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Pence Once Downplayed Risk of Smoking -- It Doesn't Kill; Trump's Credibility on Truth Amid Health Crisis; Italy Predicts $5 Billion Tourism Loss from Coronavirus; Iran At Epicenter of Coronavirus Cases in Mideast; Young Democrats Weigh in on Critical South Carolina Primary; Syrian Offensive Terrorizes Children in Idlib Province. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 27, 2020 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: More than 480,000 people in the U.S. die from illnesses related to tobacco use each and every year, so it seems the issue you brought up initially about the HIV outbreak, not the only time Mike Pence refuted evidence-based data -- Laura.

LAURA UNGAR, COVERED PENCE'S HANDLING OF 2015 HIV OUTBREAK IN AN INDIANA TOWN: Yes, and in the case of the HIV outbreak, I mean, research has consistently shown that syringe exchanges don't increase drug use and, in fact, get people into treatment, and really reduces addiction. And so the science has been there in support of syringe exchanges, you know, in the HIV epidemic, and it's still quite robust that they are a prevention tool when it comes to stopping infections that are fueled by drugs.

BALDWIN: Gloria, listen, people at home, they just want to know what's coming and that all the people at the top are prepared for it, you know, and as we mentioned, the task force is growing today. What's your sense? Do you think this country is confident in how this administration could handle an outbreak like this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's really hard to know at this point, Brooke. I think it's -- I think it's early. I think generally if you look at polling, people trust their government to help them do the right thing, and to give them the right information in times like this.

I think the problem occurs when A, you have a President who starts with very little credibility, and then, B, you have an administration that has had mixed messages. And what the people want is the truth, and the question is whether you can get the truth more from the scientists or whether you believe the politicians are the right people to get the truth or whether they can actually work together to get on the same page. And I think that's what the public wants.

They want -- they want the officials to listen to the scientists and come up with a way to inform the public about how serious the problem is and what they can do about it. And at this point, I think we do not see that but hopefully at some point in the future we will. We just -- we just don't know how this disease is going to progress.

And again, when scientists use the word pandemic, they don't take that lightly. And they say that it is a possibility, and if they are muzzled from talking about that possibility, I think that could threaten public health.

BALDWIN: We'll end on an incredibly frightening note. Gloria Borger and Laura Unger, no, I appreciate you bringing it forward. That is a real fear. Ladies, thank you very much.

As far as coronavirus around the world, the Tokyo Olympics are still on as of now, but officials are saying they may make some changes to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

And a horrific new development in the humanitarian crisis in Syria. We are learning the regime killed at least 21 people in a series of attacks on schools and a hospital, and the assault isn't over.



BALDWIN: The man in charge of the Tokyo Olympics says they are considering scaling down some events this summer just to decrease the risk of spreading the coronavirus. But the World Health Organization says any decision about whether to cancel the games will not be made anytime soon. That sentiment was echoed by one of the members of the International Olympic Committee.


DICK POUND, MEMBER, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: If the games are canceled -- and that's a big if at this point -- it's going to be a complicated decision. My guess is it would take more than simply a decision by the IOC and the Tokyo authorities, who would be governments and international agencies saying it is not safe to hold the games, and we're a long way from that.


BALDWIN: Governments around the world are acting now to try to stop the spread of the virus. CNN is covering all of these various locations as the number of cases has passed 82,000 globally, so let's check in starting with our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman in Italy where the tourism federation is estimating losses will be as much as $5 billion -- Ben.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, the latest numbers around on the coronavirus, and they are not encouraging. There are now 650 cases of coronavirus in Italy, that's up from 400 just yesterday, and that includes 17 deaths. Now, the Italian government has come under some criticism for what is

seen as an excessive response to this outbreak by setting up these so- called red zones where people are cordoned off in these zones where about 50,000 people live. But Italy does have one of the world's best public health systems, and they are doing all they can to bring this outbreak under control.

Now, we spoke to one woman who lives in one of those red zones, who says that they're trying to live life as normally as possible. She said her 15-year-old daughter is online continuing her studies when they can. They go for long walks in the countryside and spend a lot of time cooking, but she did say that when those red zones were first set up, she felt like she was living in a disaster movie.



IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ivan Watson in Seoul, senior U.S. and South Korean military commanders announced they were postponing joint military exercises indefinitely and with good reason.


