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Trump, Biden, Sanders in Higher-Risk Population; Supreme Court Temporarily Delays Execution of Alabama Inmate; Interview With New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; Elizabeth Warren Drops Out; Coronavirus Test Kit Shortage; Two-Man Race Emerges As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Ends Campaign Without Making Endorsement. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 5, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. And we're following breaking news.

Stocks plunging again, on growing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, with the Dow down almost 1,000 points today, as the number of known cases jumps to more than 200 people in 17 states here in the United States. Twelve people have already died.

Tonight, questions about the government's ability to keep up with the outbreak, after Vice President Pence said, bluntly, that, in the short term, there are simply not enough tests to meet the anticipated demand going forward.

We will talk about all of this with the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, who's confirming right now new coronavirus cases in his city tonight, and our correspondents of analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go straight to the White House.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us.

Jim, the demand for coronavirus testing is clearly increasing all over the country, but the administration is having trouble keeping up.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

The White House point man on the coronavirus outbreak, Vice President Mike Pence, acknowledged to reporters earlier today the administration is still working to meet the demand for testing kits across the country. That acknowledgement comes as President Trump is coming under some stinging criticism for his comments about the outbreak.

The president appeared to suggest that people can go to work after being infected with the coronavirus, even though the CDC is warning people not to do that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): In the race against the coronavirus, the Trump administration is still playing catchup to meet the demand for testing kits for people who suspect they have been infected.

Vice President Mike Pence conceded to reporters that the administration is still working to make enough tests available.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.

ACOSTA: White House officials insist the administration will meet its goal of distributing more than one million tests by the end the week, but those officials can see the government is still well behind the anticipated growing demand for tests over the coming months.

Earlier this week, Pence said the administration wants to have the ability to test any American.

PENCE: Any American that wants to be tested for the coronavirus, on their doctor's indications, can be tested.

ACOSTA: The administration is also trying to contain an outbreak of sketchy information coming from the president, who told FOX News it was his hunch that the mortality rate for the coronavirus is much lower than what's been cited by the World Health Organization.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think the 3.4 percent is really a false number.

Now, this is just my hunch, and -- but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this. So I think that that number is very high. I think the number -- personally, I would say that number is way under 1 percent.

ACOSTA: Contrast that with what some administration experts have said.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If you look at the cases that have come to the attention of the medical authorities in China, and you just do the math, the math is about 2 percent.

ACOSTA: Even Mr. Trump's top allies are advising Americans to listen to the scientists.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I listen to the scientists when it comes to the numbers.

ACOSTA: The president also suggested people infected with the coronavirus could go to work.

TRUMP: So, if we have thousands or hundred thousands of people that get better just by sitting around and even going to work -- some of them go to work, but they get better. ACOSTA: But the CDC Web site says, don't do that, adding, "You should

restrict activities outside your home except for getting medical care. Do not go to work, school or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing or taxis."

All week, the president has been playing fast and loose with the facts, claiming a coronavirus vaccine could be ready in months.

TRUMP: I don't think they know what the time will be. I have heard very quick numbers, a matter of months. And I have heard pretty much a year would be an outside number.

ACOSTA: Only to be contradicted by the experts.

FAUCI: So he's asking the question, when is it going to be deployable? And that is going to be, at the earliest, a year to year-and-a-half ago, no matter how fast we go.

ACOSTA: Democrats say the president should be more careful.

REP. DONNA SHALALA (D-FL): My chief concern is that we not politicize this. Fear is a virus as well. And it's very important that we stick to the facts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the White House is also advising federal workers to stay home if they are suffering from flu-like symptoms, saying in an e-mail that they should not come into the office out of an abundance of caution.

Now, we should also note, in the meantime, the financial markets don't appear to be encouraged by the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak. You can see the numbers on screen right now. The Dow dropped just under 1,000 points today, another wild swing in a very volatile week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Has been. All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on that cruise ship being held off the coast of San Francisco right now, as some passengers show symptoms of the coronavirus.

CNN's Nick Watt is joining us right now.

Nick, we're told passengers, what, they are now being tested?

[18:05:02]

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf.

We're told by the cruise line that somewhere near to 100 people on board that ship have been identified as needing to be tested. We will get those results, they say, sometime tomorrow.

