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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Taliban Peace Deal Already Showing Cracks?; Trump Administration Creating Coronavirus Confusion?; Six Coronavirus Deaths in United States. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 2, 2020 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Coronavirus victims will likely continue to increase this week because testing across the country is ramping up.

But, as those numbers rise, they still don't compare to the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 12,000 and 61,000 people in the U.S. have died from the flu every year since 2010.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: And King County health officials confirming to CNN just now that, of those six deaths here in Washington state, four of them are related to this building right here, this nursing home facility where we have seen other people who are also ill from it.

So this obviously is what they're watching. The other thing that they're doing is, they're in the process of buying an old motel that they are going to change and have it as a place where people can recover who do get sick with coronavirus -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Stephanie Elam, thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips. She's the chief clinical officer from Providence St. Joseph's Health in Washington state. There, she oversees 51 hospitals across mostly West Coast states, including the hospital where the first coronavirus patient in the U.S. was treated.

Doctor, thanks so much for joining us.

Your hospitals are directly dealing with the coronavirus. It sounds as though you're almost setting up an emergency operations center. How are you preparing?

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, PROVIDENCE ST. JOSEPH HEALTH: Well, we're preparing in a wide variety of ways.

We're making sure that we have everything from triage to testing to treatment protocols, so that we can identify people early and ideally outside the context of a health care environment that are at risk for coronavirus, getting them tested appropriately and then getting them treatment, ideally at home, if at all possible, and only saving our acute care hospital beds for people who are sick enough to really need to be in that kind of environment.

TAPPER: Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that 75,000 new test kits will soon be available.

There are a lot of health experts who say that's not nearly enough, 75,000 testing kits. Let me just ask, you how many kits would you like for your 51 hospitals and health centers?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: All of them. We really want to be able to test pretty much everybody who has the symptoms, so that we can understand where the reservoirs of infection are.

It's unclear right now how the people in the nursing home got the infection. We need to sort that out. And we can only do that if we start testing widely and broadly across the entire community.

TAPPER: So you could take all 75,000 right now for your 51 hospitals?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Pretty easily. It would -- they would be used well.

TAPPER: As someone working on the front lines with patients who have contracted coronavirus, are you getting enough information from top health officials in the U.S., such as the Centers for Disease Control?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: We're staying directly and very closely in contact with the CDC, as well as the state departments of health and the local departments of health, because we have to be able to coordinate on a crisis this large.

So I have to say that those public workers must not have slept in the past month. They are -- they are putting themselves out there regularly, reliably to enable clear communication.

TAPPER: The surgeon general's telling people not only to not buy the masks that people are getting, but he's warning that one could actually raise their risk of coronavirus if they buy a mask, wear it in the wrong way, touch their face and appropriately or repeatedly.

Do you share those concerns?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: I do worry about those.

People, they put the mask on and then they feel like they have their coat of armor on. And that's not the case. The mask, if you sneeze, if you cough, it'll keep respiratory droplets to yourself. So, if you're sick, wearing a mask can keep you from infecting other people.

If you're not sick, having a mask is annoying, and you have got something on your face and you need to get your nose. And so it's a way for people to continuously touch their face, which is a great way if you get the virus on your hand from touching a doorknob to get it then close to a mucous membrane, where it can infect you. TAPPER: What's your message to the public at large?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Message to the public at large is to keep yourself safe. All those things you know should be doing to protect yourself from the flu would protect you from coronavirus.

Wash your hands frequently. Use alcohol general if you have touched anything. Avoid touching your face. Cover your cough. If you're sick, stay home, don't go to work. Don't try to tough your way through it.

I really think that the regular things we do to keep ourselves healthy, particularly during cold and flu season, are going to keep you safe in this COVID environment.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, thank you so much for your expertise. We appreciate it.

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: President Trump says a cure for coronavirus is on the horizon, even though many health professionals cannot properly test for it yet.

What the experts are saying next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:39:17]

TAPPER: In our politics lead, President Trump just wrapped up his meeting with pharmaceutical executives on the response to the coronavirus and need for a vaccine today, urging Americans not to panic even saying, with no further context, a vaccine and even a cure may be coming -- quote -- "very quickly."

In actuality, top health care officials say a vaccine is at least a year away from becoming a reality. And the Trump administration is frankly still struggling to manufacture sufficient testing kits to meet the challenge right now.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, this is all part of the White House's inconsistent messaging on the outbreak.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. skyrockets, President Trump is defending his response, while members of his task force warn of what's to come.

[16:40:00]

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We're going to see a lot more community-related cases, and that's of great concern. COLLINS: After initially downplaying the outbreak for days, today, Trump said he will urge drug company executives to speed up their efforts to develop a vaccine.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we have asked them to accelerate whatever they're doing in terms of a vaccine.

