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CDC Confirms U.S. Coronavirus Case with No Links to Foreign Travel; Trump Downplays Coronavirus Concerns; AOC-Backed Challenger Targets Conservative Texas Dem; House Republicans Seek Taliban Deal Assurances; Pelosi Pledges to "Wholeheartedly Support" Dem Nominee; Sanders: Candidate with "Plurality" of Delegates "Should Be" Nominee. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 27, 2020 - 12:30   ET



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- but it suggests that that means the virus is now circulating in the community. That there are people walking around carrying this virus, most of them with either no symptoms or just minimal symptoms, but they're there. They haven't been counted because they haven't really been sick, and if this person got the virus from one of those people, that's what this sort of community spread means.

And then you sort of count this by generation. One person gives it to three people. Those three people give it to three more people. Within four or five generations, you know, it's hundreds of people who are infected.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And so, as we try to learn more about this, and you spent sometime at the White House yesterday at the briefing, I want to get to that in a minute. There's been this question about testing in the California case at UC Davis put a letter saying, "Upon admission, our team asked public health officials if this case could be COVID 19. We requested COVID-19 testing." It just goes on to say essentially that, you know, the testing was delayed because this person didn't meet the standards at that time.

Are we in a better place about that now? Or is this still an issue?

GUPTA: I'm concerned about this particular issue maybe more than any other. Surveillance is the bread and butter of public health. You got to know what you're dealing with in order to actually implement anything.

You know, in South Korea, they've been testing thousands of people everyday. In the United States over a several weeks, we maybe tested a thousand people total. And, you know, there's been strict criteria who to test but I think some of these have been because the initial tests that went out were flawed. We have 10 testing centers in addition to the CDC right now. That's not enough.

I mean, there's people who are coming back from places other than China, Korea, Italy, having symptoms, worried that they have the coronavirus, going to their doctor and being told you can't even get tested. I think that's a concern. I think they're going to really have to fix that particular issue in order to best understand how big the problem is here in the United States.

KING: And so, I mentioned you were at the White House briefing yesterday. From a political standpoint and talking to people around town, Democrats and Republicans, they were not reassured by the tone from the president and the specifics from the president.

You asked him a very specific question after he said -- I think it was after, it might have been during this part where he said, wow, 25,000 people to 60,000 people die from the flu. Wow. As if that was new information. That's pretty standard information.

You had this exchange I want people to see.


GUPTA: The flu has a fatality ratio of about 0.1 percent.


GUPTA: This has a fatality ratio of somewhere between two and three percent.

TRUMP: We don't know the exact numbers. And the flu is higher than that. The flu is much higher than that.

GUPTA: There's more people who get the flu but this is spreading, and it's going to spread maybe within communities, that's the expectation.

TRUMP: It might.

GUPTA: Does that worry you because that seems to be what worries the American people?

TRUMP: No, because we're ready for it.


KING: There's a conflict -- he contradicted himself within the answer about the flu, and then he still has this, it may. It's this almost like --

GUPTA: It is what it is. Yes, sort of. No, it was a little confusing I got to say. And it was chaotic in that room. It was so crowded and there were so many people talking at the same time. But he -- at first, he agreed with what we know to be true, that the flu fatality ration is 0.1 percent. So 0.1 percent of people who get the flu end up dying from it.

What he was trying to say I think earlier was that flu and coronavirus are both very contagious. That part seems to be true. The difference in the point I was trying to make sure we got across was that coronavirus, the fatality ratio according to the big studies, two percent. That's 20 times higher than flu. And that's exactly why public health officials are concerned.

We hope this doesn't spread widely. We hope it doesn't become a bigger concern. But you got something that's 20 times more lethal than the flu, and we know the flu can kill tens of thousands of people a year. That's why people are talking about this.

And by the way, hours and days matter, you know. Not just weeks and months. You got to act fast on this stuff.

