental principles to make this country what it is than my good friend, my late wife's great friend, Joe Biden.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is with me now. And Jeff, we have three days until the primary, Joe Biden is currently leading several polls in the state. So what does this Clyburn endorsement mean? What's the impact?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, there's no question it was a poignant moment there. I was sitting just a few feet away from Congressman Clyburn when he was giving that endorsement. He was talking about his late wife.

He's a fixture of course in South Carolina politics. So Joe Biden has been expecting this endorsement. It was his to lose, but he won it. The question is what is the strength and the value of an endorsement certainly, among undecided voters, and perhaps some older African- American voters, they do look to the Congressman for perhaps a clue for what he is thinking. But not necessarily true among voters of all ages or younger voters.

But there's no question, Joe Biden is trying to drive home his strength there. He had one of the strongest debate performances last evening here in Charleston, and he also was making the point why the South Carolina primary is so important to him going forward. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I promise you this. If you send me out of South Carolina with a victory, there will be no stopping us. We will win the nomination. We will win the presidency, and most importantly, we will eliminate the fear so many have in this country of a second term of Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So Joe Biden still presenting himself as the strongest Democrat to take on President Trump in the fall. But of course before he would ever get to that point he needs to do well here in South Carolina, and in the Super Tuesday States coming just three days later.

But Brooke, this is one example if you were watching the debate last night, wondering why Joe Biden went directly after Tom Steyer trying to point out some things. This is why.

We have new numbers in this afternoon looking at the ad spending of these candidates. Take a listen to this. Tom Steyer has spent $22 million in advertising here in South Carolina. Joe Biden has spent $874,000.00. So $22 million to $874,000.00. Tom Steyer blows away the field. It's

Bloomberg like spending here, if you will in South Carolina. So that is what the Biden campaign is worried about. Is Tom Steyer going to eat into some of his support?

So no question here in the next 72 hours. It is a critical moment for the Biden campaign, but that Clyburn endorsement, they really believe will help put him over the top here.

Brooke, a lot is riding on that for the Biden campaign.

BALDWIN: Yes, it's a biggie. Jeff Zeleny, thank you. Let's stay in South Carolina and it is my pleasure to bring in Joseph Riley, the former mayor of Charleston, who was in office when the horrific shooting at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church left nine people dead in the summer of 2015.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH RILEY (D), THEN MAYOR OF CHARLESTON: A ritual coming together, praying and worshiping God to have an awful person come in and shoot them is inexplicable, obviously, the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Mr. Mayor, welcome, sir.

RILEY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We'll get your thoughts on 2020 in just a moment, but one key topic in last night's debate was gun control. And I would like to play this exchange between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: A hundred and fifty million people have been killed since 2007 when Bernie voted to exempt the gun manufacturers from liability, more than all the wars, including Vietnam from that point on.

Carnage on our streets, and I want to tell you, if I'm elected, NRA, I'm coming for you and gun manufacturers, I'm going to take you on and I'm going to beat you.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, Joe has voted for terrible trade agreements.

[BOOING]

[14:20:01]

SANDERS: No, no, no. Joe voted for the war in Iraq. My point was not to be -- I have cast thousands of votes, including bad votes. That was a bad vote.

I have today, a D-minus voting record from the NRA.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: In addition to that exchange, Senator Amy Klobuchar spoke about her work on a bill that would block domestic abusers from getting an AK-47.

Mr. Mayor, it has been almost five years since the shooting at Mother Emanuel and at the time, you said it was a tragic example of why gun control is needed in this country. Is the conversation we're having today where you thought or had hoped it would be?

RILEY: Well, the prospect of the presidency of Joe Biden gives me great hope and I'm strongly supporting him in the primary and believe he will be the next President of our country and he will tackle this.

You know, what Joe Biden is, is a unifier and not a divider and the tragic fact is in America, that we haven't been able to come together on reasonable gun control legislation. It's a disgrace. And Joe Biden will tackle that and it's needed.

It's heartbreaking to see the carnage going on in that country. It is completely unnecessary.

BALDWIN: When it comes to gun control, and I hear you as a fervent Joe Biden supporter, but what are these candidates and really lawmakers as a whole getting right and what are they getting wrong?

RILEY: Well, the NRA has this outside power and influence in legislators in our country and in the Congress, and what is needed is a strong President like Joe Biden will be to bring both sides of the aisle together and find reasonable measures that can make nations, schools and communities safer and have modern reasonable gun control legislation.

Not keeping any hunter or any gun owner from having their gun for responsible use, but that a real tragic embarrassment in our country that we haven't resolved that and we need a leader and Joe Biden will be that kind of leader.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about the campaign because, of course, the South Carolina primary is just three days away, you know, you're endorsing the former Vice President who is facing some tough competition from Senator Bernie Sanders, and four years ago, Sanders was crushed by Hillary Clinton in South Carolina.

So you're there. You're talking to folks. What's changed?

RILEY: Well, I think that Joe Biden is, as I said earlier, a great unifier. He's been in and out of South Carolina for the last 30 years. He has friends and allegiances here and he's such a decent man.

And I think that he has the ability to reach across the aisle and in the primary, sadly, people of color, and white people and young people and old people I think will coalesce behind Joe Biden. I think it's going to be resoundingly victory. I say to all those in

South Carolina, make sure you vote on Saturday and don't take anything for granted.

But I think it's going to be a great day for Joe Biden.

BALDWIN: If I can though ask about Senator Sanders, Mayor Riley what has changed so much between four years ago, and now that folks who weren't maybe the biggest fan of Senator Sanders since he was essentially trounced by Hillary Clinton seem to be feeling differently about him now? What has been the biggest change on the ground there?

RILEY: You know, I really don't know. I was a practicing politician as a mayor, I am not a political scientist, I'm not sure I understand. But I think that what is happening is the recognition of so many candidates and issues that Joe Biden is, as I said, a unifier and that's what our country needs. And I think that for Joe Biden will do.

BALDWIN: Last question, Mayor Riley and that is and we heard Joe Biden last night in the debate say, I will win South Carolina, but if he does not, what is next for his campaign? Is it game over?

RILEY: Well, what Joe Biden said last night, he will win South Carolina and I'm confident he will. And I think it will propel his candidacy forward and I think he will be successful, and I think he will be the next President of our country.

BALDWIN: Former Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, Joseph Riley, thank you.

RILEY: Thank you.

[14:25:05]

BALDWIN: The CNN Presidential Town Halls continued tonight live from Charleston. Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar, Warren -- all answer voter questions starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

It is the plan to build President Trump's wall, but is it now on hold? Congress warns the Pentagon not to move money meant for the military.

And Trump's acting head of D.H.S. takes a beating on Capitol Hill over the government's response to the coronavirus. Is the nation as prepared as President Trump seems to think? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:30:00]