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Trump Upbeat But White House Response Team Cautious as Death Projections Lowered; Obama Roasts Administration on System of Testing & Monitoring Needed Nationwide; ABC News: Intel Officials Warned in Late November about "Cataclysmic" Outbreak; Trump Attempts to Shift Crisis Blame to WHO; Cotton Sounded Early Alarms about Coronavirus; Bernie Sanders Suspends White House Run. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 8, 2020 - 11:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King, in Washington. And this is CNN's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Important new numbers today in the coronavirus fight. A model the White House often cites from the University of Washington now estimates 60,000 deaths in the United States by August. While that number is numbing, the same model projected 82,000 deaths yesterday, and 102,000 or more a week ago.

So perhaps an improved longer-term outlook, but the daily death toll is beyond staggering. More than 1900 Americans lost to coronavirus yesterday. The current total now approaching 13,000.

Americans are souring on the Trump administration response. A majority, 55 percent, now say the federal government has done a poor job preventing the spread of the virus. That's up eight points from just a week ago.

ABC News also reporting today that U.S. intelligence officials raised alarms as far back as November to the Pentagon and to the White House, as the virus began spreading in China.

There have been some global developments today as well. President Vladimir Putin says the next two to three weeks are defining, as Russia's cases spike and the government struggles to contain the spread.

And in Wuhan, where the outbreak first started, Chinese officials lifting a lockdown. The city's 11 million residents now free to leave their homes for the first time in 10 weeks.

Even before today's update, to that University of Washington model, President Trump was upbeat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): We're way under any polls or any of the models, as they call them. They have models. And we're way under, and we hope to keep it that way in terms of death.


KING: Now, his team is a bit more cautious or a bit more balanced. Suggesting social distancing and other restrictions are working, but also noting, there are some very tough days ahead, and the prospect that some areas spike as others flatten their coronavirus curve.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASE: It's doing to be a bad week for deaths. But driving that and ahead of that is the fact we'll start to see the beginning of a turnaround. We need to keep pushing on the mitigation strategy.

Dr. DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: We are concerned about the metro area of Washington and Baltimore. And we're concerned right now about the Philadelphia area. All of our previous areas seem to be steady at least.

DR. BRETT GIROIR, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICE DEPARTMENT: The estimates of deaths going down is a result of the fact that we have listened to the president and the vice president and the task force.


KING: Joining me now, CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, also Dr. Patrice Harris. She's the president of the American Medical Association.

Doctors, both, thank you for being here.

Sanjay, let me start with you.

It's hard to find the words. You can't call it good news because the model still projects 60,000 Americans will die, but it's an improved outlook. Why, and what does it tell us?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When you looked at the original models, John, what the University of Washington was sort of basing that on was primarily, you know, the evolution in China, in Wuhan specifically. And sort of saying, look, if we do those same sorts of stay-at-home orders, what is that going to look like here in the United States?

But also, taking into account that it probably would be difficult to do those same sorts of stay-at-home orders. And that, as a result, pushed the numbers higher.

I think as they have started to look at other countries, primarily countries in Europe, which were behind China, maybe a little bit more lax with regard to their stay-at-home orders, they did still see significant benefit there. And they started to add those data points and those modeling numbers into this model here in the United States. And that seemed to improve things.

John, it is still a model. There are many models out there. A lot of people are focused on this one out of the University of Washington.

We have been looking at several different models. And you know, when you start to put those altogether, you do see a bigger variation. As statisticians like to say, all models are wrong, but some are useful, and I think that applies here as well.

Just have to keep an eye on this over the next several days to see if the trends continue.

KING: I want to stay with you for a second, Sanjay, and put up the numbers of the projections: 81,766 yesterday, 60,415 today. That's a change. Again, it's hard to find the words because you don't want to use optimistic. You don't want to use good. It's better and improved.

When you look at the numbers, you hear the president, you hear him publicly itching if it's not as bad as we thought, it's time to reopen. Lay down some milestones for doing that.

GUPTA: You know, as with the models, there are different projections and milestones in terms of opening up the country, so to speak.

Let's put some of those up. As you look at these various criteria, keep in mind that there's not going to be an all-clear sort of flag that is waved.