As this virus spreads, Wolf, officials are wrestling more and more with the idea of what to do with people who have tested positive or might test positive. As the governor of Washington said this morning, we need to care for them. We can't just ship them off to Mars.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATT (voice-over): Helicopters delivering test kits to that cruise ship now held off the California coast, nearly 3,500 on board, some showing symptoms.

SHARON LANE, PASSENGER: Spirits on board are starting to get quite low.

WATT: All this after a California man died yesterday. He took a cruise aboard the Grand Princess last month.

LANE: The majority of people on board are like over 70. So there's a lot of concern there, because a lot of them, they suffer with ill health anyway

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: So this is like the Angel of Death for older individuals.

WATT: Meanwhile, in Washington state, the death toll now 11, seven tied to this nursing home.

A quarantine center is being prepped to contain the spread, this motel and a Department of Corrections site.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): I'm very confident that that is a safe facility. It is geographically remote.

WATT: Now blanket advice for everyone.

INSLEE: We think people should give serious consideration about whether they go to nonessential congregations of people.

WATT: Amazon now telling Seattle area employees to work from home through the end of this month.

In New York state, the case count doubled overnight from 11 to 22.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Eight of the new cases are connected to the attorney from Westchester, the New Rochelle area. Two are in New York City and one is on Long Island.

WATT: Meanwhile, Nevada and Tennessee reporting there first cases.

DR. LISA PIERCEY, COMMISSIONER, TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: The patient is an adult male in Middle Tennessee with a recent history of out-of-state travel.

WATT: Monday morning, there were 89 known cases across 10 states. Now we're well over 200 in 17 states. Is that number even close to accurate?

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: I think we're seeing the tip of the iceberg with the people who are sick and coming forward. And until we define the bottom of that iceberg, we really can't say.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: And the more people are tested, unquestionably, the number of confirmed cases will rise.

And, Wolf, today, in Washington state, health insurers were ordered to waive any co-pays or deductibles for anybody who needs to be tested for this spreading virus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's good, indeed.

All right, Nick Watt joining us, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us now, Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mayor de Blasio, thank you so much for joining us. I know you're very busy. You got a lot going on.

How many confirmed cases of coronavirus are in New York City right now, based on the latest information you're getting? And how serious are the conditions of these patients?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): Wolf, we have got four confirmed cases right now, two of whom are doing well, thank God. They're the earlier cases. Two new cases today.

But, Wolf, I also want to tell you, we have been doing testing. And the testing has gotten us 26 cases that were negative. So the testing is helping a lot.

We want to do as much testing as possible. We're getting a good result from it.

BLITZER: Do you have any information, Mayor, about how many New Yorkers are voluntarily quarantined at this point?

DE BLASIO: Wolf, I'm sorry. Say that again.

BLITZER: How many people in New York are voluntarily quarantined at this point?

DE BLASIO: Yes, Wolf, we have hundreds of people who are voluntarily quarantined. And we're monitoring them on a regular basis through our Department of Health.

And the fact is, we're seeing that people take that serious -- very seriously, that they are following the rules of the quarantine. And they're staying in touch with the folks we have monitoring.

What I have been struck by, Wolf -- and you know New York City, 8.6 million people. We actually have a lot of people following the instructions we're giving them. Folks are getting to the doctors, like we're telling them to. They're being ready to get tested.

And we're getting testing done quickly. But what I'm seeing is, folks are really -- who are in quarantine are honoring it. And that's very good news.

BLITZER: Because we have seen some reports. The Department of Health in New York City says, what, about 2,700 New Yorkers are engaged in what's called home isolation right now.

Are you in contact with these people?

DE BLASIO: Yes, the protocol is our Department of Health checks in with them on a regular basis.

And we have a hot line that they can call if they have any questions. The message we give them is, the second they have symptoms, if they get symptoms, we want to make sure that we get them to health care immediately.

[18:10:03]

We want to get them tested immediately. Obviously, a lot of people in quarantine have come in from other countries. Our hope for them is that they spend those two weeks and never have any symptoms.

But for those who do, we get them the health care quickly. We get them tested quickly.

BLITZER: Vice President Pence said rather bluntly today the U.S. does not currently have enough test kits to meet the anticipated demand.

