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Arkansas Gov. Forms Advisory Board To Help Determine When To Lift Restrictions; Photo Shows Bodies On Detroit Hospital's Freezer Floor; Obama Endorses Joe Biden In 2020 Presidential Race. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 14, 2020 - 12:30   ET



TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: -- opportunity to sort of shine the spotlight on his own presidency. He's going out and doing these press briefings on a daily basis, sometimes speaking for over an hour. Yesterday's clocked in at 2 hours and 20 minutes plus. He wants to soak up the spotlight. He's talked about his ratings. And he does see this as an opportunity to make it sort of a fight between himself and the governors talk about the total authority that he thinks he has as President.

It really personalized this pandemic and make it all about him and his power and the fights and the battles that he has with individual governors in different states. And not necessarily looking at the broader picture, which is that tens of thousands of people are dying. And there are all kinds of challenges in various states with this health crisis. And millions of people have already lost their jobs. The President would rather have this be a personal issue where he's talking about his own powers and not the broader struggles that the American people are facing.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And Maggie, you were tweeting related to this, this morning in the sense that, you know, we have been through this many times with the President has a new chief of staff. He just brought in, it's in the campaign you're -- you have a new chief of staff. He's shaking up the communications team. You would think ostensibly to refine White House messaging.

Some people on the President's political team don't think his tone during a pandemic is the proper tone, at least some days at some moments in that briefing room and yet, he will be himself. We have learned that many times.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I was going to say that's where I disagree somewhat with Toluse about the approach. Well, I don't think this is the President sees an opportunity so much as the President has won speed.

And the speed is, don't take blame, take credit where you can. All moments are about him in some way or another. He's literally right now meeting with people who have recovered from COVID. In a meeting that candidly is a little strange given that it's making these people traveled to the White House, having just recovered from an illness but put that aside for a second.

He is turning that into some joke about himself and Joe Biden as well. He has one speed way that it's a lot more fun to be on the outside getting phone calls from the President than it is having to be inside, being yelled at in the White House. The President has a temper and he has one style of doing things.

And it's clear that whatever the circumstances are, it's not going to change. That tweet is a classic example of him doing something where he knows that people are going to spend lots of time to figure out whether he meant to tweet something about himself describing himself as the captain, a mutiny on the bounty, but actually, it's treating it like a game and people are dying and millions don't have jobs. And it's a huge, huge problem in the country.

KING: It is a huge problem in the country. And you both know this from day one. People on the President's staff say, pay no attention to his tweets, pay no attention to what he says, watch what we're doing. That's pretty hard to a pandemic when the American people and people around the world look to the American President for some leadership.

Maggie, Toluse, appreciate very much your insights today. As we go to break a little bit of political news. The former President Barack Obama has now endorsed Joe Biden. It is official.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The kind of leadership that's guided by knowledge and experience, honestly, and humility, empathy and grace. That kind of leadership doesn't just belong in our state capitals and mayors offices. It belongs in the White House. And that's why I'm so proud to endorse Joe Biden, for President of the United States.




KING: A closer look now at how some states are dealing with this question of reopening even as they tried to fight the coronavirus. You look at Arkansas right there more than 1,400 coronavirus cases, 30 deaths so far, the Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson, now creating an advisory board made up of epidemiologists and medical experts, they will help determine what restrictions can be lifted and at what point in this pandemic.

Joining me now is the official heading that advisory board, Dr. Nate Smith is the Arkansas health secretary. Dr. Smith, nice to see you back here. So you're in a smaller state, your peak, we can put this up on the screen. It's not expected your peak in terms of deaths, according to some model. It's still 18 days away on May 2nd, 20,800 people tested in your state so far.

How do you weigh this as your panel gets about its work? You're still fighting the virus try to tamp down deaths and cases, obviously, but you do have to have the conversation about reopening. Take me through the balance.

DR. NATE SMITH, DIRECTOR & STATE HEALTH OFFICER, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Absolutely. And we realized we're still seeing an increasing number of cases, although our curve has flattened. So it's not too early to start planning and considering how are we going to back away from these restrictions.

And we're doing this in consultation with other states. Rural states have had sort of a slower rise. And it's likely we'll have a slower downside as well. But our rural states are really laboratories for this. And so it's not too early for us to start thinking about what we're going to do.

KING: The last time we spoke, you were dealing with a cluster in a rural county, you believe was attributed to a religious gathering. How -- in terms of public education, keeping people to do social distancing, how's the state doing?

SMITH: I think we're doing very pretty well overall. If you look at our growth rate and really our total number of cases per population, hospitalizations per population, and deaths per population, we're doing fairly well compared with other states.

But there are other -- there are high risk settings that we are keeping our eye on very closely. Of course, nursing homes and other long term care facilities and now emerging in our state prisons and other incarcerated settings. These are places where COVID-19 can spread very rapidly and in a rural state they can account for a significant proportion of our cases.


KING: Your state is also critical to America's food supply. You're the home of Tyson Foods, the largest poultry producer in the world. We've seen this case in South Dakota at the pork processing factory. We've seen a case in Colorado. If you look at Arkansas, it's your largest agricultural product is poultry, 163,000 jobs one in four agricultural jobs in your state.

It is a giant economic engine. What precautions are being taken, especially after you see what's happening in South Dakota, what has happened in Colorado, what is happening at your poultry plants and other food processing plants to make -- to try to make sure you don't have a similar cluster?

SMITH: Well, we've been working very closely with our agricultural industry. We've provided guidance for them and how to make their work sites safer. Of course, they have a very high incentive to keep their workers safe. And so things like temperature checks, symptom checks, allowing adequate space, giving people time off if they're -- if they develop symptoms.

These are all things that they're implementing. And in some cases, they're -- they've already implemented before we even give the guidance.

