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Trump Attacks Media over Valid Question; Trump Causes Confusion over Defense Production Act; Primary Care Physician, Dr. Asaf Bitton, Discusses No Nationwide Lockdown. Fauci Disagrees with Trump's Optimism over Malaria Drug to Treat Coronavirus. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 20, 2020 - 13:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The president's optimistic talk and there would be therapeutic drug available to patients and game changing. That's what the president said.

Of course, his own chief infectious disease doctor, Dr. Tony Fauci, disagrees with him. The president, instead of answering that question -- and then Peter Alexander said, talk to the American people out there who are at home, who are frightened, give advice and add comfort, the president did this.


PETER ALEXANDER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: What do you say to Americans who are scared? Nearly 200 dead, 14 thousand who are sick. What do say to Americans who are scared right now? What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say you are a terrible reporter. That's what I say.


TRUMP: I think that's a very nasty question. I think it is a very bad signal that you are putting out to American people.

The American people are looking for answers and they're looking for hope. You are doing sensationalism. And the same with NBC and Comcast. I don't --


TRUMP: I don't call them Comcast. I call it Con-cast.

Let me tell you something, that's really bad reporting. And you want to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism.

Let's see if it works. It might or might not. I happen to feel good about it but who knows. I have been right a lot. Let's see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: I sat in that room just shy of 10 years. It was a perfectly valid question. What the president did to Peter Alexander is reprehensible. The American people are looking for answers. They do want hope. They do want support. Mr. President, that was a very fair question.

Our Kaitlan Collins is in the briefing room. She was there for that contentious briefing.

Kaitlan, this is a Trump trademark. This is a Trump trademark. It was striking that this came at -- forgive me -- bullshit attack on fake news came just moments after the secretary of state said the American people need to be careful about where they get their information and go to sources they can trust.

I get, there are times, disagreements and contention between politicians and reporters. That was a 100 percent legitimate question with no hype, no shape, no bias. He just wanted to attack.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and we are living in a pandemic and people have questions and they want to hear messages from the president of the United States. That was a question that was posted to him and that's how he answered it.

We should note, just a few moments ago, the vice president was asked the same question, and he responded differently, instead of telling Americans to be vigilant. He did not have any issues with that question the way the president did.

The president has been facing criticism of how the administration is dealing with this coronavirus. And that is why you see him coming out here every day this week trying to put a public face on the response to this.

So that's why is raising the question, is that what the president should be focusing on when there are questions about testing, ventilators, masks. So many questions that Americans care. Whether Americans can leave their homes. Should they be worrying about lockdown in their communities since they are seeing it happening in California and New York?

That's something we did get a response to while we were in this room for over an hour. The president said, he does not feel some kind of federal shutdown is necessary. That's something about a million people have been asking about, these questions on whether or not they're also not going to be able to leave their home unless it's for necessary travel.

Right now, they said that is not the case, John. That came as they did say they're going to be shutting down non-essential travel between the United States and Mexico. That's a move they took a few days ago with Canada.

John, I want to point to another sources of confusion here in the briefing room, and that was over the Defense Production Act. That's the act the president signed this week that would grant him the

power to direct private companies to ramp up their production of these things that you are seeing doctors and nurses saying they're in desperately short in supplies of, ventilators, masks, all of these things they say they need to treat coronavirus patients and they don't have or they don't have enough of them.

The president caused a lot of confusions because he says he invoked it last night. Yesterday, he clarified he had not pulled the trigger on it yet. He signed it and it was sitting there and ready for him to use when he wanted it.

But he seemed to say later that he was not requiring companies to ramp up productions, which is what the act would do. Otherwise, it's just volunteering to do it.

When we pressed him for clarification on whether or not he was signing it and using it, the president did not offer that clarification. So, John, we're walking away from this still not knowing exactly what is happening with the Defense Production Act.

It means a lot. It may seem a little in the weeds in Washington for those watching at home, but it means a lot because it could mean is some of these companies having to make more ventilators now, a lot more face masks now. And all these supplies these people say they will need for this crush of coronavirus patients they are expecting to get.

KING: It means a lot for two important reasons. Number one is, are the American, is the federal government doing everything it possibly can? And the Defense Production Act would be part of that, number one. You ask a legitimate question of the president.