The South Korean Defense Ministry has about 10,000 military personnel in quarantine right now with dozens of confirmed cases of coronavirus across all four branches of the South Korean military. Meanwhile, the U.S. military, which maintains a force of about 30,000 here in Korea has confirmed a third case linked to one of the U.S. bases here. This time a South Korean employee working out of Camp Carroll, and that is the same base where a 23-year-old U.S. soldier was diagnosed with coronavirus on Wednesday.

As both militaries deal with the threat, South Korea, the host country is dealing with quite a serious outbreak. More than 500 cases diagnosed in a period of about 24 hours.



JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jomana Karadsheh In Istanbul, here in Turkey, so far there are no reported cases of coronavirus, but there is a lot of concern about more and more cases appearing in different countries in the region, including in Iraq, in Bahrain, in Kuwait. All these cases can be traced back to Iran. That is the regional epicenter of the outbreak.

Numbers there are growing by the day, but in a country where information is so tightly controlled by the government, it is very difficult for us to know how bad that outbreak might be. There are concerns there are more cases than what is being reported.

Some in Iran are concerned that their government is not taking this really seriously, and they are not doing enough. But the government is saying that they have put some measures in place, including that extraordinary step of canceling Friday prayers in certain cities. But some are questioning their decision to not quarantine cities where there's an outbreak, possibly making it harder to contain the disease -- Brooke.


BALDWIN: Jomana and Ivan and Ben, thank you for all of that.

Coming up next, we'll take you to South Carolina, because we're just two days away from the critical political primary contest. I'll talk to a member of College Democrats group on what is going on in the mind of young voters.



BALDWIN: With the South Carolina primary just two days away, we wanted to hear from some young voters who will have their say this Saturday in deciding who will win the first in the south primary. Jahleel Johnson is a freshman at the University of South Carolina and an active member of the College Democrats of South Carolina. And he's joining me now. He's decided to support Joe Biden. So Jahleel, welcome.

JAHLEEL JOHNSON, MEMBER, COLLEGE DEMOCRATS OF SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here.

BALDWIN: I'm glad you're here. You told my producers I think the phrase was "reluctantly voting for Biden." Why reluctantly?

JOHNSON: I did. I'm going to be honest, President Obama really set the bar on how a President -- he set the bar so high on how a President should act, and this whole presidential primary season no one has lived up to my expectations.

The only person that has was Kamala Harris. She dropped out a while ago, and Biden was my second choice. But the reason I went with him is because he was -- he did serve as Vice President under the first African-American President, and I do think he is the most experienced for the job.

BALDWIN: I'm curious, he got a huge endorsement in Congressman Jim Clyburn, do you think that endorsement moves the needle a little bit for you or for others?

JOHNSON: Oh, I think that will definitely help because we have Tom Steyer who entered the Presidential primary very late, and he started to, I guess pull black support away from Joe Biden, so I do appreciate Congressman Clyburn coming out to endorse Joe Biden. Because really if Joe Biden doesn't win this state, I just -- I'm worried about the rest of his presidential campaign.

BALDWIN: The viability of the campaign. JOHNSON: Yes.

BALDWIN: I was talking to a State Senator from South Carolina this week who said to me, he feels that South Carolina really represents the soul of the country when it comes to overall demographics and being more of a microcosm of the country. And so, when it comes to the black vote in South Carolina, Jahleel, what disappoints you the most about the current candidates?

JOHNSON: Well, I think Kamala said it all, a lot of these candidates like to show up in the black church, act like they're for the culture, for us, but then they seem to just be absent. They seem to not listen. They seem to not care. And, again, the reason I don't -- I think really all the candidates, they need to stop taking the black vote for granted. Stop taking us -- stop showing up at our churches trying to ask for our support. Actually do something to help us.

And again, that's why I'm supporting Biden. He was Vice President under the first African-American President. I do think that he has a much better insight compared to the other candidates on racial issues. He saw firsthand the racism Obama experienced, and again, like I said he has a better insight compared to the other candidates.

BALDWIN: I've got to ask you about Senator Bernie Sanders. You know, four years ago Hillary Clinton trounced him in that South Carolina primary, and I'm just wondering what do you think has changed, especially, you know, with folks your age, Jahleel. What's changed for young voters? Why are they so in love with Bernie Sanders?

