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Tensions Grow Between White House & Health Officials over Coronavirus as Trump Continues to Downplay Severity of Outbreak; Capitol Hill Physician Says Members of Congress Had Contact with CPAC Attended Who Tested Positive; Colleges & Universities Brace for Spread of Coronavirus; NY/NJ Port Authority Director Tests Positive for Coronavirus; Biden Picks Up New Endorsements as Six States Get Set to Vote; Michigan Democratic Party Chair, Lavora Barnes, Discusses the Democratic Primary; New Coronavirus Cases Drop in China. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired March 9, 2020 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. As the country grapples with the growing coronavirus outbreak, there's another troubling fight happening behind the scenes at the very top, divisions between the White House and public health officials, like those at the CDC.

One big issue, it appears, is the administration's repeated attempts to downplay the crisis and conflicting reports on who is saying what and when.

And also performances like this at the CDC on Friday can't be helping at all.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like the numbers being where they are. I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship. That wasn't our fault.

The tests are all perfect. Like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect, right?

I didn't know people died from the flu.

I like this stuff. I get it. People are surprised that I understand it.

But every one of these doctors said, how do you know so much about this. Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.


BOLDUAN: CNN's John Harwood is at the White House with more on this tension.

What are you hearing about this, John?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, there's a divide, as you alluded to, on the assessment of the crisis. There's also a divide on what to do about it.

This is a president who does not want to acknowledge that things on his watch are going badly and, therefore, he has to continue to downplay, to praise, as he did in tweets this morning, his own early decision to restrict some entry into the country of people from China, saying that was responsible, to compare it to the ordinary flu and note how many fewer deaths have occurred on this.

The same thing comes up on the economic response. There's a lot of pressure, both from the Hill and even from within the White House, for some action in terms of helping people adversely affected. And that list of people is growing as markets crash and the economic impact becomes more severe.

The president, when I asked him about this on Friday, said, no, we're in great shape, just look at those job numbers. He doesn't want to admit that things are going badly. And that, in turn, has a cascading effect on both the public health response and the economic response of the administration.

BOLDUAN: Not wanting to face the reality does not change that the reality is really setting in and really setting in and impacting people.

HARWOOD: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: John, thank you so much. Great to see you.

We're also getting word that the virus is now impacting Congress in a very real way. Two members of Congress have now announced they are in self-quarantine after coming in contact at CPAC, the annual Conservative political conference, with someone who has tested positive for the virus. And also new reporting there could be even more lawmakers impacted by this.

CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill and tracking this.

This is coming, in part, from the capitol's position. What are you hearing, Lauren?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Essentially, the attending physician on Capitol Hill sent a note to lawmakers and staffers saying they have contacted members who they believe came in contact with that infected individual at CPAC.

Ted Cruz and Paul Gosar both elected to self-quarantine. This is 10 days, last night, when they sent their statements announcing their self-quarantine after they came in contact with that individual.

But I want to read you part of Ted Cruz's statement. He said, "Given the interaction was 10 days ago, that the active incubation period is five to six days, that the interaction was for less than a minute and I have no current symptoms, the medical authorities have advised me that the odds of transmission from the other individual to me were extremely low."

Gosar has also said that he and his staff are doing well, that they have not experienced any symptoms, this was just a precautionary measure.


But it really tells you, Kate, essentially how this has overtaken even Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill in the spring when this is a busy season. Lobbyists are coming to Capitol Hill to lobby their representatives. There are a lot of vendors up here.

And lawmakers are really eyeing what steps to take next -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: You have to applaud them for at least Ted Cruz's statement. Calm but vigilant kind of reaction to this and leading by example when you see how this is all unfolding. Let's see what happens next.

Lauren, thank you much. Really appreciate it.

Coming up next, the coronavirus was already impacting students studying abroad. Now campuses here in the United States are bracing for a continued outbreak.

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: American colleges and universities were already shutting down international study abroad programs because of the coronavirus. Well, now they're having to take action at their own home campuses as well. Some suspending operations after staff or students are found to be exposed to the virus. That is what's happening at Columbia University here in New York.

CNN national correspondent, Athena Jones, joins me now. She's on campus.