COLLINS: Dr. Anthony Fauci, who briefs the president daily, has publicly cautioned that any vaccine won't happen quickly.

FAUCI: We can't rely in a vaccine over the next several months to a year.

COLLINS: After his meeting with pharmaceutical executives, Trump is hosting a political rally in North Carolina tonight as he accuses Democrats of fending fears about the virus.

QUESTION: Is it safe or appropriate to be holding rallies during a public health crisis like this?

TRUMP: Well, these were set up a long time ago. And others are. I mean, you could ask that to the Democrats because they're having a lot of rallies.

COLLINS: Trump says Democrats are exaggerating the danger of the coronavirus for political gain. But some Democrats are returning the charge, saying it's the president who is politicizing the health crisis by comparing it to the investigations he's faced.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The idea that Donald Trump said just several days ago this was a Democratic hoax, what in God's name is he talking about?

COLLINS: Biden was referring to this comment Trump made during his rally in South Carolina Friday night:

TRUMP: Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. And this is their new hoax.

COLLINS: With an eye on the economy, Trump tweeted that the Federal Reserve chairman should cut interest rates because of the economic risk posed by coronavirus, though some experts have said lowering borrowing costs will only go so far.

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the president has always made clear how he feels about the Fed chairman, so I think his tweet speaks for itself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, during that meeting with drug company executives today, the president also said they are weighing new travel restrictions, but he didn't say which countries, only saying the ones that are having worse outbreaks and others, though there are still questions on whether or not the administration is going to move in the next few days to limit domestic travel as well. Really, all options are on the table right now for them.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's chew over all this.

And, David, we should point out that, in addition to being a Trump campaign adviser, you're a lobbyist, including for some medical interests, Walgreens pharmacy and others.

I want to have you listen to President Trump earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're talking about a vaccine, maybe a cure that is possible. So we will see about that. But we're talking about a vaccine, and they're moving along very quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Here's Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAUCI: In order to get a vaccine that's practically deployable for people to use ,it's going to be at least a year to a year-and-a-half, at best.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And just minutes ago, it happened again, President Trump saying they'd have a vaccine in a few months, Fauci again clarifying it will be at least a year, if not a year-and-a-half.

This is confusing for people. And this isn't about politics. It's about health.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's about health.

Look, I urge transparency. I wish the president might tighten up his messaging there, go a little bit more along the lines Dr. Fauci. He's obviously -- it's aspirational get this stuff done as quickly as possible to take -- ease people's fears.

And getting a vaccine developed that quickly in the normal course of a pharmaceutical kind of drug, it is...

TAPPER: It takes a while, yes.

URBAN: It does take a while. But that's much more quickly. A year to year to year-and-a-half is much quicker than it normally things come to come -- to process.

And so I think the president is being hopeful here and trying to give some optimism to people. The market obviously responded today, markets back up.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know if they responded to him, though.

URBAN: No, no, I'm not saying they responded to the president. I'm saying the market is realizing -- taking a look at what's going on and saying -- and building it in.

(CROSSTALK)

GRANHOLM: But what he's doing, though, is exhibit A in what you don't do as a leader in a crisis.

TAPPER: Do you ever have to deal with a crisis in your two terms as governor?

GRANHOLM: All the time, literally. I was governor during the auto industry meltdown and during a whole series of other kinds of crises, like the -- when the power went out, et cetera, riots in Benton Harbor, et cetera.

TAPPER: Right. Right.

GRANHOLM: What you're doing crisis is that you bring in the experts to speak. You do not exaggerate.

The problem with this president is, he has an inherent flaw, which is that he exaggerates or lies eight times a day. How can you, as the public believe, what the president is saying?

He also thinks he's the smartest guy about anything. And he doesn't do his homework. He doesn't even know this stuff. So he should be turning this over to somebody with knowledge. And it wouldn't be Mike Pence.

And there's a whole 'nother theory about that.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I want to ask you, because, David, you encountered something like this. Everyone compares this to the Ebola epidemic under Obama.

But, really, it's more similar to the swine flu epidemic you had early on in the Obama years, and 12,000 or so Americans died from that.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

TAPPER: How did you and the administration and President Obama deal with the ?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, we did what Jennifer suggests, which is that really let the experts speak to it, organized an all-government campaign to deal with the problem.

[16:45:03]

And there were daily briefings on this. Treat it as a national security issue. Try to be as transparent as possible. Didn't want to create alarm, but also wanted to give people the information that they needed.

You have got to low-key this. I think the fact is that that hyperbole that Trump engages in has served him well in a lot of other instances. It's not good in a national health crisis, public health crisis like this.

And it's not political to say that. I mean, there is not a Republican or Democrat way -- Democratic way to deal with this. There is just a protocol, and it doesn't include hyperbole and false claims.

