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White House Holds Coronavirus Task Force Briefing; Trump Halts Funding To World Health Organization; Trump Continues To Defend Response To Virus. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 14, 2020 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The president is expected to announce a new task force on reopening the U.S. economy, as Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning against prematurely easing restrictions, saying -- and I'm quoting him now -- "We're not there yet."

Also tonight, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is rejecting the president's claim of what the president calls total authority over reopening states, saying Mr. Trump is -- quote -- "clearly spoiling for a fight."

The president's power struggle with governors escalating right now, as the virus has now claimed more than 25,000 lives here in the United States and more than 125,000 worldwide. Health officials say the outbreak may be nearing its peak in this country.

But a sobering new Harvard University study says Americans may have to endure social distancing measures until 2022, unless a vaccine becomes available, and becomes available quickly.

Let's get some more, as we wait for the briefing, from CNN's Nick Watt, who is joining us from Los Angeles.

Nick, despite the president's taunts, the governors of California and New York, they are moving forward with regional talks on how and when to reopen their states.


There is quite a bit of pushback now from the governors towards President Trump's May 1 opening dream, I suppose. We just heard from the governor of Connecticut, who said that quite a few governors think that that date is very premature.

As you mentioned. Anthony Fauci calls it optimistic. He says, we need a lot more testing, and we're not there yet.

And also, Wolf, the governors of California and New York, those two key states, have made it very clear that they will not be bullied by anybody, not even the president, and that, when it comes to reopening, science will be their guide.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn't do it.

WATT (voice-over): New York's governor insists that he, not King Trump -- his words -- will decide when and how the state reopens for business.

This morning, the president tweeted: "Cuomo has been calling daily, even hourly, begging for everything. And now he seems to want independence. That won't happen."

CUOMO: The president is clearly spoiling for a fight on this issue. If he wants a fight, he's not going to get it from me, period.

WATT: Northeast governors in the group now coordinating their economic comeback are preaching caution.

GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): On May 20, we will make a decision about how and when we really can start opening things up. I think it's going to take at least another month of being careful.

WATT: On the West Coast, California, Oregon and Washington state are also now collaborating on a gradual reopening. California's governor says this might be the most difficult phase of COVID-19. Six conditions must first be met.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): The most important framework is our capacity to expand our testing, to appropriately address the tracing and tracking of individuals.

WATT: And the normal we go back to might be new, very different, perhaps temperature checks before you're allowed into a restaurant, disposable menus, servers wearing masks, still no large sporting events, and floor plans redrawn in schools and businesses, so we can keep on social distancing.

Opinions, approaches will continue to vary. This South Dakota facility that produces nearly 5 percent of the country's pork is now shuttered after a COVID-19 outbreak, one of the biggest in the country. There was never a stay-at-home order in the state.

GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): This was a critical infrastructure business. A shelter at home wouldn't have made a bit of difference.

WATT: In Florida, Hillsborough County officials just imposed an overnight curfew on Tampa Bay. But WWE will resume, without fans, after Florida's governor reclassified wrestlers as essential workers.

FRANCIS X. SUAREZ (R), MAYOR OF MIAMI, FLORIDA: One of the things that worries me or concerns me is asymptomatic carriers, like I was, actually, when I contracted the virus on March 13. So, we don't know how many of those are, because we're not doing asymptomatic testing.

WATT: But unemployment is up nearly 17 million. Reopening is key for families, like the Wards from Kansas, their restaurant still closed. KRISTEN WARD, KANSAS BUSINESS OWNER: We're jobless. We have no income.

We don't know how to support our family right now.


WATT: Now, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We heard from Governor Cuomo today that hospitalizations are flat in New York. He sees a way out of this. He says we're at the apex, on the plateau right now. But this tunnel is still going to be very long.

Governor Newsom in California says that, even after the rest of the state opens up, perhaps older, vulnerable people will still have to stay home.

And, of course, just echoing that Harvard study you mentioned, Wolf, those researchers saying that, if there is no vaccine, we might have to do some level of social distancing, school closures through 2022.


To get my own head around it, I had to realize we are still early in 2020. There's all this year, 2021, into 2022. Sounds unbelievable, but they say it's possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is.

All right, Nick Watt reporting for us, Nick, thank you very much.

Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, we're waiting to hear directly from the president and the Coronavirus Task Force. They're doing the briefing today in the Rose Garden.


It's been delayed over an hour now, and President Trump is expected to offer more details about the working group he is putting together to advise him on reopening the U.S. But the president has a lot more to answer for after yesterday's off-the-rails news conference, where he claimed he had total authority over ending social distancing in the U.S.

Even some Republicans agreed that remark reflected a total misunderstanding of the Constitution.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a rough -- a rough plague. I call it the plague. I call it the scourge. I call it whatever you want to call it.

ACOSTA (voice-over): It was not a total reversal, but as he met with coronavirus survivors, President Trump sounded more willing to work with governors on reopening the U.S. TRUMP: We have tremendous support from governors. And what I do is

going to be done in conjunction with governors.

You know, you're a fake. Enough.

ACOSTA: Contrast that with the ranting and raving one day earlier, when the president insisted he had absolute authority over relaxing the nation's social distancing measures, a false claim that served as a temporary distraction from the mounting number of dead in the U.S.

