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White House Looking For Way To Open Economy Without Health Catastrophe; Sen. Mitch McConnell Speaks As Coronavirus Aid Negotiations Enter Fifth Day; Top Chef Judge Predicts 75 Percent Of Restaurants Will Close Permanently. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2020 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Good morning, I'm Jim Sciutto. Let's get right to the news.

As the country fights this fast-moving virus, there is another battle going on within the Trump administration, between those who want to quickly move to restart the economy, and the health officials, the experts, who say that would be a health disaster. Now, White House officials tells CNN they are looking for a compromise between those two paths.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, talk of another compromise, lawmakers trying to agree on a massive stimulus bill to prop up the economy. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin negotiated with Senate leaders today.

The other breaking headlines this morning, it is now official. Not even the Olympic Games could overcome the coronavirus threat, Japan's prime minister confirming they will be postponed now to next year.

Also today, companies move in, trying to fill the gap as medical supplies are running out. Ford and General Motors working together, zeroing in on plans to turn their assembly lines from cars to making ventilators. And that's key because it's key way of treating the most serious victims of this. FEMA'S administrator tells CNN the Defense Production Act will be used today for the first time for 60,000 test kits. That news comes after the U.S. saw its deadliest day yet, 100 new coronavirus-related deaths reported on Monday alone.

One in three Americans in at least 13 states are now ordered to stay at home, and we're learning that the White House is looking for ways to open the economy without creating a health catastrophe. Is that possible?

We're covering this story all over the world as only CNN can do. Let's begin though at the White House with CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood. This is a battle inside the administration, striking that balance between not causing too much damage in the economy but also getting a handle on this virus. Is that possible given what we know? How is it playing out? JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the question, is it possible. What we're learning is that the president is growing impatient with the social distancing measures to shut down in many large states and is making noises as he did yesterday about trying to get the economy back to normal.

What we're seeing, Jim, is a president who is being blown from side to side from day to day by poll numbers, by the stock market, by the last people he talked to the previous night. We see that even on the Defense Production Act, where he says when he gets pressure from states to invoke it, to give protective equipment and ventilators, that sort of thing, he signs the act and then business says, well, don't actually do it because free enterprise, so he holds back from that.

We've seen that in conflicting messaging from the administration. Late February, the president comes out and says, well, we're going to be over this very soon. Then you get pressure from people saying he's not taking it seriously enough, the market goes down. The president says, well, we're in this for the long haul, maybe July and August.

Now, as he sees the beginning of the economic impact, he says, we want to open the economy very soon. But the question is, what kind of economy can you open if you have an uncontrolled pandemic?

The real question that we don't know the answer to right now, Jim, is to what extent do the president's words matter? Most of the restrictions put in place have been put in place by Governors Cuomo, Hogan of Maryland, DeWine of Ohio, Newsom of California. Larry Hogan this morning was on our air and said the president's messages are pretty confusing. He's going to take the action that he feels is necessary to protect Marylanders.

Where the president's words could have an effect is in some of those red states that have been slower to take action, that have been less hit by the pandemic so far. So far is the critical word there, because what we've seen in this pandemic, Jim, is that eventually this touches all of us and the question is do we need all of us to push it back.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And one thing I've known about those governors you were ticking off there, John Howard, those are Democratic and Republican governors that have made these decisions. John Harwood at the White House, thanks very much.

Right now, senators and the Trump administration, they are in their fifth straight day of negotiations as they work to reach a deal on a 2 trillion -- you heard that right -- trillion-dollar stimulus bill.

CNN's Manu Raju, he's on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, just a short time ago, Nancy Pelosi, she expressed some optimism about an agreement in the next few hours. Is that warranted? Is that what you're hearing from Democrats and Republicans?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is optimism on multiple sides, not just on from Nancy Pelosi but also Steven Mnuchin entered the Capitol today along with the president's incoming chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who has not been present in Capitol Hill during these talks.


And Mnuchin said that he briefed the president this morning, they talked to him twice, and that they expect within the next few hours a deal to be reached.

And that is a similar line of optimism that came out of Nancy Pelosi's mouth just moments ago when she expressed that a deal could be done and she thought it could be done quickly as soon today in the House.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours.


