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THE SITUATION ROOM

Biden Projected To Win 10 States, Sanders Leads In California As Bloomberg Drops Out; Warren Rethinking Campaign; Trump Eyeing Biden Resurgence As Campaign Plans Attack; White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing; Pence: No Need For Americans To Buy Masks; Pence: 1.5 Million Coronavirus Test Kits Going Out; W.H.: Coronavirus Lab Tests Will Be Considered Essential And Covered By Health Insurance. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired March 4, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Amara Walker, thanks so much. Follow me on Facebook Instagram, Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM where we are following two major stories right now. The spreading coronavirus outbreak and the Democratic race for the White House upended in the wake of Super Tuesday.

In a remarkable comeback, Joe Biden won 10 of the 14 states, now including Maine which CNN has projected. And Mike Bloomberg is now endorsing Biden and pledging campaign support after suspending his presidential bid.

Bernie Sanders won three states and he's leading right now in California. But with no wins in the loss of her home state of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren is rethinking her campaign and whether to endorse Biden or Sanders.

We're also standing by for a briefing this hour from the Vice President Mike Pence and his coronavirus task force. There will be live pictures from the White House briefing room. The outbreak has now infected 154 people here in the United States with California reporting its first death on top of 10 in Washington State.

And the House of Representatives has just passed an $8.3 billion coronavirus funding package.

A lot of news happening. But first, let's go to our Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny is here in "The Situation Room" with me right now.

Jeff, Joe Biden pulled off a really dramatic turnaround yesterday.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the outlook in the shape of the Democratic primary has been dramatically changed, no question, in the wake of Super Tuesday. Joe Biden was often seen as the theoretical Democratic frontrunner, but now the voters have made him a real one. Sweeping 10 states but turning out a broader coalition than ever before. This Democratic primary is a suddenly head-to-head battle with Bernie Sanders, but Biden is now in the driver's seat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They don't call it Super Tuesday for nothing.

ZELENY (voice-over): Tonight, it's clear, momentum Trumped money.

BIDEN: So I'm here to report we are very much alive.

ZELENY: Joe Biden is not only alive, he's on a remarkable roll collecting the endorsement of Michael Bloomberg who extinguished his presidential bid after a dismal showing on Super Tuesday.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Defeating Donald Trump starts with uniting behind the best candidate shot to do it. And after yesterday's vote, it is clear that candidate is my friend and great American Joe Biden.

ZELENY: Biden sweeping 10 states from Massachusetts to Minnesota, across the south and even winning Texas. Bernie Sanders claiming his home state of Vermont and two others while holding a lead in the biggest prize of all California.

Tonight, Biden is leading Sanders in the only metric that matters the delegate race. Biden at 435, Sanders 381, Elizabeth Warren far behind at 26 with 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination.

As Warren reassesses her candidacy, an adviser telling CNN the biggest decision left is whether to endorse Biden, Sanders or neither.

For Sanders, the result on Tuesday were a surprising setback, exposing holes in his coalition and raising questions about whether his support has come up against the ceiling.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course, I just want that. We'd like to win every state by a landslide. It's not going to happen.

ZELENY: He pledge to fight Biden all the way to the Democratic convention in Milwaukee.

SANDERS: Joe and I have a very different voting record. Joe and I have a very different vision for the future of this country. And Joe and I are running very different campaigns.

ZELENY: Yet Sanders is trying to embrace former President Barack Obama through a new T.V. ad, aimed in part at improving his low support among black voters.

It was a dramatic comeback for Biden for which he owes a long list of thank yous to Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg for dropping out and endorsing him, to Warren for bringing Bloomberg down to size on the debate stage and to voters who flocked to him.

BIDEN: People are talking about a revolution, but we have started a movement, we have increased turnout. The turnout turned out for us.

ZELENY: Going forward in a one-on-one race for Sanders, the former vice president can lean on the financial muscle of Bloomberg who pledge to turn his robust campaign into an effort to take down President Trump.

BLOOMBERG: I will not walk away from the most important political fight of my life and I hope that you won't walk away either.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now Bloomberg is vowing to spend his unlimited resources trying to take down President Trump. It's something, of course, the vice president can need. But, Wolf, this is so fascinating how quickly this all moved.

Just a couple of days ago, the Biden campaign certainly did not expect this at all. One caveat here, we are told that Senator Sanders reached out to Elizabeth Warren today asking for her support. She declined to give it at least in the moment. So all eyes are on her campaign to see what she does.

But Wolf, no question that President Trump is driving this movement. Democrats have been looking for a consensus candidate, in Biden they found him, but Sanders says he'll take it all the way to the Milwaukee convention.

[17:05:06]

BLITZER: See what Elizabeth Warren decides to do. All right, thanks very much Jeff Zeleny for that.

Let's go to the White House right now. Our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta is joining us.

