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Interview with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY); Washington Schools Begin Online Learning; Live Coverage of Nancy Pelosi Press Conference. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 12, 2020 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- be in charge of the response. He said this morning to expect thousands of cases here in the U.S. That seems to contradict the estimates of epidemiologists as to how far this will spread.

Our Sanjay Gupta, a moment ago, said that reasonable expectation that about one percent of the population may have been exposed already. Do the math, that's more than 3 million people. You have estimates that many tens of millions will eventually be exposed.

Who's right? Thousands from the vice president -- you're a doctor -- or epidemiologists, who predict a much wider spread? And if it is the wider spread, how can the people watching today be confident that we have the resources as a country to treat them?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): Well, I don't think we're going to know for sure, and that came out in the briefing today. We don't know what those numbers are going to be. Is there going to be a spike, is there going to be a little increase, how big is that increase going to be?

Because they're also telling us -- and as a doctor, I completely agree -- 80 percent of the people who would ultimately test positive may have very minimal symptoms --

SCIUTTO: I know that, but Senator --

BARRASSO: -- may get better by themselves. So I don't know --

SCIUTTO: -- do the math, do the math, 80 --

BARRASSO: -- how many are going to be tested positive.

SCIUTTO: Even if it's only a fifth of several million people, that's many hundreds of thousands of very sick people in this country. And some of them might be watching this broadcast right now. What do you say to them? Does this country have the ability to test them and to treat them?

BARRASSO: Well, as you say, the number of sick people, for 80 percent of the people who get this virus, they might have slight symptoms for which they will recover. But for that other 15 to 20 percent, there are significant concerns. Those happen to be the elderly, they happen to be people with underlying medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease. And a long discussion today about how do you shield the most vulnerable --


BARRASSO: -- from that virus, regardless of how many overall have the impact of it? Because it seems that younger people are protected for some reason, very different than the flu where young people tend to be vulnerable.

HARLOW: Finally, Senator, not only are you a senator -- as Jim mentioned, you're a doctor. You were actually, in Wyoming, named Physician of the Year back in the '90s. And I just want to get your take on something that happened to me this week, right? I'm sure it's happening to tons of folks.

I went to the doctor, my normal annual appointment, scheduled for months. She said to me, I am so worried -- her kids were in the office because their school got cancelled. She was so worried about what to do if a patient she was treating at the time came down or told them the next day that they were diagnosed with coronavirus.

What do they do with the office? What do they do with the patients? She said there is no protocol from the federal government for what we're supposed to do. Think about how many physicians are facing that. What does the government owe to those doctors across America right now?

BARRASSO: Well, physicians, they are (ph) owed some level of certainty. We are seeing that in workplaces all across America. There's a case right now on Capitol Hill, and it's a matter of what one does in terms of quarantining themselves if they've been exposed. We know that there's the importance of doing that for 14 days.

And we need to make sure from a congressional standpoint that there is paid sick leave for people who aren't able to be at work because either they are sick or they're quarantining themselves or they have to be home to take care of children or others who may be ill.

SCIUTTO: Senator John Barrasso, we appreciate you sharing what you know.

BARRASSO: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: Good luck with all of this. Thank you.

BARRASSO: Thanks, Poppy.


HARLOW: More than 110,000 students are out of class just in the Seattle area because of the coronavirus epidemic. Not all children have access to online learning, of course. It doesn't work for the youngest kids. How can schools make sure that kids get the education they need, hot meals for those that can't afford it during this crisis? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. More and more colleges and universities are cancelling in-person classes, switching to online teaching as the coronavirus spreads across the country.

HARLOW: Of course, it only works for older children. Our correspondent Marty Savidge is outside of a university where this is relatively effective, Boston University. Good morning to you, Marty.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, morning, Poppy. Boston University, just the first in (ph) well, the now eight schools, colleges and universities I'm talking about in the state of Massachusetts, that have now announced that they are shutting down, including of course some of the most famous names in all the world. Boston University is currently on Spring Break. They basically told the students, hey, don't come back on Sunday. In fact, stay out for the rest of the month at least.

