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Democrats Make Final Pitch; Trump Downplays Risks of Coronavirus; Shooting at Milwaukee Brewery; Tokyo Olympics in Question; Universities Cancel Study Abroad Programs over Coronavirus. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 27, 2020 - 06:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Of sorts in South Carolina in a combination of a -- of a decent debate performance, a combination of a good CNN town hall, and the combination of the Clyburn endorsement does tell us, Biden can't be counted out. A South Carolina victory well within his reach. And then, who knows.

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I think over the last week we've really seen a couple of examples and data points for why, as you said, Joe Biden absolutely shouldn't be counted out and why the campaign has spent so much time pointing ahead to South Carolina.

The solid debate performance, obviously a moment like this at a CNN town hall, he is top of the polls in South Carolina. And I think just the personal, deep connection going back years and years that he has with the African-American community in South Carolina. I mean Jim Clyburn said it best, he said Joe knows us. He knows our community.

So looking ahead to Saturday, I mean, this is a race that Joe Biden, I think, has to win because there has been so much emphasis that the campaign has put on the state.

I would just point out, though, I think it is difficult to overstate how much of a bruising Joe Biden got in the early states, right? His bad performance in Iowa and New Hampshire, for a candidate that has been running this entire time on electability, which really translates to the average voter as, I'm the person who can win. When you haven't won yet, that is an argument that is difficult to make. And I think he needs a big win in South Carolina to sort of vault himself into the Super Tuesday states so that he can start amassing the delegates that he needs.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It's interesting. I have a sit-down coming up with a voter panel of black South Carolinians and they basically say, and this is understandable, nothing matters until South Carolina votes. You know, when South Carolina has their say, then we'll take it from there.

BERMAN: South Carolina picks presidents is what they like to say. LEE: Yes.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and they have a point, right? Their track record is quite good in terms of determining who the eventual Democratic nominee is going to be. And I do think this is an extraordinary -- potentially an extraordinary moment among black Democrats in that they do have the power in a way that was not necessarily the case in 2016, not since 2008, to change the course of a primary election.

That's part of the case you hear Joe Biden making right now is the idea that, don't just vote for me because I know you and you know me and we have this connection, but you have the chance right now to pick a president. If a year from now we're covering the Biden administration, right, we're going to look back on Jim Clyburn's endorsement and say, that was the moment that it all turned around. And that's an unbelievable moment of potential influence over the trajectory of the party and the country.

BERMAN: We'll be talking about the ambassador to anywhere he wants to be, Jim Clyburn.

MJ, one of my favorite little fact nuggets of this campaign is that Bernie Sanders, before Super Tuesday, is going to travel to Massachusetts and Minnesota. OK, the home states of Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. That's a power move. That's a move that says something. So talk about that. And also just what Elizabeth Warren is trying to do vis-a-vis Bernie Sanders thee last few days.

LEE: Well, I thought we -- the clip that we played of Elizabeth Warren last night was a really key moment because this is Elizabeth Warren now starting finally to draw some distinctions between herself and Bernie Sanders.

I mean the question that the audience member asked, are you going to start drawing more stark contrasts between yourself and Bernie Sanders is literally the question that every national political reporter has been wondering about all year because that moment never came, right? And it is finally coming.

But I thought what was interesting was that she's not really positioning herself as sort of the more liberal version of Bernie Sanders. She didn't talk about Medicare for all and say, my plan is more progressive. She actually said Bernie and I share many of the same progressive ideas, but here's the key difference. I'm the person that can actually get things done. And she pointed to the creation of the CFPB to say, I'm somebody who has these ideas, but actually can put them into action.

So I think the distinction that she's making isn't necessarily ideological. It is more about, I'm a realistic pragmatist that can put these ideas into fruition.

CAMEROTA: MJ, Alex, thank you very much for all of the reporting. This weekend will be fascinating. BERMAN: So, last night, at the White House, you heard the president say the risk of coronavirus in the United States is very low. This morning, though, there are concerning new -- there's concerning new reporting about coronavirus in the United States spreading domestically in a way it has not before. We'll bring you the latest, next.