Athena, what are they doing and how are students responding to this?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. This school is taking steps that other colleges and universities are taking across the country to try to mitigate this virus. Not just Columbia University but also Barnard College, nearby, a sister campus.

They are both suspending classes today and tomorrow. They will go to remote classes, meaning online classes, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week. And in both campuses, Columbia and Barnard, the students will be on spring break. They say at Columbia there was a person who was exposed to

coronavirus. They have not tested positive for COVID-19, the illness associated with the virus, but the school is still taking these steps out of an abundance of caution.

As I mentioned, it's not just Columbia and Barnard. Other schools nearby. Hofstra also not having classes. That's a school on Long Island. Princeton University in New Jersey is moving to online classes.

And on the other side of the country, we have University of Washington, which has suspended classes, as well as USC, the University of Southern California, all of this to try to do social distancing, because we know college campuses are where people are working and studying and living very close together.

I should mention also that at least one public school district on Long Island, the Shoreham-Wading Rivers school district is closed today because a member of their high school security team said their spouses have been exposed to the virus.

So a lot of schools trying to take steps to mitigate the spread of this virus -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Changing by the day.

Also new this morning, New York's governor just announced that the head of the port authority of New York and New Jersey tested positive for the virus. What are you hearing about that?

JONES: That's true. That's one of the 140 confirmed cases in this city. The executive director of the port authority did test positive for the coronavirus. He is under quarantine. And his senior team will be tested and placed under quarantine. This is according to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

So more cases and more steps being taken to try to make sure that the virus does not continue to spread in this city -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Athena, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Coming up, another Super Tuesday, another round of big-name endorsements for Joe Biden. Is it enough to beat Bernie Sanders in a state that he won in the 2016 Democratic primary? The battle for Michigan, next.



BOLDUAN: We're at less than 24 hours away from Super Tuesday, round II, with voters in six states heading to the polls tomorrow, including the crucial state of Michigan.

It comes as Joe Biden picked up two more high-profile endorsements. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker both announcing their support for the former vice president in the last two days.

Bernie Sanders picking up a big endorsement as well from the Reverend Jesse Jackson over the weekend.

What's going to happen?

Joining me right now, the chair of the Democratic Party of Michigan, Lavora Barnes.

Thank you so much for coming in.


BOLDUAN: I'm doing very well, thank you.

Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, she's made a few pretty smart predictions about your state when it comes to presidents in the past, let's say, for years. She said this morning it looks like it's Joe Biden's to lose this time around in the primary. Do you agree?

BARNES: Here's what I know. We're going to have a huge turnout. Folks are going to vote. Folks are voting now. And it's my goal to get as many Democrats out to the polls to vote, whoever they want to support.

BOLDUAN: And not for you to tip the scales, is what I'm hearing.


BARNES: Correct. That is not my job to tip the scales.

BOLDUAN: You're saying -- this is one of my days I love my job, when I don't have to have an opinion.

Let me ask. You mentioned huge turnout. We saw big turnout in Super Tuesday I, right? A lot of states beating 2016 numbers. A vast majority of states, actually, on Super Tuesday beating their 2016 numbers. What does huge mean? Are you expecting to beat 2016 numbers tomorrow?


BOLDUAN: What are you seeing?

BARNES: Yes, I do think we're going to beat 2016 numbers, just judging from the number of folks who have requested absentee ballots. Last time I looked we were approaching a million folks requesting those, and just half of those turned them in last week. So I think the numbers will be much bigger than the 2016 numbers.

BOLDUAN: We do know, as I mentioned in my intro, that Senators Booker and Harris are endorsing Biden. They're planning to campaign with Biden tonight in Michigan. How much influence do you think these endorsements have on Michigan Democratic voters?

[11:50:00] BARNES: Both of these candidates have picked up big endorsements in the last couple of days and brought folks into Michigan to energize their supporters. That's what it does. It helps folks excited about coming out to vote, excited about supporting the candidate of their choice and, frankly, gets more attention for the election that's coming up tomorrow.

BOLDUAN: Bernie Sanders said last week -- I found it interesting -- that maybe Michigan is the most important state. Do you think Michigan is to Bernie Sanders what everyone, including Joe Biden, thought South Carolina was to him? It's win or bust?