In addition to the physical sort of issues, there's going to be a psychological concern. Are people going to be willing to go back, push elevator buttons, you know, touch handles?

Here's what you're trying to see. You have to make sure the hospitals are equipped to take care of patients. In several places around the country, they're redlining, as they describe it, right now.

You want to be able to test, John. We've talked about this for three and a half months now. You need to be able to test so you can isolate people who are positive and trace their contacts. That's basic public- health strategy.

The 14-day reduction in cases, they want to see the trend go down. How long? Two weeks in a row.

One number that came out of the University of Washington -- and again, it's just a number -- is that once we see below 60 people dying a day -- and I'm with you, John, it's hard to talk about this so clinically -- but when you see below 60 people a day dying and you see that trend for some time, that's a sign we're getting close to reopening.

KING: A sign we're getting close to the reopening.

Dr. Harris, come in on that point. Sanjay showed those milestones. Number one, you want the case count to go down. Especially in the large areas with big populations, but you want to be on the downside of the curve.

You also need to have in place, I believe, a more robust testing system. Sanjay is right, we have been talking about this for three months. The president says the United States is testing more people than anyone. That might be true numerically, but we're still way behind other countries per capita.

And the former president of the United States weighing in moments ago, "Social distancing bends the curve and relieves some pressure on our heroic medical professionals. But in order to shift our current policies, the key will be a robust system of testing and monitoring, something we have yet to put in place nationwide."

How far away are we from a testing system nationwide that would make you comfortable as the head of the AMA to say we medical professionals are ready to say we can at least start a reopening of the American economy?


And first of all, Sanjay is correct. And Sanjay reminds us that we have to have data points and evidence before we can even think about reopening government or reopening our society, whatever that ultimately means.

And that will be a slow process. It wouldn't be we're off today and on tomorrow. So we need to continue to collect the data.

A critical piece of that data will be related to testing. We knew that we were behind on testing from the very beginning. Sanjay notes that we have been talking about this for three months.

And we are still not there. We need to see the data, how many tests are happening in every state across this country, even down to the county level. Where are these tests being offered?

You know, yesterday, we had conversation about the disproportionate impact on African-Americans. We want to make sure that tests are available from the urban areas to the rural areas, and all pockets of this community so we can make informed decisions about when is the right time to reopen our society.

KING: And, and --

HARRIS: I do --


KING: Go ahead. Go ahead

HARRIS: Yes, I'm sorry.

We cannot forget about physical distancing. And what the flattening of the curve shows is that, as Sanjay said, basic public health principles work. Physical distancing is working. And that's why every state needs to make sure that they have enacted shelter-in-place, stay-home policies.

KING: And part of what makes it so difficult, doctors -- and Sanjay, to you first on this one -- is we have 50 pieces of the American puzzle just in the mainland United States. That's not even counting Puerto Rico, Guam, other places we should also keep an eye on, too. They're our brothers and sisters as Americans.

If you look, you see New York, you think it may be at its apex. We'll hear from Governor Cuomo later this hour. The question is, is it a long plateau, do they start to drop. You can look at Louisiana, Detroit, and other places.

But then you have Massachusetts and Tennessee peaking April 18th, Georgia peaking April 21st, Florida projected to peak on April 23rd, different states. There are states that are behind, if you will, the states we're focusing on most urgently at the moment, but that doesn't mean their problems are not significant.

The question is, how do you manage this when things get "better," quote/unquote. Again, that term in New York or Louisiana, but we're still going up the curve in other places?

GUPTA: Right. That's an excellent point. And I think Dr. Harris would agree. I mean, we keep thinking of this as a curve, but it may look more like an upward slope and then a flat trajectory for a while before we start to see a downward slope. And that would be a desirable thing as opposed to a significant peak where you have exceeded hospital capacity and all that. So we'll keep an eye on that.


But with regard to these other states, John, first of all, as we said for some time, everyone's behavior is sort of -- everyone is dependent on each other in terms of their behavior. How people are behaving in different states affects people elsewhere in the state and the region and the whole country.

But more practically speaking, it really is about these hospital resources. You're hearing about ventilators, for example, being sent from California to New York. If there's other hot spots that start to develop, are they going to have enough resources? Are we going to need to be deploying the most critical resources to those places?

