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THE SITUATION ROOM
Federal Aid Package For Coronavirus?; Interview With Gov. Ned Lamont (D-CT); White House Pitches $1 Trillion Economic Response Package, Would Include $1,000 Checks For Americans; Arizona, Florida, And Illinois Take Steps To Limit Coronavirus Risks For Voters. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 17, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We're following breaking news.
First of all, the NBA star Kevin Durant has told the sports news publication "The Athletic" that he has tested positive for the coronavirus. Durant told "The Athletic" -- and I'm quoting now -- "Everyone, be careful. Take care of yourself and quarantine. We're going to get through this."
We're going to bring you more on this breaking story as we get it.
Also tonight, talk of a large stimulus relief package here in Washington, and Wall Street partially rebounds. The White House hopes to put money in the pockets of Americans in a matter of weeks, a stimulus to counter the economic fallout from the COVID-19 virus.
Can the Republicans and Democrats here in Washington quickly work out the details? I will ask one of the nation's governors his thoughts about the overall situation right now. We're watching it very closely.
But let's start with Nick Watt. He is joining us from Los Angeles right now.
Nick, what's the latest over there?
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have just had 50 more confirmed cases here in Los Angeles County. That means California now has topped the 500 mark.
Now, if we needed another reason to practice all this social distancing we're being told we must, here it is. A new study suggests that this coronavirus can live in the air for up to three hours, and on hard surfaces, stainless steel, or plastic for three days.
WATT (voice-over): Early opening in Houston, seniors only, keeping them stocked up and safe from other shoppers.
In San Francisco's Bay Area, seven million woke to a draconian dawn, now allowed out only for essential needs. This afternoon, New York City's mayor said he might issue a similar shelter in place order within 48 hours.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: New Yorkers should be prepared right now for the possibility of a shelter-in-place order.
WATT: Brooklyn's DA has stopped prosecuting low-level offenses that don't jeopardize public safety.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president also has us inventorying what you all would understand as field hospitals or MASH hospitals that can be deployed very quickly.
WATT: Federal officials are warning there aren't enough gowns, gloves and masks stockpiled.
PENCE: We would urge construction companies to donate their inventory of N95 masks to your local hospital.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have ordered massive numbers of ventilators.
WATT: Miami's mayor, from self-quarantine, has now followed New York and others in shutting all gyms, clubs, bars and restaurants, apart from takeout.
At the 11th hour, Ohio postponed today's presidential primary, possibly until June.
FRANK LAROSE, OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: It was simply untenable for us to continue telling Ohioans to go to the polls.
WATT: Florida, Arizona and Illinois went ahead. This voter, in her 70s, with underlying conditions, wore a mask, muffs and gloves.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This election, it's always important, but it's ultra-important to me this year.
WATT: Uber and Lyft have stopped all pool and shared rides. And for the first time since the Second World War, the Kentucky Derby will not be run the first weekend in May.
The airlines are taking a hit, nearly a million fewer passengers in one day compared to a year ago.
STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: This is worse than 9/11. For the airline industry, this is -- they are almost ground to a halt.
WATT: Meanwhile, Amazon is hiring another 100,000 workers to meet online shopping demands.
WATT: So, that is all stuff that is happening already. Here are a few suggestions for more.
The UAW union is asking GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler to close U.S. production for a couple of weeks. The automakers are weighing that up.
Also, a bunch of prosecutors from across the country suggesting that we release some minor offenders from prison early. And the governor of Connecticut is asking retired nurses to consider coming back to work to help out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, dramatic developments, indeed.
Nick Watt, thanks very much.
Let's get back to the East Coast right now.
I'm joined by Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut, which announced 27 additional coronavirus cases today, bringing its total up to 68. Also joining us, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Governor Lamont, first of all, what new actions are you taking in your state at this hour?
GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): Well, Wolf, working with New York and New Jersey, we closed bars and restaurants, sadly, on the eve of St. Patrick's Day last night.
But we have got to do everything we can to limit the amount of social interaction. Our bars were packed up until then. And we had to send a message loud and clear. We can't allow this.
It's escalating fast throughout New England, throughout our state. And we got to make sure we have people's social distancing.
BLITZER: Yes, it's an important point.
What has the White House, Governor, communicated to you over the past 24 hours?
LAMONT: Actually, somebody from the White House did reach out to our staff.
I'd made a strong case that we needed not just testing, but PPE, the protective equipment. This is what my people need. We don't have enough of it.
The number of infections is escalating dramatically. And we will see. I have become -- Missouri's the Show Me State. I feel like Connecticut is show me too. I have got to see it to believe it. But we're ready.