Jim, the Trump campaign is closely watching the rapidly shifting Democratic field.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are, Wolf. President Trump is not exactly getting the outcome he wanted as Joe Biden is gaining momentum. For weeks, Trump campaign advisers have said privately they want to see Bernie Sanders win the nomination. The President told reporters earlier today, he doesn't care who he runs against in the fall, but his campaign staffers are gearing up to attack Joe Biden once again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is playing the pundit in chief sizing up the Democratic field after Joe Biden's big night on Super Tuesday complaining that Elizabeth Warren's decision to stay in the race --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She is selfish from that point of view.

ACOSTA: Hurt Bernie Sanders and help the former vice president.

TRUMP: She was really a spoiler because other people got out in those votes went over to Joe. And those people really helped Joe.

So Bernie would have won states that he lost and he lost fairly easily, but in particular Massachusetts, I would say Minnesota in particular, I would also say Texas and some others.

ACOSTA: The President is signaling that he is watching Biden's resurgence carefully taking swipes at Mike Bloomberg who dropped out of the race.

TRUMP: He made a fool of himself.

ACOSTA: Noting the former New York City mayor could put his billions behind a Trump takedown.

TRUMP: He's going to, you know, try and save face by putting some money into Biden's campaign. And we'll see what happens. I don't think that's going to have an impact.

Now he's doing that because, you know, he is spiteful, and he is a spiteful guy, I know him well. He is a very spiteful guy.

ACOSTA: But Bloomberg's team seemed ready for Mr. Trump's attacks after the President tweeted, "I could have told Bloomberg long ago that he didn't have what it takes and he would have saved himself a billion dollars." Bloomberg responded with force, replying with a "Star Wars" clip and adding, "See you soon, Donald."

The President told reporters it doesn't matter who he faces.

TRUMP: Do I care? No, because we're just waiting to find out who we're running against.

ACOSTA: But that's not the case. As Trump campaign officials have told CNN they would prefer to face Sanders. One Trump adviser said President's team will go back to attacking Biden's son Hunter's work for the Ukrainian energy company. Burisma.

On a campaign's plan for Biden, a Trump's adviser told CNN, "We attack. Biden still hasn't provided a good answer on Burisma." An echo of the President's call to Ukraine and China to investigate the Biden's from last fall.

TRUMP: They should investigate the Bidens. By the way likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens.

ACOSTA: Top Trump allies agreed Biden would be hard to beat.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think that he would be tough. I told the President that. I think that Joe Biden has a good reputation and he'd be tough. He'd be more moderate than Bernie, but I still think it's Trump's to lose. ACOSTA: Even as one ex-Trump official, former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci told CNN he is already endorsing Biden.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FMR. WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR: I'm a Republican for Joe Biden. Because the President is not a Republican.

At the end of the day the Republicans that are around the President -- well, I'm Trumpist. I'm an old-school Republican like Mitt Romney, old-school Republican like George Herbert Walker Bush. I'm not a Trumpist.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR: Will you campaign for Biden?

SCARAMUCCI: If he asked me to, I will.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And the stock markets also had a reaction to Joe Biden's big night on Super Tuesday. The Dow was up more than 1,100 points. The experts on Wall Street are chalking it up to a positive reaction to Biden's big Super Tuesday. So the White House is keeping an eye on the stock market, of course, Wolf, but they're also keeping an eye on the coronavirus outbreak.

We should note just a short while ago the House did passed an $8.3 billion package to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he expects the Senate to approve that package later on this week. That's obviously money the White House will take even though it's more than what they requested.

And we should note Vice President Mike Pence, the current Vice President will be holding a briefing at the half past the hour, the talk about the administration's response to the coronavirus outbreak. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we're told he'll be coming in with the task force members into the White House briefing room to answer reporters' questions and make a statement. All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez. Tom, thanks very much for coming in.

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Good to be with you,

BLITZER: So is this for all practical -- I know you're not a pundit, but for all practical purposes a two-person race for the Democratic nomination right now?

PEREZ: Oh, we still have others in the campaign, and they'll have to make decisions. This is all about math, Wolf, 19,991 delegates. We've now allocated once we get the final allocations from this week, about 40 percent. After next week we'll be at about 50 percent. And so every candidate will take a look and see, do I have a viable pathway to 19,991.

[17:10:01]

BLITZER: And that's -- it could take a while especially if there is this two candidates who are both doing relatively well. Have you ever seen a turnaround like we've saw yesterday for the former vice president, Joe Biden?

PEREZ: Well, what I loved about yesterday and frankly this entire process has been turnout. People are showing up, Senator Sanders, supporters of the vice president, supporters of other candidates, they're coming out in force.

I mean you look at Virginia, Wolf, 1.3 million people voted. They blew away the high water mark during the Obama era. You look at places like Minnesota, there were 200,000 voters in the caucus in 2016 and there were 3/4 of a million voters yesterday. And that's because our candidates are speaking to them. And we're about addition. We are expanding the electorate. Our candidates expanding the electorate and I'm confident we're going come together. It was -- it certainly been an interesting 72 hours.