TRUMP: When you say my authority, the president's authority, not mine, because it's not me. This is -- when somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that's the way it's got to be.


CUOMO: The president is clearly spoiling for a fight on this issue.

ACOSTA: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN he would fight the administration in court if the president mandated it timeline that threatened the lives of his residents.

CUOMO: If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn't do it. And we would have a constitutional challenge between the state and the federal government. And that would go into the courts.

ACOSTA: The president was clearly savoring the controversy he started, tweeting: "Tell the Democratic governors that 'Mutiny on the Bounty' was one of my all-time favorite movies. A good old-fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the captain. Too easy."

But even Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney was quoting the Constitution's 10th Amendment on states' rights, tweeting: "The federal government does not have absolute power."

What's more strange, the president said he was leaving social distancing decisions to the governors less than two weeks ago.

QUESTION: Why not take the power out of the hands of the governors and you just issue a stay-at-home order for every state in this country?

TRUMP: Because states are different. States are different. So you have to look at states. You have to give a little bit of flexibility.

ACOSTA: Even as the president is assembling a new working group to offer advice on reopening the U.S. perhaps as early as May 1, one of the administration's top health experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is raising questions about the nation's readiness, telling the Associated Press, more coronavirus testing is needed, saying -- quote -- "We have to have something in place that is efficient, and that we can rely on. And we're not there yet." Fauci went on to describe the May 1 goal as a bit overly optimistic. The doctor is still offering words of caution one day after the president defended his decision to tweet out a social media post that included the hashtag #FireFauci.

TRUMP: This was a person's view. Not everybody's happy with Anthony. Not everybody's happy with everybody.

But I will tell you, we have done a job, the likes of which nobody's ever done.


ACOSTA: Now, a source close to the Coronavirus Task Force said some officials on the task force are not sold on the idea of reopening the country on May 1.

This source said -- quote -- "What happens over the next week to 10 days will be key."

Earlier today. We should point out, Wolf, the president was continuing to tout hydroxychloroquine, even though that malaria drug is still not a proven treatment for coronavirus patients.

And on the president's meltdown at yesterday's briefing, a Trump adviser I was talking with earlier today was sharply critical of Mr. Trump's performance. That adviser compared this propaganda video that played at yesterday's briefing to an ad for Trump Steaks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: OK, thanks very much, Jim Acosta. Don't go too far away. We're standing by for the briefing. I'm going to get your analysis as well.

Want to bring in John King right now.

John, as we wait for the start of this briefing in the Rose Garden, as you know, federal and state governments, they're beginning to focus on reopening the economies, as they should. They're looking ahead.

But there's a serious power struggle under way between the president and at least some of these governors, and there's some tension. What do you think is really behind this tension that played out today?


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president's desire, Wolf, to have something he can control.

I saw your conversation earlier with Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut. And he, like most governors, actually thinks this -- most of this will be worked out. He called what the president says noise and says he's having productive conversations with the president's staff.

A lot of White House aides say the same thing. Don't focus so much on the president's anger, what the president says. We will work this out with the governors.

But what has happened here? The president said it would not be a pandemic. And it is. The president said it would be over by April, we would be down to zero, it would be gone. It is not.

The president has said repeatedly the testing system is up and running, at one point saying it was perfect, everybody who needs a test can get a test. They cannot.

And we know, Wolf, that is simply not true. So, the president, his words in his tweets cannot control a virus. He's been looking for something that he can grab and take power of.

But, here, he's not fighting the virus. He's fighting something even more resilient than the coronavirus, the U.S. Constitution. It simply says he does not have absolute power.

So when you talk to the governors and their staff, what they say is, well, mostly, they roll their eyes and say, it's the president being the president, we hope to work with his staff, but no way are we -- this is what the governors say -- going to put our citizens at risk and do this too soon, too fast, without testing and without what they believe are adequate plans by businesses big and small, by subway systems, by bus systems, by school systems to have all the cleaning, all the preparations, all the personal equipment in place.

So they will not be rushed by the president, period.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point too.

Daniel Dale is with us as well. He's our CNN fact-checker.

As you know, Daniel, the president insists he has what he calls total authority over these governors, over these states. That's clearly not factually accurate. Explain.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: It's clearly not, Wolf.

Look, these restrictions were imposed by governors, by mayors, by school board officials. And those same officials have the power to lift the restrictions. And I spoke yesterday to some legal experts. They said a few things. One, they said there is no statute, there's no law that explicitly gives the president the power to override the public health restrictions of states.

They noted that the Constitution's 10th Amendment reserves to the states the powers not specifically delegated to the federal government. This one is not specifically delegated to the federal government.

And, number three, they noted that even the -- even the Commerce Clause, which some Trump supporters suggested he might try to invoke somehow in this context, is reserved to Congress. So, even if someone were to make an argument that the states were impeding commerce in an unconstitutional manner by shutting down their state economy, that's not up to the president to decide. Congress would have to pass some sort of law. And so this claim of total authority is generally wrong, but it's also specifically wrong in the context of public health restrictions like these.

BLITZER: And, Daniel, as you remember, it was only a couple weeks or so ago when there were people calling on the president to have a nationwide shutdown, nationwide social distancing regulations.

He kept saying, there is something called the Constitution, and he can't do that. You remember that.

DALE: I do.

