Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Administration's Response to Pandemic Under Fire; Barack Obama Endorses Joe Biden for U.S. President; IRS Stated Sending Out Stimulus Payments This Week; U.S. Churches Grapple with Health Guidelines on Gatherings; Sesame Street Special Teaches Children About Pandemic. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 15, 2020 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, U.S. President Donald Trump is facing intense criticism for his decision to halt funding for the World Health Organization while the review is conducted. The head of the U.N. says the W.H.O. is critical to winning the war against COVID- 19, and the international community must work together to stop the virus. Bill Gates is calling the decision dangerous, adding that the W.H.O. is needed now more than ever, but Mr. Trump is accusing the organization of severely mismanaging the pandemic.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Had the W.H.O. 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.


CHURCH: As Mr. Trump tries to deflect blame onto the W.H.O., the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic is coming under increased scrutiny. CNN's Sara Murray takes a look at the mistakes made by the Trump administration in tackling the pandemic.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We think we have it very well under control.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the months since President Trump assured workers at a Detroit area factory that his administration had a handle on the coronavirus --

TRUMP: We think it's going to have a very good ending for us.

MURRAY: A handful of the factory workers have fallen ill with COVID- 19. The plant ceased production, laying off workers like Don McMurray.

DON MCMURRAY, EMPLOYEE LAID OFF FROM DANA INC.: I don't think our country or this world prepared us for -- for what we're going through now. So I think, on all fronts, leadership has failed.

MURRAY: The company's stock price has plunged by nearly half and southeast Michigan became a coronavirus hotspot.

The devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic is the kind of thing experts have spent years worrying about and planning for. But no simulation, no tabletop exercise accounted for a crisis like this with a president like Trump.

TRUMP: Everything we did was right.

MURRAY: A president who would use false statements, self- aggrandizement and bullying to understate the threat posed by the coronavirus.

DR. LAURA KAHN, RESEARCH HEALTH POLICY SCHOLAR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: He downplayed the severity of the crisis. He minimized it. He ignored his experts.

MURRAY: As the death toll climbed past 25,000, Laura Kahn, an expert in leadership during epidemics, say Trump made pretty much every mistake a president can in this situation.

KAHN: This response would have been different if we had a president who listened to scientific advisers. It would have been a very different outcome.

MURRAY: From the beginning, aides struggled to get Trump to pay attention to the emerging pandemic, though the administration's top healthcare experts began meeting daily back in January.

Sources say Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar tried to bring the coronavirus up with Trump on a call in January, but the president wanted to talk about vaping instead. At the National Security Council, officials primarily saw the virus as a problem to wall off from the U.S.

TRUMP: I did a ban on China. You think that was easy?

MURRAY: The president's January 31st move to block foreigners who visited China from the U.S. bought the administration time, but it was the only significant step Trump would take for at least a month.

TRUMP: Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.

MURRAY: Days after Trump's travel ban, Americans evacuated from China and potentially exposed to the virus were greeted in the U.S. by emergency response teams with insufficient protective gear, like baby wipes and construction-style dust masks, according to sources.

And while other countries, like South Korea, had success suppressing the virus with widespread testing, some of the CDC's tests were flawed, leaving the U.S. with limited testing in February as the coronavirus spread.

TRUMP: They have the tests.

MURRAY: While Trump promised testing for all --

TRUMP: Anybody that needs a test, gets a test.

MURRAY: It came as news to those directly involved in the process at the CDC. Even now, everyone who wants a test cannot get one.

A looming shortage was also coming in hospital masks, gowns and other supplies called PPE, to protect doctors and nurses from coronavirus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like we're -- we're going into a war with no protection.


MURRAY: In early February, the State Department sent almost 18 tons of personal protective equipment from private donors to China.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: In America we provide aid because we're generous and noble people.

MURRAY: These e-mails, obtained by CNN, show the same month supplies were shipped to China, the CDC was warning health departments across the country about supply chain concerns, urging them to maintain any stockpiles of expired PPE until further guidance.

DR. JESSICA KISS, CALIFORNIA: I am down to my last N-95 mask and I'm reusing it.

MURRAY: Early on, there were officials trying to warn the public about the seriousness of the virus. They were quickly sidelined.


MURRAY: For weeks the CDC's top respiratory disease doctor, Nancy Messonnier, said the coronavirus could become a pandemic. On February 25th, she caught Trump's attention.