When we talk about the peaks in the country, of deaths, we want to make sure that the hospital resources in the country as a whole are not being outstripped, whether that's in a place in Texas or in New York or in California, wherever it may be is the point.

So we are all in this together, and we still have a finite amount of resources. Hopefully, we don't outpace the resources that we have. But places that just two weeks ago had dozens of cases, John, now have

thousands. So places that think that they have dodged the bullet, they still, as Dr. Harris said, have got to be vigilant right now.

People are going to look at these models and say, hey, good news. It's all working. We can take our eye off the ball, our foot off the pedal. Can't do that yet.

KING: Can't do that. If it's a little bit better, again, that's the best I can say. I don't want to be optimistic, maybe it gives you a chance to think more broadly and spread your resources and do the scramble.

Dr. Harris, Dr. Gupta, appreciate it very much as we continue to try to judge where we're heading.

Up next for us, the blame game that comes with the coronavirus fight. As the president faces growing criticism over his response to the crisis, he's lashing out at a new target. That's next.



KING: Today, there's more evidence the United States government missed or ignored some loud warnings about the coronavirus outbreak. There's a shift in how Americans feel about the president's crisis response, and an attempt to shift blame from the man in the Oval Office to just about anyone else.

ABC News reporting U.S. intelligence officials concluded as far back as late November that China was masking the severity of the early outbreak. ABC says those findings were briefed across the government, including to the White House, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council.

The White House's first action on coronavirus didn't come until late January, two months later.

President Trump bristles when asked whether he underestimated the threat and he's quick to assign blame to others. Yesterday, it was the World Health Organization.


TRUMP: They actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it. And they were wrong. They have been wrong about a lot of things.

And we're going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We're going to put a very powerful hold on it and we're going to see.


KING: Now, the president also said the World Health Organization got it wrong. That tracks with what the president is seeing on FOX News. But it runs counter to his own past words and tweets. In early

February, for example, the WHO and China were great.


TRUMP: Well, I think China is very professionally run in the sense that they have everything under control. I really believe they are going to have it under control fairly soon.

You know, in April, supposedly, it dies with the hotter weather. And that's a beautiful date to look forward to.

But China, I can tell you, is working very hard. We're working with them. We just sent some of our best people over there, the World Health Organization, and a lot of them are composed of our people. They're fantastic. And they're in China helping them out. We're in very good shape.


KING: Fantastic, we're in very good shape.

Two weeks later, the president tweeted more praise and one of many assessments that has not stood the test of time.

This in the president's tweet, "The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We're in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC and World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock market starting to look very good with me."

Here to share their insight, CNN's Dana Bash and Maggie Haberman, of the "New York Times."

Maggie, I want to start with you.

This is trademark president. Number one, he doesn't care what he said yesterday. He'll say something completely different today.

But he is looking for a scapegoat at a time more and more people are questioning, did he underestimate this. He says it was just being a cheerleader. If he was doing that, then he was misrepresenting it.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": I think that's right, John. Look, there's a third factor I would say, which is that he is getting pressure and questions about when exactly the U.S. will be opened up.

We have seen him wrestling with himself at the briefing podium about how long he should keep these social distancing guidelines in place. He talked about how the country has big decisions to make. And I think that's part of what you're seeing in trying to find a scapegoat.

A, two things can be true at once. It could be there are issues with the WHO and the president still underplayed this and still has to be accountable for his own words. And to your point, in January and at various points over the last

couple month, the president was very praising of China. He might have had reasons for that, but he has to own that he said it. I understand he's going to try not to do that.

The WHO is going to be the latest person in addition to states that didn't respond quickly in his measure or others who he's going to suggest who are at fault here. That is his entire M.O. It always has been, to shift blame and to claim credit where things are positive.

KING: And if you go through the timeline -- I take no pleasure in beating up the president or holding the president accountable for his past words. I don't. I know the Trump people out there think that's what we do, we do it reflectively. I do not.

But if you get back to this on January 27th, he was in Davos. He was asked on CNBC, do you see a pandemic coming. He said no. He said no.


This is Tom Cotton speaking to Hugh Hewitt this week. Tom Cotton, the same day the president said no, wrote a letter to the administration saying don't believe China and be prepared because there could be a pandemic coming.