And, Wolf, we have seen over and over in various contexts, this is a moment-to-moment president who answers questions in a way that he believes will get him successfully through a given few seconds in time.

And so last week, he was talking about his respect for federalism, for the Constitution. He said, that's why he doesn't want to tell governors what to do. And now, when it was suggested to him that maybe he is not an all-powerful president, suddenly, he has reversed himself. Again, public health authority generally lies with the states.

BLITZER: Yes, and let me get back to Jim Acosta.

Jim, as you noted in your report, in the president's tweet today about "Mutiny on the Bounty," the movie -- he likes that movie, he said -- the president seemed to suggest that governors who are working together right now are engaging in a mutiny.

It's clearly a far cry from what -- the president's earlier insistence, as I just noted, that there is a Constitution. He is not the king of the United States. He's the president of the United States, and there are three co-equal branches in our government.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf.

And as Daniel Dale was just explaining, governors, they have the rights that are given to them under the authority of the Constitution. Rights that are not given to the federal government go to the states.

And there was a time, you and I are old enough to remember, in Washington, Wolf, when there was a Democrat in the White House, that there were a lot of Republicans up on Capitol Hill, Republicans in national politics who complained of Barack Obama's -- quote, unquote -- "executive overreach" and were talking a lot about states' rights and the 10th Amendment back then.

A lot of those voices are very quiet.

BLITZER: See the president not walking out with the vice president. He's about to make a statement.


Very importantly, I would like to begin by saying that we have just reached agreement, the secretary of Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, with the major airlines, all of our great airlines, to participate in a payroll support program.

This agreement will fully support airline industry workers, preserve the vital role airlines play in our economy, and protect taxpayers. Our airlines are now in good shape. And they will get over a very tough period of time that was not caused by them.


The United States is continuing to make substantial progress in our war against the virus. We grieve at every precious life that has been lost to the invisible enemy, but, through the darkness, we can see the rays of light. We see that tunnel. And, at the end of that tunnel, we see light.

We are starting to see it. More than ever before, we have held our rate, the numbers, the -- everything we have done, we have been very, very strong on it and very powerful on it.

You look at what's happening in other countries, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom. We are working with them. We're trying to help them, especially with ventilators. They have been calling a lot. They need ventilators so badly.

Fifteen percent of counties within the United States have zero cases, and many counties within the United States have a very small number of cases.

Large sections of our country are really looking at other sections and saying, wow, that looks bad. But they don't have the problem.

I salute the American people for following our guidelines on social distancing, even you people. It's so different-looking out there when I look at you.

Their devotion, your devotion is saving lives.

And, today, I'm instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization's role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.

Everybody knows what's going on there.

American taxpayers provide between $400 million and $500 million per year to the WHO. In contrast, China contributes roughly $40 million a year and even less. As the organization's leading sponsor, the United States has a duty to insist on full accountability.

One of the most dangerous and costly decisions from the WHO was its disastrous decision to oppose travel restrictions from China and other nations. They were very much opposed to what we did. Fortunately, I was not convinced, and suspended travel from China, saving untold numbers of lives.

Thousands and thousands of people would have died.

Had other nations likewise suspended travel from China, countless more lives would have been saved. Instead, look at the rest of the world. Look at parts of Europe. Other nations and regions who followed WHO guidelines and kept their borders open to China accelerated the pandemic all around the world.

Many countries said, we're going to listen to the WHO. And they have problems, the likes of which they cannot believe, nobody can believe.

The decision of other major countries to keep travel open was one of the great tragedies and missed opportunities from the early days. The WHO's attack on travel restrictions put political correctness above lifesaving measures.

Travel bans work, for the same reason that quarantines work. Pandemics depend on human-to-human transmission. Border control is fundamental to virus control.

Since its establishment in 1948, the American people have generously supported the World Health Organization to provide better health outcomes for the world, and, most importantly, to help prevent global health crises.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America's generosity has been put to the best use possible. The reality is that the WHO failed to adequately obtain, vet, and share information in a timely and transparent fashion.

The world depends on the WHO to work with countries to ensure that accurate information about international health threats is shared in a timely manner and, if it's not, to independently tell the world the truth about what is happening.

The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable. It's time after, all of these decades.

The WHO failed to investigate credible reports from sources in Wuhan that conflicted directly with the Chinese government's official accounts. There was credible information to suspect human-to-human transmission in December 2019, which should have spurred the WHO to investigate, and investigate immediately.


Through the middle of January, it parroted and publicly endorsed the idea that there was not human-to-human transmission happening, despite reports and clear evidence to the contrary.

The delays the WHO experienced in declaring a public health emergency cost valuable time, tremendous amounts of time. More time was lost in the delay it took to get a team of international experts in to examine the outbreak, which we wanted to do, which they should have done. The inability of the WHO to obtain virus samples to this date has

deprived the scientific community of essential data. New data that emerges across the world on a daily basis points to the unreliability of the initial reports. And the world received all sorts of false information about transmission and mortality.

The silence of the WHO on the disappearance of scientific researchers and doctors and on new restrictions on the sharing of research into the origins of COVID-19 in the country of origin is deeply concerning, especially when we put up by far the largest amount of money. Not even close.

Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China's lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source, with very little death, very little death, and certainly very little death by comparison.