TAPPER: And, Nia-Malika, Philip Bump of "The Washington Post" argues Trump's playbook of just saying everything's fine, everything's going to be great has worked for him and his base on other things, when it comes to the Mueller report, when it comes to impeachment, maybe even the economy, but might not work for the coronavirus problem.

"His political gamble has always been to focus solely on delivering for his base and disparaging critics for not unifying with his vision for America. That may hold true with coronavirus, too. If cases and fear keep spreading, though, it may be a significant miscalculation."

And the fact is that experts think we're going to see more dead, we're going to see the virus spread, unfortunately. Nobody wants that.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. That's what happens. And that's certainly in the forecast.

So his sort of happy talk about this, at some point, his happy talk will meet with a reality. And the reality is, people's lives could be disrupted by this, right? Hospitals are preparing for it, schools as well, local and state officials.

So I think this is only going to take him so far. And it certainly doesn't make him seem more credible if he is defying or going against what the experts...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: If I was the president, I would just urge calm, right? Calm and just...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Urge calm, and listen to Dr. Fauci.

GRANHOLM: And transparency. And transparency.

URBAN: Listen to Dr. Fauci.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

President Trump insisting -- quote -- "We are leaving Afghanistan."

His top general is trying to manage some expectations there -- why the cracks may already be starting to show in the Taliban peace deal.

That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:10]

TAPPER: Our world lead now, new violence in Afghanistan just days after that landmark truce between the U.S. government and the Taliban, as a blast in Khost province in Afghanistan today killed three people.

The president this morning nonetheless reiterated he wants American troops home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're getting out. We want to get out. We have done a great job in terms of getting rid of terrorists. Now it's up to other countries to get rid of those terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us.

And, Barbara, I guess the big question, is the Taliban responsible for this new violence?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is always going to be the question throughout this process.

And, right now, what you're referring to, the latest attack, we simply do not know, and, today, here at the Pentagon, a very heavy dose of reality from the Pentagon leadership.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The Taliban is not a monolithic group. There's multiple terrorist organizations operating.

I would caution everybody, to think that there's going to be an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan, that is probably not going to have. It's probably not going to go to zero.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: And that's really the underpinning problem here, because the agreement also calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Afghanistan.

And, today, the defense secretary said they would go down to from 12,000 to 13,000 currently there to about 8,600 troops and then stop and take a look at that violent -- at that situation, where is the level of violence, who's responsible for it, and make a decision whether they really can move ahead and bring all U.S. troops home, as the president wants -- Jake.

TAPPER: To say nothing of the sticking points having to do with freeing 5,000 Taliban prisoners and more.

Let me ask you, Barbara. President Trump said this weekend that he plans to meet with leadership of the Taliban -- quote -- "in the not- too-distant future."

STARR: Right.

And, boy, isn't that a remarkable thing? Of course, we were close to that last year, but that meeting got canceled. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, obviously meeting over the weekend with Taliban leaders.

And here at the Pentagon, they say they're not really sure what's going to happen, who they're going to meet with, what the arrangements will be. But any president of the United States maybe with the Taliban 18 years after 9/11, plus-18 years, is really quite a remarkable thing -- Jake.

TAPPER: If we get to it.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Tonight, tune in to CNN for exclusive one-on-one interviews with four Democratic presidential candidates right ahead of Super Tuesday, which is tomorrow. Those interviews start tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Any moment, Vice President Mike Pence is going to hold a briefing at the White House with the latest details on the coronavirus.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:58:27]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're about to hear from the president's point person on the coronavirus. Any minute now, the vice president, Mike Pence, is expected to brief reporters on the outbreak, which we learned just a short time ago has taken more lives.

It's up to six deaths right now here in the United States, all in Washington state, by the way, 100 cases nationwide. We have got a panel of medical and public health experts standing by, including our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, to help make sense of what's going on.

Also, there are new reports emerging right now, the president saying he's weighing tighter restrictions on travel from hard-hit areas. We will take a closer look at that, take you to the epicenter in Washington state, where all six deaths have happened, and where first responders, including a quarter of the fire department in one city, are now under quarantine. Meantime, the markets did bounce back dramatically today, the Dow

Jones industrial average up nearly 1,300 points, a record point gain, after a week of record losses.

Plus, with all that happening, another Democrat gets out of the race for the presidency, as voters get ready for Super Tuesday tomorrow -- how Amy Klobuchar's departure and two new endorsements of Joe Biden, including hers, potentially could shake up the race.

I will talk about all of today's breaking news with our correspondents and analysts. They are all standing by. They're out here. They're here or in the field.

First, as we wait to hear from the vice president and top health aides working with him, let's go quickly to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, you are there in the White House Briefing Room. I know you're getting ready.

[17:00:00]