Listen to Tom Cotton say why he was so alarmed.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR) (voice-over): I saw two things from China about mid-January that told me this virus posed a great threat.

On the one hand, all of the happy talk the Chinese Communist Party and all the lies they were telling the world and the WHO like they had it under control and it couldn't be transmitted from person to person, so on and so forth.

And that contrasted with the extreme draconian measures they were taking, you know, locking down an entire city, larger than New York City.


KING: Dana, there's nothing that Tom Cotton can see that the president of the United States can't see. Tom Cotton was acting. Liz Cheney also, a few others, very few people in Congress who do their jobs, like a John McCain, like a Hillary Clinton when she was in the Senate, who take their committee assignments seriously and read the briefings.

Intelligence was telling them, China is saying this but doing that, and they saw a great problem there. If Tom Cotton has that information, the president of the United States or at least all the people around him have that same information.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. And Tom Cotton and Liz Cheney were called alarmists by their Republican colleagues in particular.

Look, in fairness to those of us who didn't have access to the information, it did seem the notion of closing down New York City like they did in China to Wuhan was impossible to wrap our minds around. But we didn't have the access to information that people like Tom Cotton did.

And the fact that the Intelligence Community had information that was very clearly putting them and putting the U.S. government on the path to understanding how bad it was or if not how bad it was, how much the Chinese were covering up, and at the same time, the president of the United States was doing happy talk about the Chinese response, about the WHO, that he is now using as a scapegoat, it's remarkable.

I mean, I remember sitting in the impeachment trial in the United States capitol, John, watching Tom Cotton with his fidget spinner because he was, you know, kind of trying to pass the hours during the impeachment trial.

Well, it turns out, when he wasn't doing that, he was reading important intelligence briefings that the president and his aides should have been focused on instead of him tweeting constantly about impeachment.

KING: Right, the privilege of that response, the privilege of having access to that information comes with a responsibility to act on it. He tried to, and some of the administration had that information.

I want to ask you to stand by, ladies, because we have breaking political news.

CNN now told Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is suspending his campaign for the presidency. This, of course, in a campaign that was put on pause by the coronavirus crisis.

CNN's Ryan Nobles has been covering the Sanders campaign from the beginning and joins us.

Ryan, the Senator from Vermont finally deciding it's time to bow out.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, John. This is a long time coming for Senator Sanders. His campaign basically had been put on hold because of the coronavirus crisis. And with each passing vote, he was falling further and further behind former Vice President Joe Biden in the delegate count.

And now, finally, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has decided it's time for him to bow out of the race for president.

We're told that he informed his staff during an all-staff call that took place a little after 11:00 today. And then later this morning, at 11:45, excuse me, he'll hold a live stream where he will address his supporters and talk about his reasons for getting out of the race and what his plans are going forward.

Of course, John, this was a difficult decision for Bernie Sanders on many levels. Excuse me. Mainly, because he had been at this fight for so long. I'm not just talking about his time running for president of the United States, which he's basically been running for president for more than five years, if you go back to his entry into the race to take on Hillary Clinton back in the last go around.

Sanders has always been working on many of these progressive issues for 40 years of his career.

It seemed a couple of months ago that he was on the precipice of winning the Democratic nomination, right before the vote in South Carolina. He won three of four contests. He and his team felt they were in a good position going into Super Tuesday. And it all felt apart after losing big time in South Carolina.

And then the moderate vote coalescing around former Vice President Joe Biden. And after that, Sanders was never able to regain that footing he had once established.

The big question I think, John, now, is exactly, what does Bernie Sanders do to encourage his supporters to get behind the campaign of Joe Biden.

One thing that Sanders has said consistently since he decided to get into this race in February of last year, that was regardless of who the nominee was, that he was going to do everything he possibly could to help that Democratic nominee defeat Donald Trump.

And you can already see it on social media, there are many Sanders supporters who are still uncomfortable with the idea of Vice President Joe Biden being their standard bearer.


That's a significant portion of the electorate. Obviously, not enough to win the Democratic primary, but a big enough portion of the vote that it would be very important to bring those folks into the Biden camp if they have any hope of beating Donald Trump this fall. So that is going to be his big test.

