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Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) Discusses Trump Administration Downplaying Coronavirus Impact, His Tongue Lashing of "Shameful" Pompeo over Coronavirus Response, Pompeo Testifying on Iran; Dr. James Hamblin Discusses Coronavirus, Saying Everyone with Contract It; Will Trump Take Sides in Rising Turkey/Russia Tensions; Erdogan & Putin Decide in Call to Meet Face to Face over Tensions. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 28, 2020 - 13:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Plus, a tongue lashing in Congress. Congressman Ted Lieu going off on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the administration's response to the virus.


REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): You, sir, represent all Americans, not a special interest group.


LIEU: It is shameful you can't even answer basic questions.


KEILAR: Congressman Lieu will join me live, next.



KEILAR: Members of President Trump's administration are trying to downplay the impact of the coronavirus today, including the president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, his economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: The word this morning is we're controlling the message, and it's a political issue, not a medical issue. Completely false.

It looks like this disease is someplace between 1 and 2 percent fatal. Is that serious? It absolutely is, there's no question about it, OK? But it's not a death sentence.

LARRY KUDLOW, CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP; The president does not believe this should be a political matter. He said that several times. The vice president has echoed that. This is not about politics.

Don't rule out more optimistic options. I'm sure, in the U.S. and elsewhere, there will be more reports of coronavirus cases. But that does not mean that this thing is going to skyrocket in North America and the USA.

LIEU: Do you agree with Donald Trump's Chief of Staff Mulvaney that the coronavirus is the hoax of the day?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The State Department is doing everything it can to protect American citizens around the world.

LIEU: Do you believe coronavirus is the hoax of the day?


POMPEO: I'm not going to comment on what others are saying.


KEILAR: That was Congressman Ted Lieu. He is joining us now.

You seized on Mulvaney saying that -- what I understood Mulvaney to say -- and maybe you thought this was different -- he was saying the media was focused on a hoax, which was not a hoax, impeachment, while they were dealing with the coronavirus.

But I wonder, overall, what you think about this administration's response to the coronavirus, as it is now filtering what could be communications, messaging from scientists and from health officials through the vice president's office?

LIEU: You just played a clip of Mick Mulvaney saying the coronavirus is not a death sentence. For about 2 percent of the people that get it, it is a death sentence. And it is unfortunate that the administration is downplaying the coronavirus.

We know that there's not enough testing kits. We know the initial wave of testing kits did not work. I asked a CDC director yesterday about the openly restrictive testing, and they said maybe the reason cases have been unreported is because we test very few people.

South Korea has tested over 35,000 people, we've tested only a few hundred. The administration needs to stop downplaying the potential risks of the coronavirus outbreak.

KEILAR: He did say that. He was saying basically there's a 2 percent mortality rate. We've heard experts say it's between two and three, when you look at the numbers out of China, which it does seem we can't trust those, but it seems to be more between three and four. He says it's not a death sentence for everybody. That will give not a lot of people much pause.

But to this point of taking information -- for instance, there are public affairs officials who would be dealing with government scientists and health officials talking to, say, reporters, talking to the press, and the vice president's office is now managing those communications.

What does that mean to you?

LIEU: I'm very troubled that they're trying to control the messaging of scientists and people who are health professionals. Thank goodness, we've got states like California who is taking this seriously.

California is tracking over 8,400 people for possible coronavirus exposure. California health agencies and the CDC will say what every they want to say this true and factual.

And the administration is in this really problematic area where they keep saying things that are contradictory. For example, Mike Pompeo today -- and I asked him repeatedly whether he thought the coronavirus was a hoax. A very simple question to answer. He could not answer that.

So that sends a message to the American people, who think, maybe it is a hoax, because he couldn't answer that simple question. We can't have top officials continuing to give false and misleading information to the American people.

KEILAR: I heard you say California, your state is, right now, they're monitoring about 8,400 people for possible coronavirus. At the same time, we've heard from Governor Newsome that the entire state has only received 200 of these testing kits.

Can California, or really any state, effectively deal with this threat if they aren't able to test for it?

LIEU: No. So that's a huge problem. The person that was identified as having coronavirus from an unknown origin in northern California, that person wasn't tested for days. And one reason is because the CDC had these overly restrictive testing criteria saying you had to have travel to China.

Based on pressure, the CDC has expanded that to no geographic limitation. But there's not a testing kid to test people with symptoms of coronavirus. And we make sure that everyone who could have coronavirus get tested.