MESSONNIER: We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad.

MURRAY: Trump and some of his aides were furious believing she overstated the threat, sources said. A day later, Trump appeared, offering reassurances rather than warnings.

TRUMP: And we'll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick matter.

Because we're ready for it. We're really prepared. MURRAY: Americans didn't buy it. Trump was pummeled in the press. Schools were closing down. Americans started working from home. Investors were panicking.

An Oval Office address --

TRUMP: My fellow Americans --

MURRAY: Failed to fix any of it.

There was a turning point when advisers privately pressed Trump to view himself as a wartime president. This is a war, they told him. And experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx are your generals.

The economy, they assured him, would bounce back once the virus was vanquished. The President began doing regular televised briefly after noticing that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was getting good press for his daily appearances.

ANDREW CUOMO, NEW YORK GOVERNOR: Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That's what we're doing here.

MURRAY: When Trump appeared at the podium March 16th, he outlined more stringent, social distancing guidelines for the nation and appeared to finally be taking the deadly virus seriously.

TRUMP: Each and every one of us has a critical role to play in stopping the spread and transmission of the virus.

MURRAY: And then on Monday, Trump defended his response to the crisis, using a propaganda-style video of people complimenting him.

TRUMP: We did the right thing. And our timing was very good.

MURRAY: Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Well, Barack Obama has been through a crisis or two as U.S. President, and he believes that Joe Biden is the right man to get the country through this one. Obama endorsed his former Vice President Tuesday, lauding his character and resilience. It is the second major endorsement Biden has received in just over 24 hours. Former Democratic rival Bernie Sanders put his weight behind him on Monday.

CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein joins me now from Los Angeles. Always great to talk with you.


CHURCH: So, Ron, Joe Biden received the endorsement he had been waiting for from former President Barack Obama Tuesday, and here's part of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Republicans occupying the White House and running the U.S. Senate are not interested in progress. They're interested in power. They've shown themselves willing to kick millions off their health insurance and eliminate pre-existing condition protections for millions more, even in the middle of this public health crisis. Even as they're willing to spend a trillion on tax cuts for the wealthy. They've given polluters unlimited power to poison our air and our water and denied the science of climate change, just as they denied the science of pandemics.


CHURCH: So, Ron, how significant is the former President's endorsement of Joe Biden at this juncture and what role will he need to play going forward, if the Democrats want to beat Donald Trump in November?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all, Rosemary, couldn't you just feel 40 months of biting your tongue kind of rolling off the shoulders of the former President there. Who's been really pretty circumspect, very rarely weighing in on anything Donald Trump has done. Even though the Trump administration really has systematically sought to erase many of the Obama accomplishments, from health care to the environment.

So, you could feel, I think, the passion in the person of someone who was often described as dispassionate. Look, Barack Obama is the best asset that Democrats have, you know. He is a figure who is widely respected across the party. Who had the ability in both '08 and '12 to turn out the base in big numbers, particularly African-American voters, but also reach beyond the base in a way that Hillary Clinton struggled to do in 2016. He is certainly the most important surrogate to Democrats.


And one thing I was struck by in his extensive statement today was that, while he criticized the Republicans on policy, he mostly praised Joe Biden on character, rather than policy. And I think it suggests the kind of contrast that he is going to be comfortable drawing between his former Vice President and the current occupant of the office.

CHURCH: Right. Here's the thing, though, with President Trump monopolizing that afternoon daily briefing on the coronavirus task force, at the expense most afternoons of any detailed updates from his own medical experts, how will there be room for any pushback or fact- checking from the Democrats, and more specifically, Joe Biden and Obama, without both of them and the party being accused of being too political in the midst of a national health crisis?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, well look, I think that's a very good point. Biden has been very cautious about how far to go in criticizing President Trump. I mean, he has focused much more on offering alternatives about what to do next and leaving the criticism to others in the party, in particular some of the super PACs that have been running I think pretty effective ads just shows quoting the President's words over and over again in February and March, basically saying this was not a serious problem, it was all going to go away, we're going to be down to zero cases soon. And then juxtaposing that against the steadily rising caseload.

