Return to Transcripts main page


Senate, WH Strike Deal On $2 Trillion Coronavirus Stimulus Package; WHO: U.S. Still Has Time To Avoid Being "Potential" Epicenter; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) Is Interviewed About The Defense Protection Act. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 25, 2020 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: An urgent task today on Capitol Hill trying to get the new coronavirus stimulus deal through quickly, the top Republican and top Democrat in the United States Senate both working the phones today urging their members to opt for the path of least resistance, a unanimous consent to quickly schedule a vote.

The top line number, $2 trillion is unprecedented. But more important is where that money goes and how big a slice Americans now in economic distress, will be able to pocket. Who gets what, also raises big questions about who will need more cash next time and what to face four stimulus response will try to remedy.

Joining our conversation, CNN global economic analysts, Rana Foroohar, and economist Diane Swonk. Rana, let me start with you. When you look at this massive bill, to you what is the most important element to prop up an economy that is teetering?

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYSTS: Well, you know, I look and I'm really happy that we've got some protections for workers, some, you know, barriers and some conditions for large companies that are getting bailed out. And most importantly, some protections for small and mid-sized firms which are 81 percent of payroll in the U.S.

You know, when I look back to the lessons of the great financial crisis, one that really strikes me is that we bailed out big companies and we didn0't help individuals. And this is a different scenario. But I think it's really, really important for both economic and political reasons that we help the little guy right now.

KING: Right. And Diane, to that point, help the little guy right now includes essentially a federal supplement for state unemployment benefits extra money, an extra month, now for months as well. More money if you've -- as many people are we see it in small businesses, we see it in the automobile industry, the airline industry, restaurant industry, everybody out there right now losing their jobs. Why does that make a difference? DIANE SWONK, CHIEF ECONOMIST, GRANT THORNTON: It's really important to sort of, it's the lifeboats to traverse these coveted waters. We need to keep people afloat so that when we get to the other side of this crisis, there's an economy left to rebound from. And it will be a slow ramp up, it's not going to turn on like a spigot.

I think it's very important though to keep people financially intact, not just able to cover just their minimum rent and shelter and food costs, but more broadly, as a small business point was made, I absolutely agree with that, these small businesses can't go under this of no fault of their own. No small business in the world has enough money to bridge this kind of nuclear bomb on their cash flow.

And I think that's very important to understand as well. I would add, and it's something that the governor made the point about is, the money for states is far too little. And you made the point about a phase four, entire to phases, but the reality is the amount of money that they're offering to the state I think --

KING: I think we're losing some connectivity there with Diane Swonk. The point Diane was trying to make there is that, and Rana jump in please, is that, you know, so --


KING: -- you heard Governor Cuomo saying, I may have a $15 billion hole in my budget, because I've shut down my entire economy and Washington is going to send me $3.8 billion I need more.

FOROOHAR: A 100 percent and this is, you know, if I had to say, what's the biggest downside, not enough help for state and local governments. I mean, you know, there's so many reasons for this. First of all, this this crisis is unfolding state by state. You know, the governor in New York thinks we probably won't even reach the peak for another couple of weeks. The rest of the country is going to be behind that.

And at the same time, if you look at what's happening in the financial markets, we actually have a major municipal bond crisis that's about to hit. So these states, many states were not in good shape to begin with. They are overwhelmed. And the truth is that in America, most of things like healthcare, education, a lot of things are done at the local and state level. So it's so important right now that they get what they need.

KING: Phase three now I suspect there'll be a phase four or phase five or this one's going to be with us for months and months. Rana Foroohar, really appreciate it, Diane Swonk as well. Sorry, we lost that connection, as part of the issue in the age we are in. We'll continue to cover this.


Up next for us one Colorado town taking coronavirus testing into its own hands says, now ready to test every single one of its residents.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: As communities and states demand more access to coronavirus testing, one rural county in Colorado says it'll soon be able to test every single one of its 8,000 residents. The kits being donated to San Miguel County come from United Biomedical whose two executives live part time and tell you right, the county's popular resort town.

Unlike the more common nasal swabs, the technique it's using involves a blood test to identify whether a patient has antibodies that can neutralize this virus. Officials say they're offering tests to first responders and their families first and hope then to offer them to residents starting early next week.

With me now is Dr. Diana Koelliker. She's the deputy medical officer in San Miguel County. Walk through how this is supposed to work and why you think it is so important.