You have already asked the CDC for more kits. What's your response to this rather troubling development?

DE BLASIO: Wolf, troubling only begins to describe it.

This is becoming an embarrassment for the United States of America. Look, this crisis, I remember having -- I'm here at our emergency management facility for New York City, a very busy place.

On January 24, we held a press conference right here. And I said, it's not a matter of if, but when we would see coronavirus came in New York City.

Now, we're talking about six weeks ago. We have been pleading since then for the CDC to get us testing capacity. It took until Monday of this week for us to finally have independent testing capacity. But we do not have enough.

So, Wolf, there's something wrong here that the federal government is missing, and they must fix. If they could get testing capacity out to cities and towns around America in really substantial numbers, we could actually get ahead of this crisis and manage it properly, because at least we would know who has it and who doesn't, and we would know what to do as a result.

BLITZER: As you know, Mayor...

DE BLASIO: But the fact that the federal government cannot even get tests out there is extraordinarily problematic.

It's underlying why this crisis could get a lot worse, because we can't even get our arms around what's happening if we don't have testing capacity.

BLITZER: And it clearly could get a lot worse.

As you know, other places around the country, and certainly around the world, they're closing schools right now. They're avoiding people gathering for sporting events, baseball games, soccer games. You have got Madison Square Garden. You have got a lot of schools in New York City.

Are you looking at various contingency plans right now?

DE BLASIO: Yes, Wolf, literally, I'm here for a meeting where we're playing out different scenarios, taking really tough scenarios and figuring out what we do.

But here's a fascinating statistic. We have 1.1 million schoolkids in New York City. As of this moment, first of all, attendance hasn't changed one bit, which is very impressive. New Yorkers are sticking to their routine, and they're not panicking.

But, second, we don't have a single school child at this point who's identified as having the symptoms of this disease. And anyone who was, of course, we would test.

But, so far, we are not at the point where we're thinking about major closures. But, Wolf, you have seen how quickly it can change in a lot of countries. We're going to determine that day by day.

Again, if we have the testing, it allows us to actually know what's going on, and then that allows us to make those decisions.

BLITZER: Yes, millions of kids in Japan right now, the entire month of March, all the schools in Japan are shut down, out of an abundance of caution right now. Let's certainly hope that doesn't happen in New York, certainly doesn't happen here in the United States.

Mayor de Blasio, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in New York City. Thanks so much for joining us.

DE BLASIO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

And stay with CNN later tonight for a live global town hall on coronavirus. Join Anderson Cooper and our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

And just ahead, we're standing by for coronavirus test results from a cruise ship off San Francisco right now, where some passengers and crew are showing symptoms.

Plus, another major shakeup in the Democratic presidential race. Elizabeth Warren drops out. So, what's going on?

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:18:05]

BLITZER: The number of known coronavirus cases in the United States is growing tonight and stands at more than 200.

And now there's a deep concern the U.S. won't have enough testing kits to meet the coming demand.

Let's get some more.

Joining us now, infectious disease epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo. She's from Johns Hopkins University. And former Obama White House health policy adviser Dr. Zeke Emanuel.

Zeke, 12 confirmed coronavirus deaths so far in the United States. What do we know about these patients?

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL ADVISER: Well, by and large, they have been elderly patients, or in the case when they're not over 65, they have been patients with multiple chronic conditions.

Particularly susceptible are people with lung conditions. Remarkably, as I think Mayor de Blasio said, young people, young adults and children, seem largely spared of the virus and any adverse events.

And that, obviously, is a very, very good sign, much different than when we had swine flu in this country in 2009-2010, which particularly seemed to focus on young children.

BLITZER: Unless, Jennifer, these young kids and younger people have some underlying health conditions, health problems, right?

JENNIFER NUZZO, JOHNS HOPKINS: Well, we haven't seen many deaths in young children. It doesn't mean that it can't happen. And one of the questions we don't know is to what extent they're being infected.

There's some studies that suggests they maybe are, but it's really mild. So, while it's encouraging, I don't think we should fully count on children not having adverse health outcomes. Obviously, we want to protect them.

BLITZER: And tell our viewers why the elderly people, let's say, people over 60, potentially are at greater risk?