RAJU: So this is a shift from the last 48 hours or so when there had been a number of outstanding issues while both sides have been indicating things have been moving closer. Things got extraordinarily tense yesterday in Senate. There were still some outstanding issues late last night. But they're expecting to get a deal and the Senate majority leader now on the floor talking. We'll get a sense from him too about whether he's behind this emerging proposal, guys.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill.

This is, of course, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell speaking on the Senate floor. We're going to monitor that if we hear news on these negotiations.

Let's listen in right now. He may be speaking about this.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): And also have to watch the United States Senate spin its wheel. As we convene this morning, roughly 40 percent of our population is under stay-at-home orders from state leaders.

Employers across America are wondering how they'll keep the lights on. Doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals are literally crying out for support.

We literally have Army field hospitals on the way to being set up in our major American cities. In the space of just a few weeks, this has become, unfortunately, our new normal.

This is a national crisis. It's the most serious threat to Americans' health in over a century and quite likely the greatest risk to America's jobs and prosperity that we've seen since the great depression.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have already lost their jobs because so much of our commerce has been put on pause. Families are wondering how they're going to pay their rent or mortgage. In eight days, rent is due on April 1st. People don't know how they're going to pay bills or make their car payment. Many other hardworking Americans are still employed for now but fall asleep every night wondering if it will be there when they wake up to that email or phone call tomorrow.

American seniors are seeing decades of savings cut down in the space of days as the markets literally tumble. Our national life has literally been transformed in less than a month.

The urgency and the gravity of this moment cannot be lost on anyone. Every day, every hour that Congress delays in passing a significant relief package, we risk more American livelihoods and the safety of more healthcare professionals.

That's why right after I fast-track the Democrat House relief bill through the Senate, I immediately turn the Senate toward a bigger and bolder relief package for the American people.

Nine days ago, I laid out the key objectives of our work. We had to send direct financial assistance to Americans, direct assistance to Americans. We had to help mainstream small businesses. We had to act to stabilize the businesses of our economy for workers, and of course we had to send more resources to medical professionals and our healthcare system.

Five days ago, Senate Republicans released our initial framework for the CARES Act. We put forward bold policies, like sending cash directly to Americans, pouring money into small businesses, lending to national industries to prevent mass layoffs and surge resources for doctors, nurses and patients. We knew we needed a proposal to address our nation's pain at literally every level.

Now, in the past few days, some voices have tried to pit some Americans against other Americans and argue that directly helping workers and strengthening businesses are somehow conflicting priorities.


That is utter nonsense. American workers need paychecks, they need jobs. The working men and women of this country do need direct relief from government in this crisis, but for goodness sakes, they also need their paychecks. They need to be able to resume their lives and their jobs once this is over.

The two things can't be separated. There is a term for when you separate employees from employers. There is a term for that. It's called unemployment. Let me say that again. There's a term for when you separate employees from employers. It's called unemployment. That's what we're trying to avoid.

So this is no time to point fingers or stoke these culture wars. This is a time to unify. Perhaps now more than any living moment in memory, all of us Americans are in this together. This pandemic is not the fault of the American workers who make this country run. It's not the fault of small business owners. It's not the fault of major national employers.

Everyone needs help. We're all in this together. We need an all of the above approach, and that's what our framework put forward. Help for workers and families and employers and healthcare providers.

As soon as Republicans put out a direct proposal to treat every aspect of this crisis, I immediately called for bipartisan talks. That's not something you see often in Washington. As soon as I released our first draft, I immediately invited the other side, these folks over here, to make their suggestions. That's what you call urgency.

We set up bipartisan working groups. I asked negotiators to work together to turn our rough draft into something that could pass the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats traded ideas, Democrats asked for many changes to the initial draft and received many. The updated text released a few days ago included proposals from the other side. And, of course, as our colleagues have dragged out the last several days, even further changes have been made at their request.

This majority has gone out of its way to make this process as bipartisan and as open as possible. The administration has bent over backwards to work with Democrats and address their concerns.

Now, at last, I believe we're on the five-yard line. It's taken a lot of noise and a lot of rhetoric to get us here. That, of course, sometimes happens in this town. At different times, we received Democratic counteroffers that demanded things like new admission standards or tax credit for solar panels. We saw the speaker of the House release an encyclopedia of unrelated demands as though it were a coronavirus proposal somehow.

In spite of all that, we are very close. We are close to a bill that takes our bold Republican framework, integrates further ideas from both parties and delivers huge progress on each of the four core priorities I laid out a week ago.