This would have saved thousands of lives and avoided worldwide economic damage. Instead, the WHO willingly took China's assurances to face value, and they took it just at face value, and defended the actions of the Chinese government, even praising China for its so- called transparency.

I don't think so.

The WHO pushed China's misinformation about the virus, saying it was not communicable and there was no need for travel bans. They told us when we put on our travel ban, a very strong travel ban, there was no need to do it. Don't do it. They actually fought us.

The WHO's reliance on China's disclosures likely caused a twentyfold increase in cases worldwide. And it may be much more than that. The WHO has not addressed a single one of these concerns, nor provided a serious explanation that acknowledges its own mistakes, of which there were many.

America and the world have chosen to information on the WHO for accurate, timely and independent information to make important public health recommendations and decisions. If we cannot trust that this is what we will receive from the WHO, our country will be forced to find other ways to work with other nations to achieve public health goals.

We will have no choice but to do that. Our countries are now experiencing -- you look, all over the world, tremendous death and economic devastation because those tasked with protecting us by being truthful and transparent failed to do so.

It would have been so easy to be truthful. And so much death has been caused by their mistakes.

We will continue to engage with the WHO to see if it can make meaningful reforms. For the time being, we will redirect global health and directly work with others. All of the aid that we send will be discussed at very, very powerful letters and -- and with very powerful and influential groups and smart groups, medically, politically, and every other way.

And we will be discussing it with other countries and global health partners what we do with all of that money that goes to WHO. And maybe WHO will reform, and maybe they won't. But we will be able to see.

As you know, in other countries hit hard by the virus, hospitals have been tragically forced to ration medical care and the use of ventilators. But due to our early and aggressive action, the skill of our health care workers, and the resilience of our health care system, no hospital in America has been forced to deny any patient access to a ventilator, with all of the talk you have heard, where some states wanted 40,000 ventilators.


I said, that doesn't work, 40,000. And they ended up with 7,000 or 8,000. And they had no problem. Forty thousand ventilators for one state. It was ridiculous.

The scariest day of my life was about a month ago, when, after a long day of meetings, my team told me that we were going to be needing 130,000 ventilators, that we were short hundreds of thousands of ventilators. This is the system we inherited.

I had governors requesting unreasonable sums that the federal government just didn't have. And you look at the states. The states didn't have. The states were not prepared.

I knew that every person who needed a ventilator and didn't get one would die, and that's what we were told. They would die. I saw in other countries doctors having to make decisions on who got a ventilator and who didn't.

And I knew that this would be a defining challenge of the crisis. Those that didn't get ventilators were said to be in a position only of one alternative, and that was death. Would we be able to prevent Americans from dying because we couldn't get them ventilators, and the ventilators that they needed, and they needed immediately?

I instructed my team to move heaven and earth to make sure that this didn't happen. We started to smartly ration and distribute the ventilators that we had and that others had. And I got daily updates on the supply we had from requests coming in and people wanting to have updates.

We had a great group of people working on it. I instructed my team to use the Defense Production Act. And the Defense Production Act was used very powerfully, more powerfully than anybody would know, in fact, so powerfully that, for the most part, we didn't have to officially take it out.

It was a hammer. It was a very powerful hammer in order to manufacture as many ventilators as possible. Last year, America manufactured from a dead start 30,000 ventilators. And, this year, the number will be over 150,000 ventilators. It could be as high as 200,000, far more than we will ever need. So, we will be able to stockpile. We will be able to talk to states

about stockpiling. These are high-quality ventilators. We had a choice. We could do inexpensive, less productive ventilators or high- quality. We have done a high-quality ventilator.

So, we should have anywhere from 150,000 to 200,000 ventilators. In addition to that, we have 10,000 ventilators right now in the federal stockpile ready to move, should we need them -- we might not -- should we need them in New York, or New Jersey, or in Louisiana, or in Illinois, or any other state that may need them, if we have a surge.

I'd like to ask Adam Boehler to come up and just say a few words. He has done a fantastic job, a young man who worked 24 hours a day on handling this situation.

And I'd just like to have -- have Adam, wherever he may be, come up and say a few words.

Adam, please. Thank you very much.

Thank you.


At your direction, this country has worked hard over the past few weeks to ramp up ventilator production through all means possible. Thousands of ventilators are coming in now, monthly, with over 100,000 by the end of June.

At the same time, there are over 60,000 ventilators in our hospitals right now that are not in use.

Knowing this, and at your direction, we reached out to the American Hospital Association to design a system that allows hospitals to lend ventilators to other hospitals right when they need it.

Within the past week alone, 20 top health systems have signed up for this dynamic ventilator reserve, representing over 4,000 ventilators.


Not only do we have top academic systems, like Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic, but we also have top health systems from New York City, New Orleans, Washington State and California.

Over a week ago this places would be --

WOLF BLITZER, THE SITUATION ROOM: All right, we're going to continue to monitor this briefing. We'll get back to it briefing shortly. I want to just get some analysis. John King is joining us right now.

President clearly, very much on the defensive once again, strongly defending his record on ventilators and all sorts of other issues. A headline though is the U.S. halting funding for the World Health Organization. KING: Wolf, the last thing I'm going to do is defend the World Health Organization. It did have -- it was flatfooted. CNN labeled the coronavirus a pandemic before the World Health Organization. Think about that. CNN saw the data, saw the analysis, labeled it a pandemic before the World Health Organization.

