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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

World Health Organization Spokesperson Says There Is Still Time to Turn This Around; Pentagon Orders 60-Day Freeze on U.S. Troop Movements Overseas; Coronavirus Deaths Top 800 in U.S. in Less Than A Month; Anheuser-Busch Joins Other Alcohol Companies in Producing Hand Sanitizer. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 25, 2020 - 15:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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TAPPER: And we're seeing doctors in Italy dying because they didn't have enough protective equipment that is also a problem here in the U.S. in hospitals from coast to coast. Where are things on that front at your hospital?

DR. RYAN MCGARRY, CO-CREATOR, "PANDEMIC" ON NETFLIX: So, at USC, we've done better in the last week. Part of that is the sharing among departments in the university, part of that has been an incredible outpouring from the community. We've had everything from friends, family and even the show "Gray's Anatomy" donated some of their warehoused gear to hospitals.

And so currently I can speak here at USC, we're doing better. I think, Jake, when this is all over, as a system, as a country, as a values question, I would say, submit to you, look, if the Super Bowl was on Friday and there wasn't enough beer, I think you and I would agree it would arrive in time for the Super Bowl.

And I think we need to ask ourselves system-wide here if this were ever, ever to happen again, what that says about us as a country and about how we care about medical professionals, first responders, those who are tasked with taking care of us.

TAPPER: Absolutely, there needs to be like there was after 9/11, some sort of commission to examine what went wrong and how to be better prepared. Last question -- the World Health Organization is warning that relaxing the social distancing restrictions that are in place all over the country, that could cause a resurgence of cases.

President Trump said that he would love to have packed pews on Easter Sunday. Dr. Fauci has said that's an aspirational goal and he's told the President he needs to be flexible. How realistic do you think that idea might be, packed pews on Easter Sunday?

MCGARRY: Well, look, I want to give the President the benefit of the doubt. That of course, I mean I would be hopeful for that. That'd be great. However, I would say that again using a war analogy, not that my grandfather was in World War II, I certainly have not been. But, if I was in one of those boats on the way to Normandy and I was

the front line and you told me as I'm going into battle that the air force is not showing up today, you know, I think that's a tough message to swallow for those of us on the line. So I would hope that we stick to the battle plan and encourage all aspects of the team here, including those of you at home to not let down our guard yet. We need you from the front line. We really do.

TAPPER: And we need you, all of your health care providers on the front lines. Thank you so much, Dr. Ryan McGarry. Please send our best to all the doctors, nurses and everyone working at the E.R. we appreciate it.

MCGARRY: Will do, Jake, thank you.

TAPPER: We've got breaking news from the Pentagon on U.S. troops and coronavirus. We're going to squeeze in a quick break. We'll be right back.

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TAPPER: We're back with breaking news. Defense Secretary Esper is now requiring all U.S. service members stationed overseas or scheduled to deploy to stay in their current locations for the next 60 days because of coronavirus according to three sources.

CNN's Barbara Starr is breaking this news for us at the Pentagon. And Barbara, how many service members are affected by this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Jake. This is going to affect we are told about 90,000 service members and of course their families as well. Think of it as a freeze in place order. If you are overseas, you will stay there. If you are here in the United States, and scheduled to deploy, you will not. Freeze in place for 60 days. There's a couple of reasons for this.

First, perhaps, is the military has not flattened its curve at all. Every day we are seeing an increasing number of cases in the U.S. military, the trajectory for the Pentagon is still very much upwards.

But in addition, sources are telling us they're finding increasing problems getting troops into some of the countries overseas because they, of course, these host countries, have their own restrictions. They require people to go into quarantine. Troops coming home have to go into quarantine in the United States. It's becoming a muddle that they're trying to see their way through. So essentially a freeze in place to try and deal with all of it. But for many troops, this will, in fact, be another hardship.

They were scheduled to come home. They might have already shipped their household goods home, their children might already be looking at enrollment in different schools, in new cities at new military bases. So, this is going to be very tough business to work their way through it -- Jake. TAPPER: Barbara, are there any exceptions to this?

STARR: Well I think it will become very clear, the logical one are Navy ships. They are at sea. Many of them will eventually pull back into port in the United States. They can't leave them out at sea forever. So, they will come back. That is expected to be one exception.

We are waiting to see what exceptions may be made for troops on the front lines, troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria perhaps that were scheduled to come home. What will happen to them? Draw down in Afghanistan, that is expected to continue. So, we need to see how the Pentagon plans to deal with those forces -- Jake.