NUZZO: Well, first of all, one of the underlying conditions that we worry about is people with chronic illness. And that just tends to be something that happens later in life. But, also, we don't fully know take mechanism. It could be related to

immunity. These are groups of people that we know are generally susceptible to other respiratory infections like influenza, so similar trends there.

[18:20:13]

BLITZER: Zeke, the vice president has confirmed, he said bluntly, the CDC does not have enough testing kits right now. What does that say to you?

EMANUEL: Incompetence, very poorly planned. We have had six weeks, two months, call it what you will, to get this in order and to make sure we had the right testing kits and the right testing protocol.

We have hundreds, maybe low thousands at this point, but we certainly haven't done anything near other countries. I noticed that, in Britain, they have done over 18,000, in South Korea, multiples of that. So we are definitely behind the eight ball.

Even more worrisome, on Monday, the head of the FDA said, we will have a million test kits by the end of the week, and now you're hearing from the vice president, nah, not really.

I will tell you, here at the University of Pennsylvania, where I work, we're expecting our first test kits tomorrow. This is a very serious concern, because it's like driving blind. We don't know how many people have this. We can't test people that we should be able to test who might have low index of suspicion, but it would be very important to clear them.

This is a real problem.

BLITZER: How much of a problem is it at Johns Hopkins University, which has, as we all know, a great medical complex?

NUZZO: Well, certainly, not being able to test widely is a challenge for multiple academic medical centers and other health facilities.

You want to be able to rule out patients, so you know how best to use personal protective equipment that hospitals have been advised to conserve. We are in a different situation than other states. But this is, I believe, a problem.

I do want to stress, though, for the individual who may be sitting here worried about whether or not they can get tested and hearing stories about lack of testing, the worst thing that can happen now is for people to go out and get testing -- tested.

Yes, state labs are coming online. And there's going to be tests done at commercial labs. There will be more tests available in the future.

BLITZER: But if you show some symptoms, you should get tested?

NUZZO: Well, not necessarily. I think, at this point, as they're trying to roll it out, what will be

probably important is to prioritize those people who are severely ill and make sure that we reduce potential exposures in hospitals. Mildly infected people at this point should stay home and not necessarily go out seeking testing, because it is not the top priority right now for public health.

BLITZER: What do you think about that, Zeke?

EMANUEL: And let me emphasize, Wolf -- Wolf, one other thing that's really important is that if people are feeling sufficiently sick that they need to go to the doctor or they need to go to the hospital, they need to call ahead.

Just don't show up with high fever and shortness of breath, because you don't want to infect other people. You don't want to be responsible for infecting other people. And that's really important.

The other thing is, if you have been asked by a health care worker or in some other situation to self-quarantine, you should self- quarantine. That means for 14 days.

We had an episode up in Dartmouth where someone broke their own quarantine, went to an event, and appears to have spread the virus.

This is -- people have to actually be prudent and be concerned about the health of other people, not just their own condition, because you can spread it and affect other people.

BLITZER: Dr. Zeke Emanuel, thank you very much. Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, thanks to you as well. Thanks to both of you for what you're doing. This is a critical moment right now that we're all watching.

Just ahead: Will Elizabeth Warren endorse either of her main rivals? Her supporters are up for grabs, after the progressive senator suspended her campaign today.

Plus, my interview with a key Biden supporter, Congressman Cedric Richmond. He's standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:28:38]

BLITZER: Another major shift in the Democratic race for the White House.

Tonight, it's a two-man race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, as Elizabeth Warren drops out.

Our political correspondent, Arlette Saenz, is joining us right now.

Arlette, no endorsement yet from Elizabeth Warren.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: No, not yet, Wolf, but Elizabeth Warren has spoken with both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders since Super Tuesday.

But she hasn't offered any clues of who she might endorse, as this has now become a two-man race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): I will not be running for president in 2020. But I guarantee I will stay in the fight.

SAENZ (voice-over): Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren leaving the 2020 race with no wins on the board, saying she miscalculated the dynamic of the Democratic field.

WARREN: I was told at the beginning of this whole undertaking that there are two lanes, a progressive lane that Bernie Sanders is the incumbent for, and a moderate lane that Joe Biden is the incumbent for, and there's no room for anyone else in this.