KING: And to that point, I want to take some questions. We asked on Twitter if people had some questions because we have the gift of you coming in today. So let me start with this one from Wendy Bedrosian. "Who is dying from coronavirus? Is it mainly young, old or immunocompromised? Or is it killing young, healthy people, as well?

GUPTA: Yes, it's mainly old people with weakened immune symptoms. Thing to keep in mind, 80 percent of people will have either minimal or no symptoms. That's the good news. It's a new virus, so none of off -- none of us have seen it before, our immune systems have never seen it before, so people with weakened immune systems are more at risk.

KING: Reena Hukmani asked this, a question I don't know the answer to. "Can this virus mutate further? This one is already a mutation of a previously known strain that didn't affect many but was around."

GUPTA: This is a really interesting point. So, it mutated we know because it jumped at some point from animals to humans. That was a mutation. It probably had another mutation as it started moving from humans to humans.

What it is interesting is, it can continue to mutate but how does a virus mutate. A virus does not want to kill its host. It'd like to have, you know, a host stay alive around for a long time. So when they mutate often times, these viruses become less lethal. They may make you sick but they don't want to kill the host. So, mutation is still likely to occur but that may not be a bad thing.

KING: OK. Ellen Boatman asked this, "What are the symptoms of coronavirus and when should we go to the doctor?"

GUPTA: Symptoms are very similar to the cold and flu, but there is an important difference, and I saw this in a scientific paper just last night. This seems to affect the lower respiratory system more than the upper respiratory system.


What that means for an individual is if you have runny nose, if you have sore throat as part of these symptoms, that's less likely to be coronavirus. Coronavirus is going to be more deeper sort of breathing problems, muscle aches, things that are deeper the body. And let me just add again, in this country, if you have any of these types of symptoms, it is still exponentially more likely not to be the coronavirus. There still only 60 documented people with this infection in this country.

KING: In this country. Tina Cardosa asked this, "I'm taking a bus trip from southern Illinois to southern Texas. What precautions should I use while inside crowded bus stations?"

GUPTA: I must have gotten 12 e-mails just waiting to do your program today about this exact thing. Look, I think, you know, first of all, again, in the United States, this is really not something that certainly is widely circulating. There is this one patient in California that may be evidence of community spread.

The same thing that we tell people during flu season, I think, really does apply here. How are people getting sick? Mostly through respiratory droplets in the air. It is true that you can get sick by touching a surface and then touching your nose or your mouth. It is true that asymptomatic people can spread, but those are really drivers of increasing the numbers.

The number one way people would get sick from this is respiratory droplets. That means avoiding sick people. If you yourself are sick, then you should stay home so as to not get other people sick. Try not to touch surfaces, do wash your hands as much as possible. Avoid shaking hands as much during flu season.

We've been given that advice for years. So it's really those same basic precautions. If this starts to become clearly spreading in communities, there's going to be other recommendations. Is your home able to -- does it have enough supplies for a couple of weeks if you just needed to basically stay at home and distance yourself from people for a while?

Will your school -- will your kids need to stay out of school? Will you be out of work? And staying home from work, I should say, for some time. Do you have enough medications?

Basic things that we should always be thinking about, you know, just basic preparedness stuff. We're not there yet but those might be recommendations that are forthcoming.

KING: We'll keep bringing you back. It's incredibly helpful. Really appreciate it, Dr. Gupta.

GUPTA: You got it, John.

KING: Good to have you in this INSIDE POLITICS house here.

Up next for us, a list of demands from House Republicans telling the Trump administration what they won't accept in any deal with the Taliban.



KING: Topping our political radar today, House Republicans warning the Trump administration any peace deal cannot place the security of the American people into the hands of the Taliban. In a letter to the secretaries of state and defense, Liz Cheney and other GOP lawmakers laying out a list of things they want, and conditions they say they will not accept. Among them, no secret annexes or side deals, a promise to turn over all Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, and no commitment to fully withdraw U.S. troops.