TAPPER: Further hardships for people who give a lot to this country already, service members and families. Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

STARR: Sure.

TAPPER: And as we pass 800 deaths and more than 61,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in this country, it is worth remembering what President Trump said almost one month ago today.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you have 15 people, and a 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.

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That's a pretty good job we've done.

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TAPPER: Tomorrow will be the one-month anniversary of that statement from the President. That was clearly a false sense of security he was providing the nation. In keeping with the many lies he has told the nation in order to downplay the virus and its risk and oversell the Trump administration response. With more than 61,000 cases in the U.S., far more than 15, far more than zero there is really no way of knowing how many lives were affected by that false sense of security that the President projected.

I want to bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins live for us from the White House. And, Kaitlan, sources tell you that the President is feeling increasingly isolated at the White House and questioning -- eager to have life return to normal.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he feels like he's been cut off from the outside world much like the rest of the nation and other parts of the world feel as they are responding to this staying home more.

The President working from home is a little bit different because of course he's working from the White House. But his day-to-day life has changed too. He's doing teleconference calls with governors instead of meeting with state officials or lawmakers in person.

The day-to-day staff here has changed as well, at least in the east wing, they've paired down from the staffers that are typically here to abide by those social distancing guidelines keeping employees who are nonessential away from the residents of the White House as they're moving on with their day-to-day.

And of course, the President is still governing. They're still focusing pretty much solely on this pandemic at this point. But, Jake, these meetings also look different for the President because he's meeting with the coronavirus task force, he's moving through the day- to-day.

And you know they've gone from really focusing on the health aspect where we're increasingly seeing the President focus on the economic impact of this and whether or not they are going to be able to lift those guidelines.

He says hopefully by this date of Easter, a date he has doubled down on despite what you're hearing from not only health experts but also economists who are warning that just is not possible and it's inadvisable in their opinions.

So. the question of whether or not he's actually going to move forward with that is still a big one before next week. But we should know, Jake, that in these internal meetings what we're hearing from sources is the Vice President often turns to the medical experts in the room when they are talking about what steps to take next when the President is often relying on the economic experts instead.

And that's why you see him bringing people like Larry Kudlow, his top economic adviser, out to that briefing yesterday. So, the question of course is still whether or not they're going to be able to meet that Easter deadline the President wants.

Though we should note today the Press Secretary said wasn't sure if that was a date the President had informed his task force of before he announced it yesterday.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. We're going to check in with you in the next hour or two.

Companies around the world are trying to rethink how they do business. We're going to talk to an executive from one major very recognizable American corporation that's shifting gears to help during this pandemic. Stay with us.

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TAPPER: Many businesses are stepping up to help fill the shortage of medical supplies, including Anheuser-Busch which you probably bet know for Budweiser Beer. But the company is now using its production lines to make hand sanitizer. The company also announced today it is working with the sports partners to set up temporary blood drive centers in arenas and stadiums.

Joining me to discuss, Cesar Vargas, he's the Chief External Affairs Officer for Anheuser-Busch coming to us live from his home it looks like. Cesar, thanks so much for joining us. Can you explain to us how you were able to rework the system to make hand sanitizer and how you're going to distribute it?

CESAR VARGAS, CHIEF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS OFFICER, ANHEUSER-BUSCH (via Cisco Webex): Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Jake. The first thing I'd say is this, look, we're all facing this enormous public health challenge and we're all in this together, including Anheuser-Busch. We're focused on a few key areas, the first is taking care of our employees. We're going to make sure they have the support and resources to stay safe and health.

We're also going to keep providing some joy and some comfort and some normalcy to people at a time when it's desperately needed through our brands and our products. And then the last piece is what you mentioned, we want to make sure that we're stepping up to help serve and support our communities in need.

So, we have some unique capabilities, some relationships and some reach that we like to leverage at times like this when our communities need us. So, on the manufacturing side of things we announced a couple of days ago that we're going to be producing and bottling hand sanitizer at several of our breweries.

We're going to be sending that hand sanitizer first of all to our own employees, make sure they have the supplies they need, but then we're partnering with the Red Cross and we're going to be donating that hand sanitizer through the Red Cross to the communities that need it most.

Then the other announcement that you mentioned today is about really redirecting some of our sports and entertainment investments that really help the Red Cross as well as those on the front line in the battle against COVID-19.

So that includes a $5 million donation to the Red Cross. It includes working with our partners, all of the major sports leagues and some of the sports teams individually so we can donate stadiums and other venues that the Red Cross can use for blood drives.