Number two, it was, yet again, so many of them and the president was contradicting himself over the course of the same briefing. It would be nice to know authorized it and have you invoked it? Where? What? What is being bought, how much does it cost and when will it get to where it's supposed to go.

Keep trying, Kaitlan. We appreciate that.

I want to bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, into conversation.

Dana, as I said when I played the president's confrontation with Peter Alexander, this is a Trump's trademark when he's being challenged. He was being challenged here.


Peter Alexander asking a fair question: Are you offering too much hope when you say these drugs are a game changer, they're available immediately, and your own health experts are saying we are not sure if it is going to work? We hope they work but we need to do the safety and trial to make sure nobody gets hurt, and it is going to take months. And he lashes out. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He lashes out. And what

he lashed out on the most basic rudimentary layup of the question frankly at the end there.

Which Peter Alexander was doing as a public service, which is asking the president of the United States to address the American people, people who are scared and sitting at home right now watching him and not knowing about where their next paycheck is going to come from or whether or not they're going to get fatally ill.

Instead of answering that question, he attacked a reporter. It is trademark Trump. But it does not make it right.

I got criticism earlier this week for saying that the president, in his tone then, was acting like a leader. Well, you know what? He did the opposite today in a very, very big way.

Our job as reporters in any atmosphere is to call balls and strikes as we see it and the reality of what's happening. Well, today was a strike. That's an understatement.

It is reprehensible for the president, in any circumstances, to lash out at a reporter. But especially right now when the American people need objective reporters, like Peter Alexander and like most of our colleagues, who are in the that briefing room in order to get information, critical information from our leaders right now.

And the fact that the president behaved that way is shameful.

KING: I agree completely. Asking tough questions is part of the job. In that case, Peter Alexander, essentially saying, Mr. President, please talk to a nervous country that's watching.

Look at your screen right now watching the cases of 15,771. Eight days ago, when we came on the air, we had 1700 cases in the United States. And now we have over 15,000 while we have been on the air here. Italy announcing 627 deaths the last 24 hours. These are legitimate questions.

Dana, stay with us.

I want to bring in Juliette Kayyem, our national security consultant, with us as well.

Juliette, I want to come back to the beginning. I want to bring in the president's answer. The president came into the briefing, first, he talked about some important development. I am not sure if they should have come first, but the federal government is deferring student loan debt. They're waiving requirements for standardized testing for students around the country. That's important for parents and school systems as we go through this.

But the president then applauded Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governors of New York and California, who told people stay at home unless you are working in a grocery store, unless you're a public health worker. Unless you are essential, stay at home. And it is not a request, it is an order. We need to mitigate this disease.

But then he was asked, should we have a national such policy, and he said this:


TRUMP: I don't think so. Essentially, you have done that in California and New York. Those are the two hot beds, probably the two hottest of them all in terms of hot spots.

I don't think so because you go out to the Midwest and other locations and they're watching it on television but they don't have the same problems. They don't have, by any means, the same problem.


KING: Juliette, with this question on the policies, as someone who has advices presidents and advised governors, do you think it will hold? Or when looking at the growth, do you think what is happening on the coasts, California and New York, is coming to rest of America?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It is coming to the rest of America. We knew this weeks ago. We have to pull the Band-Aid. It is not easy to say, but a 30-minute-drive from now -- I am in New Hampshire. What does it matter if Massachusetts governor does one thing and New Hampshire governor does another?

We need a united states approach to it. The only time that social distancing has worked it when there's strong national guidance. We have governors just scrambling. I have talked to them and mayors. They are just scrambling to figure out when to activate.

I have to say that sort of passiveness is a shocking thing from a leadership perspective. Everything from not using Defense Production Act just to get this stuff moving, logistics. All this is making it harder than it is. It is just about logistics.

But also, the shocker for me was, of course, the admission that they first got briefed on it on January 3rd. For some who thinks about impending crises, that's a long time to get ready, not just to get your first responders ready or the states ready, but to get us ready.


To the extent that all of us are in shock of what's happening last week, it is because there's no discussions. I think all of these things are linked, which is we wish it would go away. It is not going away. We need to just get a unified approach, get through this part so we can begin to manage this thing.