BLITZER: I'm sure you are.
Governor, I want to bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He has a couple of questions for you as well.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Governor Lamont, an honor -- honor to speak to you, sir.
It strikes me that we -- we're hearing the -- from the White House that states should go ahead and buy ventilators and sort of get prepared. Ventilators are something that everybody on the planet wants right now, given that this is a pandemic.
I'm wondering, how do you even go about this process? Are you doing this? Are you trying to buy ventilators? Or how do you go about this?
LAMONT: We are.
I mean, our hospital association and team are out there scouring the globe right now for ventilators. But the federal government has got to take the lead on this.
I mean, lead-up to World War II, look at the thousands of B-52s they built on very short notice. We need ventilators. We need PPE, and the federal government should take the lead.
GUPTA: Yes, I mean, I have heard this analogy before, sort of being able to shore up some of the money from DOD to maybe do this.
What about the testing? I know that you -- within the state, they are doing drive-up testing now, which allows people to not leave the car, hopefully keeps the health care workers a little bit more protected.
But one of the things I think is still unclear is exactly who should get tested. And I'm wondering if that's something you thought about, the criteria. How do you approach this in Connecticut?
LAMONT: Well, we have had to be very selective, because, until very recently, we have very limited testing capacity.
A week ago, we had maybe 20 tests a day coming out of public lab. Now we're up to a few hundred. So we're making some progress there.
Sanjay, we have prioritized, one, people who are sick in the hospitals, making sure we knew who had COVID-19, so they could be appropriately quarantined as needed.
Now we're expanding that to everybody who's showing real symptoms, who comes in with a doctor's authorization. We have nine of our hospitals doing drive-through. So we're able to do the swabs, get the testing done, either through our lab, through our local hospitals, or now some of the out-of-state labs.
Maybe a little too little, too late, but we're catching up.
BLITZER: Governor Lamont, I understand you actually have, what, 200 nurses who are on furlough because they may have come into contact with the virus.
Who has -- and perhaps they haven't even been able to get tested yet. Why is that? Do you have any idea of when they will be able to get tested and get back to work, potentially?
LAMONT: We do.
I mean, across the state, there are lots of health care workers, including nurses, who maybe showed contact who are on furlough, self- quarantine. If we could get them tested sooner, we could find out whether they had COVID-19, or maybe just the flu or some -- something less than that. We could get them back to work.
Look, we got to -- we need everybody, all hands on deck, over the next week or two. You look at what's coming out of those pictures of Italy, and our team has got to be prepared.
BLITZER: I think you're going to need all hands on deck for more than the next week or two.
BLITZER: This is going to continue for a while.
What's your message governor to the people of Connecticut, those watching around the country right now, who are so worried about what the next weeks and potentially months might look like?
LAMONT: Wolf, be smart.
Everybody 60, 70, stay home. No real reason you got to go out. I'm sort of intrigued. In the Stop & Shop, if you got to go out and shop, 60-, 70-year-olds can go at an earlier hour to do that.
I'm telling the young millennials, the invincibles, nobody's invincible. We need you to show real rigor here. And that's why we had to close down the bars and restaurants.
Again, everybody's got to stay quarantined, close to home, unless you're absolutely needed at work.
BLITZER: Very good advice, indeed.
Governor Ned Lamont, thanks so much for joining us, especially on a critically busy day like this.
BLITZER: Sanjay, I want you to stay with us.
I want to bring in the former Baltimore health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen, who is also an emergency room physician.
Let's continue this conversation.
Sanjay, first to you. As Governor Lamont noted, what, there are 200 nurses furloughed in Connecticut because of possible exposure. I know you're closely monitoring doctors in Atlanta who are also sick. This is so disturbing.
How worried are you right now about health care workers all across the country?
GUPTA: Well, very worried, Wolf, I mean, for obvious reasons, worried about their health and people becoming exposed first and foremost.
But also, Wolf, I mean, with this particular infection, as you know, if you're exposed to this, then you have got to go into quarantine for a period of time. And so it really takes staff out of the picture for a period of time, at a time when they're really needed.
Three things that we keep talking about, and I know Dr. Wen's talked about this as well, but staff, supplies and space, staff, supplies and space, not necessarily in that order.
But staff -- if you don't have the staff or they are getting sick or getting exposed, it really hampers the efforts. Also, people might be understandably nervous to come to work if they have little kids at home or they have elder parents at home, coming into work, because they're worried about their exposure and then going and infecting someone at home.
So this is playing out real time, Wolf, all over the country.