There are now, I believe, over 150 institutions of higher learning across the country -- California to New York and many points in between, in at least 20 states and the District of Columbia -- that have now announced that they are closing down their campuses and, in some cases, pushing to online courses.

I should point out that many colleges and universities have been planning for just this eventuality. They knew it was coming, they've got large high-density populations, some people living and learning in close proximity to one another.

And even though young people aren't so really susceptible to the worst parts of the coronavirus, the colleges realized that it was their administration, their staff, the people who keep the lights on, keep the buildings open, they were the ones that are most vulnerable here. So staffing problems were going to come up through attrition. So now they were deciding that this is the most prudent factor here.

But in some cases, they can't close down because they've got a lot of international students. So they will have to -- like here at Boston University -- keep the dorms and the dining halls open to at least take care of them. But otherwise, students are going to be picked up by a lot of parents this weekend to go home.


HARLOW: Wow, OK. Marty Savidge, thank you for that reporting. Of course, it's not just college students being affected. This morning, more than 110,000 elementary to high school students are home from school in just the Seattle area.

SCIUTTO: Yes, of course, they need care at home. Teachers and parents, they're worried. They're wondering what kind of impact this will have on children's education, not to mention the students -- many of them -- who depend on school breakfast and lunch for a good meal every day. I mean, just the carry-on effects are enormous.

CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, he's in Seattle, one of the big affected cities, with more. Tell us what you're hearing today.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning, Jim, good morning, Poppy. We are just learning that the county to our north, a district that includes more than 10,000 students, has now decided to close for over a month as a precaution for this coronavirus. And these are decisions that are now changing the reality of what education looks like for K through 12 students across America.


RANDY HUYBERS, AP CHEMISTRY TEACHER, WOODINVILLE HIGH SCHOOL: And then from the color change, they can see that the pH has changed.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): How do you teach chemistry to an empty classroom? Randy Huybers is having to get used to that reality.

HUYBERS: If we're going to do this for more than a couple weeks, this is going to be isolating, yes. But human connection was through the interface, I was very impressed with that.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): His students now see him through a computer screen.

HUYBERS: This one, you're going to need to know. This is the silver nitrate.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): And it's a familiar story throughout the region.

JIMENEZ: For tens of thousands of students here in the Seattle area, school is now happening at home. And when you step inside one of those homes, what you see is the new reality of education personified in a family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're multiplying it by a float --

JIMENEZ (voice-over): A mother who's a teacher, teaching from home; a father, also with the school district, helping out at home.

KERI MOLITOR, TEACHER: Welcome to our e-learning --

JIMENEZ (voice-over): And a daughter, elementary school-age, going through as normal a school day as you can from her living room.

MAKENNA MOLITOR, STUDENT: It's kind of weird but also fun. I can't really have that much classwork to do today, but I still had some.

K. MOLITOR: Normally at school, I would have seen all six of my classes for 50-minute periods, and also had a prep period. So very different at home.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The Molitors are part of the Seattle-area North Shore School District, among the first places in the country to make a deliberate move to online learning because of the rapidly spreading coronavirus. MICHELLE REID, NORTHSHORE SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT: It was sort

of a convergence of data points that eventually led to increasing absences, and finally 26 of our schools having the impact of some exposure or another.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Seattle's public schools are among those that won't be able to go forward with online learning. Instead, having to suspend classes altogether for at least two weeks.

TIM ROBINSON, SPOKESPERSON, SEATTLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Not all 53,000 students have online access or a device, a computer. So if we can't provide that online learning for all of our students, then we can't (ph).

JIMENEZ (voice-over): It also means school lunches are being made available for pickup or delivery to households who depend on it.

All contingency plans, set into motion amidst a global outbreak.

HUYBERS: We'll make it through.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The question now, for how long?

K. MOLITOR: We'll switch to false.


JIMENEZ: Now, bottom line, the online learning aspect simply comes down to accessibility. That North Shore School District, for example, only was able to do that because they had to distribute more than 3,500 computers and counting as more requests come in, not to mention at least 350 mobile hotspots.