Well, we're here in San Miguel County in southwest Colorado. And we have been given this amazing opportunity to add another arm of testing to what we've already been doing in our county. Our hope is to do this blood test, which specifically is a test for antibodies to the COVID- 19 virus. And we are hoping to conduct this on all of the members of San Miguel County once and then again, in 14 to 16 days to give us a better idea of the burden of this virus in our community.

KING: And what is the -- what do you know currently and what are your big questions that you hope if you have this wide scale testing, you'll be able to answer sort of what's behind the curtain that you don't know today?

KOELLIKER: So, there's a lot of unknowns right now, in our community and all around, you know, the country in the world. What I do know is that we have been able to do some PCR testings, the nasal swab testing that everybody's talking about. We have been able to do about 150 in our county in the past several weeks.

Unfortunately, we've only gotten about 22 of those test results back one of which is a confirmed positive. But truly because of the lack of availability of that type of test, as well as this slow turnaround time because labs are overworked and unable to keep up with the demand, we really don't have an accurate understanding of the presence of COVID-19 in our county.


We're hoping that this blood test is going to give us a better understanding of the prevalence in our county right now. And then moving forward in a couple of weeks when we do the second round of testing.

KING: I hope we can bring you back in Diana when you have those numbers just so we can match them up and see the lessons we're learning. It's a great little experiment you're blessed to have there. Hopefully, we'll bring you back and talk about it a little bit. Appreciate it.

KOELLIKER: We'd love to do that. Thanks.

KING: All right, thank you.

The United States still has time to avoid becoming the next epicenter of the coronavirus if officials take the steps, the right steps right now, things like ramping up testing and quarantining that message this morning from the World Health Organization. And it comes as officials in the U.K. and across Europe implement their own restrictions now to clamp down on the movement of citizens.

The U.K. now in its second day of a nationwide lockdown. That's really where we find CNN Bianca Nobilo, she's in the City of Farnborough. Bianca, you're near some key military bases, tell me how are the troops getting involved here?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, as in many countries around the world as we're seeing, John, the military are now being called in to support the battle against coronavirus. I'm about a mile away from Santos, which is considered to be the home of the British Army.

The army had been used so far to try and transport important PPE equipment to NHS hospitals and critical medics who are on the frontline of battling this. At the moment about 20,000 soldiers have been stationed as ready to fight this battle. They're part of the so called Corona Force in the U.K. with 10,000 of those on a heightened level of readiness.

They're also going to be helping to logistically build those hospitals as well. We've had announced in the United Kingdom that one of the most prominent conference centers, the ExCeL Center in London is now going to be converted to essentially a field hospital, what they've called NHS Nightingale. So the soldiers will be helping with that too.

But we've seen hiring scenes now across Europe with the military assisting in Italy. They've called for the help of the U.S. military as well to try and get that critical protective equipment in the hands of their medics. And we've seen Italian army trucks transporting bodies and coffins to try and take the strain off the local morgues who are just overwhelmed.

The military also being involved in other countries now to enforce these lockdowns. As you mentioned, we're now under a lockdown or a near partial, a partial lockdown here in the United Kingdom, which the army may well have to assist with us, the police, are going to have to focus on making sure that people don't violate those key restrictions.

KING: Bianca Nobilo appreciate that and it's an important reminder, this is a worldwide, a worldwide complex issue being dealt with. Bianca, appreciate it very much.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases here in the United States have surged as access to testing expands from a little over 4,000 on March 16th to more than 52,000 as of yesterday. And as those numbers climb, unfortunately, so does the death toll. Still the U.S. death rate currently well below some of the hardest hit countries like Italy.

Dr. Ashish Jha is the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. Dr. Jha, welcome back.

Let's look at -- I want to look at the death rate right there. Why United States is there in the middle? Not as bad as some countries, not as good as South Korea, for example. Do we know why or is it too early to figure out exactly what's happening here?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Well, look, Italy has had a horrible death rate because their health systems got completely overwhelmed. South Korea had a very good death rate because they were able to get ahead of it. Where we end up will really depend on what we do in the upcoming days and weeks.

If we can keep our hospitals open, we can keep enough beds available. We're going to get through it OK. But if we end up in Italy situation with overwhelmed hospitals, our death rates are going to start climbing and match those of Italy.