Dr Wen, I know you're also very concerned about the hospitals, the health care workers out there. Other than social distancing, what can people do right now to reduce the burden on the system? Some of the hospitals, I'm told, even here in the D.C. area, they're going on an almost wartime footing.
DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: That's right.
Well, social distancing, Wolf, is absolutely critical, because we do have a very narrow window of opportunity. And that window is closing every single day.
So we have to take this very seriously to do our part. But you're right. There's something else that we can do, too, which is, don't go to the E.R.s.
My colleagues in emergency medicine, in intensive care all over the country are telling me that their hospitals are already getting flooded with patients. These patients don't need to be in the E.R., but they're worried, understandably, about coronavirus. They want a test, or they may have symptoms and they're just concerned.
And, right now, getting a test in the E.R. is not the best place. You're probably not going to get the test there. But also, just by being there, you're exposing yourself to other pathogens if you don't have coronavirus.
And also you're taking up the space that somebody else may need if they actually have a heart attack or stroke or something else that needs that E.R. care. So don't go to the E.R. That will help to reduce the strain on our health care system too.
BLITZER: But you're suggesting not to go to the E.R., Dr. Wen, if you have some mild symptoms.
What if you're really in bad shape? What do you do then?
If you need to go to the E.R. because you have acute symptoms, go. What I'm saying is, don't go to the E.R. unless you would have gone otherwise. So don't go if your main reason for going is that you're worried about coronavirus.
BLITZER: That's a good point, indeed.
And I'm sure, Sanjay, you agree with that.
The New York governor has urged the president to have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expand hospital capacity around the country right now. Do you agree that that's the right thing to do?
GUPTA: Yes, I do.
I mean, look, I get that this is going to be jarring for people to see, the Army Corps of Engineers in their communities possibly setting up these tents and these makeshift sort of operations.
But, look, this is part of preparation. And there's all sorts of different predictions in terms of how many beds are going to be necessary. And, also, people who are diagnosed with coronavirus and need to be isolated, you need to have space for that as well.
So, I think the idea of stopping elective operations, using the operating room space possibly as extra ICU beds and using the ventilators in those operating rooms, all of that is necessary right now.
I don't think this is in perpetuity, Wolf. I don't think that this is going to go on forever. But I think, for the next several weeks, this is what we have to be thinking about, because, as several of your guests have said, Wolf, we're already behind the curve a bit.
So this thing can grow parabolic sort of fashion in terms of how many cases all of a sudden might start to -- people start to show up in hospitals. That's part of the preparation. That's part of this national emergency plan.
BLITZER: That's an important point, indeed.
Dr. Wen, as the former Baltimore health commissioner, do you think larger cities right now, maybe Baltimore, your city, should follow San Francisco's lead and start to issue shelter-in-place orders?
WEN: It is the next step. And I hate to say this, because everything that we do is a balance of public health and civil liberties.
And I don't want to infringe upon people's civil liberties. But everything that we're doing for social distancing and these voluntary measures depends on people complying with it.
And if people are not complying with it and are still going out, and going to bars and restaurants, and going on playdates, and meeting people in groups, then there needs to be more drastic measure.
And I do think that the next step of sheltering in place is not that far in the future. We really just have a very narrow window of opportunity. And we are facing the biggest public health catastrophe of our time.
BLITZER: Dr. Wen and Sanjay, stay exactly where you are, because I'm going to get your reaction.
But I want to go to China right now, the suspected source of the pandemic, and see how attempts to combat it over there are going.
Ivan Watson's joining us right now from Hong Kong.
Ivan, at this point, there are, what -- there are no more reported cases outside -- there are now -- let me repeat that -- there are now more reported cases outside mainland China than within. How is the country dealing with stemming the outbreak?
And have new cases or other deaths leveled off, at least for now?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The numbers have gone down dramatically in mainland China, Wolf.
According to the official Chinese figures, on -- as of Monday night, you only had 21 new cases for the day in mainland China. That's incredible, if you consider that, a few weeks ago, those numbers were going up by the thousands each day.
So there has been a leveling off. One of the most dramatic measures that China adopted was to completely lock down, quarantine the entire city of Wuhan. That's the origin point of coronavirus, which has grown into this global pandemic.
So, for weeks there, people have not even been allowed to leave their homes. And that very strict regime is still very much in place there.
One of the concerns now in China is that the new cases are what the government describes as -- quote, unquote -- "imported cases," so not necessarily people who got infected within China, but people who have traveled from outside into China and seem to have gotten infected outside, and have avoided the regime, the strict measures that China has adopted to try to restrict this rapid growth.