But obviously, this is not a possibility for every district, meaning they have to shut down altogether. And that doesn't even touch on the fact that not all of these students live in two-parent households where their parents are able to stay home with their kids, as we are now looking at incredibly irregular schedules in not just the Seattle- area school district -- Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. You stay home, you lose your income. I mean, these are the challenges families will be facing.

HARLOW: In fact, most parents in this country can't stay home. Omar, thank you very much.


This morning, two NBA teams told all the players, told to self- quarantine after a player on the Utah Jazz tests positive for coronavirus. And the NBA, overnight, suspends the entire season.


[10:48:47] REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: -- from being in school. If schools are closed, we have to make sure that the food gets to the children. It's not -- this food is already paid for and allocated -- appropriated for, it's just a question of getting the food to the children, and that has some cost to it.

We also have to get -- that's the school lunch program, et cetera. But in terms of -- of SNAP and food assistance for seniors, people with disabilities, helping the nonprofits who are on the forefront of helping people have access to food at this difficult time.

And then clear protections for our front-line workers who are working in infectious environments, or possible infectious environments, so that they -- the OSHA regulations are a protection for them.

And then, increased funding for Medicaid. The FMAP, that's the initiative that gives money to the states for Medicaid that is used, hopefully through the counties and the rest which deal with many of these health issues, as we go forward.

So it's about putting families first. We did the big, the major investment last week. We were very proud of that: strong bipartisan, already signed into law.

Families First -- and there will be other initiatives that we want to work with the Administration on that may be necessary as we go forward. Some that need more discussion, more impact in terms of what is the collateral benefit or collateral damage to stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

Now let me just get back to testing, testing, testing. So very important to take inventory, to understand the epidemiological -- the spread of the virus. And also to meet the needs of the people affected.

I am very pleased, also this week, that we were able to pass a bipartisan FISA bill in the House. That's a hard thing to do. I know that from my intelligence experience. And that we were able to pass Representative Slotkin's War Powers Resolution, Rep. Lee's legislation to repeal the AUMF -- it's the predicate for how we go forward -- and Rep. Khanna's legislation to prohibit funding for military action.

So, as we go forward, I want to thank the Members for the bipartisan legislation that was successful this week on the Floor.

In case you were going to ask: no, I do not think Bernie Sanders should get out of the race. I think that -- I'm a grassroots person, a party grassroots -- you know, Chair of the California Democratic Party. I know the enthusiasm of supporters for candidates. And they want to see it play out. For the ideas and causes that the candidate advances. For the opportunity for people to show their support.

I congratulate both of the candidates as they go into the debate on Sunday. I wish them both well and I'm very pleased that we're getting a chance now, in a narrower field, to be able to come close to having a standard-bearer for the party.

But, either one of them, whoever is the one who emerges, the other is a standard-bearer for a point of view in our party that is very important.

With that, I am pleased to take any questions.

Let me see. Who? Who?


QUESTION: Madam Speaker, in your opening statement, it sounded like you are open still to changing this bill or at least tweaking it for some of the Republican, White House concerns -


QUESTION: When you guys vote this afternoon, are you planning to release your Members to go home or will you keep Congress in session until there is a bill on the President's desk?

PELOSI: Well, we have a -- whether we go home or not is more related to the -- what the House Physician, the Capitol Physician says and what the Sergeant at Arms and the police chief and the rest say about what could come next that we have to deal with. Because they make statements every day based on the current state of affairs in the community in which we exist here in Washington, D.C.

So, I do think some of the suggestions -- what happened here -- we moved quickly because who knew, right, that we would be in this situation. We passed the bill last week.

Immediately, we knew we had to do more. We had to get it onto paper and, when we had it, then we shared it with the Republicans. They made some changes to it. We're negotiating with them. Secretary Mnuchin -- he had some suggestions. All very reasonable. I don't think that any of them is a -- would prevent us from moving forward with the bill. We just have to though, in the world that we live in, have language so that we can go to Rules so that we can go to the Floor.