JOHNSON: Because Bernie is very passionate about what he believes, and it's OK to be passionate. I'm passionate myself. I just think that the way he's going about it is wrong.

BALDWIN: How do you mean? Are you not --

JOHNSON: We want to see change happen immediately. I'm sorry.

BALDWIN: Are you not buying what he's selling? What is it about Bernie that you can't get behind?

JOHNSON: Well, again, he's -- like I said he's passionate. However, we need transparency in the government, and Trump has definitely polarized us. I want to have a candidate, again, that's why I'm supporting Biden.


I want to have a candidate that can work with Republicans, reach across the aisle to propose legislation to get things done. I'm keeping my eye on the prize, and I think if, you know, what's good if we have a Democratic President, however, will that President be able to get anything done.

I don't think if we have Bernie Sanders as a president, he'll be able to get anything done. BALDWIN: I got you. It's about reaching across the aisle and working with Republicans. And Joe Biden is your guy for that. Here's my last question. What do you think, Jahleel, is the number one issue for South Carolinians?

JOHNSON: For South Carolinians, it'll probably be healthcare. Healthcare all across the aisle. Many of us have experiences with family members having extremely high medical bills and really if we can just make healthcare affordable and if we can expand on Obamacare, which is what the former Vice President is talking about, then, yes, that would be something that would benefit everyone.

BALDWIN: Jahleel Johnson, thank you for speaking up and out. Good to have you on.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Thank you.

BALDWIN: You got it.

Coming up next, we are minutes from the closing bell as coronavirus is propelling stocks to the worst week in terms of the dip since 2008. We are live from the New York Stock Exchange, just ahead.



BALDWIN: The Dow falling even lower as the world deals with coronavirus. This is set to be the worst week for markets since the 2008 financial crisis. More on that in a moment.

But first, we've got to share the story with you. And I just need to warn you that some of the images in the next piece are graphic. But you should not look away. Because the humanitarian situation for close to 3 million Syrians in the northern providence of Idlib is getting more desperate by the minute.

Aid groups say at least 21 people including children and teachers were killed in a series of regime attacks that targeted schools and a hospital. CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon reports.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moments earlier the children were playing in the schoolyard. It was around 4 p.m. when the strike came in. But they weren't there because classes had just let out. But rather because that school, like many others, had been converted into a shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you crying?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is your mama? Over there. There is nothing wrong with your mama. Mama will be OK. DAMON: The man walks around the corner and speaks to a woman who says she has shrapnel in her foot. Not all survived that strike or the nine others that hit schools in Idlib province that same day. Many that had been housing those fleeing the violence elsewhere.

Hiba, a media activist walks through the school. The classrooms converted into living spaces. We think we are safe and then the war planes come and take everything from us, she says.

Russia has rejected calls for a cease-fire stating that would be a capitulation to terrorists. And yet the Russian and Syrian regime bombardment of Idlib has hardly been confined to the front lines or the armed groups. But rather systemically targeting the civilian population. Forcing even more people to flee. And now intensifying attacks on Idlib city itself.

On the edge of a small cluster of tents, not far from Turkey's closed border, one extended family moved underground. Into a manmade cave originally dug out to shelter cows and the goats. They do not have enough money to buy a tent.

There are around 45 of them living here like this. After spending days shoveling out feces and filth.

When the kids sleep, we women take turns looking over them to make sure there are no snakes or scorpions, Omari Braham (ph) says.

They are scared. It's miserable. But where else to go? Half the children are sick. They are barely able to get medicine. There's no heat inside the cave. Food is cooked outdoors where the children warm themselves. All they yearn for is their home. Days without fear. A concept that seems to foreign. A distance dream for the millions trapped in Idlib. In a war that from the onset had no rules, no real frontlines. And where safety is a little more than a shattered illusion -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Istanbul.


BALDWIN: Arwa Damon, thank you. Thank you for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPER, CNN HOST: 8,400 people in California are right now being monitored for the coronavirus. THE LEAD starts right now.

Coronavirus continues to infect the population and the markets, despite President Trump's attempt to calm the nation with perhaps overly optimistic assessments, putting Mike Pence in charge, and frankly adding more confusion by contradicting his own medical experts.

No clue where it came from. The CDC confirms the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the U.S. with no links to foreign travel or direct contact with patients. As nations are closing borders and shutting down schools to try to contain the global outbreak.