Though the numbers are lower, you still had at least 13 deaths on Monday in China, but just a tremendous improvement from an almost wartime situation just a few weeks ago, particularly in that flash point city of Wuhan -- Wolf. BLITZER: You're in Hong Kong right now. And it's a very, very densely
populated area, right next to mainland China.
Are people there in Hong Kong worried about what's being described as a second wave?
WATSON: Some people are.
I am really surprised at how much more relaxed the city is from where it was just a few weeks ago. All the signs were that this place was going to get clobbered. It's an autonomous part of China, on the border of mainland China, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, a population of more than seven million people.
But according to the latest government statistics here, this city only has 168 confirmed cases of coronavirus. That's incredible, only four deaths thus far.
That shows that the efforts that they have made here have been very, very successful. But what the government here is saying is they are also very worried about imported cases. Of the 10 most recent cases, almost all of them are people who traveled internationally recently, flew in, or they were in touch with people who flew in.
So the government has made a much stricter system. I just came into Hong Kong from assignment in Korea last week. So I'm under mandatory medical supervision, surveillance, Wolf. So I have to fill out a daily form. I have to take my temperature twice a day.
If I have any symptoms, I have to immediately call the Department of Health here. As of midnight Thursday night, anybody flying in from outside of Hong Kong, with the exception of mainland China and Macau and Taiwan, go into mandatory 14-day quarantine. They cannot leave their homes.
And the Hong Kong authorities are introducing measures like electronic tracking bracelets, apps on the phones, to make sure that people do not break those quarantines.
Those are some of the measures that the authorities are taking, because they're so concerned that they could lose the progress they have made at containing this over the last month-and-a-half by shutting down schools, by shutting down all recreational centers for some time, real social distancing policies that they're worried that external travel could put a stop to that.
The authorities have basically said, they do not want their citizens, their residents to travel in or out of this city in the coming weeks.
BLITZER: Well, good luck over there, Ivan. Be careful.
And these are good, good recommendations for you and for everybody else coming back into Hong Kong or elsewhere into China. Thanks very much. I want to bring back Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Leana Wen.
Sanjay, are there lessons to be learned here in the United States from the Chinese experience, the Chinese response?
I mean, I think there's no question. First of all, it's hopeful, right, to see what's happening in China right now. I mean, everyone's sort of wondering, how long is this going to last in the United States? We could take some clues from China, obviously, a different setup, different reaction, much more forceful in terms of the quarantines.
Wolf, you brought up the 1918 flu pandemic earlier. And let me show you a graphic really quick in terms of the impact of some of these social distancing measures.
You compare two cities. Let's see if this is it here. Yes, Philadelphia vs. Saint Louis. Philadelphia had a big fair going on during this time, lots of people interacting with each other. Saint Louis, they applied significant social distancing measures. Look at the difference in numbers there.
I bring this up as an example of China vs. perhaps other places around the world. I think we are starting to improve. But you can see that there was a significant impact.
I also -- I am a little worried -- you asked Ivan this -- about a second wave. As people start to return the life over there, I'm glad they're being monitored still, because there is still a lot about this virus we don't know. We're not still 100 percent sure about the incubation period.
I think it's really important to continue to follow people for a period of time to make sure that the virus isn't still incubating and possibly going to cause illness later on.
BLITZER: Yes, it's important.
Dr. Wen, we see that the U.S. has now recorded at least 100 deaths from this virus. Those are confirmed deaths. How much higher do you think that number realistically could get? The number of deaths in Italy, as you know, now in the thousands.
WEN: This is a difficult question to answer.
I think it depends on the actions that we take right now. It depends on how much capacity the hospitals can build up. It depends on how successful our own social distancing and other mitigation efforts are going to be.
I mean, I do agree with Sanjay that the reports from China are promising because it shows that containing this disease and reducing the spread is actually possible. And that's that -- we need to cling onto that hope. We have to say we're not helpless here, even though it is a very scary
time for all of us and we're not living life as normal. But we have a chance to turn this around.
And the other thing too about the numbers is, we cannot just be looking at the numbers of what's already happened, first of all, because we don't know the true extent of the disease here in the U.S. We haven't had enough testing. So we don't know if the number of cases and the number of deaths actually are a lot higher than they are being reported right now.
But we can't just be looking at this point in time. We have to anticipate what's going to happen in two to three weeks. And we really need to start doing that, because, too often, we have been reacting to what's already happened, instead of anticipating what's happening next.
And we have a chance to turn this around still.
BLITZER: Dr. Wen, we clearly noted a change in the Trump administration's tone yesterday, continuing today. Were you pleased with what you heard from the president today?