So today, Madam President, today, the Senate has a chance to get back on track. Today, we can make all of the Washington drama fade away. If we act today, what Americans will remember and what history will record is that the Senate did the right thing, that we came together, that we took a lesson from the way Americans are uniting all across the country and working together, that we combined ideas from both sides and took a bold step to protect Americans and help our nation through this crisis.

I'm not sure how many ways to say it, Madam President, but the clock has run out.


The buzzer is sounding. The hour for bargaining, as though this were business as usual, has expired. The American people need our Democratic friends to take yes for an answer.

Now, I hope that will happen today. Doctors and nurses need masks. Families need help. Small businesses need cash. Hospitals need funding. Their Senate majority is ready to deliver those things. We've been ready to deliver those things for a while. I hope today is the day this body will get it done.

SCIUTTO: Well, you heard it there from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, expressing optimism about a stimulus deal. He says, in his words, we're on the five-yard line, we're very close, even expressed a little bipartisanship there after taking some shots at the Democrats saying the Senate did the right thing here.

We've got Manu Raju, also Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Manu, first to you. If you hear from the Senate majority leader that you're close, it sounds like we're close.

RAJU: Yes. all signs are pointing to a deal that could be approved just in a matter of hours. You're hearing from all of the leaders, people who were involved in these talks, signaling that they are essentially there. Steven Mnuchin, when he came into the Capitol this morning, he told a group of us that he does expect this deal could get approved today. So he spoke to the president twice, they want to close out the deal today.

Mark Meadows, the incoming chief of staff, signaled that both he and Mnuchin would be on the phone with Republicans today as they're explaining what is in this deal. Nancy Pelosi, who has her own competing House bill, indicated she would quickly move the Senate bill in the House and try to push it so it gets approved by unanimous consent. Assuming Republicans are in line, that would not require her chamber to come back into town.

And Mitch McConnell just now, we have not explicitly heard from him in the latest state of talks, saying they are at the five-yard line, they are very close to a deal. And so all the key players in this are signaling today is the day they cannot wait any longer after marathon negotiations, the economy needs to move, and this bill could be approved today, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Real Americans, average Americans need it as well. The market was already up on hopes of this. We'll see how it might react if they do make a deal.

Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks very much.

With me now, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Dr. Gupta, I always look forward to these segments with you, and I know a lot of our viewers do because they've got a lot of questions they want to get answered.

First, I want to go to what the president said yesterday, which another turn for him, after last week, finally, to some degree, describing the outbreak as serious. He's now saying, well, listen, maybe as soon as next week, we could begin to relax some of these social distancing restrictions, et cetera.

We know the health experts say that's too soon. Why? Why is that too soon?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think there's a couple of reasons. First of all, you do have some real-time data now around the world, looking at places around the world that have sort of gone through this curve, Jim. China and South Korea are the ones that people often point to. But if you look at the timeframe over there in terms of how long some of these measures needed to be in place, you're talking closer to two months rather than two weeks.

Now, I'm not saying it necessarily needs to be that time, but I think most people, most public health experts that I've spoken to, all the ones I've spoken to have said that this does need to continue for a period of time. We haven't really even started to see the benefits of the social distancing as of yet.

And that's the second thing, Jim, is that as you and I have talked about it, I think, a few times, is that the picture we're seeing right now in terms of numbers, in terms of how widespread this is, it's sort of from two weeks ago. It's kind of like looking at the light from a star. That light was generated a long time ago. We're seeing something from two weeks ago.

These numbers are going to get worse, because what has happened over the last two weeks? I think we can all agree that there has been continued spread. How much, we don't know, but it's certainly more now than it was two weeks ago. So you can't let your foot off the pedal right now.

SCIUTTO: Okay. So let's explain to folks what the risks are if you do let your foot off the pedal. And I know you brought up the case of Hong Kong, because Hong Kong was a place that really kept this under wraps early on, learning some lessons from SARS. But now as they've let people come back into the country from abroad, they're seeing cases tick up again. Is that a risk for the U.S. if we relax too soon?

GUPTA: Yes, I think that's exactly right.


And in Hong Kong, they saw a doubling of the number of cases that they had in just a few days. And, again, they were being held up as sort of a model of success, and they were, but it's just evidence that, you know, you got to be diligent about it until you get through that entire curve.