KING: Dr. Smith, appreciate your time today. Appreciate it.

SMITH: Thank you.

KING: Best of luck, sir. Thank you.

Up next for us, some disturbing images from inside of Detroit hospital. They show us the bodies of coronavirus victims being stored in a vacant room.



KING: Detroit is one of the cities in the United States hardest hit by the coronavirus. The city reporting, see the numbers there, more than 6,800 cases, 391 deaths so far, the numbers, overwhelming local hospitals. And at least one facility, that means they may be running out of space to hold the bodies that people who have died from COVID- 19.

CNN has obtained these photographs, you see them right there, bodies stored in empty hospital rooms, placed on top of one another in refrigerated units. Joining me now is CNN Ryan Young, with this exclusive reporting. Ryan, explain to us what led to those, they're just so sad, pictures we just saw.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, you know how tough it's been to cover this story. I think each one of us has been touched by someone across the country who has lost someone to COVID-19. And as we've been doing this story, we've been talking to doctors and nurses who do such a great job trying to save lives.

One of the byproducts of this which is so sad is, it's more than just the numbers here people are losing their lives. So as we were talking to people at the hospital, they started telling us these stories about being overwhelmed with the work. And as we talked to the E.R. staff members at Sinai-Grace Hospital here in Detroit, they started telling us about what was going on with the dead, and we just didn't believe it. And that's when they started sending us these pictures.

If we take a look at it, especially that room that usually is a sleep study room, and you can see the bodies in that room. And then we were told about the freezer situation. Apparently, and not enough freezers were ordered initially for the onslaught of people that were coming in. And they had to start stacking the bodies on top of each other. And then there were issues with all of that.

So the nurses were telling us and the doctors were telling us and the staff was telling us they were very upset with what they were seeing. And we couldn't believe how many people were sharing with us. So that led to more sort of discussions about what would be next and that's why we started sharing this to show people the devastating effects not only of COVID-19, but it's really taking a bite out of people's soul in terms of what's been going on in the hospital. And I can tell you the hospital told us, they are doing the best they can and they're trying to surge more workers in this area. But let's not forget, John, we had a conversation about the same hospital about a week ago when staff walked out when they were upset about staffing levels. So you can really see how this is sort of attached to their hearts and the pain they're feeling.

KING: That's a lot of pain for those workers, pain for the families who lost somebody, and then have to worry about the treatment of the person they love as they tried to say goodbye. Ryan Young, appreciate it. It's sad but fantastic reporting and it's important. Appreciate it very much.


Up next, the former President Barack Obama jumps in, finally endorsing Joe Biden.


KING: Former President Barack Obama now officially off the 2020 sidelines, just last hour, the former president endorsing Joe Biden releasing this video message backing his former vice president.


OBAMA: I'm so proud to endorse Joe Biden, for President of the United States. Choosing Joe to be my vice president was one of the best decisions I ever made. And it became a close friend. And I believe Joe has all the qualities we need in a president right now. Through all his trials, he's never once forgotten the values or the moral fiber that his parents passed on to him. And that made him who he is. That's what steals his faith in God, in America, and in all of us.


KING: Joining us now is David Axelrod. He, of course, was the chief strategist for the 2008 Obama campaign, a senior advisor in the Obama White House, knows Joe Biden quite well, knows the former president quite well too.

David, why today, a day after the Bernie Sanders endorsement does President Obama decided this is what I'm going to make it official?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think he always wanted to wait for Bernie Sanders to do what Bernie Sanders did yesterday, because he had made a commitment to all the Democratic candidates that he wasn't going to put his finger on the scale until the race was decided.

He wanted to be a unifying figure for the Democratic Party. And he didn't feel he could do that if he intervene too soon. So now that the outcome is determined, you know, he is clearly going to plunge into this. And I will say, John, listening to that tape, I was a witness to the relationship between Obama and Biden. And then it really did grow.


They weren't that close when he chose Biden to be his vice president. And over time they became very, very, not just close partners in governing but very close friends. So I think that there's no dearth of enthusiasm on Obama's part for his old vice president.

KING: We talked Sunday about this strange campaign we're in, strange is an understatement. Again, normally you would expect Sanders and Biden to have a rally together. Sanders -- I mean, Biden and Obama to have a rally together all of the Democrats who ran against Biden to all come together --


KING: -- travel the country, go to key places. That cannot happen. How can Barack Obama, what special skills does he bring, fundraising is one of them, but what other skills does he brings at a time when Joe Biden is trying to generate excitement and enthusiasm?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, he's got a huge digital footprint. And one -- that is of enormous value both in terms of fundraising and organizing. Obama knows how to use these tools very well. And he sells well on them. And so I expect that you're going to see him playing a surrogate role online, that will be very valuable in terms of building a fundraising base for Biden, but also in organizing different constituencies within the Democratic Party.

KING: And I assume he'll be animated by the idea that not always you're friends with Joe Biden, not always do you want a Democrat in the White House. But this President has tried to undo just about everything that has the Obama name on it.

AXELROD: Well, there's no doubt. I think that Obama has been looking forward to making the case and not just an affirmative case but a case for why the steps have been taken since in his view have been destructive. And I'm sure you'll hear that.

But right now, I think the most important role that he can play is as a very, very credible testimonial to Joe Biden, the work that he did in the White House, which was extensive running the Recovery Act and some the other tough assignments that Biden took on and to his character. That's where I think you'll see him in the near term.

KING: David Axelrod, good to see you, twice in a week little politics --

AXELROD: Good to see you John.

KING: -- even the pandemic, we can catch up on things.

Thanks for joining us today. Anderson Cooper picks up our special coverage after a very quick break. Have a great afternoon. Please stay safe.