The World Health Organization did defend China and say that they thought China was being honest and forthcoming here. That part of what the president says is true. But even some critics of the WHO say the worst time to cut off its funding is in the middle of a pandemic. Save that beef. Save this discussion about reforms for later. So doing it now is a bold and controversial stroke by the president.

But let's step back again to what this really is. It is another attempt by the president to turn your attention to somebody else. To --

BLITZER: All right, hold on a second, John. I want to go back. The president is now speaking again.


Today, we are taking further action to maximize or oversupply in available ventilators. This afternoon, I met with the leaders, the top people of many of America's big, powerful, beautiful and very, very important hospitals and hospital associations who join us today. We had a great meeting, learned a lot. And they have been going through a lot, they have been doing a fantastic job, as everybody will attest.

I am pleased to announce that my administration is partnering with the hospitals across the country to create an innovative new system called the dynamic ventilator reserve so that we're going to have tremendous numbers of ventilators that we are able to help our states with at a later date if there is ever a problem like this, which we hope to God will never happen again. 1917, 1918, that was a long time ago. We hope it never happens again.

And I'd like to ask Rick Pollack, of -- CEO of American Hospital Association. Sam Hazen, CEO of HCA Healthcare, it's the largest in the United States. Warner Thomas, CEO of Ochsner Health. And if I could, Mike Hall (ph), are you here from Cleveland Clinic somebody -- good, thank you. Come on up, folks.

BLITZER: All right. let's take another break as we hear from these other folks and gets some analysis. John King, sorry for interrupting you before. But we were talking about one of the headlines out of what the president just announced. The U.S. annually contributes about 400 million, $500 million to the World Health Organization. But today, the president announced, the United States is halting funding because World Health Organization was too pro-China. Must be held accountable.

I want to put up on the screen, John, as we continue to discuss this, a tweet that the president himself posted back on January 24th. Watch this, look at this. China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts of transparency. It will all work out well, in particular, on behalf of the American people. I want to thank President Xi.

That's what the president said on January 24th. That's his statement from the president on Twitter, and now he's blaming the World Health Organization for being too supportive of China in those initial days.

KING: And, Wolf, you can go back through the president's Twitter feed. And I urge any Trump supporters watching to do so because he tells you not to trust us, so do this yourself. Go back to the president's Twitter feeds on those early days. He not only repeatedly praised President Xi, he, on several occasions, praises the World Health Organization, saying it was working with the United States to try to get to the bottom of this.

That being said, again, the president's criticism of the World Health Organization are quite legitimate. It was flatfooted here. Again, CNN called this a pandemic before the World Health Organization. But this is an attempt by the president to steer you away from his own actions.

On January 22dn, he did an interview at CNBC. He was asked, do you think this would be a pandemic. He said, no, no. And he said that was because he thought President Xi was on top of it. He had several times since he says he believes China is professionally handling this and praise President Xi.

And just think for a second, Wolf, I could go on and cite many, many examples of this, but just think for a second. Yes, the World Health Organization has a lot of questions to answer about its believing China, about it's being slow to call this a pandemic.


That is a fact that the president is right about that. But who do you think has the best intelligence about what is happening in China? The World Health Organization or the world's greatest nation, the United States of America? You had an interview with Josh Rogin earlier today of The Washington Post, reporting on state department cables, raising security question about those research labs in Wuhan.

The president received letters from Senator Tom Cotton, his administration did early in January, middle of January saying, don't trust the Chinese. We are seeing things in the intelligence that alarm us. They're saying one thing, but the lockdown tells us this is a lot more severe than this.

The president has access to the greatest intelligence and the greatest scientist in the world and many of them back in late January and early February were raising alarms, China should not be trusted. This is worse than they are saying. So the president who did not listen to that advice then, he called those people alarmists. He continues to defend President Xi. For the president now to try to make the World Health Organization a whipping boy is an attempt of the distraction.

BLITZER: Yes, let's not forget it, the time the president was praising President Xi in China. He was negotiating new trade deal with China as well, which was very significant. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us as well. Over the years, Sanjay, you have done a lot of important reporting on the World Health Organization. Give us a sense of what this means for the United States today to announce its halting $400 million, $500 million a year in aid to the WHO?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, this is very significant, Wolf. You know, this is some of their primary sources is a funding, as many people realize. And these were some serious things the president brought up. You know, the basic headline was, that the World Health Organization, whose charter is to provide important public health information in a timely manner, did not do that.

And you know, look, there is some evidence of what he is saying to be true. I mean, you know, there was evidence, for example, like when you look at what concerns you about a circulating virus, the fact that you have a new virus that's causing disease in humans, that's a certain level of concern. The fact that it is spreading human to human is another level of concern.

And it appears now when you go back and look at the data carefully, Wolf, that there was evidence of human to human transmission in China much earlier than they sort of let the rest of the world know. So that part of it is significant obviously. The president was also attacking much of what China had been doing as well in saying the World Health Organization did not do their job in investigating that.

I thought what I was surprised by, Wolf, is he put a number on it. He said that -- I am not sure how he got this number, but 20-fold increase in infections, I believe he said, as a result of the World Health Organization acting late. Again, I'm not sure how they arrived at that, but that obviously is a significant charge, Wolf, in terms of the impact of some of these late decisions by WHO.