BERMAN: All right, the breaking news this morning, the CDC is investigating what could be the first case of community spread of coronavirus in the United States. This involves a patient in North Carolina who doesn't appear to have traveled out of the country, nor been in contact with someone who did or someone who was known to be infected with it. In other words, this person just caught it out there.

This comes as the president held this news conference last night at the White House announcing that the vice president, Mike Pence, will oversee the coronavirus reaction. And also said some other things that have drawn criticism.

Joining us now, CNN political commentator Jen Psaki. She served as communications director for the Obama White House. And CNN's senior political analyst John Avlon.

If there ever anything or was to be anything that shouldn't be about politics, it would be response to an outbreak, right, or a possible pandemic?


BERMAN: We're not at that place in our history right now. Everything has got politics in it.

But you need to be able to believe -- you need to be able to believe what officials are telling you. And you need to have a consistent message. So, when the public health officials on the stage tell us that it is likely that there will be spread of coronavirus in the United States, and the president delivers a somewhat different message, it's problematic.

So let's just listen to that.


QUESTION: Just over the course of the last couple of minutes, you have disputed some of what the officials that are working in your administration behind you have said about the risk of coronavirus and its spread.

Do you trust your health officials to give you good information --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, sure. QUESTION: Or do you trust your own instincts more?

TRUMP: I don't think I have. They've said it could be worse. And I've said it could be worse too.

QUESTION: You said you don't believe it's (INAUDIBLE) which contradicts with (INAUDIBLE) --

TRUMP: I also think -- no, I don't think it's inevitable.



AVLON: Look, the president has contradicted himself numerous times on this. He has been sort of a dismissal. He's been in denial, really, for previous weeks about the danger of this outbreak. Now we're at a point of no return.

Yesterday's press conference was a step in the right direction in terms of communicating the seriousness of this, but he does contradict his own advisers.


He is not tethered to science. And he doesn't have the kind of credibility that causes past presidents to be able to communicate with confidence to the American people at a time of crisis. That's a problem of his own making. That's because he's undercut himself by constantly lying and telling falsehoods. And there is this sense, especially among many of the president's supporters in the right wing media, that this -- dealing with this pandemic is being seen through a prism of politics. That's incredibly dangerous for a country.

And, Jen, also he has appointed Vice President Mike Pence as his point person, who has a checkered past in terms of politic health crises where he hasn't been responsive enough quickly enough in his own state back in Indiana.

So where does that leave us?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's exactly right, Alisyn. And, you know, it -- when he was back, the -- when he was the governor of Indiana, Mike Pence refused to support providing clean needles to a part of Indiana where the AIDS -- AIDS was spreading rapidly among intravenous drug users and it was shown to -- to allow AIDS to spread more rapidly.

You know, I think a lot of Democrats last night at the town hall criticized the naming of a czar, the naming of Mike Pence. Obviously it is hypocritical given Trump's own criticism of President Obama, back during the Ebola crisis.

But, ultimately, having a coordinator is a good thing because these crises are rapidly moving. You need somebody who's decisive. You need somebody who can get all of the resources of the government. Whether Mike Pence is the right person for that is almost a separate question given his history and given his lack of belief, as John referenced, to science. I mean that's the real issue here.

I think the problem, if you look at the press conference last night, is not that they went out and said something. That's ultimately a good step. But you need it to be accurate and consistent and what people should expect is for their government to be prepared.

And now you may have some of President Trump's supporters out there thinking that banning flights from Asia is going to help save them, not cleaning their hand, washing their hands, and making sure they're coughing into elbows and staying home if they're sick. That's a problem. And that's not a political problem, that's a problem of leadership from this White House.

BERMAN: You bring up a good point. In a vacuum, having a vice president in charge of this might be an effective thing. You want to be able to cut through the red tape. You want to be able to get action quickly. The question is, is this vice president the right one? That'll be discussed over the next few days.