BLITZER: Are you confident that one candidate will have a majority of the delegates going in to the Democratic convention in Milwaukee in July and there won't be a need for a second round of votes?

PEREZ: Yes, I am confident and here is why. Every -- seemingly every cycle at about this time, and I could show you some headlines, there is the article about -- and it happened in 2008, oh, it is going to be a brokered convention between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And it doesn't happen. And that's because, you know, momentum is often an important thing in politics.

We're only 40 percent of the way through right now. So, you know, we're at mile 12 of the 26-mile marathon. And I'm confident at the end of the day whether we get it on the first ballot or a second ballot, we're going to come together as Democrats, because we understand the fierce urgency now, the democracy imperative of defeating Donald Trump. And that's why we see such remarkable turnout.

BLITZER: The delegates that went to Bloomberg who's now endorsed Biden, to Buttigieg who's now endorsed Biden, do they automatically, on the first round, go to Biden? What are the rules?

PEREZ: Well, the rules are -- some of the -- a percentage roughly is 3/4 of those delegates then become delegates that are in play frankly for the other candidates. That's why every campaign right now, if you see somebody leave the race, you are immediately trying to figure out who those delegates are, and whether you can pick up those delegates.

There's a small percentage of those delegates that will get automatically allocated to the campaigns that are still in the race proportional to what they did in the state.

BLITZER: Should the candidate with the most votes, maybe not a majority, but the most votes be the nominee in the first round? PEREZ: Right. We've set forth a very clear set of rules of engagement. And the we in that sentence was a very large group of folks including many of supporters of Senator Sanders. It was a very inclusive process. Everybody contributed quite a bit to the process.

And here is the rule. You have the win 50 percent plus one to win the nomination. This rule has been in place in the Democratic Party since 1936. And the purpose of that is to make sure that we find the candidate who has the track record and is able to bring together and unite the party. And 50 percent plus one has been that rule. We made that rule. We limited the power of super delegates on the first ballot, I think that was the right thing to do. We returned power to the people.

And again, this was an agreement. We all made it. It was very transparent. And those are the rules we're going to follow.

BLITZER: Very quickly because we're almost out of time. Are there contingency plans in the works the Democratic convention in July in Milwaukee if the coronavirus outbreak escalates?

PEREZ: Of course.

BLITZER: Have you had discussions about that?

PEREZ: Yes. We've been in contact with federal officials. It's also important to be in contact with state and local public officials first responders in Milwaukee. We're doing all of those things. We always hope for the best, but we always plan for every contingency.

BLITZER: So what are you planning for? What's the worst case scenario?

PEREZ: Well, again, we'll wait and see. But we're having these conversations right now with the federal officials. You know, in the 2012 convention, the Republican convention, you may recall, Wolf, there was a hurricane. And they had to make some contingency arrangements for the safety of the delegates in that convention. And we will be prepared.

We take this very seriously. I wish the President took it more seriously. There's been 14 tweets about the Democratic primary in the last two days. And I think two tweets about coronavirus. This is a very serious thing.

When I was in the administration I remember the president's response to Ebola, it was very clear, it was very coordinated and it was very successful.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's hope for the best in Milwaukee. Thanks so much for joining us Tom Perez --

PEREZ: Always a pleasure.

BLITZER: -- of the DNC.

[17:15:00] All right, stay with us, we're about to go live to the White House as soon as the Vice President Mike Pence and his coronavirus task force begin their briefing. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, we're standing by for a briefing by the Vice President Mike Pence and his coronavirus task force, looking at the live pictures coming in from the White House briefing room.

We're also following important developments in the race for the White House on the hills of Joe Biden's astonishing string of 10 victories in the 14 Super Tuesday state primaries. Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the race today and publicly and formally endorsed the former vice president.

Let's bring in our political experts to discuss. How much did the race, Dana, change yesterday?

[17:20:00]

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's easier to figure out ways it didn't change. I mean, it was stunning. I don't think any of us in our lifetimes have seen a night like last night, because so much was unexpected. And Joe Biden won states, a handful of state that he never stepped foot in. Yes, he had some surrogates, but he didn't campaign there.

And it's almost as if -- we were talking earlier, it's almost as if there was, you know, he was crowd surfing, like he was just kind of on top of this huge group of people pushing him forward to the stage. And now he is on the stage.

And the question is, what's he going to do with it? What's he going to do with the spotlight on the stage? How is he going to handle it? Is he going to build the infrastructure that even his campaign and his surrogates admit he doesn't have? And how is he going to get that going quickly enough first and foremost to beat Bernie Sanders, and if he does, to go up against the Trump juggernaut?