WEN: I mean, it's going in the right direction, although I wish that the president took on that type of tone weeks ago, because we knew.
Public health experts have been warning about the seriousness of this epidemic, this pandemic for weeks. But we are going in the right direction with the president and his advice also, and the advice that it's about all of us. It's not just the elderly with chronic medical conditions who need to be part of the solution.
It's the young people, the so-called healthy and invincibles, who needs to be part it too. And this is really the time for us to hunker down, stay at home, avoid crowds, and do our best to turn this around.
BLITZER: That's very good advice, indeed.
Sanjay, coronavirus is now in all 50 states, as West Virginia has just announced its first case. The West Virginia senator, Joe Manchin, told CNN last night that there's a lack of testing in his state.
How concerning is it that -- given West Virginia is a coal mining state with a high elderly population, how concerning is all of this to you right now, as you watch what's going on in the country?
GUPTA: Yes, well, and we know that there's 14 tests that are now actively pending in West Virginia as well.
It's concerning, because we know the most vulnerable populations with this coronavirus. There's a lot that we don't know still, but we do know that the elderly are more likely to become infected, more likely to become ill as a result of the infection. So that's concerning.
[18:25:12] I think the fact that West Virginia just has their first confirmed case, as Senator Manchin said, is more a reflection of the lack of testing, which also means that this may be more widespread than the numbers would have you believe.
And that's a concern, for obvious reasons, Wolf. I mean, I feel like a broken record, I'm sure we all do at this point, complaining about the testing, but so much of our public health strategy derives from that testing.
I will say, though, that, just looking forward now -- I mean, the testing is important, but looking forward now, this is going to be all about hospital preparedness, whether you're in West Virginia or any other place in the country.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure it is.
Drs. Sanjay Gupta and Leana Wen, thanks so much for your expertise. We are grateful to both of you.
And we will check in with the White House and the ongoing negotiations over that trillion-dollar stimulus package. Can Congress and the Trump administration come to an understanding?
Also, we will take a closer look at this primary day. How has the coronavirus affected turnout?
We will be right back.
BLITZER: Breaking news from just before the break, the coronavirus is now in all 50 states after West Virginia reported its first case, and that was just moments ago.
Also earlier today, the president talked about the stimulus package he wants to pass to help all Americans combat the financial effects of this global pandemic. The possible price tag, at least $1 trillion.
Kaitlan Collins is over at the White House for us. Kaitlan, what can you tell us?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. A trillion dollars is a lot and this could be one of the biggest federal emergency packages we have ever seen coming out of Capitol Hill. And one of the main proposals that we heard out of the White House today, which is a change in tone for them, is talking about giving cash directly to Americans.
The treasury secretary proposed this idea of giving a $1,000 to Americans in the next two weeks. So they're talking about doing this really quickly and that's just one part of this bigger economic stimulus plan that they are now weighing, trying to go back and forth with lawmakers on Capitol Hill because they are realizing just how much this is disrupting daily American life for people and they're worried about what's to come if they don't take action soon.
It's not just those payments for Americans that's included in there. It's also a $50 billion relief package for airlines that are obviously being hurt by this because no one is flying right now. And they're being advised against traveling. But also potential deferrals on tax payments, for individuals up to a million dollars, corporation up to $10 million. That's a period that could last for some time.
But so far, that cash to Americans, Wolf, seems to be the biggest proposal that we've seen them talk about so far. And they are not even weighing out the idea of doing it multiple times. It's still something they're considering.
It's still in the works but it is a shift when we heard the president talking about that payroll tax cut, which would take a little bit longer. It wasn't very popular on Capitol Hill. And now they seem to have changed their tactic here. And, of course, that comes as the president himself, Wolf, as you know, is changing his own tone on this, trying to take this much more seriously than we had seen him doing in the past.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly does sound a lot more concerned, a lot more serious. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks very much.
Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. So what's the latest there, Manu?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Senate Republicans are trying to hash out that $1 trillion plan that the White House proposed today. Now, behind the scenes, Republicans are meeting trying to determine exactly what that would look like as they race to try to get this done. They want to reach an agreement among themselves before they go to Democrats in the Senate and try to cut a bipartisan deal on the hopes that something could get done quickly.
Now, this proposal, of course, includes what Kaitlan was laying out, including roughly $250 billion for those checks that would go to Americans. One thing they're trying to figure out is the income level in which Americans would be eligible for those checks. What we're hearing right now, they are looking at a potentially around $85,000. People who make below that would be eligible for those checks.