BLITZER: Yes, it's very significant indeed. Jim Acosta is with us, still our Chief White House Correspondent. Jim, the president had been hinting now for days he was about to make this announcement about halting all U.S. aid to the World Health Organization.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. And there was a briefing last week where he began to say that he was halting funding for the World Health Organization and then he backpedaled away from that. So, obviously, they feel like they've come up with a distraction to use at today's briefing. Yesterday, it was the news media. Today, it's WHO.

And if you go through the scapegoats that he has blamed so far for this coronavirus pandemic, the WHO, members of the news media, Democratic in Congress, governors, he's blamed China, he's blamed the Obama administration, he's blamed everybody but himself.

And, Wolf, it just -- it comes to mind what we saw yesterday during that briefing, that Monday meltdown, when he played that propaganda video in the White House briefing room. These briefings, all together, are coming across like something out of Baghdad Bob, Baghdad Bob being the Iraqi military official, who is claiming during the Iraq War that the United States was not making its way into the Iraqi capital. The president is sounding very Baghdad Bob-like, in the way that he's signing blame to everybody but himself. He is not taking any responsibility for this.

One of the things he just said a few moments ago about the World Health Organization, I'll just read you the quote, he says, it would have been so easy to be truthful. That was an exact quote from the president and yet this is a president who time and again, throughout this crisis has been playing fast and loose with the facts, lying about things, for example, saying that the Obama administration left the cupboards bare when he left office in 2017.

BLITZER: All right, hold on, Jim. I want to go back to the president now.

TRUMP: We're going to be able to do things in terms of speed and ease that we haven't been able to do before. So a lot of great innovation is taking place during this period of time. And that's innovation. I call it innovation under pressure. It's a big difference, innovation under pressure, right, Cleveland Clinic knows all about that.


As we prepare for the next phase of this struggle, we must also do everything in our power to restore prosperity for the American worker. There is tremendous interest and excitement surrounding the administration's efforts to get the economy roaring once again. And I think it's going to roar once it gets open. And I think it's going to go up tremendously.

You see what's happening with the stock market already, because a lot of the very smart financial people, the great minds are looking at the stock and they're saying, wow. Because they really -- what they're really seeing is how we doing. If we weren't doing well, the market wouldn't be at the level it is today. They have a lot of confidence that we are doing the right thing and that our country is going to going to be open soon and our country is going to be booming.

We've had requests to participate from the best in the world as we share the enthusiasm to get our country going. So I thank them for wanting to contribute. And we look forward to speaking with many industry leaders, seeking their input on how we can return to what was until very recently the greatest economy anywhere in the world, and I can say the greatest economy in the history of the world. There has never been an economy like we had.

Just a little bit more than a month ago, we set every record you could set. More people working than we've ever had before, almost 160 million, the best unemployment numbers we've ever had and the best employment numbers we've ever had. Everybody was doing well. Stock market hit a record. 142 days, it hit a record. And I think we're going to top those records, okay, and I think we will top them soon once we get rid of the invisible enemy, which will happen.

The plans to reopen the country are close to being finalized. And we will soon be sharing details and new guidelines with everybody. I will be speaking to all 50 governors very shortly and I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening and a very powerful reopening plan of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate.

The day will be very close because certain states, as you know, are in much different condition and in a much different place than other states. It's going to be very, very close, maybe even before the date of May 1st. So that will be for some states. Actually, there are over 20 that are in extremely good shape. And we think we're going to be able to get them open fairly quickly and then others will follow.

The federal government will be watching them very closely and we'll be there to help. We'll be there to help in many different ways as we have been, where we built hospital beds in at a number that nobody has ever seen before, where we did the ventilators that we just discussed at a level that nobody has seen before. Nobody can even believe.

Other foreign countries, even powerful countries can't believe what we were able to do with ventilators. Big powerful countries, big producing countries can't believe what we were able to do. We will hold the governors accountable, but, again, we're going to be working with them to make sure it works really well.

Now we have a list of people that I will be speaking to over the next very short period of time in many cases tomorrow. We're going to have elected officials and we will be submitting that list to you within the next 24 hours. But we have a list of different industries that I'll be discussing by meeting by telephone, because we don't want people traveling right now.

The American Farm Bureau Federation's Zippy Duvall, Cisco Systems, Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Corteva, Tractor Supply Company, Seaboard Corporation, Grimmway Farms, Mountaire Farms and others in the agricultural business.

In banking, it's Bank of America, Brian Moynihan has been great. J.P. Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, Goldman Sachs, Citi Group, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, Morgan Stanley's James Gorman, Grand Rapids State Bank, Southern Bancorp, all great institutions with lots to say and lots of good ideas.


And if you look how the paycheck has been working out, the numbers are incredible. And I hope Congress is going to be able to supplement the amount of money going to our workers. I hope they're able to get that done very quickly, because it's been an incredible success, and many are already spending that money and the money has been distributed at numbers that nobody believed possible for this short of period. It was only a week ago, but a lot of money had been distributed already. It's going to keep our small businesses open.