BLITZER: So is this now a two-person race?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think so. I mean, look, Elizabeth Warren is in the race now today. We don't what will happen tomorrow. The general feeling is that, yes, she's going to leave the race. The big question is, of course, who is she going to endorse if anybody? And it is effectively a two-man race. But --

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITCAL ANALYST: Two all-white men race.

BORGER: Two all-white men.

GREGORY: Let's call what it is.

BORGER: And to echo what Dana was saying, is as if Joe Biden is standing there, look around last night and said, is this me? What am I doing here? Yes. Wow.

GREGORY: He's never been this successful over presidential candidate ever.

BORGER: Ever. He -- well, the first primary he ever won as presidential candidate in 32 years was South Carolina. And then suddenly, this momentum snowballed to such a degree that nobody, including people in his campaign, could actually believe it, particularly after they had won Texas early this morning. And so now they are probably going to get Bloomberg money. They're going to get Bloomberg --

BLITZER: I want to ask Abby, how important is that Bloomberg support the endorsement he gave Biden today?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it will be critically important particularly for Biden, because as Gloria and Dana just said, he doesn't have the infrastructure that some -- frankly, some of his other competitors who are no longer in the race did. And he's just going to need that if he's going to go up against a President Trump's, you know, $100 million a month campaign which is basically where we're at with the Trump campaign.

So, the Democrats are behind the eight-ball in terms of organization. But the Bloomberg team is known for being so data-driven and they have just an army, 2,400 people on the ground. It's going to be critically important.

This is one of the big questions. Bloomberg, I think that he got out of the race in part because Biden was able to show strength that made it possible or even probable that he could end up being the nominee. Had Biden not become the nominee, Bernie Sanders had already said, I'm not taking the money. So, you know, I think that that's one of the key reasons why we're in this position where we are encroaching upon a two-person race.

BLITZER: David, how does Elizabeth Warren now factor into all of this?

GREGORY: Well, I think it's a question of I think she's taking her time. I think she's got to see that she doesn't have a path forward really. And figure out what role she plays.

I mean, you know, I think that Biden at the moment is in a position where he can continue the gain the delegates to avoid a contested convention. So I think she'll find a way to make a statement to have her voice heard and somehow come into the fold. It will be interesting. I think there is no love loss really with her campaign and supporters of Bernie Sanders which he is going to have the deal with.

But there's a couple of the dynamics here that are really interesting to me. Biden is not a movement politician. He's benefiting from the fact that rank and file Democrats said, well, he did actually win something, so that's good. and I guess we'll go with him. He's not setting our world on fire. He's not been a great candidate, but he represents decency and some stability and we don't want to go as far as Bernie.

So all the sudden Biden has a lot to do and it starts with continue to win, because it's going to be tough with Bernie who is right there and think about how to unite the party.

BLITZER: And the Dow Jones Industrial has gone up almost 1,200 points in part because of Biden. I think that's fair to say. Stick around. There's more we need to discuss.

We're also standing by for this briefing over at the White House. The Vice President Mike Pence's coronavirus task force, they're about to walk into the briefing room there. You're seeing it live. We'll have live coverage as soon as it begins.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:27:44]

BLITZER: All right. The briefing in the White House is beginning. There's the Vice President.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we just completed another meeting of the White House coronavirus task force. It's been a very busy and a productive day here at the White House.

President Donald Trump has no higher priority than the safety and health of the American people. And the President has directed our task force, employing the full resources of the federal government in full partnership with state and local health authorities to make that priority a reality.

As I stand before you today, we have more than 100 coronavirus cases in the United States. That is counting domestic cases and cases of coronavirus of Americans that were returned from China or the Diamond Princess.

I am pleased to report that most of those who contracted coronavirus within our care are continuing to recover. But sadly, we received word today that another American has passed away and their family has our deepest condolences.

That being said, thanks to President's strong leadership and the professionalism of all of our federal agencies, health and human services, CDC and the state and the local health officials all across this country. The risk to the American public of contracting the coronavirus remains low.

To be clear, if you are a healthy American, the risk of contracting the coronavirus remains low. But, it is still a good idea to engage in common sense practices that are always recommended this time of year.

So, as someone who has a mother who is 87 years of age and who has married kids living around the country, a brief tutorial on the prevention for yourself, for your family and your loved ones.

[17:30:00] It's a good idea to stay home when you're sick. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Cover your cough or sneeze with tissue, throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently. Wash your hands with either disinfectant or with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

And let me say again, as we've said before, there's no need for Americans to buy masks. And the commonsense practices that I just described are all available at CDC.gov.

Today, we had a series of meetings here at the White House and on Capitol Hill. We met with executives of the airline industry, the executives of commercial labs, executives of nursing homes. And our team also met with the Republican and Democrat caucuses in the House of Representatives. And we were pleased to learn that, just shortly ago, the House of Representatives passed a federal funding bill by a virtually unanimous margin. It'll now move to the Senate.