But, first, they also need to deal with other matters as well, including a bill that pass the House last week that would ensure that people who test -- who are seeking testing for the coronavirus could get that testing and not pay for it, in addition to other matters like enhanced unemployment benefits as well as paid leave for some displaced workers. That package that the House passed last week is awaiting final Senate action. Republicans in the Senate are signaling they could pass that as soon as tonight and then move onto this next intervention from Washington.
And make no mistake about it, Wolf. What the Republicans and administration are talking about here along with the Democrats would amount to the most significant intervention by Washington into the economy, the 2008 financial crisis. And it shows just how much concern there is among the White House and Capitol Hill. Even so much so that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told -- the secretary told me today that deficits don't matter right now. They can worry about that issue later as they race to deal with a sagging economy.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a real crisis now. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
A lot to discuss. Joining us now, our Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash, CNN Senior Political Analyst, Kirsten Powers, and our Political Analyst, David Gregory.
And, Dana, the president, you know, his tone has dramatically changed today. He spoke of, quote, a war that the U.S. has to win. What do you make, first of all, of his news conference earlier today and the words he uttered?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Very, very different. You know, there's no question that this is a different president in every single way, how he's communicating and how the administration is responding than just a couple of days ago. One of the things that I was interested in this, obviously, is why, what happened behind the scenes?
And I've been talking to a couple of sources who are familiar with the answer to that, who say that one of the things that is the most interesting I've heard is that that he has had less time to consume conservative media. He's had less time to talk to people who used to call him or typically call him all the time and say, you know, things like in this situation, this is no big deal.
I went to people's funerals who had the flu. What's the big deal? His focus has been in these task forces, around people like the people we have seen at the podium every single day giving him actual data as the data has finally started to come in. That combined with the reality of the test number going up, of the dire situation has really changed the way he's approaching this. Let's see how long it will last.
BLITZER: Yes. you know, David, like me you've covered presidents during times of really grave crisis. Is the president now, from your perspective, striking the right note?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, mostly. I mean, I think he's still a guy who thinks out loud and who says whatever is on his mind. So I think this has struck him how serious this is, how much there is to keep track of and how much people respond to what he says.
He's got a global audience all the time. The markets are listening. Our public health industry is listening. Major sectors of the economy are listening. Individual citizens are listening, trying to take a cue because he's the head of the government and he speaks as the head of the task force in effect. People are going to respond. So he still, you know, gets off topic by saying he has to respond to his political critics. But by and large, I think he understands at this point two things. One, we're in dire public health emergency and an economic energy at the same time and that his words matter. People want to know what to do and what's coming next. And I think that piece is very important.
He also understands that he has the ability to get people moving. You know, FDR, after Pearl Harbor, went before Congress and asked for production of 50,000 combat aircraft. That was unheard of when there was such lack of readiness in the U.S. military. By 1944 double, a hundred thousand were produced that year alone.
So the American people can do a lot. The American industry can do a lot. I think the president realizes now, okay, yes, I have to marshal these resources and get people behind this effort.
BLITZER: Kirsten, we've got to squeeze a break, but very quickly, are we on the verge of some badly needed bipartisan cooperation up on Capitol Hill in the White House?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes. I mean, I hope so. I certainly think so. I don't think the problem has necessarily been the lack of bipartisan. I think the problem has been how the president has been handling it.
And in the past, we always were talk about how he misleads people and how he says things that aren't true. And it's finally caught up with him. It's basically what has happened, is that you can't keep convincing people that things are going well when you're having one of the worst days on the stock market in the history of the country. You can't convince people there's not a problem when people are contracting this illness and dying all over the world and including in the United States.
BLITZER: The president in his news conference today seemed to be reaching out to Democrats.
POWERS: Well, I think now, I mean he needs to be doing that. And I think the Democrats are standing ready and willing to work to do whatever needs to be done. What we really need right now is the leadership from the president, which he seems to be now, you know, stepping into that moment, but it's come pretty late and it's cost a lot.
BLITZER: Dana, you're getting some new information from your sources. What are your hearing?
BASH: Well, just on the whole question of the stimulus, how that's going to work a couple of things. One is, you know, we know that $1,000 a month comes straight from the campaign trail on the Democratic side, Andrew Yang, who is now a CNN Contributor. I'm told that people who helped him come up with that and all of the information on how it would work have been in touch with the administration in a pretty robust way. But the other thing, and Manu kind of mentioned this and so did Kaitlan, about a trillion dollars, a trillion dollars. I mean, we're old enough to remember back after 9/11 what that meant when they were kind of just not worrying about deficits after -- during the 2008 financial crisis, not worrying about the deficits but a trillion dollars is a completely different ball game.