The construction labor workforce, International Union of the Operating Engineers, Jim Callahan. North America Building Trades Union, Sean McGarvey, these are a lot of friends of mind. Labor International Union of America, Terry O'Sullivan, International

Brotherhood of Teamsters, James Hoffa, National Electrical Contractors Association, David Long. Bechtel, Fluor (ph), National Association of Home Builders, Association of Builders and Contractors, Associated General Contractors, Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO, GH Palmer.

So, these are some of the unions, pretty much all of the ones that will be on the line.

In defense, we have Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman -- these are all the top of each company, CEOs, chairmans, presidents -- Raytheon, General Dynamics.

Energy, we had a tremendous success recently with energy over the weekend. It finished with tremendous credit going to Russia and Saudi Arabia, and it could be as much as 20 million barrels a day, a cut, so that we can get rid of some of the tremendous excess oil that has been produced because of the fact that the virus has knocked out almost 50 percent of the business.

It has been an amazing achievement. Some people say one of the biggest oil deals ever made, maybe the biggest oil deal ever made. They're saying, I didn't know that, but we were involved in getting that done. And it was very important.

We are going to save hundreds of thousands of jobs for energy industry, Texas and North Dakota, Oklahoma, all of our different energy states. It's a great.

So, we are very happy about it. I want to thank everybody. We had the -- it's called OPEC Plus. That's OPEC Plus, meaning some nations outside of OPEC.

And I also want to thank the president of Mexico, because he was -- he was terrific. He showed great dexterity and flexibility in getting the deal done. We want to thank him very much.

On the energy front, we had ExxonMobil, Continental Resources, Chevron, Southern Company, Alabama Power, ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum, Kinder Morgan, Hess Corporation and Fierro (ph) Group, and a few others. Big ones, great ones.

Financial services, we have Blackstone, Stephen Schwarzman. Paulson and Company, John Paulson. Citadel, Ken Griffin. Elliott management, Paul Singer. Vista Equity Partners, Robert Smith. Fidelity Investments, Abigail Johnson.

MasterCard, Visa, Chubb, Sequoia, Stevens, Lawrence Stevens, great. From Charles Schwab, Chuck Schwab will be here by phone.

Food and beverage, National Restaurant Association, McDonald's, Darden Restaurants, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, Chick-fil-A, Subway, Bloomin Brands, Yum Brands, Papa John's, Wendy's, Waffle House, Starbucks, Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, John George, my friend John George, and Danielle. You know them. From the transportation world, FedEx, Fred Smith, a legend. United

Airlines, Oscar Munoz. UPS, David Abney. JB Hunt, YRC Worldwide, Crowley Maritime -- credible, big powerful shippers and transportation companies.

In telecommunications, we have the legendary John Malone of Liberty Media. Verizon, T-Mobile, Charter Communications, and Brian Roberts of Comcast, thank you all very much.

Health care.


New York Presbyterian, Jerry Speyer, a friend of mine. HCA Healthcare, Sam Hazen, thank you, Sam. Met with Sam.

Ascension Health, Common Spirit Health. Community Health Systems, Trinity Health, Cardinal Health, McKesson, 3M.

Thank you, Mike Roman, for helping us with face masks. It worked out well for everyone.

Procter & Gamble, Abbott Laboratories, Johnson and Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly. Thermo Fischer Scientific, they've been helping us incredibly with testing. Gilead Sciences, AbbVie. Regeneron, Biogen, Roche.

And Roche has been fantastic on testing, the job they'd done, I have to call them out, they have really -- they have stepped up like very few.

Anthem, United Health Group, AETNA, Cigna and Humana, all the big ones.

The tech companies, we have the right ones. Apple, we have Tim Cook. Google, Sundar, thank you, Sundar. Oracle, Larry Ellison and Safra Catz. Salesforce, Marc Benioff.

SAP, Jen Morgan. Microsoft, Satya -- great job he's done. Thank you, Satya.

Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. IBM, Intel, Qualcomm, Cisco, Advanced Micro Devices --

BLITZER: All right, I want to continue to monitor this.

But I want to bring in Daniel Dale.

Daniel, the president just said something pretty stark. He said, I will be speaking with the governors. Actually, let me play the clip for you, and listen to this. Then he suggested he is the boss of the governors. Listen to this.


TRUMP: And I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening and a very powerful reopening plan of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate. The day will be very close --


BLITZER: All right, Daniel, earlier, you know, yesterday, he said he had total authority over what the governments could do, couldn't do, could not do, and now he is saying he will -- he will authorize the governments to make some decisions, as if he's their boss.

DALE: Right. Wolf, this is nonsense. This is the president's way out of his false claim from yesterday about his supposed total authority. What he is claiming now is that he is benevolently gifting the governors power that they actually already have.

This is not his call. It's not his to authorize, states, governors have the power to decide to implement and lift restrictions at the time of their choosing. One of my Twitter followers made a joke, I'm authorizing all those supermodels to go date other people.

It's that kind of claim. It's a made-up claim to presidential authority. But governors will be probably reassured anyway, because whatever the justification, however wrong it is, he is saying that, in his own way, he is saying that he realizes that he was incorrect yesterday.

BLITZER: He certainly is.

John King, I want your analysis. He realizes he does not have total authority over the governors, but he is still pretending that he does.

KING: Exactly right. That was a full retreat wrapped in Trumpian bluster. I will authorize the governors to do their jobs.