I thought that wasn't right. But, evidently, I was wrong.

SAENZ: But Warren holds a potentially powerful card, as she's deciding whether to endorse Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, telling her supporters they should wait to make up their mind.

WARREN: Let's take a deep breath and spend a little time on that. We don't have to decide that this minute.

[18:30:01]

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: As the 2020 field shrinks, the face-off between Biden and Sanders already heating up.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the last few days focusing on consolidation, the political establishment was very, very nervous.

They consolidated around Joe Biden. And Wall Street is emptying its checkbooks to fund Joe's campaign.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's ridiculous, Bernie. You got beaten by overwhelming support I had from the African-American community, Bernie. You got beat because of suburban women, Bernie. You got beat because of middle class hard working folks out there, Bernie.

SAENZ: As the two Democrats tangle, President Trump setting his sights on Biden, saying he's ready to put Hunter Biden's dealing in Ukraine front and center in a possible general election match up.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That will be a major issue in the campaign. I will bring that up all the time.

SAENZ: Trump and his allies have repeatedly made unfounded and false claims alleging the Bidens acted corruptly in Ukraine. Biden brushing off the president's claims and saying he's ready for the fight.

BIDEN: Donald Trump is a disaster and he knows it and he knows I'm going to be able to point it out. I can hardly, hardly wait to debate him.

SAENZ: the Democratic race now in a new phase. A historically diverse field turning into a battle between two white men.

WARREN: I know. One of the hardest parts of this is all those pinkie promises and all those little girls who are going to have to wait four more years. That's going to be hard.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Now, Joe Biden spent the day off the campaign trail here at home, in Delaware. But he picked up a key endorsement from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, as he is hoping to make the state competitive against Bernie Sanders.

Sanders won Michigan back in 2016 and he is hoping for a repeat on Tuesday. Wolf?

BLITZER: Next Tuesday it is. All right, Arlette, thanks very much.

Let's get some more right now. Joining us, Biden campaign co-Chair, Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

Let's discuss what's going on. As you well know, Congressman Jim Clyburn's endorsement was truly a game changer for your candidate, Joe Biden. But Clyburn also has had some tough love about how to reboot the Biden campaign. What changes are being made to address some of his critiques?

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA): Look, and, Wolf, you know, Jim Clyburn is not only my mentor but he's one of my closest friends. So we've talked about the campaign when Congressman Clyburn endorsed, I think that was on Wednesday night. From the next four days, he just kept his head down and trying to make sure that Joe Biden won. He was critical of the resources. He was critical of other things and now, he's fully engaged in the campaign. And campaigns are fluid and we are just as fluid as any other campaign.

So what we've seen since, his endorsement has been great execution, and I think he said that on one of the morning this week that we execute it perfectly in terms of the two or three hours we had to plan the Pete Buttigieg event and the Amy Klobuchar event leading into Super Tuesday.

BLITZER: Yes. It was for Biden. Of course, the Clyburn Endorsement was truly at Super Tuesday. It was an emotional moment, as you just saw for many Democratic women to see Elizabeth Warren drop out of the race today. What's your message to Warren supporters out there who are looking for a new candidate to rally behind?

RICHMOND: Look, that Joe Biden understands their plight. He understands their struggle. He understands their challenges. And he's going to fight for them just like he would his own family. And there's a place for everybody in his tent. And we are building a big tent. And, look, Senator Warren was an incredible candidate. She and I have a housing bill that I'm the lead on in the House that she drafted in the Senate. She has amazing ideas. And just because she has exited the contest does not mean that her issues are exiting the race. And that we're going to take to heart the issues she was concerned about. And we would love for the people that supported her to come this way.

BLITZER: Do you think she will eventually endorse Biden?

RICHMOND: I'm not sure what the senator will do. Look, I respect her tremendously. And I think that as clear from the tape, is that she puts a lot of thought into her actions and I think that this is another one that she will put a lot of thought into. She will talk to supporters and she will follow her moral compass.

BLITZER: Yes, and we'll see what she decides to do.

As you know, voters in Louisiana, your home state, will head to the polls on April 4th. Are you confident that Joe Biden will win there?

RICHMOND: Absolutely. He'll run away with Louisiana.