I think, when that happens, based on what experts have said, you'll potentially see a rise in the cases of people who have it, because you have people walking around right now -- there's a 14-day or more incubation period -- who may be affecting others and we don't know it because we don't have enough testing kits.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about this hearing, this Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, because Secretary Pompeo was testifying before the committee. It was supposed to be about the Iran strike on General Soleimani in Iraq and how Iran was being dealt with by the administration. It really ended up covering a number of top other topics. This happened.


REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D-CA): Mr. Secretary, do you want to take the opportunity -- this is a yes or no question. Do you want to take the opportunity here today to apologize to those service members for trivializing their injuries?

POMPEO: Mr. Congressman, I've never trivialized the injuries --


SHERMAN: Do you want to apologize on the behalf of the administration for trivializing their injuries?

POMPEO: Sir, I've never trivialized any injuries.


SHERMAN: You're part of an administration. You speak for this administration.


SHERMAN: Do you want to apologize for the administration trivializing those injuries?

POMPEO: Are you looking for me to answer the question?


POMPEO: I'm happy to answer the question, as speaking on behalf. Just give me a second. We take seriously every American service member's life. It's why we have taken the very policies in Iran that we have.


KEILAR: I wonder your reaction to that. I want to look at this in the prism of you are a veteran. You are an Air Force Reservist. Mike Pompeo also has a military background. What is your reaction to this moment?

LIEU: I previously served on active duty. I'm very disappointed that Donald Trump lied to the American people when he said no one was injured by Iran's retaliatory strike when we killed Soleimani.

In fact, over 100 service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. Donald Trump trivialized it by calling it headaches. It is far more than headaches. It could have serious degrading effects on quality of life. And I think it's important for the administration to own up to what happened.

Now, Secretary Pompeo did answer a question truthfully on Iran. I asked him, does Iran have more enriched uranium now than when Donald Trump took office, and he said yes.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman, thank you very much. Congressman Ted Lieu. LIEU: Thank you.

KEILAR: The world is scrambling to contain and control the coronavirus. One doctor says it is likely that everyone will get the virus. Is it too little too late? That doctor will explain his reasoning to what is next.

Plus, escalating tension between Turkey and Russia with U.S. diplomacy caught in the middle. Will the president side with Putin or will he side with a U.S. ally?




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle. It's going to disappear. And from our shores. You know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We'll see what happens. Nobody really knows.


KEILAR: That is the president with his assessment of the coronavirus.

Here is another from "The Atlantic," quote, "You Are Likely to Get Coronavirus." In this piece, quote, "The emerging consensus among epidemiologists is that the most likely outcome of this outbreak is a new seasonal disease -- a fifth endemic coronavirus."

The author of that article is Dr. James Hamblin, a preventive medicine physician, staff writer at "The Atlantic" and a lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health.

Doctor, thank you so much for joining us.

Take us through this. You don't think the coronavirus is going away any time soon. Explain this to us, the idea of a fifth endemic coronavirus

DR. JAMES HAMBLIN, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Sure. When the outbreak started, when the news stories first hit the air, it seemed like there might be a possibility of containing the virus in China.

And it spread very rapidly, despite really aggressive containment measures. Shutting down cities, shutting down travel, putting people in camps. And it spread so quickly and so widely that it seems that outright containment is not possible, that it will continue to spread throughout the world.

And the nature of coronaviruses is such that it could be something like the flu, the cold and flu, which tend to recur and tend to be with us for a very -- this could be with us for a very long time. Not necessarily in the severe form we're seeing right now, but it doesn't look like it's going away. KEILAR: So in the article you write that coronavirus is deadly, but

it's not too deadly. Explain that to us.

HAMBLIN: Yes. Well, it's not too deadly compared to the coronaviruses that caused SARS and MERS, which were extremely fatal, as are some strains of influenza like H5N1.

When I say extremely, I mean, H5N1 was 60 percent, I believe, fatality rate. So 2 percent is - it's all relative. But it's much hirer than most influenza strains.

So it's in a space where it is able to spread, capable of spreading because it's not causing severe disease in a lot of people. And yet, it is deadly enough that the overall total number of casualties is anticipated to be high and it has been high in China already.


KEILAR: And we're still of course looking for more information on this.

Thank you so much, Dr. James Hamblin. A great piece in "The Atlantic." We appreciate you speaking with us today.

