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Trump Speaks As Coronavirus Cases In U.S. Surpass 7,000; U.S- Canadian Border Closed Amid Coronavirus Crisis; U.S Coronavirus Cases Hit All 50 States. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 18, 2020 - 13:00   ET



ROBERT WILKIE, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: We started preparing for this. We started stockpiling equipment. Our equipment is stable. And I think that's in large part because of the instructions the president gave me.

REPORTER: But do you have a number of how many have been tested out of the number that --

WILKIE: We've tested a several hundred. I can't give you the -- yes. We've tested a several hundred. Yes, we've tested a several hundred. I don't know exactly. I do know that 44 veterans have the virus. Most of those are quarantined at home.


REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President. A question for Dr. Birx quickly. I'm trying to understand what we -- it's about the mortality rate. Yesterday, we underlined the fact that we had reached 100 deaths. And this morning, we wake up and we're at 110. Within 12 hours, we climbed by 10 percent. Is it something we have to expect from now on, a 10 percent increase every 12 hours?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE RESPONSE COORDINATOR: So, very early on in each one of these cases, if you look at all of the countries to date, the mortality is higher at the beginning because you're diagnosing the sickest, the ones who came in quite ill. And I just want to remind the American public that still the majority -- the risk for serious illness in the majority of Americans are low. But that doesn't mean that you can't transmit it to one of those higher-risk groups, and that's why we're asking for all Americans to take responsibility.

You're seeing mortality or deaths today from infections that occurred two to three weeks ago, in general. The other thing that you're seeing is the dramatic and very difficult impact of this virus in nursing homes. And that's why very early on, the president and vice president had us come out and CMS put those very strict rules in place. And everybody thought we were being too strict and keeping loved ones away from their family in nursing homes.

If we're going to solve this with a lower death rate, we have to protect the elderly because their percent is much higher in mortality than any other age group.

TRUMP: Go ahead, please.

REPORTER: Mr. President, there's reporting that the federal government has a plan that shows that this coronavirus outbreak might last as long as 18 months. Are you seeing those numbers? Could it --

TRUMP: No, we're not seeing that at all.

REPORTER: And then my second question is, there are some -- at least one White House official who used the term kung-flu, referring to the fact that this virus started in China. Is that acceptable? Is that wrong? Are you worried that having this virus being talked about as a Chinese virus, that that might --

TRUMP: I wonder who said that. You know who said that?

REPORTER: I'm not sure the person's name, but would you --

TRUMP: He is -- say the term again.

REPORTER: A person at the White House used the term, kung-flu. My question is do you think that's wrong?

TRUMP: Kung-flu.

REPORTER: Kung-flu. And do you think using the term, Chinese virus, that puts Asian Americans at risk that people might target them?

TRMP: No, not at all. I think they probably would agree with it 100 percent. It comes from China. There's nothing not to agree with. How about last question, please? Go ahead.

REPORTER: Switching gears to a larger question here. We've seen that before the pandemic, there were a lot of Americans that were already alienated. We saw deaths of despair increasing through suicide and other things. Now as these individuals, a lot of times in rural parts of the country, are self-isolating, what is your message to those individuals and what do you hope that individuals, communities and churches will do to reach out --

TRUMP: So my message is to all Americans, but to those Americans who are going through a lot, we love them, we're with them and we will not let them down. Thank you all very much.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Just a remarkable hour-long briefing at the White House. I'm John King in Washington. So much ground covered to remind us of the unprecedented territory we are in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The president of the United States leading the briefing, his task force on hand.

The president discussed an agreement to close to all but non-essential travel the Canadian/United States border. The president saying he will soon sign measures to close off essentially the U.S./Mexico border, limiting even asylum seekers from coming across that border. The president also saying he's invoking war powers, the Defense Production Act, to try to speed up the production of masks and other hospital equipment desperately needed here in the United States. The president saying no matter what you have, it is not enough.

As the president was speaking, on Wall Street you see the markets to your right, one of the circuit breakers kicking in. When the trading, the sell-off is so great, a circuit breaker kicking in there, more proof of the economic anxiety.

His adviser from the State Department, Dr. Deborah Birx, also saying she believes the risk to younger Americans, younger people around the world, may be higher than initially planned, once again, imploring people to stop gatherings that she says, despite the government guidelines, still continue.

Developments from the HHS perspective too, new appeals -- new regulations being dropped to allow doctors to practice across state lines.