But, John, again, it's the credibility. Sanjay had that exchange and I heard it again this morning after hearing it last night.


BERMAN: And it just blows your mind where the president was telling Sanjay that the facts and figures on flu mortality rates versus coronavirus weren't true. The president can't change the mortality rate of coronavirus or the flu. It is what it is. And by lying about it, it's just dangerous. It's just important to be honest about this so people know what they need to expect.

AVLON: Look, I don't know that that was a lie simply as much as the fact that the president doesn't know. He doesn't know enough to admit it when he doesn't know.

CAMEROTA: He doesn't know the severity of the flu.

AVLON: Yes. Well, and neither does his acting Homeland Security director in an exchange with Senator John Kennedy the other day. So, look, this is the problem of having sort of the c-team. And I -- what folks need to focus on is that after the Obama administration's response to Ebola, which Donald Trump criticized deeply, he's gutted the global health department within the National Security Council.

They've cut the CDC on -- by 80 percent on the areas that would have addressed pandemics potentially like this. So the preparation has been gutted for reasons that are political or ideological. And that's made us vulnerable.

BERMAN: The career medical officials, not the c-team, people like Fauci and some of the other people (INAUDIBLE) _-

AVLON: No, no, I'm talking --



BERMAN: I totally know what you were saying. I just want to make people understand. The public health apparatus in this country is extraordinary.



CAMEROTA: Except that there's also reporting this morning that they -- we might not have as much access to them in term of information anymore. That if the vice president is managing this, that Dr. Fauci won't be out, Jen, talking to the public as much as he has been.

And so, look, this morning it is very concerning to many Americans as to whether or not we will be getting the truth and real facts.

PSAKI: And that's a huge mistake on their part to just state the obvious. You know, coronavirus or any medical disease or pandemic doesn't differentiate by political party, right?

AVLON: Right.

PSAKI: They're not just going after Democrats or Republicans. And, ultimately, what you have responsibility to do in a White House at a moment like this is to use your platform, use the bully pulpit to share accurate information with the public that really should come from medical professionals. And you can have a coordinator who is garnering the resources of the government. But it should be people who are informing with specific details of what the public should do. And if they don't do that, it's irresponsible and it's a complete disservice to the public, their supporters and others, everybody in the country.


CAMEROTA: Jen, John, thank you, both, very much. We'll see how they handle it today.

BERMAN: And, again, just a reminder, Japan, the prime minister there, just asked all public schools to shut down for a month. That's how serious it is there. Imagine if that happened in the United States.

CAMEROTA: Well, also a reminder, today has been a game changer in the -- in the cases. And we'll get to what's happening in California about that.

Meanwhile, there was this deadly mass shooting at a brewery in Wisconsin. So we have the latest for you on what happened there.


CAMEROTA: The city of Milwaukee grieving this morning after a deadly mass shooting. Police say an employee at the Molson Coors brewery killed five co-workers before turning the gun on himself.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is live in Milwaukee with the latest.

What have you learned, Omar?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, moving forward, investigators are going to be trying to hone in on why exactly this happened. And while the shooter's name hasn't officially been released, we do know that investigators have been in and out of at least one home here in the area that we've been monitoring.

Now, when you look at how this unfolded, the shooting happened Wednesday afternoon here in Milwaukee at the Molson Coors Complex. The first reports came in around 2:08 p.m. local time.


It was minutes after that, that text messages went out to the more than a thousand employees working at the time, telling them there was an active gunman on the campus and to find a safe place to shelter. When police got there, also minutes later, they described it over dispatch audio as a war zone.

When they got there, the gunman was already dead per a self-inflicted gunshot wound according to police. The police say that he is a 51- year-old active employee at Molson Coors. Five co-workers, though, already dead when police arrived. Again, all of them employees.

And in the hours after this happened, we heard from the mayor here in Milwaukee who described this as an unspeakable tragedy.


TOM BARRETT, MILWAUKEE MAYOR: There were five individuals who went to work today, just like everybody goes to work, and they thought they were going to go to work, finish their day, and return to their families. They didn't, and tragically they never will.