HAMBLIN: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: Tensions escalating in Syria after Turkey says Russian-backed forces killed dozens of Turkish soldiers. Will President Trump take a side? We'll have more on that, next.



KEILAR: Russian military officials are denying responsibility for an airstrike in northern Syria that killed dozens of Turkish troops in a move that is raising the risk of full-blown conflict.

Turkish officials say at least 33 soldiers were killed in Syria's Idlib Province during an airstrike on Thursday by Russian-backed Syria forces in the last rebel-held area of Syria. This attack comes days before a Turkish deadline for Syria to pull back troops.

We have CNN political analyst, Josh Rogin, joining us now. He's also a foreign policy commentator for the "Washington Post."

Josh, there's a spokesperson for the State Department who said the United States is very concerned. But so far, the United States or Washington and NATO members have refused to engage militarily in northwest Syria, even though, remind people, the NATO component here.

Do you think that the president is going to have to pick between Putin and a NATO ally?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he has a third choice, which is to do nothing, and that seems to be what the Trump administration is planning to do.

Let's remember here, we've got three million civilians, a million of them children, fleeing for their lives, literally, getting bombed from the air and bombed from the ground, and 65,000 people living out in the cold under olive trees, and 800,000 people displaced in the last couple of months.

And the only thing stopping this onslaught is our imperfect ally, Turkey, went in with troops. And now they're paying the price, too.

There's a lot of things we could do, short of an all-out invasion. We could provide them with air cover, intelligence, more humanitarian aid. These are the things Turkey is requesting.

So far, if you listened to Secretary of State Pompeo this morning, very deep concern is about all we could muster. That is tragic not just for the Syrian people but also for the Europeans who will be receiving the refugees and, eventually, for us as extremism and terror and all the bad things happening in Syria only get worse.

KEILAR: Do you see that third option of doing nothing as essentially choosing not to backup Turkey, to choose Russia this way, even if it's not sort of a full-throated endorsement of what they've done or that we're not going to help out Turkey?

ROGIN: Yes, and to be clear, Turkey is an imperfect ally even in Syria. When the Turks went into the northeast against the Kurds, there was a lot of outrage and they made a lot of mistakes. But now that the Turks are doing the right thing, defending the Syrians in the northwest, there's silence.

What the Trump administration officials will always say, well, what do you want us to do, you want us to put in troops, you want us to get in the middle of World War III. And they're talking about the risks of action, which are real. But there are also risks of inactions.

What the Turks are saying is, OK, if you're not going to help us, you're going to leave us here and leave the Syrian people here, we're going to have to do some things. We'll have to let some refugees go to Europe. That's going to be bad for Europe.

And the overall concept of the NATO alliance, which is that, if one of these countries is facing a threat, we're all facing a threat, it completely breaks down.

That has the benefit of aiding the Russian/Syrian/Iranian plan. But remember, that plan is to slaughter Syrians until they take over the northwest.

So you know what they're going to do after that? They're going to head over to the northeast. And that's where the U.S. troops are. It's going to be our problem, one way or the other, whether we act or not.

KEILAR: There was a phone call today where Erdogan and Putin agreed that they are actually going to meet face-to-face. This could possibly take place next week. What do you think of that? Is that a good idea? Could some positives

come from that?

ROGIN: Yes. Both Erdogan and Putin have an interest in de-escalating for the time being. If they're able to do that, that's good as far as it goes. But none of the fundamentals in that part of Syria will have changed.

The Russians want a de-escalation because it allows them to continue what they're doing, helping the Assad regime slaughter civilians, advance into Idlib, and force these millions of people into an ever- shrinking spot, and that spot is a hell. That spot is full of death and starvation, and some of the worst things you could imagine. That's good for Russia. That's bad for Turkey.

But without our help, there's nothing else Turkey can do. They can't stand up to the Russians and the Iranians and the regime by themselves. They're not going to do it.

We may leave them in a position where they have to cut another deal with Putin. Putin will break that deal again, as he has every deal since. The Syrians will suffer. The Turks will suffer. The Europeans will suffer. And eventually, we'll suffer, too.

KEILAR: All right, Josh Rogin, thank you so much.

ROGIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: That is it for me.

"NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

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

This is a special hour on the coronavirus outbreak, which is now at the highest level of risk worldwide.

Here's what the World Health Organization is doing. They're making that announcement as five more countries report their first cases in just the last day.


A WHO spokeswoman tells CNN officials need to have a checklist when preparing.