HHS also saying that any elective procedures, whether they are dental or medical, must be stopped so that medical professionals have space in healthcare facilities can be made available.

Let's discuss this with the group with us. I want to start with the former U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Doctor, the president saying he's also activating the two Navy hospital ships, The Comfort and The Mercy. A number of healthcare related developments as part of this urgent briefing, what jumped out to you as most significant and was, as we deal with this crisis, anything missing?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, thank you, John. There were two things in particular that struck me about this press conference. One was Dr. Birx saying that the data that they are getting from other countries is showing them that young people may, in fact, be at greater risk than we may have previously thought.

What this underscores is that we are still every day learning about the virus, which means that we have to be vigilant, we have to err on the side of caution. And the guidance that you're seeing from governors and from states and from many officials within the federal government, that we need to dramatically reduce our social contacts is because of this reason. We should expect that there may be more we learn over the next days and weeks that may tell us that there are other groups also that are more at risk.

But there is a second point that really stuck out at me. There were several instances where mention was made of additional resources that are being brought to bear to support hospital systems. We heard about The Mercy and The Comfort. We heard from DOD that they are mobilizing 5 million masks from their reserve and helping to stand up field hospitals, which is essential. What struck me that was a disconnect here, while we are talking in general terms about mobilization of resources for healthcare settings, on the frontlines, something very different is happening, which is that people are struggling right now. They are running out of masks and gloves and gowns right now. They are running out of ventilators right now. They are short on beds right now.

And what they want to know, the doctors and nurses that I spoke to every day, is not that just that things are being worked on, they want to know when that capacity will arrive. They want to know when they can protect themselves with a mask. Is it going to be a day? Is it going to be five days? Is it going to be ten days? And they want to know when they can test patients who are coming to them in growing, growing numbers, with COVID-19 symptoms, but who can't be tested because we still don't have the supply at hand.

Without transparency there, it's going to be hard to regain, I believe, the trust of these doctors. They are on the frontlines putting their lives at risk every day. We have to have their backs.

KING: All right. And I want to stay with you, Doctor, for a moment, because on that very point, you hear complaints from governors, we hear complaints from hospital systems, we hear complaints all across, the president saying no one has ever been swamped like this before.

Those were the words he used, saying the federal government is doing this as fast as they can. But you're right, there were no specifics. And we went through this with testing. Where they overpromised at the beginning? And let's pray, they say they've caught up now and they're ramping up now. Let's hope and pray that that is correct.

But to that point, Dr. Birx also said -- she was was trying to essentially warn Americans that in the media, you're going to see pretty soon that we are, quote/unquote, worse than Italy. Because she's saying, as the testing does expand, these cases are spiking. Just to be clear, when we came on the air, 7,111 confirmed cases in the United States. Just two days ago on Monday, that was 4,464.

So is she right to say when we look, quote/unquote, worse than Italy, don't be alarmed, or should we be alarmed?

MURTHY: Well, she's absolutely right that we are going to see many more cases in the days and weeks ahead, and some of that is because we're finally detecting increasingly what's out there as our testing capacity ramps up. And some of that is because the virus itself is actually spreading more so in our community. So we should expect that this will certainly get worse before it gets better.

But what she raises and what I think the larger experience of the last few weeks of press briefings raises is that there is an essential tool and resource that government has, and it has to protect at all costs in response efforts like this, and that is public trust. Having been on the inside of several efforts to address epidemics of this nature, although not nearly this severe, I can tell you that when you start to lose public trust, when people start to doubt you, that's when you run into trouble. And so what you have to do in government to really shore that up is you have to make sure that you're communicating transparently. You have to make sure you're communicating often. And you have to make sure that you're getting the right information to the people who need it when they need it.

We are starting to see it, more communication from the administration. I think that's a really positive thing. But what we need -- we need that to continue and we need people to get the information they need, because right now, there are people wondering in hospitals across the country, what about my hospital? When am I going to get what I need? And they're not hearing from these press briefings, I think, the kind of information they need to know when they will be secure.

KING: And to that point, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, the president actually bristled and cut off a reporter asking him about that very issue. The president has had a casual relationship with the truth despite his presidency.