And the legislation implements the President's vision to ensure that not only do our federal agencies have the support and resources that they need, but also that our state and local partners have their support. And in my conversations with governors all the way through this afternoon, I know they're grateful for the bipartisan spirit that has characterized this funding bill and we'll continue to work through that process.

As President Trump said, we're all in this together. And he deployed a whole-of-government approach, but, thanks to the President's leadership, it has actually developed into a whole-of-America approach, and the meetings today with industry leaders is a reflection of that.

As Dr. Birx will indicate in just a few moments with some of the data that we're evaluating from around the world, it does appear that the elderly are the most vulnerable, and especially those serious health issues.

At the President's direction, as a result, Seema Verma will describe that the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services has issued new guidelines for nursing homes nationwide. We have raised the bar regarding infectious disease control in our nursing homes. And in addition, Administrator Verma will explain how we are going to focus all of our inspection resources for the foreseeable future on compliance with infection control standards.

Generally, we monitor our nursing homes for abuse and neglect. But at the President's direction, we're going to focus exclusively on ensuring that those who are in nursing homes -- people operating the nursing homes, like many of the CEOs that we met with today -- are complying with the new standards to keep our elderly safe.

The President also met today with airline executives and I'll reiterate, as the President said, our profound gratitude to our partners in the airline industry. They have worked with us in, as we say, flowing Americans through particular airports, the screening. We're working very closely with the airlines on contact information. If a person is tested as positive for the coronavirus, we're working with the airlines to get all the information not just about that person, but about who they sat next to and who else was on the flight. And the President and I are very grateful.

As we announced yesterday, I'm pleased to report that, as of yesterday morning, in addition to the travel ban from China -- we've suspended all travel coming in from China, we've suspended all travel coming in from Iran, and even foreign nationals who visit either one of those countries are barred from coming into this country for 14 days.

We also established a travel advisory for Italy, portions of Italy and portions of South Korea over the weekend. But even as importantly, as of yesterday morning, we fully implemented a screening process. All direct flights from all airports in South Korea and Italy are now being subject to multiple screens before passengers board to come to the United States of America.

State Department worked very vigorously to bring that about and we're grateful for the cooperation with the governments of Italy, the governments of South Korea, as well as our airline partners in making that a reality.

[17:35:01]

Finally, with regard to testing, we had a meeting today that gave us great hope for great progress in the near future on expanding testing across the country. We have a ways to go yet, and I'm pleased to report, as we've been able to convey to state governments -- governors around the country -- is that, thanks to the good work with the FDA and Dr. Steve Hahn, who is with me here today, now all state laboratories, all university laboratories at the state level, can conduct coronavirus tests without any additional assets or resources from the federal government. They have the FDA-approved tests, they can conduct the test all across the country in all the states.

Beyond that, as we announced, through the efforts of HHS, 2,500 kits of tests are going out this week that -- 2,500 kits including tests has gone out this week. That's roughly 1.5 million tests that will be available this week. We'll continue to build on that number.

But perhaps most significantly, thanks to Dr. Birx's efforts and leadership, we brought together, today at the White House, the leaders of all of the largest commercial laboratories in this country -- companies like Quest that have vast capabilities, logistics and testing capabilities. And we were pleased to report today that they have created a consortium to share information and to share resources and literally have told us that, as they go through what is called the validation process on testing that, by next week, individual companies will be able to do, as they said to me, thousands of tests of coronavirus if they are needed and required, and many, many multiples more of that in the not-distant future.

Our objective here, as Dr. Birx raised with the task force is we've got hospitals in affected areas and those that are requesting that have kits, we've got universities and state labs that now can perform the test on a requested basis. But our objective, ultimately, and as quickly as possible, is to have tests made through these commercial laboratories and commercial providers that your local doctor, your CVS, your MedCheck is able to have a coronavirus test. And that isn't there yet, we're working to make that a reality.

But again, it's one more example -- it's not just a whole-of- government approach; it's a whole-of-America approach. And whether it be our nursing home industry, whether it be our airline industry, whether it be our commercial laboratories, I can speak on behalf of President Trump and our entire task force when I say we are profoundly grateful for the spirit that's being reflected by companies all across the United States of America, grateful for the leadership at the state level.

And the American people should be confident that that spirit of partnership is going to continue to drive this at every level as we work our way through dealing with the coronavirus in the United States.

With that, I'm going to recognize Dr. Deborah Birx for her comments.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Good evening. Over the last 12 hours, we've been able to receive information, both from South Korea and Italy, adding to our China information. And it's as we thought, the elderly and preexisting conditions have a more serious illness when confronted with the coronavirus.

Reassuringly, in South Korea, no one has died under 30. This is reassuring to us. And the median age in Italy was 81, of those who succumbed. Those who became ill, the median age was 60.