I don't think that we would wait until there is a signed bill. We will do our work, as I said, sensitive to changes that have been suggested. I don't think they're unreasonable. They're options that we considered in our own Caucus, some of them. And we went one route and they want to go the other route. That's fine.

But, we will have done our work. And we would hope that would be an incentive for the Senate to move quickly because Senator -- Leader McConnell asked me to work with Secretary Mnuchin. We are. He had his concerns. We are addressing them. I hope they don't move the goalposts.

QUESTION: So, to be clear, you think you can work this bill out today and pass that with potential changes. And then the idea is that the House might go away -


PELOSI: Well, we're doing one step at a time. I'm not saying anything. We are here to pass a bill. When we pass a bill, we'll make a judgment about what comes next. And, we will see the manner in which the bill is passed. So, I'm not giving any travel arrangements. I know you are busy about your weekend and that, but that's not what we are about.

QUESTION: Legislatively though what are those other things that you see? Obviously, these are things that you can do immediately. But what are those broader things that you might see doing in a couple of weeks?

PELOSI: Let us get this bill passed first and then we will see where we go from there because the fact is, it's like a house is on fire. People are concerned about their health and the health of their children. If they are losing their jobs because no one is coming to the restaurant or whatever it is, then we have to be there with some help for them.

And if their children can't go to school because the schools are closed, they -- how do they afford child care? Well, this legislation affords them the opportunity to stay home on a somewhat of a paid leave for a while.

So, again, we're addressing the realities of life -- of family life in America. Putting families first. We're not planning a schedule or anything else until we get that done.

And, again, we had in our bill last week the provisions for the Small Business Administration to provide loans to businesses that were under duress, whether they lost their market overseas or their supply chain overseas or whatever it happened be. And so that we though was an important initiative to have in the bill. They may want to do more. That's something we can talk about.

But, even if you have your small business loan, so that you can pay the rent on your store or your restaurant or your facility, if you don't have customers, you still have a problem. That's why, when we do the TANF -- excuse me, not TANF- the SNAP, the food stamps, when we do the unemployment insurance, when we do paid sick days, when we have paid family leave -- parental leave, family leave -- that money will be spent immediately. Injects money to manage the economy, creates jobs. It is a stimulus.

So, this is not without its opportunity to stimulate the economy. In fact, when we did the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, we asked the -- Rosa DeLauro in particular -- asked the economists: 'Name some of the things that we could do immediately that would be stimulus to the economy?' Raise the minimum wage, we're not doing that here, but unemployment insurance, paid leave, food stamps, etc. Because, again, they have the need.

We also have the earned income tax credit, refundable in that -- maybe some of the things that we will talk about in the future.

QUESTION: One of the issues that the Minority Leader is talking about has to do with -- he believes that compromise could occur in the next 24-48 hours, but, if it doesn't, the Republicans are willing to stay and work this out.

PELOSI: Well, it isn't a question of sticking it out. Families have needs, that I just described. We made the proposal, which we started on Sunday and put out there -- listening to governors, mayors, non- profit organizations, educators and the rest. This is what families need.

They made suggestions to the language. We're making -- agreeing to most of it -- because they're not that different. So, we don't need 48 hours. We need to just make a decision to help families right now because we have to operate not as business as usual, but in an emergency status where we have to get the job done.

QUESTION: But if a decision isn't made will you stick around -

PELOSI: Yes, Nancy.

I'm not sticking around because they don't want to agree to language. We have -- we're agreeing to much of what they have to -- look, first of all, Mitch McConnell called me and said, 'You work with the Secretary, that's it.' Now, the House Republicans are saying they're not in the loop. It's not about that.

I mean, it's about putting people and families first. So, I mean, everybody can have a complaint about this or that. I said, 'Save it for another day.' We can have an after-action review about how we got into this situation. Save it for another day.

Right now, we have to find our common ground, work together to get this done as soon as possible because we have other needs. We will have to address this issue further. And if some things that they might want in this bill that aren't there, there could be another bill shortly down the road. We didn't do everything last week with $8.3 billion, but we did a great deal. And now we are doing more and then we're fully prepared to do more.

So we are having -- we are responding to their concerns. We don't want them moving the --