[18:35:00]

BLITZER: And what about Mississippi, next door, which is next Tuesday? We see that Bernie Sanders now has cancelled an appearance in Mississippi to spend more time in Michigan, which also has a contest next Tuesday. What is Mississippi, Louisiana, some of the other southern states look like right now, because Biden did incredibly well last Tuesday in those southern states?

RICHMOND: Look, I think that he's going to have the same result. If you look at South Carolina, he won every county in South Carolina. If you look at Virginia, he won every county in Virginia, I think, except one. And the further you come south, the better he does. African- American voters know Joe Biden, but more importantly, he knows them. He knows their life experiences and he knows the struggles that they're going through. And so that's why I believe he's doing so well in the south. That's why I believe he did so well in South Carolina, that and Congressman Clyburn's endorsement.

But Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson endorsed him today. He did very well in Alabama. Of course, I'm with him in Louisiana and I think he's going to do very well.

BLITZER: Here is a question I keep getting asked and maybe you can get a better answer than I have. Why has the former president, Barack Obama, so far, refused to endorse the man he picked as his vice presidential running mate? They worked together for eight years. He thought that Joe Biden was the most qualified person, God forbid, to turn out to be president, if necessary. Why do you think he has refused to endorse his former V.P.?

RICHMOND: Well, I think there's two things. One, partly what you just said. I think that the signal when he could have picked anybody in the world to be the the number two, to be his vice president, which means if anything ever happened to him, he thought they were the most qualified to be president. And so he already picked Joe Biden once.

The second thing is I think he feels that it's very important for him to not put his thumb on the scale so when the contest is over, he can unify the party, bring everybody back together because the most important thing is beating Donald Trump and making him a one-term president.

So I think that he takes that role seriously and the party didn't come together like it should have the last time and we see what happened. So I think that he wants to have the ability to bring both sides together when this is all said and done.

BLITZER: Congressman Cedric Richmond, thanks so much for joining us. Always good to have you here in The Situation Room. I appreciate it very much.

RICHMOND: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to get into all of this with our panel. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: All right. We've got some more now. The 2020 Democratic presidential campaign tonight, a two-man race after Elizabeth Warren now has dropped out. Let's bring in our experts and our analysts.

And, David Axelrod, her refusal to endorse either Biden or Sanders, what does that say to you?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, I'm not sure if I were her that I would have undercut her own withdrawal by immediately endorsing a candidate. And it's a difficult decision for her. She shares supporters probably with both but she's identified with a progressive wing on the party. She could do worlds of good for both men.

Biden needs her to show that he is continuing to consolidate the party, including the progressive wing of the party behind his candidacy.

Bernie badly needs a jolt here. And having Warren affirm his candidacy would be important. And either way, her on the campaign trail, would be a great boon to someone because she is a very powerful surrogate.

But let me say this, and I don't want to kind of devolve into sort of press political speculation, but Elizabeth Warren probably is having some serious conversations with both campaigns about exactly what her role would be now and in the future. And that would be natural conversation to have.

BLITZER: Do you have a sense, Bianna, which direction she might move in? BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I don't have a sense but I agree with David. Look, on the one hand, when you talk about policy, she is more aligned with Bernie Sanders. But when you look at who her base encompasses, she has a lot of women, African- American women especially were on her team and that is a voter group that Biden has been able to expand that Bernie Sanders has not. Also, she's pragmatic and she's practical. Bernie Sanders, for better or worse, is an ideologue.

So look at when Elizabeth Warren started to hit a bump on the road and that's when she released a price tag for healthcare for all. Remember, they're both on the same page when it comes to healthcare for all. She rolled out a $20 trillion plan and all of a sudden you started seeing that her campaign was taking a hit. Bernie Sanders, on a conservative level, is talking about 30 trillion, if not more. She can read the tea leaves.

And remember what she said to her voters on Super Tuesday, vote your conscious. Vote who you think would be best for the White House and the best president for this country. She's doing that now too.

BLITZER: Let me get David Swerdlick to weigh in. What do you think?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think there will be a split among senator Warren's supporters. I think many of them will go to Senator Sanders but more than a lot of people will go with Vice President Biden. Just look at Massachusetts. That's her home state and it went for Vice President Biden. There's a core group of Sanders Supporters who were never going to like Senator Warren and that goes both ways.