He has no authority to do their jobs, but as you noted with Daniel, he recognized that, as most appropriate in each state. In other words, I today agreed that the governors are going to do this as they see fit in their states, which is what the governors were saying all along, Wolf. And what they were going to do, no matter what the president said.

So, this I authorize, so that he can seem like he still has power was a full retreat from yesterday. So, we can just have this conversation and say, well, I'm glad that is fixed.

But here's what's more important, most important, he is the president of the United States. He has a global platform. He wasted yesterday, hours yesterday, on this argument, only I, I have total control, I call the shots. And now, he's trying to clean it up.

There is a couple of pieces that he is talking about that might actually be helpful for the American people to hear. Have they finally got the supplies lined up and running? Are they actually producing ventilators at the right speed? Are they doing the things that they did not do early on now? Have they learned lessons? That would be great. And nobody would hold the president accountable,

or they would not beat him about it if you acknowledge we didn't get this right at the beginning, we're getting it now. It would be nice and progress in testing. It'll be nice to hear about the stockpile, he says, they are working on.

But, instead, we get the daily airing of grievances at the White House and things that we have to fact check and we have to correct, with some of our viewers get mad that's too because they want to know, am I safe?


Can I go back to work? When can I go back to work?

Can I trust my governor and my mayor when they tell me I have to go back to work? Can I trust my boss when he says it's time to go back to work? I urge everybody to listen to the president when you talk about the issues and go online and listen, not just to Governor Cuomo, who you see live almost every day here, or Governor Newsom -- people watching say, oh, they're both the Democrats. Listen to Mike DeWine, listen to Charlie Baker, listen to Larry Hogan.

Listen to how they talk about the complexity of this. We will have to take your temperature. We will have to spread people out in the workplace. We will have to get masks for everybody. You may go to a restaurant with half as many patrons, your menu maybe disposable.

We may do this in a couple of plays first and tried out for a week or two to see how it goes. The nuance, the detail, the complexity of their plan, and compare and contrast to what you hear daily from the president.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

You know, Jim Acosta is with us as well, our chief White House correspondent.

Jim, he said at one point that there are 20 states that are in extremely good shape, I think we're going to have -- announce plans to reopen the economy, all the plans, he says, are being finalized right now, and he says I'll be speaking to the governors and authorizing them to make decisions that they clearly have the right to make even if he does not authorize them at all.

What did you think?

ACOSTA: Right. Well, you heard the president they're trying to cling to some semblance of what he was saying yesterday, when he at one point told reporters out there in the Rose Garden that his administration is going to be holding these governors accountable. Again, these governors are going to do what they want to do, which is going to be in the interest of their respective constituencies.

I just want to go back to the quote that he gave us a few moments ago, Wolf, because it is astounding to wrap your mind around it. He says he is authorizing each individual governor of each individual state, to implement a reopening and a very powerful reopening the plan of their state.

The governors are going to do that anyway. They don't need the president's permission, they don't need the president's authority or go ahead or green light to do any of those things. And I just can't imagine anybody who was out there listening to this, thinking that the president has not done anything but retreat 100 percent from the position that he took yesterday, that he had total authority over the situation. It is just strange.

And the other thing baffling about this press conference, Wolf, is that, presumably, you think the president come out there and announced this reopening the country task force, this reopening our country council that he told about us last Friday. That was going to be the point of today's press conference.

I was told a few moments ago that Dr. Anthony Fauci is not at this briefing --

BLITZER: All right, hold on for a moment, Jim Acosta. The president is now making another statement. I want to listen.

TRUMP: The actual projection was 2.2 million people, and if you cut it in half, that would be 1.1 million people. That's many more, that's double the Civil War. And if you cut that in half, you're talking 500,000 or 600,000 people. That's what we lost in the Civil War. And that's cutting it, cutting it, cutting it.

And we're not going to -- that would not be acceptable. It would not be acceptable. Nothing's -- one life isn't acceptable, but we weren't given that option.

So, I'm confident that these respected people that I just read from the list will give us some great ideas in addition to what the governors have learned.

The governors have learned a lot. I spoke to the governors at the beginning, it was a contentious relationship, and now, it's a very friendly relationship, and a really great relationship.

And I'm proud to say that some of them, I think are our friends. In some cases, they are Democrats. But I think they like me, and I actually like them, I'll tell you who they are someday.

But we're all getting along and we all want to do the right thing. I think they're going to do a great job of leading their individual states. It will be a beautiful thing to watch. They'll go and rely on their mayors and their local town officials. They're bringing it right down.

And Washington shouldn't be doing that. We cannot be thinking about a Walmart parking lot that's 2,000 miles away, where we're doing testing, but a governor of a state can, and a mayor can, and right down the line. So, it's going to be -- I think it's going to be a terrific system. And if we're unhappy with a state, we're going to let them know we're

unhappy. And if they're not doing the job and they can't get the job done, and for some reason, things are happening that we're not going to like, like the numbers are heading in the wrong direction, we'll have to do something that's very -- very serious. We'll have to maybe close them up and start all over.

But I don't think we're going to have to do that. I think the governors are going to come out at a time that -- and this will be individual dates, and the governors are going to come out at a time when they're ready. Some can come out very, very shortly. And we look forward to watching that process. I think it's going to be very beautiful.

Our discussions will focus on the people that we're dealing with on rejuvenating the economy and always health, always health. Health and life -- living is number one.