KING: Well, I know from speaking to you in recent days that your opinion is the way we keep from getting to that point is with social distancing, is with keeping tough restrictions in place. The World Health Organization says, the United States could be the next epicenter, but it doesn't have to be. At the same time, the President saying maybe 10, 12 days from now we can start to dial it back. Who's right and what needs to be done?

JHA: Yes. So look, whether we can dial it back in a couple of weeks is going to completely depend on the facts on the ground, how many tests we're doing, what the status of the infection is, it's hard for me to see how we get there in two weeks.

But the President is right, we're going to have to at some point, dial it back. But we've got to get more aggressive on testing. We've got to keep it to down like we really do have to have a national pause and national lockdown. And then we have to let the data tell us when it's OK to let go.

KING: And does the data tell us anything now to the President's point and he's perfectly correct and responsible in saying let's look around the country. Maybe there are some places that are not hit as hard where we can ease restrictions here even if we still have a big problem in New York, even if we still have a big problem in Washington State.


I think you've just heard me talking to a medical person in the tiny little county in Colorado. Do we know enough yet to know is it guaranteed as the governor of New York says that he's the canary in the coal mine and this is going everywhere? Or are there are places in the United States that you look at now curiously, saying, why are they not having as big a problem? What can we learn? JHA: When I look across the U.S., what I see is a lot of communities heading towards where New York is today. So I'm deeply worried about New Orleans and Louisiana, Atlanta, parts of Florida, New Jersey, I don't want to list them all. But the point is, there are a lot of communities heading that way.

What we need to do is, if we get extensive testing, John, there will be communities where the infection rate is low and transmission rates are low. And those communities could unpause. But again, monitor carefully. But this is not going to be restricted to New York or L.A. This is going to be many, many communities fighting this at the same time.

But we need data to help us decide those things. We can't just do it willy-nilly and hope that it'll work out.

KING: How far are we -- how far away are we from having enough testing to get data that you would find reliable?

JHA: That's has the, I guess a $2 trillion question, right? It's the key question. We're up to about 65, 70,000 tests a day right now. My estimation is we should be doing two to three times that. How quickly do we get there? I'm hoping in the next 10 days to two weeks. But it just depends on how quickly we get to ramp up.

And then it's not just a number of tests, we got to be testing smartly. We got to be testing different groups. We got to know what how much transmission is happening. So there's a lot of work to do. I do think we can get there in the next few weeks, two to three weeks, but this is like if everything works well.

KING: Well, let's hope everything does work well, after some early missteps that would be a nice stretch if we had such a thing. Dr. Jha, again, always appreciate your insights and your help getting through this.

JHA: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says social distancing may be working but he warns the emergency money coming to New York from the new federal stimulus plan is not enough to get the views of his New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand up next.


KING: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just moments ago repeating his number one concern that his state will not have enough ventilators to treat its most critically ill, coronavirus patients. Governor Cuomo says getting that vital equipment is his states, quote, single greatest challenge.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Right now what we're looking at is about 140,000 cases coming into the hospitals. The hospital capacity is 53,000 beds. That's a problem. We're looking at about 40,000 ICU cases coming into the hospitals. We have about 3,000 ICU beds. That's a challenge.


What is an ICU bed for these purposes, basically a bed with a ventilator. The ventilator is the most critical piece of equipment for an intensive care unit bed because this is a respiratory illness, and people need more ventilation than usual.


KING: New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is with me now from Capitol Hill. Senator, it's good to see you. I wish there was a different circumstance. When you hear your governor make this urgent appeal. What can you do what can be done here in Washington to move the powers that are necessary to get New York what it needs before it's too late?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): Well, right now we care most about the health and well-being of our citizens. And we are trying to get the supplies and the medical supplies specifically into the hands of the doctors and nurses that need it.

One thing we are doing here is the Defense Protection Act. We've put a billion dollars to create a federalized, nationalized medical supply chain. There are ventilators that the Armed Services has that are going to be made to New York hospitals, as well as masks, millions of masks they have in reserve will be made available to the states.

But what we're trying to do right now is just to make as many families and workers whole, so they can pay their bills, so they can put food on the table. Families are so stressed out right now. They are so worried. They're so fearful. And they're doing what they're being asked to do, which is to stay home. That's what each of us can do to help win this war against COVID-19.