He's been much more in command, much more sober and much more serious in the last two or three briefings at the White House about this, but he bristled at the suggestion, said he has been handling this fine from day one, he disputed the notion that he did not take it seriously at the beginning. What was your take sitting in the room there?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the president has been insisting he has been taking this seriously all along, even saying yesterday he thought it was a pandemic before the World Health Organization labeled it a pandemic. Of course, there are a slew of comments from the president where he's just downplaying this, saying that people were exaggerating it, that we could pull up and show the viewers to show that that is actually not the case.

But also the question is the real world consequences of that. And one of these is the president announcing today he is going to invoke the Defense Production Act to try to speed up the production of those medical supplies that hospitals are saying they are in such short supply of right now and it is going to become a critical issue over the next days and weeks as they are seeing this influx of patients who have coronavirus.

And that's why I asked the president, why did it take so long to invoke this? Because lawmakers have been calling on the president to do it for some time now because they believed it would be able to help. Essentially, the president used these emergency powers to get these private companies to speed up the acceleration of these products so they do not have as critical of shortages with things like ventilators, ICU beds, all of these things, masks, these things that they say they need.

So the question is why did it take so long? Because the administration was already still dealing with a slowdown in that diagnostic testing, something that people say is going to be part of the reason you're going to see such a big spread here. So the president is, you know, saying that he didn't feel like they took too long to invoke that, talking about why they did it now, what it's going to mean now and, of course, several other measures that are important that they announced today as well, including that HHS regulation that's going to allow doctors and medical professionals to work across state lines, and, certainly, something that's going to play into that, because, so far, they've said they're not only going to have a shortage in supplies but also staff too.

KING: I want to go straight up to Wall Street right now. As the president was speaking, in part about dealing with medical emergency, the pandemic, in part about trying to help with the economic activity by getting a big stimulus measure to Congress, trading on the stock exchange had to stop. It has just restarted now after another emergency freeze because of the sell-offs.

CNN's Julia Chatterley is there at the markets.

All of the gains of the Trump presidency are now gone, Julia. What is the mood?

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: This is a great point. And this moment actually, John, is not about politics, but we know this president is sensitive to the stock market. We've been frozen for 15 minutes because the market fell some 7 percent. The next, what we call circuit breakers, kicks in at down 13 percent. The bottom line is this market is sending the White House, Congress, a message, and they're saying that even though you're talking about $1 trillion stimulus packages, this is simply not enough.

But I can give you a sense of numbers here. We have a $20 trillion economy in the United States. We are talking about switching off businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises, putting people out of work for a two to three-month period. So if you take a quarter of a $20 trillion economy, it's $5 trillion. If even just half of that is about workers, $2.5 trillion, these are the numbers that we need to be talking about to support workers that overnight are going to be out of work. And we're seeing this already.

So I don't want to frighten your viewers. People are frightened enough at this stage. But we are creating as a result of trying to tackle the health crisis an economic crisis in this country, and Congress has to recognize the scale of cash, support, measures that are required at this stage to simply shore up the system and to protect workers from a secondary crisis here, John, and that's what the market's telling us at this point, Congress, the White House needs to do more to strengthen to the system and to stress -- to take the stress away from the system and protect workers.

KING: That's a fantastic point, Julia Chatterley, and the complexity of it too, which is why the numbers keep going up. There will be tens of billions of dollars given to the airline industry, for example, but what about the guy who just got laid off from a coffee shop or the person just got laid off because the car factory is shut down, or the pizza restaurant in your town shuts down? That one might ramp up because people are getting more takeout. But the complexity of this as we watch it play out, we're hoping for Senate action today, we'll continue to track that.

Now, let's continue to follow some of the giant news from that briefing. One of the things that was most interesting, the president venting clearly much more so at China than he has in the past, saying, we could have gotten a much earlier heads-up. His national security adviser previously said two months China covered this up. That was Robert O'Brien's language. The president saying, we could have used an earlier heads-up. He believes that would have helped the entire world deal more quickly with this pandemic.

But in doing that, in venting at the Chinese leadership, the president also defending his own use of words. The president now, he's mad Chinese propaganda blamed the virus on U.S. military troops.


The president, in pushing back, keeps using the term China virus. It came out -- or Chinese virus. It came up at the White House. He was asked, sir, are you worried about Asian Americans living here in the United States or around the world having actions against them because of this? Are you worried you're being racist?


REPORTER: Why do you keep calling this the Chinese virus? There are reports of dozens of incidents of bias against Chinese-Americans in this country. Your own aide, Secretary Azar, says he does not use this term because ethnicity does not cause the virus. Why do you keep using this? A lot of people say it's racist.