[18:45:02]

There're a lot of Warren supporters who are skittish about Senator Sanders.

BLITZER: As all of our viewers know, David Axelrod, you were once a senior adviser to the former president, Barack Obama.

Why do you think he's refusing to weigh in right now and formally endorse the man he selected to be his running mate?

AXELROD: You know, I think Congressman Richmond had it exactly right. President Obama has been clear from the beginning privately in every conversation that he's had, he's I think discussed it public but he sees his best role as being someone who can help bring the Democratic Party together after there's a nominee. It's very hard to do that if you put your thumb your scale.

And, you know, it's curious, Wolf, there are a lot of supporters of Vice President Biden who were very anxious going into the last week who were saying, gee, he was, his vice president, they obviously are close. He has great respect for him. Why doesn't President Obama weigh in?

Well, he didn't weigh in. And Joe Biden did just fine without him. And Joe Biden is a stronger candidate today because he got here by his own lights and not by relying on Barack Obama's endorsement. And so, I think the President Obama is going to stick to his position on this and when there's a clear verdict on the part of the people, a process that he respects and that yielded him as a nominee, he will then move forward and try and bring the elements of the Democratic Party together.

BLITZER: And I assume, Bianna, they will go out there on the campaign trail with Biden -- assuming if Biden gets the Democratic presidential nomination.

How do you see it?

GOLODRYGA: I agree with David. Biden has become stronger, at least over the past few weeks without an endorsement for President Obama. I'm sure he would have loved one. I would argue he became stronger after Michael Bloomberg joined the race. He can thank Elizabeth Warren for going after Bloomberg.

But having that extra person in the race who a lot of people in that cons -- in the moderate late, started to look towards when Joe Biden was all but out. I think that helped him as well and he did that without the former president's help.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. There's more we're following right now.

Just ahead also, they are in high risk group for coronavirus. What are the campaigns doing to protect, to protect President Trump, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders?

Plus, pleas for mercy for a man scheduled to be executed only minutes from now in Alabama, convicted in the shooting deaths of three police officers even though he never fired a gun.

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BLITZER: Questions tonight about how the coronavirus outbreak might impact the 2020 campaign since President Trump, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders. They're all in their 70s, are in one of the most at risk population for the coronavirus.

Our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jeff, are the campaigns doing something new now to protect these various candidates, the president and the two Democratic candidates?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's also something that's new that's cropped into this campaign and the campaigns are reluctant to say exactly what they are doing, but they are checking with local health officials along the way.

Senator Bernie Sanders was doing big rallies last week in California, of course, and they checked with public health officials to see if it was OK to do those rallies. And they, in fact, were allowed to do them. But the questions going forward is very much an unknown one. A, as you said, these three candidates are in the their 70s, which is the prime target here, but also just the number of people they come into contact with. It's such a big question.

They're reluctant to sort of step back from campaigning. President Trump, of course, loves his rallies so much. He's also a known germophobe. So, the question -- the likelihood of his stopping his rallies I think is not that significant.

But going forward, as they're not changing their practices but they're checking with their health officials, but will there be conventions this summer? We simply don't know that because, you know, this is very much playing out as the disease does as well here. But they're certainly keeping an eye on it because these candidates, as you said, are all in their 70s.

BLITZER: An important point indeed.

Stand by, we have breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

The United States Supreme Court has just granted a stay of controversial execution that was scheduled to take place within minutes right at the top of the hour in Alabama.

CNN's Martin Savidge has been working this story for us.

Martin, tell our viewers what has just happened because I know 24 hours ago, you had a very important report on this case right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. We're talking about Nathaniel Woods. He's the 44-year-old man who was accused as a coconspirator in the murders of three Birmingham, Alabama police officers back in 2004. He was scheduled to die, as you say, just minutes from now at the top of the hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time, 6:00 p.m. local.

But roughly just five minutes ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay. It's essentially a safeguard to make sure as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews all of the documents and takes one last look at all of the proceedings here that the execution would not go forward in the meantime.