So we find this data reassuring but it also has really caused us to focus on the Americans who might be most vulnerable. So we're focusing resources, attention, and all of our capacity to ensure those who have preexisting conditions and those who are elderly have access to the best prevention and treatment options. The prevention options flow right through all of us to ensure that we have good protective hygiene for our elderly clients around the globe. Thank you.

PENCE: Thank you. Seema?

SEEMA VERMA, ADMINISTRATOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES: Thank you. And as you heard, because of the risk for our nation's seniors, we are doubling down on our efforts. Today, we put out three memos. One was to hospitals about triaging and placement for patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus. We also put out some information to nursing homes about limiting visitors to nursing homes, monitoring staff.

[17:40:01]

And then, finally, we put out some information to our state surveyors that are going to be surveying our nation's nursing homes and hospitals around infection control. So all of that information went out this morning.

PENCE: Very good. Thank you, Seema.

CDC, Bob Redfield.

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: Yes. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I think what I'd like to highlight today is that, first, echo what the Vice President started with when he was giving the American people the advice that he did as he went through that we do have listed out on our CDC website, CDC.gov.

It really is very important, it's very pragmatic about washing your hands 20 seconds in soap and water or using the other disinfectants. Obviously, training yourself to cover your sneeze or cough either in your elbow or with a Kleenex that you will dispose of. These are very important things. Working hard not to touch your face.

I think the most important thing for many of those individuals that might be a little type A, if you get sick, stay home. You're not helping your colleagues by going to work sick. And again, I think these are just very pragmatic. We've listed them. They're absolutely no different than what we ask the American public to do for the flu.

The second thing I would like to do is continue to get the help from you to get those messages out. The one that's the most important that the Vice President also talked about is the role of mask. We need these N95 mask for the healthcare workers that are taking care of these patients. We do not recommend them to be used by the general public.

And again, you all -- if you tell the stories -- are able to be great communicators of that, so that the American public gets accurate information and gets good guidance from your experts that you'll reach out to for your stories. So that's what I would ask you to do. And I'll reiterate what the Vice President said at the beginning, that although we're continuing to see new community cases in this nation, the overall risk to the American public at this time still remains low. Thank you.

PENCE: Thank you very much. Dr. Fauci?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Just to reiterate what was said by several of our colleagues here is that we make policy recommendations and analysis of what we're going to recommend based on accumulation of data. Data is very important. What Dr. Birx just told you is data that underscores some of the things that we've been telling you.

You know, when you talk about risk, you know, risk is something that's vague to people. And we've said many a time, if you talk about risk of infection throughout the country, it's a low risk. If you talk about someone who is infected -- and we do have infected people in this country. You've heard that from Dr. Redfield. You understand the situation that we have in Seattle.

If you do get infected, if you're infected as -- taking Seattle as the microcosm of that -- it is exactly what Dr. Birx said. The risk of getting into difficulties is very heavily weighted towards people with underlying conditions and people with the elderly, where the young people -- and there will be an exception here or there, the same way we see with influenza -- but the risk for a young person who gets infected to getting into trouble is really low, based on a lot of data that's coming out of foreign countries, particularly out of China.

PENCE: Great. Thank you, Dr. Fauci. Dr. Carson?

DR. BEN CARSON, HUD SECRETARY: I want to thank the Vice President and the President for very aggressive and careful leadership. Now, I was involved throughout my neurosurgical career with a lot of very, very complex cases and dealt with a lot of renowned physicians, but I must say the people on this task force are extremely impressive. Have been considering all the various different possibilities, outlining scenarios for all the possibilities that can occur. And it's very comforting -- and recognize that the risk to a healthy adult still remains quite low, largely because of the aggressive actions that have been taken and are continuing to be taken every day.

And just one last point and that is, the pharmaceuticals, who normally are rivals, have worked together voluntarily. Wouldn't that be a great lesson for the politicians?

PENCE: Great.

Quick informational announcement, I'll be traveling with many members of the task force to Minnesota tomorrow. We'll be visiting 3M, which is poised to literally begin manufacturing millions more masks for our healthcare workers. And then we'll be traveling on to Washington State.

[17:45:02]

We'll be meeting with Governor Inslee and with his health team to ensure that the full resources of the federal government are being brought to bear in support of their efforts to protect the health of the people across the Seattle area. So, with that, let me start right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Vice President Pence. I have two questions, one about Washington and then one about Florida. I'll start with Washington. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that meeting came to be? Will Secretary Azar be with you? Is that a meeting that the governor asked you to come there? Can you explain?

PENCE: The -- I've spoken to Governor Inslee, who I know well from our time in Congress together, several times since being tapped to lead the White House effort on the coronavirus a week ago. He's been providing strong leadership for the State of Washington. They have an outstanding health department.