KING: More evidence, as we're having this conversation, tweets of lashing out at reporters is not going to solve this crisis of


KING: -- 15,905 cases now in the United States, 208 deaths. That number is going to keep ongoing up.

Dr. Bitton is still with us.

Doctor, to that point, you have the governors of California and New York are doing what they are doing and the governor of Florida are issuing executive orders because people are ignoring the government and partying on the beaches, thinking it's spring break in Florida even in the age of coronavirus.

When you look at the numbers going up right now, after what you heard of the White House's briefing today, take us through the several days, perhaps week or so of our lives.

DR. ASAF BITTON, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN: I think Juliette is exactly right. What we need is a whole government and wholistic state approach. Viruses don't know borders. They don't respect borders.

If you happen to live in a state that's on the lower end of the curve, that's great for now but that's going to change. We really need, in these times of crises, a coordinated approach.

I just have to say that our medical and public health training teaches us, during crisis, that you need clear and calm and urgent focus and coordinating leadership. Leadership that's empathic and humble and gets to the point and it sees beyond today.

And so what we are going to see the next week is a rise in these cases as the virus spreads and as testing ramps up. We need to be ready for the surge. We need to prepare our hospitals and our health systems for this surge.

That means equipment and staffing, and that means preparing new protocols around separation between hospitals and hospital wings to take care of these patients. And that really means getting help fast to the states hardest hit right now, including New York and California.

KING: As you are going through that, I am looking at the numbers in front of me. I want to get them right: 15,905 cases in United States, 208 deaths, 7,100 cases in New York. That number is spiking dramatically. California is shy of a thousand, 995, Washington State, 1,376 in New Jersey, Florida, 514. Massachusetts is up there.

To the point about leadership, I am certain that the governor of New York is going to get something wrong here. I am certain that the governor of New York will say we tried this and it did not work and we tried that. You watch the state's workforce go from 50 percent of the workforce to say home to 75 percent of the workforce to stay home, and now 100 percent of the work force are staying home.

The contrast I'm trying to make, when you ask the president a question about missteps of his administration, about whether they were too slow to act or too optimistic about therapeutic drugs or advances getting the tests out, the president disagrees with his own public health experts. I want you to listen to the governor of New York, if you are mad at

our mayor, or mad at your town council, or you're made at your police department, your anger is directed the wrong way.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): This is a statewide order. It is not what your county executives is doing or mayor is doing. It is not what anyone else but me is doing. And I accept full responsibility. If someone is unhappy or someone wants to blame someone or complain about someone, blame me. There's no one else who is responsible for this decision.


KING: We get, Dana Bash, a different perspective.

And Kaitlan Collins is joining us as well, Dana, from the president.

Again, this is hard. This is hard. Nobody is going to be perfect here. All the perfect people at home, raise your hand. Any administration is going to have missteps. Any administration is going to, as Juliette said, the president may have been trying to be overly optimistic at the beginning. However, you ask the president and he blames China. He has every right to be mad at China.

At the end of the briefing, he says I inherited a lousy testing system. That may well be true. The other day, he said, no, I don't take responsibility.

There's a lot of factors in this. But at a time of crisis, it helps when the leader says, this is on me.

BASH: It does. There's a reason why, the buck stops here, is one of most famous phrases in American political history. People get it and understand it. People look for that kind of leadership and honesty with their politicians in any situations, but also where we are now.


And you know, there are a lot of very legitimate questions about why we are where we are right now in so many realms of our society, in particular, that the fact that people can't get tests. That's the fact.

There are a lot reports of people raising their hands, the president's own Department of Health and Services -- the "New York Times's" David Sanger's excellent reporting -- running a test showing something like this happening and explaining to people that the American government and the whole system of our healthcare and beyond is not prepared for this.

There are a lot of things that we can look back on.

But more importantly, there are things that we can look at and do now. That's why really legitimate questions to anybody in government should not be slapping back. They should be answered and answered in a calm way. It is that tone for people who have a lot of anxiety. That matters more than any time in our lifetime.