And now endorsement with some new help today from President Obama for his former vice president. Obama intervening on Joe Biden's behalf in South Carolina, sending a cease-and-desist letter to a pro-Trump super PAC. President Obama demanding that group stop airing an ad that uses his voice to imply that Biden supports, quote, plantation politics. That ad does feature a clip from former President Obama's audio book, that clip taken out of context. Obama's attorneys say the group is knowingly misleading the public.

Another progressive versus establishment battle heating up in Texas before the Super Tuesday primary. Take a look and listen here at this new video from Jessica Cisneros, she's a 26-year-old immigration attorney backed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The challenger hoping to unseat Congressman Henry Cuellar, a more moderate to conservative Democrat who's represented his board of district for 15 years.


JESSICA CISNEROS (D), TEXAS CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I never saw myself running for Congress at 26 but we need someone who is going to stand up for us against Trump's hatred. Henry Cuellar does not fight for us. He's Trump's favorite Democrat. He voted with Republicans to stop DACA, to de-fund Planned Parenthood, and to fund Trump's wall.


KING: Some internal fights in both parties there. Let's start with this Texas race. This is one, AOC has endorsed a number of these candidates, the speaker not happy about it, but it's a limited number essentially trying to unseat Democratic incumbents.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And that's a refrain that they've used against Cuellar for a long-time. He had has voted with the president more than a lot of the other Democrats in the caucus. What's interesting though is that, I believe it's tonight but we reported in POLITICO that the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC as well as the Hispanic Caucus PAC is holding a fundraiser for Democrats like Cuellar along with three other Democrats that are facing primary challenges. So they're trying to protect them.

KING: Internal tensions there.

This letter from Liz Cheney essentially warning the Trump administration, don't go too far in this deal with the Taliban. How significant?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's interesting. Of course, Liz Cheney has not agreed with the president on this. They were furious after he had invited the Taliban leaders to Camp David, something that he announced when he was scrapping, of course. So what's really interesting to see how this one is playing out with this because if you speak to people at the Pentagon, they say actually the White House has not been that involved in securing this peace deal, which is notable because that's not typically the role that the president would take in this. But I think that there was a sense that he should take a different role after what happened with the Camp David debacle.

But what they list are these real concerns that they have about, intelligence sharing, potentially there being these agreements in there that they do not publicize, and these like hidden agreements between the administration and the Taliban. And so I think those are real questions that they want to have. That a broader group of lawmakers have these questions but these are the only ones who are putting a letter out about it.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I also think it's interesting that, you know, it's Liz Cheney. I mean, this is somebody who is sort of waiting in the wings right now. She's already in the Republican leadership. People are wondering if she's going to run for Senate, and she decided not to.


Clearly, she is ambitious, potentially a run for speaker someday, potentially a run for president, and she's out there, you know, criticizing the administration which she doesn't do quite often. But she has done that in the past, including when the president was attacking Lieutenant Colonel Vindman during the impeachment investigation.

KING: The national security foreign policy issues.

BADE: Right. We don't attack our own troops. Exactly.

KING: Yes. She has tried to carve out of lane there. Well, the ambition is worth watching.

Up next for us, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is the early leader in the 2020 delegate chase. Is he looking maybe to change the rules?


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I or anybody else goes into the Democratic convention with a substantial plurality, I believe that individual, me or anybody else, should be the candidate of the Democratic Party.




KING: The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi preaching Democratic unity today. That ahead of a House Democratic caucus meeting with Democratic National Committee officials to discuss the 2020 superdelegate process.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It's not unusual for the party platform or the candidates for president to have their own agenda that they would put forth. And it's not unusual for the House of Representatives to have its agenda as well. Unity, unity, unity. Whoever our nominee is, we will support with respect for his or her positions and hopefully with their respect for our positions as well.


KING: That commitment, however, to support the nominee no matter who it is, not shared by everyone in the Democratic Party, and it's sparking headlines like this one. "Bernie Blowback: Sanders' colleagues warn of political fallout and doomed agenda."