I imagine we're going to hear something along those lines during this 11:45 address to his supporters, that outreach to them that it's time to get behind Joe Biden in order to win the presidential election this fall.

But the way that Sanders conducts himself between now and November, John, could play a key role in who wins and loses this presidential election -- John?

KING: Ryan, stay with us. Ryan Nobles.

I also want to bring in our political director, David Chalian. Maggie Haberman and Dana Bash are still with us.

David, to you.

To the point Ryan makes here, this is a giant question for, how does Senator Sanders go about mending fences with Joe Biden. And to flip a coin, it's a giant challenge for Joe Biden, who is a definition of the establishment that Bernie Sanders for years has run against.

The 2020 campaign has essentially been put, understandably and justifiably so behind the curtain,, if you will, because we're covering a global pandemic. But the election is still scheduled for November. It may be a virtual Democratic convention, but Joe Biden has a huge challenge now.

I would say the one thing he has working in his favor that maybe Hillary Clinton didn't have four years ago is he does have a better relationship with Senator Sanders.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: And that is no small thing, John. He also has more time here. Right? Senator Sanders is getting out earlier in this cycle, as you noted the campaign on hold, than he did last cycle with Hillary Clinton. So there's more time here to heal the wounds, which is what a lot of Biden supporters were hoping they would have.

You noted, John, correctly, I think, this burden is not just on Senator Sanders for bringing his supporters into the larger Democratic fold to achieve that goal of defeating Donald Trump that both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders say they share.

It is also a burden on Joe Biden and one you see he has been taking on since before their last Democratic debate on CNN March 15th, a few weeks ago. In advance of that, you saw Joe Biden starting to take on some of Elizabeth Warren's issues and being friendlier to some of the issues Bernie Sanders had brought into the fold.

That's all the work that Joe Biden started to do and will have to continue to do to make sure that this wing of the party remains energized, enthused, and is able to be part of the broader Democratic effort in trying to defeat Donald Trump.

KING: And to Maggie, first, and then Dana.

Part of the question here is -- and you see it -- there are already some people around Biden or in the Democratic establishment, who are now for Biden, saying, well, we don't have to worry as much about Sanders because, look, he didn't run as strong against Joe Biden as he did against Hillary Clinton.

But I would argue that that is a false comfort, if you will, in the sense that if you look at electorate map and how close Michigan, how close Pennsylvania, how close Wisconsin were in 2016, maybe Joe Biden can assemble a different coalition?

But the lesson of 2016 is you better not leave anybody in the Democratic Party at home, whether it's Sanders supporters, whether it's African-Americans, whether it is anybody.

HABERMAN: That's exactly right, John. If you look at current polling of the sitting president, the incumbent, you can see how little his numbers really have moved. They went up and then they come back down to where they have been.

The stability of Donald Trump's approval rating speaks to the fact there's a group of voters who are going to vote for him. This idea that there's this wide swath of people who are in between on him is not clear.

And so Joe Biden is going to need to broaden the coalition that he is putting together. That is going to require Sanders supporters.

And just because we have all been sort of in this suspended animation because of coronavirus and what it has wrought against the country over the last couple months does not mean that all of the issues that Bernie Sanders was fighting for and talking about for decades have now been suspended in the minds of his supporters.

It's going to be incumbent on Joe bide toon find a way to way to bring those people in and turn them out on Election Day.

KING: The question, I guess, Dana, is how. And Joe Biden clearly gets it. The question, does he understand the depth of it, does he have the team and his own outreach efforts to do it.

He has spoken in recent days as Senator Sanders was debating what to do, about being a bridge, about being the bridge to a younger generation of Democrats.

The question, he has a big choice. He's now starting the vetting process for a vice presidential pick. That could be one way to reach out to the Sanders base.

There's the Sanders people, if you will, including Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez of New York, who has been quite critical of Joe Biden and what he represents.

How does he, how does he -- and maybe the flip side is Elizabeth Warren, who has been much more complimentary -- how does he find a way with Sanders, with Warren, with those progressive Democrats to say I get it, we may not agree on everything, but my door is open, you will be at the table?


BASH: Well, let's be clear. There is, I think, it's fair to say, a minority of Sanders supporters who Joe Biden will never get. You know, as we were going through the process --