So, what the U.S. Supreme Court does, and it does this frequently, is to issue a temporary stay. It remains in place as long as they think they need to sort of look over all of this. So, it could be lifted in a matter of minutes.

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It could be lifted in a matter of hours. We simply have to wait and see. That order was signed by Justice Clarence Thomas. So, that's where it stands right now. Everyone here, of course, the

supporters and those who have backed and worked hard on his legal team clearly holding their breath, and, of course, that includes his family as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Nathaniel Woods, 42 years old. Minutes from now, he was scheduled to be executed.

But the Supreme Court -- you know, Joey Jackson is joining us, our legal analyst.

Joey, I'm looking at the Supreme Court decision, Nathaniel Woods applicant versus Jefferson Dunn, commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, et al. The order says, upon consideration of the application of counsel for the application, it is ordered that execution of the sentence of death is hereby stayed pending further order of the undersigned or the court signed by Clarence Thomas, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

This is a very significant moment, Joey.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): It's a very significant moment. And we have to understand that the death penalty is something that's final and binding. As a result of that, the Supreme Court is going to weigh in to ensure that we get it right.

Now, of course the other relief was for the governor. The governor has the ability not to have the execution move forward. In the absence of the governor not doing so, the Supreme Court in light of someone being sentenced to death, right -- and we know the case is controversial. We know he was not the shooter. We know there were issues concerning his criminal responsibility, whether he had anything at all to do with the shooting, whether he even knew that the person who fired the shot was going to do so.

And so, I think it's the measure that makes the most sense, examine all the facts. We know that, you know, certainly, Martin Luther King's son even weighed in on it, suggesting that Alabama was about to execute an innocent person. And I think it's right call pending further review based upon finality of something like death where one someone dies, it's over.

So I think the Supreme Court did the right thing under the circumstances -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Jeff Zeleny is still with us. I think it was significant, Jeff, that Clarence Thomas, one of the most conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, signed this temporary stay.

ZELENY: It certainly is significant. I mean, any time Clarence Thomas weighs in, of course, we take a little bit of extra notice on this. It is significant.

He has not signed a significant number of these, of course. So, certainly moments before something like this happens. And as Joey was saying, this is final and binding. We do not know how long this stay will last.

Of course, this is something it could be moments. It could be for a longer period of time. But definitely a pause here that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas thought was necessary. And he does not act out of -- you know, this is not something he normally does. This is very significant here as we learn more about this case.

BLITZER: What do you think, David Swerdlick?

SWERDLICK: Yes, the Supreme Court weighing in at the 11th hour suggests to me that opportunity was given for the governor to exercise his power, governor didn't. Supreme Court is taking a look.

As Jeff said and we discussed so far, this is a temporary stay. The facts will be reviewed. The law will be reviewed. It doesn't mean that his conviction changes. It means whether or not the state should exercise this final, ultimate act of government authority, taking someone's life, the Supreme Court says, let's wait just a minute.

BLITZER: You know, Martin Savidge is still with us. Your excellent report. Here are the reporting, hours ago may have played a role in all of this.

But remind our viewers what has happened since then because I understand you spoke to the individual who was on death row himself who actually fired the shots killing those three police officers.

SAVIDGE: Right. That's Kerry Spencer and he's the man who said almost from the moment he was arrested back in 2004 that he was the one who opened fire on the police officers. He admitted that he was the trigger man there.

He said it was a spontaneous act, and he made sure to point out that Nathaniel Woods, he said, knew nothing of what was going to happen, didn't know he was going to open fire. In fact, he says it's lucky that Woods even survived because he was in the same room that the police officers were that were killed. So, he has maintained from the beginning this was not some sort of co-conspiracy here. He said that Woods was totally, totally unaware of what was going to happen.

And so, that is not what the state has maintained, though. They have put forward at the trial saying no, they were coconspirators. And even though Woods did not fire any shots, he was equally culpable under the law, in other words equally responsible. In fact, they said that he was part of a plot that Woods helped lure the officers into the house where they were shot and killed.

And, of course, that is what Woods' legal team absolutely denies. They just say he was a man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we know he was accompanied by some of his closest family members. They were watching this very closely and I'm sure they're relieved that at least for now he is not about to be executed. He was supposed to be executed at the top of the hour. The Supreme Court says not happening now. To our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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