Let's bring in CNN's Manu Raju, a part of that reporting team live on Capitol Hill. Manu, the speaker says there's nothing to see here. Is there?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of Democrats, her own Democrats who come from districts that President Trump won are not embracing the Bernie Sanders agenda, are opposing his candidacy, supporting another candidate, or simply are concerned about socialist -- having a Democratic socialist atop the ticket. Take Joe Cunningham, a South Carolina Democrat whose up -- you know, vulnerable freshman up this year, of course. He says that South Carolina does not want socialism, he does not want Bernie

Sanders at the top of the ticket.

Now, on the Senate side, Democrats are saying that the agenda that has been pushed by Bernie Sanders for a single-payer healthcare system to raise taxes, including on the middle class, to wipe out all student debt, what he is preaching on the campaign trail, they are saying that it simply would not pass even in a Democratic Senate. And they are concerned that he's providing -- he's offering something that simply will not pass, muster even with their own colleagues.

And earlier today, John, you played some of that sound from Nancy Pelosi. She's trying to make it very clear that while they will get behind any of the nominees, why she's not concerned about losing the House, that they would have a distinct and separate agenda from a Bernie Sanders candidacy making it clear that the Democrats will push one thing in their House districts while the top of the ticket may be pushing something else. But, as you know, John, it's very difficult for those members downticket to separate themselves from the top of the ticket in a presidential year which is why that concern is now looming on Capitol Hill as Bernie Sanders gains steam across the country.


KING: Still relatively early in the process but a little bit of anxiety in the Democratic ranks. Manu Raju on the Hill, appreciate it there. Let's bring it into the room. And here's the question, you know, this is, quote-unquote, informational briefing. The timing is a little curious. They say it's just happened that way.

Informational briefing, these House Democrats would be superdelegates, right? So, we just show you the numbers. There are 1,991, you know, that's what you need to win the nomination, 1,991. There are 3,979 pledged delegates available during the primary contest. But then you have these 770 superdelegates. Democratic Party officials including the 230-plus House Democrats.

The new rule say first ballot, the delegates vote. If there's -- if it goes on to a second ballot, then the superdelegates can walk in. If they all got together or most of them got together, wow, that's the swing vote. If, if, if.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. If they can swing it to someone else. Also, those pledged delegates from the states could decide on a second ballot that they wanted to change their vote, if somehow they're influenced by these candidates, assuming that there are more than one that enter this brokered convention. It's interesting, too, Pelosi was also asked, Sanders has been saying that if a candidate wins a plurality of votes, that they should get the nomination. But that doesn't mean that he would get those 1,900 that you talked about.

And she kind of dodged and she just said, you have to have a majority plus one, end of story.

KING: And remember at the debate, only Senator Sanders said anyone with a plurality in the Nevada debate should be the nominee. Everyone else said let the process play out. You have to get to a majority. Among them, Elizabeth Warren who says Bernie Sanders seems to have a different take now than he did four years ago.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That was Bernie's position in 2016 that it should not go to the person who had the plurality.


WARREN: So -- and remember, his last play was to superdelegates. So the way I see this is you write the rules before you know where everybody stands and then you stick with those rules. I don't see how come you get to change it just because he now thinks there's an advantage to him to doing that.



KING: We'll know a lot more about this a week from now after Super Tuesday, after, you know, 14 states vote, a third of the delegates, whether this is a reality or not. But a lot of these other Democrats seem to think that's -- you mentioned this earlier, don't get out of the race, get some delegates because you might have some play and sway at the convention.

BADE: Yes. I mean, look, her answer was -- a lot of Democrats, I think, agree with what Warren was saying that Bernie Sanders has flipped off his position on this, now it's more convenient for him to say a plurality should win. But just to go back to Pelosi for, you know, a quick minute, I mean, it's interesting because Pelosi -- my colleague Mike Debonis has a story in the Post saying she's a bystander for the first time. And, you know, since they took -- the Democrats took the House, she has full control over everything. Right now, she doesn't have control over 2020.

KING: She gets one vote at the California primary on Super Tuesday.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Brianna Keilar starts after a quick break. Have a good day.