And this money that we're putting forward is going to allow a lot more people to get the care they need, to get the funds they need, and to make sure their businesses don't go out of business.

KING: And I assume I know the leaders making calls today trying to get the stimulus through the Senate and through the House as quickly as possible. Help us understand, do you know the current state of play? Will there be a vote today? Will this be done by unanimous consent?

GILLIBRAND: Yes, I believe there will be a vote today and I believe it will be near unanimous if not unanimous. And then it can go to the House for similar vote. Hopefully they can do it on consent.

What the bill has in it that's meaningful is there's a Marshall plan for our hospitals, to get the ventilators, to get the masks, to get the gowns, to get the equipment, to make sure they can stay in business, and able to treat the patients. I've talked to almost every head of our hospitals throughout New York, they are accessing more ICU beds. They are taking away regular surgeries, things that are not emergency so they can make those ICU beds available. We are building facilities. Our governor is making sure the Javits Center is going to have beds.

We are using SUNY dormitories to be beds for people who need it, because the schools are close to the end of the year. So it's really an all hands on deck moment. And New Yorkers are coming together as the rest of the country is to do what's necessary to protect our most vulnerable and to make sure they get the care they need and to protect our critical workforce.

KING: Your governor was quite critical of the bill in terms of how much the $2 trillion. And wow, that's a big price tag but how much the $2 trillion bill does for state government. He says New York can have a hole in its budget, 10 billion could go as high as 15 billion because of the economic shutdown here. And he's going to get 3.8 billion A, will you fight to get him more. And I assume that would be part of phase four, that you're not going to hold up this bill now, to go back and deal with some of the complaints you're getting not just from your governors, but others as well.

GILLIBRAND: Correct. This bill is very helpful, but it's just the first step. This is going to be a very long term crisis, it's going to take months and months to get out of it. And frankly, I don't think our economy is going to return to where it was for a long time, more than months, perhaps years.

And so the truth is, our job is to do triage. Right now, we needed to get real dollars into the hands of real people. That's why the unemployment insurance is so generous. It also includes furlough money, so that people who are still employed but can't go to work because they have a sick child at home or their child's school is closed or they're sick themselves. They can get their -- for most Americans, they can get their full pay. That's helpful.

It's why we have a surge to our hospitals. New York has some of the best hospitals in the country. They're getting billions of dollars to make sure they can have the resources available to treat these patients. And then small businesses, so many people have lost their job. We want to make sure small businesses can get low or no interest loans, that if they keep their employees on payroll, those loans become grants, so they don't have to pay it back.

Those are the provisions of this bill that will help our governor and help our state so they can weather the next month. But again, this is not intended to make all states whole, it couldn't possibly do that. But it's intended to get us through the next four weeks, and hopefully the next four months in terms of the coverage of employees.

This unemployment benefit covers four months of workers, because frankly, most people, their kid's schools are closed, and I won't be surprised if they don't reopen by the end of the year. So we need that furlough and that unemployment in place to give them real dollars to pay for food and medicine and things they need. [12:55:02]

KING: Senator, one of your colleagues, Rand Paul, is tested positive others in self quarantine. Do you think the Senate is going to hang around? Do you think after you pass this bill, Congress is going to have to go get some space as well?

GILLIBRAND: I'm hopeful that we can pass this bill today and then begin to work remotely. I think it's really important that people can be with their families, in their communities, in their states to make a difference, and to be talking to at least remotely their constituents about what's going on.

I do think that'll probably happen, but we stand ready to do the next bill, and the next bill, and the next bill. And we are eager to keep working for our states and our communities.

KING: Senator Gillibrand, appreciate your time at this very busy time up on Capitol Hill. Please stay safe and take care.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you. And John --

KING: Yes?

GILLIBRAND: -- for your viewers, this is a really important time to understand how strong America is. We have extraordinary resilience. We are the strongest country in the world. And we will make sure people have the money they need to protect their families and our hospitals, the money they need to stay open.

So do not worry. And just continue to stay home. Stay safe. And stop every transmission of this virus by following those rules.

KING: Senator, again, appreciate your time.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you.

KING: Thank you. Take care.

Still ahead for us here, a woman struggling with coronavirus speaks with CNN. Plus, more and more New York police officers now calling out sick. Brianna Keilar picks up our special coverage after a quick break. Have a good day.