And the fact that Republicans, by and large, are just not even asking about those questions yet. It's not that they won't but yet and they're just trying to take in the information about what is needed and what they can possibly do without just kind of saying, are you kidding me, this is going to make our financial situation ultimately even worse when it comes to the debts and deficits, is really, really fascinating. I'm told from the leadership on down on Capitol Hill they are told, hold your fire and let's listen to what they have to say.
GREGORY: And, Wolf, the president is preparing people for -- I mean, I think people want to sense if they're going to feel more confident, they want know the government is doing its job and the government has a plan. The other piece of this is to prepare people for how bad it can get. You can't spend all your time happy talking it. I think there has been a bit of a switch there would the president, preparing people for what may be coming. I think that's a key aspect of leadership here.
You mentioned 9/11. I remember Rudy Giuliani saying on 9/11, this may be worse than we're able to fully comprehend. It's so important to issue the guidelines the president has to get people thinking in that sober frame of mind instead of thinking, well, when the economy comes back and it's going to come roaring back in very quickly, he has going to be focus on the fact that major industries are being affected and we don't know. There is this ambiguity.
BLITZER: All right, everybody stick around. There's a lot more we need to cover.
There's a huge political story unfolding. Three states, Florida, Illinois and Arizona, they're holding primaries today and taking steps to protect voters, especially elderly voters from the coronavirus. We're going to see how the voting is going at some locations.
BLITZER: No candidates shaking hands or holding rallies due to the coronavirus, but three Democratic primary races are still happening today. Voters are going to the polls in Florida, Illinois and Arizona with new precautions in place to deal with the pandemic. While Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana have all moved their primaries to another date.
Still, 411 pledged delegates are up for grabs tonight. Florida has the most at stake. And that's where we find CNN's Leyla Santiago. Leyla, what are workers there saying about the turnout?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, I actually just talked to one of the workers and she described it in one word saying slow for the day. Let me step out the way so you can see what it looks like inside fire station number two, where workers have sort of been waiting for lines all day. And that really hasn't happened.
Now, when you talk to the volunteers, they will tell you that as they've spoken to voters, the talk is about coronavirus. But when you speak to election county officials, they will say that this is about pre-voting, the mail in ballots plus the early voting. County officials saying in Florida over a million Democratic voters cast their ballots in pre-voting.
So, you know, several different things could factor into this but there's no doubt the volunteers and we as we have talked to voters who are stepping out after voting coronavirus definitely on the mind of lots of folks here.
BLITZER: Certainly is. As far as sanitary measures are concerned, Leyla, what can you tell us about that?
SANTIAGO: One of the first thing the workers pointed out before they even opened is the hand wipes and sanitizers that they had in different stations here at this polling site. And as we spoke to voters, we saw several people with masks today. One man as I spoke to him was sanitizing his hands.
And when I would ask those voters, many of whom were 65-plus in age why they were here, why they were coming out to vote, many of them said that this is about a sense of duty. That when you have the right to vote, nothing stops you. You show up.
But this is Florida. That means one in five Floridians, 65 plus in age. So, that is that very vulnerable community that health officials have been very concerned about, vulnerable community showing up to vote and to volunteer in state where they have already had five deaths.
BLITZER: Yes, they got to be very careful.
All right. Leyla Santiago, thank you very much.
Let's go to Rebecca Buck right now who's in Chicago for us.
Rebecca, I understand the lines there for voting, at least in some places have been rather long?
REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. I mean, you can see the line here behind me in this shot. I just recently spoke with a person who was first in line at that time and they told me they had been waiting to vote for two and a half hours.
But, Wolf, this isn't necessarily a reflection of high turnout as you might expect. When you see a line like this, there are a few factors I want to mention that are feeding into this. First of all, they are trying to create as much social distance inside this polling place as possible.
So, what that means is they have fewer places for people to vote inside than they normally would. They're only letting one person in for every one voter who leaves. And so, that is contributing to this long line.
Of course, in the line itself, people are also trying to create as much as social distance as they can as they're waiting here in line. But also, some systemic problems here in the Chicago area with voting in the primary today. A number of people I spoke with in this line said they went to their normal precinct locations earlier today to try to vote. Some people found them closed because election judges didn't show up or they didn't have the equipment they needed to allow people to vote.
So, they came here. This is a voting site that accepts people from all over the area. And so, some voting problems here as well in Chicago in light of the coronavirus epidemic contributing to what we're seeing today, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, and I just asked Rebecca the same question to Leyla who's down in Florida. Do they have wipes, sanitizers for the voters where you are in Chicago?