But after meeting with members of the Senate and the House, particularly those from the Washington State delegation, we thought it would be important to bring our team out to meet with their team on the ground, and to make sure that they have the full support. The -- our hearts go out to those that have been infected with the disease in the Seattle area. But also we understand the anxiety this has created in the full community and we're going to be going out just to make sure -- and sitting down with the governor and with his team -- that they have everything they need and all the support they need to see to the health of their people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, sir. And, on Florida, you will have a meeting on Saturday, is that correct, with the cruise liners? Which companies are coming to that meeting? What's the goal of that meeting? Is there something that you'd like to see them do differently that they are not doing now?

PENCE: Well, we'll talk about just that. Obviously, with the Diamond Princess issue, there are unique challenges, that our experts tell us, in a closed environment of a cruise liner. We're going to talk about best practices. And I thought it was timely to spend some time with people in that industry as we're meeting with the others in industries around the country. OK?

Right there, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice President, thanks so much.

PENCE: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two quick questions. The first one, I've been looking online at hand sanitizer and soap. There is some -- there are some sites like Amazon where these prices have just skyrocketed. What's your advice to Americans who are trying to just buy the soap and water, and the hand sanitizer that they're telling them buy, but that they're -- but can't afford it at this point or can't find it?

PENCE: That's great. I'm going to ask CDC to respond to that, because they've got some very clear guidance.

REDFIELD: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I want to make it really clear. I don't think -- soap and water, vigorously washing your hands for 20 seconds is what the American public needs to do. If they want to use the hand sanitizers, that's another option. But I don't want people to think it's inferior to what we've recommended for decades, which is vigorous washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.

PENCE: Okay. There's another one. Another one? Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were talking about working on getting testing so that doctors and other places will be able to have it. How far along are you in that goal? And what should Americans expect -- how soon should Americans expect to be able to go to their doctor's office to get tested?

PENCE: Well, I'm going to ask to Deborah Birx to address that. But just so you know, there's three levels here. Number one is that we do have about 1.5 million test kits going out as we speak to hospitals, particularly hospitals in areas that have seen coronavirus cases.

In addition to that, thanks to the good work of the FDA and the change that President Trump authorized this weekend, now every state health lab and university lab can conduct a coronavirus test and that expands the capacity. But ultimately, as Dr. Birx will explain, our objective is -- in addition to those tests being available -- that we want to get to a place where any American who has a concern is able to go to their doctor, is able to go to a medical clinic, and know that there's a coronavirus available.

We think we could get there in a matter of weeks. And in partnership with the commercial labs, we're challenging them to do just that. Dr. Birx?

BIRX: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Just briefly, because I think you were interested also in cost. And I think what we've heard from CMS and from HHS, that this will be an essential lab test, so fully reimbursable.

What we talked about with the commercial laboratories is exactly your question. And we asked them -- and they are in validation this week. Some of them thought they would have tests available on Friday, and the rest on Monday.

[17:50:05]

I've asked them to prioritize the areas where we've had these clusters so that people can be reassured in those areas where there is -- where we have identified virus has been circulating. In those cases, they will have it available at doctor's office and all of our pediatric offices that would need it. And they will transport it through a logistics network to make sure that they can be run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Follow-up on testing and --

PENCE: With regard to the cost, let me be very clear, HHS has designated the coronavirus test as an essential health benefit. That means, by definition, it's covered in the private health insurance of every American, as well as covered by Medicare and Medicaid. And so -- but we're working with members of Congress and we'll be monitoring the cost very carefully. Please?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've put travel restrictions on Italy and South Korea. Are you considering more -- imposing more restrictions on travel?

PENCE: Well, I'm going to ask Dr. Fauci to speak to that. At this time, they're not recommending that the President impose additional travel advisories or restrictions. But as Dr. Fauci can explain, we're going to follow the data on that very closely and follow the cases.

Did you want to speak to that?

FAUCI: So this is something that's really evaluated in real time. I mean, you can't make a decision now that you're going to project what's going to be. You just based on the data. And it became very clear that the situation in Northern Italy and in Korea was actually unique, compared to what we were seeing in several of the other countries. That's why that was done. We reevaluate this literally every single day.

PENCE: We do. We do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President.

PENCE: Right there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Vice President --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President --

PENCE: No, right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

PENCE: Right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Me?

PENCE: Please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. So I was wondering, what sort of progress was made with your meeting with the airline CEO today about coordinating the collection of passenger data? And then also there's been reports that the CDC is investigating a potential cluster of cases from a cruise ship in California that could be linked to the state's first death. Could you confirm that and how many people might the CDC be investigating in that case?

PENCE: I'll let CDC respond to your second question. But, on the first question, I know the President was also very moved by the level of commitment from our airlines for customers' health and safety as well as their crews' health and safety there. They described to us their activities in cleaning the aircraft and sanitizing aircraft. And we believe, as President Trump said today, that it's safe to fly. It's safe to fly in America and it's safe to fly internationally apart from the travel advisories that are available to the public.

With that being said, we -- it's a work in progress about having contact information. But we were assured today by the airlines that they'll continue to work very closely with us to provide -- manifests passengers on an individual flight in the event of a coronavirus infection. And the cooperation has been just what the American people would expect from our airlines.