Now, there may be second waves that come later on, but you've got to stay diligent at least for the next several weeks. I think that's one thing we've learned from around the world.

Also, Jim, again, there is this acknowledgment as I listen to these public health experts even at the lectern yesterday, Ambassador Birx saying, look, over time, there is a chance that 40 to 60 percent of the nation will be exposed to this virus, a significant number, Jim, as we've talked about.

The question is so why did these social distancing measures make a difference, you might ask. They made a difference because it's the pace at which these people become infected, the pace at which they become sick and most importantly, as people have been talking about, the pace at which they access the medical system if they need the medical system. You don't want them all coming at once. And that's what this is all about, it's to slow this down, and it makes a difference.

SCIUTTO: Before I let you go, just quickly, if in the next couple weeks, people start to hear, hey, maybe it's okay to go outside, don't worry about it, things are fine, from a health expert's perspective, should people listen to that or should they exercise -- continue to exercise caution?

GUPTA: I think -- look, I am here in my own basement, my kids are at home. It's hard. I get it. There's nothing good about this, what is happening right now. It's very hard to put any good spin on this. But, yes, the answer to your question is yes. Don't get complacent now. I mean, a lot of the efforts you've put in place may be for naught.

And keep in mind, as, Jim, you and I have talked about this, it's not just about you, it's about the people around you. You have to behave like you have the virus. You don't want to spread this unwittingly.

SCIUTTO: Understood, yes. We're doing this for the team, right? We're in this together.

GUPTA: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, great to have you on, much appreciated.

GUPTA: Any time, Jim. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, there are now more than 1,200 cases of coronavirus in the State of Florida, but the governor has not issued a stay-at-home order there. Find out what he is doing, what the government there is doing instead.

And the prediction from top Chef judge Tom Colicchio -- top chef judge, rather, Tom Colicchio, he says 75 percent of restaurants will not survive this pandemic. He's going to joins me live next. It's one of the real toughest effects of the outbreak.



SCIUTTO: The coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating effect on just about every industry, but restaurants really among the worst hit. Top chef judge and the owner of Crafted Hospitality, Tom Colicchio, says he thinks that 75 percent, three-quarters, of restaurants will not survive after this is all said and done. He was forced himself to lay off some of his own 300 employees. And Tom joins me now.

Tom, great to have you on, and I'm sure everybody has restaurants in their community. They know. They see the effect of this happening right now. But three-quarters won't be able to come back. Why are restaurants so uniquely affected by this?

TOM COLICCHIO, CHEF AND OWNER, CRAFTED HOSPITALITY: Well, restaurants, we're small businesses. There's about 300,000 independent restaurants across the country. We have razor thin margins to begin with. It's labor-intensive. And it's going to be tough to come back, rebound from this, except after listening to leader McConnell, I feel a little better knowing a bipartisan bill is going to be passed, and we hope it includes help for the restaurant industry. We have representatives there fighting every day for us.

And the reason I think it's important is we employ 13 million people directly. And they want to know if they're going to have paychecks. We want to make sure that if we receive money from the stimulus, 100 percent of that money will go to pay our employees, pay our suppliers, pay our rent, pay our utility bills.

If you look at the ecosystem that we support restaurants, it's not just the employees. If you look at our suppliers, we're talking about fishermen and farmers and the linen companies. And so, indirectly, we probably employ another 10 million people. And so we think that the restaurant industry is uniquely situated to deliver as many stimulus dollars to as many workers as possible because we employ more people than any other entity except for the federal government.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

Let me ask you this then. You mentioned the stimulus bill. What specifically do you need and do your employees need the most? What is the help? So many ideas are thrown around on Capitol Hill. I'm just curious what you think would make a difference and make a difference now.

COLICCHIO: Yes. What would make a difference now is direct income replacement. We have the mechanism to actually get it through our payrolls to our employees. If we do that directly from our payroll, we can make sure that they keep their health benefits, we can make sure that -- folks stay home and take their (INAUDIBLE) work they could do. But we need direct income replacement.

SCIUTTO: Okay, understood, get money into people's pockets as quickly as possible.

Final question before I let you go.

COLICCHIO: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: You told The New York Times, this is the end of the restaurant business as we know it. Listen, a lot of businesses are going to come back. We know that as well. But there has been a lot of talk through this that are there long-lasting changes.


What long-lasting changes are you talking about at the restaurants?