TRUMP: Because it comes from China. It's not racist at all, not at all. It comes from China. That's why. It's comes from China. I want to be accurate.

REPORTER: You're not concerned about Chinese Americans in this country? Aides behind you, are you comfortable with the term?

TRUMP: I have great love for all of the people from our country. But as you know, China tried to say at one point, maybe they've stopped now, that it was caused by American soldiers. That can't happen. It's not going to happen, not as long as I'm president. It comes from China.

KING: It is fascinating, Jeff Zeleny, to see what I'll call the range of Trump, if you will. He has been more in command of the facts in these recent briefings. So at the very end of the briefing, he talked about Americans who are feeling isolated right now, in addition to the pandemic, in addition to the economic stress, maybe having depression or mental health issues.

He said, I love you, we are with you, we'll support you. You get that from the president, but then you get that, his anger at China, leading him to -- he's almost deliberately using the term, in his tweets and in the briefing, as if to poke, but some people take great offense.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely he's using that, and I think it is huge range of the president and a vast difference from the president we saw yesterday as well. This, clearly, he said he feels like he's a wartime president.

Well, first, he has been a wartime president. That's been clear for a long time, given the other wars, but there's no question. A, he is operating without a lot of his staff around him. The White House press secretary and communications director has been working from home. His largely doing this on his own.

And you have to wonder the wisdom of such a long presidential briefing. I never thought I would say this, that you, you know, of course, we want to hear from the president and leadership, but the -- you never mind the stock market, which was, you know, falling during all of that, but the range of information. But I do think it's important to separate the politics from this of him saying he didn't have advanced notice of these other things to look at, really focus on the very important information that we learned in the briefing.

And I think as the doctor was saying earlier, that younger people in France and Italy may be getting sicker than we think. And it was essentially the administration saying, wake up, America, this is getting worse here. Don't panic because of the increase incurred. So we almost have to, at least for the moment, to set the president's, you know, words aside about the Chinese virus and focus on the issues. And boy, were there a lot of headlines in there.

KING: Right. Again, it gets to the point that Dr. Murthy was making about, trust. The president himself could shut those things down by saying that's not what we're going to focus on.

But to that point, Dr. Birx saying, we cannot have the large gatherings that continue to occur. It's that the continue to occur part that is so striking, essentially, her appealing from the White House, people, you are not listening to us. You are not listening to us. You must stop.

Karoun Demirjian, I want to bring you into the conversation. You heard Julia Chatterley. We talked earlier before the briefing started about the urgency here in Washington. The president himself agreeing, when he was asked, do you feel like you're a wartime president, on a wartime footing? What do we expect as the administration keeps moving the number up? Do we expect the Senate will be to reach an agreement today on what would be called phase three, knowing there's going to be a phase four, a phase five, and a phase six and more?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's the big question. I mean, we're looking to see if the senators can really put what have been party ideologies aside at this point to come to an agreement on this number, which, as you stressed, is going up, up, up.

I think that you still have some people who are in the body who are finding difficulty doing that, saying that, look, you know, how can we keep throwing money at this when it doesn't solve the virus problem? But as Julia pointed out earlier, you need to keep the economy afloat through this time and we don't know how long this time is going to be. So that's why this has taken, you know, in an ideal world, they would have come right back, and at the beginning of the week, been able to work this out and we would have seen these votes happened already, but we are clearly not in there because we're still in the point of trying to bring consensus around between these elected officials who have been at loggerheads over similar issues in the past. And yet, it seems an embrace is going to have to happen, otherwise, the stakes are just far too high.

And you had the treasury secretary and others from the administration making this case, making these appeals directly to people on the Hill yesterday and today.

KING: Dr. Murthy, I want to close with you, in the sense that when you hear Dr Birx say, please stop, please stop, do more mandatory measures have to take place? The governor of New York has been fighting his own mayor in New York City, saying I don't want to have a mandatory shelter-in-place. At what point does the national government or more governors have to do more mandatory things to force people to distance themselves?

MURTHY: Well, John, I think this is a time, and especially when we're dealing with an unprecedented virus, that we are still just coming to understand, where we have to err on the side of public safety.


And what that means is taking extra measures when we need them. If that mean -- if people are coming out into crowds and they're putting themselves and others at risk, then I do think it's appropriate for local authorities and for states to take more aggressive measures and to make the stay in shelter requirements actually mandatory.