KING: And, Doctor, on that point, in the sense that we talked about testing, do you agree with Juliette's case this is going to come to all Americans, even though it's essentially the biggest problems at the moment. But it's going to come in.

I am not here to bash anybody. I am here to try to figure out what's missing and what's the best way to fix the issue. I had an emergency doctor yesterday who says they can't get masks and gowns.

What is your sense for the people you are hearing of the urgent need in the healthcare and is today better than yesterday? The administration says it is wrapping up in responding to these questions and problems as fast as they can. Is today better than yesterday or today worser than yesterday?

BITTON: It is not clear it is better than yesterday. It is clear that the protected equipment issues become front and certainly all across the nation. We are starting to get movement, certainly state and locals.

As you talked about, we need to invoke the Defense Production Act. We need to clearly understand and specify who's actually producing the equipment, whether the personal protective equipment and ventilators, and who's coming behind to help you with the surge capacity, whether the Army Corps of Engineers or National Guards or other military units, et cetera.

What's front and center, in addition to the testing question, which varies across different locals -- some are ramping up quickly, so less so -- is this real need for protected equipment now and in the coming weeks?

Right now, the critical issue is preparing hospitals with the coming surge. There's a finite capacity that all hospitals in the U.S. have. Beyond that capacity, we need to have a plan B and plan C.

That means we need to utilize all state and federal resources to be able to have those plans available when and if, in certain locals, that capacity is surged beyond.

The way to prepare for that beyond equipment and beyond staffing is for those states that still have low or relatively low rates of coronavirus, they need to practice intense social distancing now, even before the pandemic hits them hard. We need them to keep their capacity within reasons or it is going to be the same cases we are seeing in New York.

KING: That's an excellent point. Those feel shielded from it, they should not take that as safety. They should take that as a gift of time to prepare for it.

Doctor, this is the mayor of New York city this morning. Again, we'll sort it through weeks from now and assess the blame. Bill De Blasio is saying my city is under siege and I need help.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): I have to be honest with the people of my city. I have to be honest with the federal government not doing their jobs right now, the president of the United States who is absent. If help does not come, we are going to lose people who should not die. People will die who should not die.


KING: Athena Jones is in New York City for us.

Athena, people are going to die who don't deserve the die. That's a strong message from the mayor. Not only a scramble for protective gear but convention centers and hotels, any empty buildings, can we turn into a hospital?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. They're considering a lot of the plans and hospitals across the region to figure out how many beds they have and how to expand the capacity to treat more people.

Mayor De Blasio, for one, has been really pressing the federal government to step in and help, help replenish supplies. He's been saying that New York City could run out of supplies in two or three weeks. He doesn't have an exact day. But he says, when two or three weeks pass, there's going to come a point in time where they will need to have had substantial resupply.


They need millions of things, three million N-95 masks, three million surgical masks, 15,000 ventilators, 45 million, each, personal protective gear. Things leak gowns, coveralls, pairs of gloves, face masks.

To that point here, John, Governor Cuomo announced just a short while ago that they are taking pretty drastic action. He called this the most drastic action we can take to try to flatten the curve, to flatten the number of new cases that are diagnosed on a daily basis.

This comes after the state announced nearly 3,000 new cases in the state of New York. Nearly doubling the number announced today. Now all nonessential businesses must close and 100 percent of the nonessential workforce is being asked to stay home -- John>

KING: Remarkable step when you think about California and New York all in one day. That's 25 percent, one in five Americans now.

Athena Jones, appreciate the live reporting from New York.

I thank all my guests for helping us deal with the aftermath of that White House briefing.

Thanks for joining us today. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage after a very quick break.

Have a good afternoon and stay safe.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar. And this is CNN's continuing coverage of the urgent fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

And we pick up where my colleague, John King, left off. During the task force briefing just moments ago, President Trump brought up the prospect that a drug, called hydroxyquinone, could also be used to treat coronavirus symptoms.

But the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was not quick to agree.


TRUMP: We are going to, as I understand it, we are going to be taking samples. New York Governor Cuomo very much is interested in this drug. And they are going to work on it, also, after they get a certain approval. We are waiting for one final approval from the FDA.