The Red Cross told us that they've had to cancel somewhere about 7,000 blood drives as a result of COVID-19. So, it's a real need on their behalf.

And then we're going to open up our own facilities. We have tour centers in our breweries in Merrimack, New Hampshire and St. Louis, Missouri, finally we're going to donate some media time to the Red Cross so they can run public service announcements to bring some awareness of this issue and inform people on how to donate blood.

TAPPER: So that all sounds very laudable. Let me ask you, when we talk about Anheuser-Busch, obviously, we're not just talking about the production and bottling of beer.

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We're also talking about partnerships to get your products into stores. These are jobs that require people to show up to work. How are you protecting these employees and are you committing to not laying anybody off and to providing paid medical leave to anybody who needs it?

VARGAS: Well, I said earlier that the very first thing we're focused on is our people and making sure they've got the support they need at a very challenging time for our industry and for our country. And that will always be our primary focus.

The situation is very fluid. We're challenged like many other industries and companies, as the external environment continues to change. What I can tell you is that we have most of our people working from home. We did that well before the government required us to do that. But of course, now that's in line with government guidance in most of the United States.

Then we do have some people who are essential to our operations, whether that be in our breweries, and those people that are transporting beer to our retailers. And those people are continuing to be onsite. But there we've put in place a number of precautionary and preparatory measures. We've above and beyond even what the CDC recommends, to make sure when they do come to work, they're operating in the safest environment possible.

And of course, our operations are expressly permitted to continue across the country. I think you've seen that governments are trying to make sure that people continue to have access to basic goods and services and so we are trying to make sure that we keep our products on the shelves as well.

TAPPER: So, Congress is obviously working on finalizing this proposed $2 trillion economic stimulus package. Will Anheuser-Busch seek to benefit from that? Do you need some of the aid from the federal government?

VARGAS: Well, we're like a lot of other companies, a lot of other industries. We're in a very difficult environment. A lot of pressure on us. And look, there's 2 million people across the U.S. that rely on the beer industry in some way, shape, or form, for their livelihoods.

So, it's an important industry, more important employers. And so the work that the government is doing to make sure that there is the right amount of support for people that are directly impacted and for those companies that are trying to maintain a steady workforce, that's very, very important.

So, we're going to work with government as best we can. But that really doesn't change our focus around our people, around providing some comfort and some joy to our consumers. And then also stepping up and helping our communities where they need us.

TAPPER: Have any of your employees tested positive that you know of?

VARGAS: We're part of the community, Jake, you know, just like everybody else. So, of course, we're not immune from that.

TAPPER: So, yes?

VARGAS: I think we're relatively lucky to say that we've had very few employees directly impacted. And we have some amazing people internally that are doing all the right things, working in conjunction with local health departments.

We put the right protocols in place to give them support they need. I'm also pleased to say that those that were impacted are all on the road to recovery if not fully recovered. So, we're doing OK. But of course, we're impacted just like everybody else.

TAPPER: OK. Well, I hope you commit to paid sick leave for anybody who needs it. I appreciate your time, Cesar Vargas, and thanks to Anheuser-Busch for the steps you're taking.

VARGAS: Thank so much, Jake.

TAPPER: While social distancing may mean no parties, no pinatas, communities across the country are finding ways to make sure that their loved ones still get to celebrate. Albeit while keeping a safe six-foot distance.

In Missouri, Beckett Carr rang in his fourth birthday, with a parade of well wishers from his neighborhood, Becket is battling leukemia. And is of course then one of the most vulnerable to infection.

In Rhode Island, 92-year-old Alfred Vecoli was also treated to a surprise birthday parade. He says he was overwhelmed by the gesture and is lucky to have family and friends. Americans trying to pull together and make the best of all of this.

Today more stunning numbers across the country, 11 states now reporting 100 new cases each. That's just today. We're going to check in with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on that and more. We're going to squeeze in one more quick break. Stay with us.

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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This afternoon the World Health Organization Director General warned that the time to act against the coronavirus was actually one month ago. But that this is a second opportunity, an opportunity, quote, which we should not squander and do everything to suppress and control this virus, unquote.

This hour, the number of deaths in the U.S. is now more than 800. To give you some perspective on how fast the death toll is accelerating, yesterday, at this time there had been 646 deaths. The cases, of course, confirmed cases, also continuing to spike, growing about 11,000 just in the last 24 hours. Now we have close to 62,000 people infected in the U.S. -- confirmed infected. It's real number is assuredly more than that.

One hospital system in New York has seen a tenfold increase in coronavirus patients in the past week.