BUCK: So, at this particular location, they do. Inside, they have hand sanitizer. They have wipes for the voting machines. The poling workers are wearing gloves. But not everywhere is this the case.
Now, in suburban Cook County, we spoke to an election judge earlier today. All of the workers there were promised by the county that they were going to have the necessary sanitary items to conduct voting today. But at that particular precinct I was told, Wolf, they didn't have hand sanitizer, they did not have wipes provided by the county. They asked the county for them.
And hours went by this morning, they didn't get anything. Ultimately, it was voters who had to step up and offer their own donations of wipes and hand sanitizer so that voting could continue safely at that location -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Rebecca. Thanks very much.
Rebecca Buck is in Chicago, the Illinois Democratic presidential primary taking place today. Let's get back to our team over here.
Kirsten, what do you think -- I don't -- I've covered politics for a long time. I don't remember anything like this.
POWERS: Yes, this is -- this is unbelievable. And, you know, it's -- unfortunately, in a lot -- you know, a lot of these states have older voters who do their mail-in ballots early. So --
BLITZER: And older voters vote in much larger proportion than younger voters. POWERS: Yes. So, I think the -- you know, the concern would be, I
guess, you know, for the Biden campaign because older voters vote for him, that could be a concern. The polls generally show Biden with a pretty firm lead in all of these states.
So, I'm not sure how much this is going to impact the outcome of the election. It's still pretty daunting when you think about it and you think about we don't know how long this is going to go on. We don't know how many other primaries this is going to affect.
BLITZER: You know, Mike DeWine, the governor of Ohio, they were supposed to have a Democratic primary in Ohio today. That's been put off. He's got some criticism but he's also got some kudos for doing what he did.
GREGORY: You know, there's just mixed views about it. I mean, is this -- is voting different than going to the super market in terms of social distance? I don't know if it's a lot different. But you also perhaps touching a surface where someone who has the virus, you know, could leave a mark.
So, you know, there's different ways to look at it. There's obviously guidelines in place. You heard Tony Fauci say today, is there much of a difference between not having more than 10 people or not more than 25, that's not really what we're talking about.
So, what's important is taking the precautions. And, you know, to add to this surreal atmosphere is we have an election that's playing out in the middle of a health crisis and an economic crisis all at the same time. And unlike with the financial collapse in 2008 where you had -- you didn't have an incumbent, right, you were at the end of President Bush's term, you have an incumbent president who knows he's being judged in real time on this.
So, it's a real leadership night for the Democratic Party, which is, who would you like to see in the job dealing with this? Because they're going to be dealing with this or the outcome of it.
BLITZER: Yes, this crisis, Dana, is not going away any time soon by all accounts. The former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted today, he was encouraging people in Florida, Arizona, Illinois to vote by mail or curb side if they can. It's a fine line. You would like people to show up, because he thinks he's going to do well.
BLITZER: But at the same time, he doesn't want to endanger anybody.
BASH: Absolutely. That's what you're hearing from all campaigns. What you're seeing just even more broadly is a lot of more of a push among Democrats who already thought voting by mail was a good idea to be more aggressive doing that on a national scale. And, you know, those kinds of calls we heard before are very likely to get more traction now that we're seeing the perils in real time of what happened form people who feel uncomfortable on a day that they do really want to go vote. BLITZER: Yes. Normally, Kirsten, this would be such a huge story. But
everything is now relegated to the back burner because of the coronavirus.
POWERS: Yes. I mean, it's pretty amazing how quickly our roles can change, right? I mean, it's -- this was coming in terms of -- we knew this virus existed in other countries. How quickly, when it got here and radically changed everything, it's a health crisis and it's massive economic crisis.
I mean, what's happening not just on Wall Street, but on all the people that are losing money, who rely on that money, whether you own a restaurant, or you own a business, where people aren't coming, but there's just -- there's reverberations throughout the country that are just incalculable.
GREGORY: And the irony, of course, in an emergency, if in a primary you're debating the role of government in our lives and economy, here in an emergency it has become socialism.
GREGORY: I mean, the government will do anything it has to do to curb the emergency, the distinctions get blurred.
BLITZER: And thanks to everyone here. Thanks to everyone at home.
Please stay tuned, a big night tonight for the Democratic presidential candidates and for America despite the coronavirus. The returns in Florida, Arizona and Illinois could help determine which Democrat leads the party in the coming election. We will have our first primary results in just a moment.
CNN's special live coverage will begin right after this.