We'll see what happens. But we'll use it on people that are not doing great or even at the beginning of not feeling well.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Fallen under the --


TRUMP: John, what do we have to lose?


TRUMP: Wait, John. It's been out there for so long. We hear good things. Let us -- let's see. Maybe it works much maybe it doesn't.

FAUCI: The president feels optimistic about something. His feeling about it. What I am saying is it might be effective. I'm not saying it isn't. It might be effective.

But as a scientist, as we're getting it out there, we need to do it in a way as, while we are making it available for people who might want to hope that it might work, you're also collecting data that will, ultimately, show that it is truly effective and safe under the conditions of COVID-19.


KEILAR: I want to bring in CNN medical analyst, Dr. Seema Yasmin. She is director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative. And we have CNN medical analyst, Dr. James Philips. He is physician and assistant professor at the George Washington University.

Seema, first to you.

What was your reaction to the president touting this drug, even as we heard Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that this is something where there's only been anecdotal reports that this worked with SARS or was helpful with SARS symptoms? This hasn't been proven to work. What'd you think?

SEEMS YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Wow. Such mixed messaging. And this happened yesterday, too, Brianna. The president said from behind the podium yesterday the FDA would approve this. The FDA commissioner then talked to journalists and said that's not the case. This isn't approved by FDA yet.

The problem with this kind of inconsistent messaging, where the president says one thing, then the experts say another, is it completely confuses the American people at a time when there's already so much fear and anxiety based on uncertainties.

And here's what we know about this drug. It's an old-school malaria drug. No used much now because the Malaria parasite has developed resistance to it. There's even been shortages of it recently.

And we just don't know how it will work in people with this new disease. We don't know what dosages it should work at and whether it will be safe at those. So there's so much information to gather.

And optimism is helpful but you can't give false hope to people. This is still very experimental in the context of this new disease.

KEILAR: Dr. Phillips, what did you think?

DR. JAMES PHILLIPS, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Quite frankly, it pains me to say it, but I think that what he said was dangerous. We are human beings with natural tendencies to protect ourselves.

And it's not uncommon in the emergency department that we see patients who are trying home remedies, trying old medicines, trying expired medications, to try to treat their own illnesses.

And right now, across America, there are probably people looking in their medicine cabinet to see if they have some old leftover malaria drugs from that trip to Africa they took.

And for the messaging to come out that we are about to start using this medicine based on some very small studies, it -- it -- it concerns me that people might be out there trying to experiment and take these medications without any proof, real scientific proof, that they are going to work and be safe.

There are side effects to these medicines. I've have taken them before when I've traveled. It's not just bad dreams. There are other side effects that can really hurt people.

KEILAR: Yes. There are severe side effects, we should add. Let's talk about medical supplies because it struck me, Dr. Yasmin,

when the vice president said, "We are more encouraged than ever by the availability of N-95 masks," but that doesn't reflect what we're hearing from many hospitals and the fact that the CDC issued guidelines for doctors and nurses in -- as a last resort to use bandanas or scarves to protect their faces.

YASMIN: It's totally not reflecting what I am hearing from doctors and nurses in E.R.s here in California. But also, on the east coast and in Texas.

I have been talking to physicians and nurses across the state. They are saying they're being told to do things that do not fit the usual standards of care. They are being told to use expired masks. They're being told to reuse masks even as they see different patients.

That's not what we want to see with infection control, Brianna, because when you get contaminated by one patient, you don't want to then take that contamination to another vulnerable person.

And I have to say today's a really big day in the medical community. Today is a match day. It's when many medical students find out where they will spend the next few years as new physicians. And I feel terrible that we are launching them into the global health crisis of a generation without the basic support.

And we're looking to Italy where hundreds of health care workers became infected. Some have died from this disease. And we're not providing the basic support to physicians here in the states, and to nurses, as well.

KEILAR: And, Dr. Phillips, you are an E.R. physician. So you're really on the front lines of this. You have been, even as you said, you have the worried well coming in the E.R. to begin.

But tell us why it's so essential to have this equipment and what it means if, eventually, hospitals can't uniformly get this.


PHILLIPS: I spent eight hours yesterday wearing an N-95 mask trying not to take it off at all except to have a drink. It's uncomfortable.