JIMENEZ: And outside the investigation, a prayer vigil is set for tonight. As the community continues to try and heal, and as six families wake up with one less family member than they had just a day ago.


BERMAN: What a loss. What a tragedy. Omar, thank you very much for being there for us. Please keep us posted as we learn more information. That information has not been quick incoming yet because they want to give the families what is they need.

All right, the fate of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo in question as the coronavirus crisis worsens.

Andy Scholes has more this morning in the "Bleacher Report." ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, John.

You know, the worldwide impact of the coronavirus outbreak, it continues to hit hard. But Tokyo 2020 organizers say the show will go on. Next months' Olympic torch relay, it's scheduled to go ahead as planned, but organizing -- the organizing committee, it's considering scaling down events to decrease the risk of infection.

Now, there still is concern about the games themselves, which are set to begin on July 24th. One senior member of the International Olympic Committee, Dick Pound, tells CNN that preparation for the summer games are going ahead as planned for now.


DICK POUND, SENIOR MEMBER, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: There are a number of ranges there. Can they be -- could you be postponed for a few months? Could they be postponed for a year? Would they have to be canceled all together? Could they be dispersed in parcels around the world? It's not -- but we're not anywhere near that kind of a decision making process.


SCHOLES: Now, Pound estimates they're going to have to make a decision when the games are two to three months out. The Olympics have only been canceled during wartime. And, guys, the IOC says they're going to rely heavily on the World Health Organization when coming to a decision.

CAMEROTA: OK, Andy, thank you very much for that.

So, coronavirus is also impacting American students who are studying abroad. We have a live report for you from Italy, where things are getting worse and students are in limbo.



CAMEROTA: The coronavirus outbreak is getting worse across Europe. It is spreading fast in Italy. France's president says an epidemic is on the way. And new cases are being reported in the U.K., Germany, and other countries.

For American students studying abroad, their future is now very much in limbo.

CNN's Melissa Bell has more from Florence.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's Joshua Kurzer's last night in Florence. He and his roommate are only just digesting the news. They only found out on Tuesday that their semester with an Italian family was being cut short. That's when Syracuse University told them that they had to book themselves their tickets home by the weekend.

NICHOLAS KOHLER, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BOULDER STUDENT: We're still obviously kind of in shock, but I'm very disappointed. This is something we've talked about for years. This is something you get excited about. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. And we're not even halfway through. It's been cut short. I'm pretty devastated.

JOSHUA KURZER, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Personally, I'm very fortunate that my parents are able to, you know, dish out the money and afford it, at least now, with hopes of reimbursement. But I'm sure there are many people on this program who are less fortunate than me that it's a real struggle for them to get home. And I know a lot of students here saved up their own money for their entire lives to come on this trip and now those, you know, and have spent that. So it's kind of in flux. It's really disheartening.

BELL: There's only been two cases of coronavirus confirmed in Florence, but the American universities are taking no chances. For hundreds of American students here on exchange, Florence was the stuff of dreams. And for an art student like Nick, the city has been a revelation.

KOHLER: It's pretty unbelievable. I mean that's part of the reason why I wanted to come. And the teachers have been fantastic. Being here and experiencing it versus seeing a picture, it's not the same thing.

I'm more honestly disappointed in the fact that the program has since been canceled. So they're sending us home for their liability. And I understand why, but it still doesn't really lessen the disappointment for all the students.

BELL: Joshua has managed to get himself on a flight this Thursday morning. So it's time to say good-bye to each other --


BELL: To their host mother, and to the semester of their dreams.


BELL: Now, Alisyn and John, both NYU and Syracuse University announcing the repatriation of their students have cited fears that those lockdown measure you've seen in the north of the country might be extended. And just consider this briefly, from one case identified and confirmed here in Italy a week ago, we've just had it confirmed that there are now 528 as coronavirus continue what appears to be its relentless spread.


CAMEROTA: Oh, the exponential explosion in Italy is one of the most troubling developments in all of this. Thank you very much, Melissa.