But let me let CDC speak to the other issue.

REDFIELD: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. So, we are working in support of the California Health Department that's in the process of evaluating another cruise ship where they do have confirmed cases. We're at the very beginning of that, looking at the manifest, to make sure we understand who's gotten off the cruise and where they got off the cruise. And we're really involved in that entire contact follow-up as we speak right now. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last question, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice President.

PENCE: Right here. Right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much. It's possibly a question for Dr. Birx, regarding at being safe to fly.

PENCE: Please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have spring break coming along. A lot of grandparents may be coming to visit family members to help watch over kids, older adults. Is it safe? If it's unnecessary travel, should they still hop on a plane and travel?

BIRX: Well, that's why we're talking about the commonsense approach. So if you have preexisting medical conditions or you're of the elderly and frail, that is something that they need to take into context. And that's why we were very clear about providing that information, because we really want everyone to know what we know, that we've received this new data, we've gone through it carefully. It does look like there is significant greater risk of serious illness as you become older, and if you have other medical conditions.

Now, what I talked about also was protecting the elderly and protecting those with other medical conditions. And I want to be clear, the other medical conditions included people recovering from cancer.

[17:55:04]

So just as you would protect them when they have their chemotherapy and their immuno-responses are lower, you would do that with careful handwashing, again, and ensuring, if you have children in the household, that they're following those same procedures. I have a nine-month-old and a two-year-old grandchild and they're -- the two- year-old has learned to wash her hands carefully. And I think these are just things we need to ensure are happening every day in households.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President.

PENCE: Right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any hesitations traveling to Washington State tomorrow, I mean, for your own personal health? And are you trying to send a message to all Americans that you believe it is safe to fly?

PENCE: No, I have no hesitation at all. I have to tell you that the job that Washington State has done in confronting the coronavirus infections in the Seattle area has really been inspiring. They've got an outstanding health facility, outstanding health department. And we're going to be sitting down with all of their health officials. But I'm a real believer, just as the President is, in and sitting down and sitting nose to nose, as President did today, with executives and asking the questions and making sure. The American people expect nothing less. They expect us to be there for that community. And we'll be bringing our task force out to make sure that Washington State has all the support that they need. And that's the purpose of the trip.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, guys, last question.

PENCE: Last one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mr. Vice President, I appreciate it.

PENCE: Sure. Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In light of what Dr. Redfield said yesterday about how quickly this virus has been spreading, what will need to happen specifically for you to declare this a national emergency? What the threshold? Will it be the number of deaths? Will it be the number of cases?

PENCE: Let me let Dr. Fauci speak to that, in terms of a determination of when a recommendation to the President. We've declared a public health emergency. But maybe you might speak to whether we --

FAUCI: Yes. You know, a public health --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you know what I'm asking, with regard to a national emergency?

FAUCI: What preciously do you mean?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, to declare a national emergency, will it -- what's the threshold, the number of cases, the number of deaths, where --

FAUCI: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- you're going to take decision making out of the hands of the states and you're going to make, OK, we're going to quarantine a city.

FAUCI: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Or we are going to shut down big events or we're going to say no travel.

FAUCI: This -- well, let me just tell you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Major decisions.

FAUCI: -- how that would be made. That would be made by very serious discussions among the task force. I would think that, if we were in a situation -- and hopefully we never even approach that -- where you have clear, wide, diffuse community spread throughout the country and you have to have federal mandates that come in to essentially enforce certain types of social distancing, I think it would have to come to that. But I'm a bit humble about that. I would like to discuss it with a variety of other people who have more of a handle on the implications of that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you say --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you please supply some guidance to the uninsured?

PENCE: Probably a very -- and it's probably a very good place -- it's probably a very good place to step off. We're going to go back to work. But let me end where I began. And that is to say, today, in the United States, the combination of domestic cases and people that we have brought home from China and from the Diamond Princess, we have slightly more than 100 cases. And the vast majority of those people either have recovered or are continuing to recover.

Now, that's not going to lessen the focus that President Trump has charged us to continue to put on this issue. We continue to work closely with members of Congress to make sure that we have the resources to confront the spread of the coronavirus.

But, at this moment, I have to tell you, our state and local governments around the country are just doing an exceptional job. And as a former governor, I can tell you that the people that are on the ground, the healthcare workers, the health officials at the state level, are responding to this with compassion, with professionalism. And a big part of our job right now is just make sure that they have the support, that we come alongside them, that they have the personal protective equipment and gear to be able to minister to anyone who has the virus.

But I think the American people can take some comfort that the reality is, today, that the risk of the coronavirus to the average American remains low. And as we continue to take these steps, as Americans continue to take commonsense practices to protect their own health, the health of their family, we'll work to keep it there.

Thank you all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are some guidance --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, guys.