BARNES: I think Michigan was always an important state, important enough to come earlier in this cycle, frankly.


BARNES: But these numbers, we've got 125 delegates at stake. So at this moment, this delegate count becomes a big deal for either of these candidates to pick up as many of our votes as they can tomorrow.

BOLDUAN: Your request to the DNC on the calendar is noted for the next election.

Is there one group of voters, a community of voters that you think will be the decider for who wins or loses in this primary?

BARNES: I don't. I think what happens in Michigan -- because we are such a diverse state, you will see the African-American vote turn out and you will see youth vote turn out. We've got folks from all demographics and they'll come out and vote for their candidate of choice.


BOLDUAN: -- it's so important because of that diversity.


BARNES: That's exactly right.

BOLDUAN: Yes. There are -- because of -- I mean, there's a lot of -- there's obviously Macomb County that everybody focuses on. That shows those Reagan Democrats going from blue to red. And where do they go? That's why Michigan has always been but is especially it is political watchers like we all are.


BOLDUAN: The Democratic primary is now down to two white men. It is hard not to notice that. How important is it to you that their choice, the eventual nominee's choice then would be -- a choice for running mate, sorry -- would be more representative of the diversity of the Democratic Party?

BARNES: I think it is vital. If you looked at our large stage, our large diverse stage throughout all of the debates. We have a lot of terrific talent in this party. There are plenty of folks of color, there are plenty of women who would make terrific running mates for either of these two gentlemen.

And frankly, I think they need to choose someone either of color or a woman or both in order in order to make a ticket that looks like America.

BOLDUAN: Would you like to float any suggestions?

BARNES: I would not.


BOLDUAN: Lavora, thank you for coming in. We'll be watching. Good luck tomorrow. I appreciate it.

BARNES: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much.


BOLDUAN: Coming up, it's been the epicenter of coronavirus. Now new signs of progress in China. We'll take you live to Shanghai, next.



BOLDUAN: Some updates around the world now. Sixteen million people in Italy are now under lockdown. Consider that for a second. That's two New York Cities worth of people locked down.

For those folks, who are northern Italy, what that means is they have to remain inside the containment region until next month with very few exceptions. Airports, train stations nearly empty, which is understandable considering this is ordered by law. Religious ceremonies cancelled, along with school and sporting events.

Over the weekend, the number of coronavirus in Italy spiked dramatically to more than 7300 with 366 deaths so far. That's in Italy.

In Asia, the number of new cases in China actually fell over the past few weeks, a sign the outbreak maybe slowing where the outbreak started. Right now, there are more than 80,000 people infected in mainland China. As of Sunday, more than 58,000 people were treated and discharged from hospitals.

CNN's David Culver is live in Shanghai where stores and restaurants are starting to reopen.

David, what are you seeing and hearing now?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, I've been talking to a lot of my family and friends, in the east coast of the U.S., in particular, and I see and hear in their voices the anxiety that's' being felt there right now. And people asking, is it still like that there where it all started, right here in China.

I've got to tell you, things are starting to return to a new normal but they're starting to return to life and we are starting to see that trickle little by little. And you can almost breathe easy a little bit when you look at how things are starting to make this turn here in China.

We may be 12 hours ahead of you for the day but really we are seven weeks ahead of you when it comes to this outbreak. They have been through this and they've been dealing with this with the extreme lockdowns.

Let me walk you through some of the numbers we are hearing. You mentioned a plummet in the daily reported cases. The most recent ones reported, 40 cases. At a high, it was 4,000 daily cases reported. That is certainly progress. You have to attribute that to the National Health Commission because that's the source of this data, and people have questioned that.

But regardless, at this point, that's the trend we are starting the see.

And proof of that is reinforced in the number of hospitals. We have talked about China building two hospitals in two-week's time. There was this scramble for hospital capacity.

What are we hearing now, as of today, according to state media, they are closing some of these field hospitals. Not one or two but a dozen of the 14 field hospitals that were opened to accommodate this influx of patients have now shut down.


They had some 42,000 medical personnel responding to this in Hubei Province, the epicenter of all of this. They are now seeing a decrease in demand. That is to say, Kate, they don't have the patient load.