But, look, you know, I actually have great faith based on what has increasingly been happening in our communities, that people are starting to take and to heed this message. And in times of crisis like this, John, you start to see leaders emerge in communities, leaders who are calling upon their friends, their family members to do the right thing, to stay in, to protect themselves, and leaders who are also helping people manage through these very stressful, difficult times.

I've seen moms and dads who are sharing lesson plans with each other online so that others can get help home-schooling their children. I've seen restaurants delivering meals free of charge to elderly members of their community because they know that they have to stay inside.

This is how America responds in times of crisis in our better moments. And what we need is we need to recognize that as much as government can do, it is the power that we have to change our own behavior, to respond to this crisis that will ultimately make the biggest difference, I believe, between whether we see cases continue to soar for weeks and months or whether we ultimately overcome this crisis.

KING: Well, we'll certainly try to stand on top of it. Dr. Murthy, Karoun Demirjian, Jeff Zeleny, appreciate your patience with the briefing and your insights and reporting after.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS today. We hope to see you back this time tomorrow as we continue to cover this. Don't go anywhere. A very busy news day you can tell. Brianna Keilar picks up the coverage after a break. Have a good afternoon.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar and this is CNN's continuing special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are now more than 7,000 cases in the U.S. Moments ago, we heard from President Trump and the Coronavirus Task Force, and among the highlights were that the president says he'll invoke the Defense Production Act in an effort to make medical resources more available.

He also announced that two hospital ships will be deployed to provide help for overwhelmed healthcare systems, one of them going to New York, and that housing foreclosures and evictions are now on hold through the end of April.

Earlier, President Trump announced that the U.S. border with Canada will be closed to all non-essential travel. And also, health officials had a warning for millennials who may not be listening to the guidance.


BIRX: I've not seen any significant mortality in the children, but we are concerned about the early reports coming out of Italy and France. So, again, I'm going to call on that generation.


KEILAR: So, in other developments, Kansas has taken the extraordinary step of closing their schools. This is for the rest of the school year. And West Virginia has recorded its first case of coronavirus. It is the last state to do so.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, says that the state's population is vulnerable and, quote, when it hits my state, it's going to be absolutely catastrophic.

So whether we like it or not, the coronavirus pandemic is now a fixture in our lives. As this changes our day-to-day routines, there are many questions about what is safe to go about doing.

I want to bring in Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen to answer some of those questions. And, Elizabeth, the president just spoke a short time ago here. He was pressed by our Kaitlan Collins about the ventilator shortage across the country and why it's taking so long to deal with this. What did you think about the president's answer? ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think that he put it out there. He said we're ordering thousands and thousands of them, and that's a good thing. It's good that they're moving in that direction. There are some in the stockpile, but we need more.

You know, he said something, Brianna, that I found a little curious. He kept saying that a ventilator was a complex piece of equipment. Look, I suppose any medical equipment you can call it complex, but I feel like he was trying to say, kind of don't blame me, this is a complex piece of equipment, it's difficult -- it's a difficult process in some way to get it, when, in fact, ventilators are in every hospital in the United States, you know? So, I feel like he was trying to say, this is complex, it's been tough, don't blame me. Ventilators are very common and we need more of them.

KEILAR: So I want you to listen what the president said about testing when he was asked why well-connected people seem to be getting tested and people with -- who are not well connected cannot.

REPORTER: How are non-symptomatic professional athletes getting tests while others are waiting in line and can't get them? Do the well- connected go to the front of the line?

TRUMP: Well, you'd have to ask them that question. I mean the -- I've read --

REPORTER: Should that happen?

TRUMP: No, I wouldn't say so, but perhaps that's been the story of life. That does happen on occasion. And I've noticed where some people have been tested fairly quickly.


COHEN: You know, interesting, he said some people have been tested fairly quickly. He was tested fairly quickly, so he is one of those people, along with the NBA players who were tested quickly. And I have to say, I think there's some honesty in that answer. It is true that people who are privileged and have money get medical care quickly than those who are not in this country. Whether there is a coronavirus or not, that unfortunately is sometimes unfortunately the case, often the case.

KEILAR: Do you think for the most at-risk people, that they are also getting priority, or is it just very spotty?


COHEN: It really depends on where you are. There is some spottiness. The doctors that I've been talking, and I've been talking to them for weeks now.