One Democratic pollster told me today, the question of the election will be, what did you do in February and early March? And whether it is that central or not, I think there's no question that Democrats are going to be able to raise that issue and pound the President on that issue. The public polling in the U.S. is interesting, because we have seen pretty consistently half of Americans -- roughly half of Americans say they approve of the way the President is responding to the crisis now. But something like three-fifths or more -- two-thirds, sometimes -- say he was not prepared for it and he did not respond quickly enough. And those contending views, I think, will really be decisive in how this plays out in November.

CHURCH: Ron Brownstein, many thanks to you for bringing us up to date on the situation on the politics of all of this. Appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Good to see you again.

CHURCH: Well, U.S. President Donald Trump's name will appear on stimulus checks, and to millions of Americans, details on that unprecedented move, next.



CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, here in the United States, the Internal Revenue Service started sending out stimulus payments this week to millions of Americans. The first payments are going to those who've already filed their 2018 or 2019 tax returns and authorized the IRS to make a direct deposit, if they were due a refund.

Those receiving paper checks will notice President Trump's name on that check. The "Washington Post" reports this will be the first time a President's name is featured on an IRS disbursement. The first batch of those checks are slated to go out next week.

So, Alison Kosik is with us now live from New York. Good to see you, Alison. So, Americans are eager, of course, to get these checks. Some already have them. And some say it won't be enough. What's the latest on all this?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Rosemary. Yes, so, those first payments, direct deposit, went out over the weekend, and they're continuing to go out this week. Anybody who hasn't received their money can actually go to an online tool at at the end of the week and they'll be able to track where their money is.

Now, this is all part of the $2 trillion stimulus package. Those who are eligible will receive $1,200 per individual, $500 per child. But as you alluded to, you know, almost one-third of adults, they believe that this $1,200 stimulus check isn't even enough money to sustain their lifestyles for one month. So, I think one way to think of this payment is less of a stimulus and more of kind of a bit of extra economic support.

Think about this -- even before the pandemic hit, and the economy, of course, was forced to a standstill, just 41 percent of Americans were able to pay for an unplanned expense of $1,000 from savings. So, while it's not a financial panacea here, it is sorely needed by millions of Americans -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, it most definitely is. And Alison, President Trump announced his economic panel Tuesday. It was a long list. So, how is that going to work exactly?

KOSIK: And that's a good question. It's not clear how this will work. But if you look at how this has been rolled out, he once called this, quote, an opening of the country council. And it kind of was diminished by the time he announced it last night at a Rose Garden press conference.

Trump said during the briefing that he would be speaking with business leaders on the phone to discuss how to revive the U.S. economy. And as you said, he listed 200 names of prominent bankers in every industry you can think of, from restaurants to hotels, agriculture, construction, defense, energy, real estate, retail, and the list goes on and on. It also includes big names like CEO of Apple Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Interesting about Bezos, because Trump is often known to criticize Bezos. And the fact that he's including him in this list shows just how much input the White House needs on how to reopen the economy -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, we'll watch to see how that progresses. Alison Kosik, thank you so much, joining us live from New York. Appreciate it.

Well, a bishop in the U.S. has died from the coronavirus after defiantly leading church services, despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control. And as CNN's Tom Foreman reports, religious groups around the country are trying to find the balance between gathering for worship and following public health guidelines.



BISHOP GERALD GLENN, NEW DELIVERANCE EVANGELISTIC CHURCH: God is bigger than the virus. God is bigger than our struggle.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bishop Gerald Glenn in the pulpit, defying CDC guidelines against public gatherings and vowing to keep preaching -- unless I'm in jail or the hospital.

GLENN: Nonessential personnel. I am essential.

FOREMAN: That was less than a month ago. Now news of his death after contracting COVID-19 is rocking members of the New Deliverance Evangelistic Church and his wife reportedly has the virus too. BRIAN NEVERS, ELDER, NEW DELIVERANCE EVANGELISTIC CHURCH: The thing is, I can't lie. The first thing I asked God was why? The Bishop has taught us that God is big enough to handle our life.

FOREMAN: Religious congregations coast-to-coast are finding ways to be spiritually close while physically distant. Vice President Mike Pence, an Evangelical Christian, is encouraging such efforts.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And to my Christian brothers and sisters across the country, let me encourage you with the words, we should all remember that Jesus said wherever two or more are gathered, there he is also.

FOREMAN: But some are drawing on another biblical warning against forsaking the assembling to justify their defiance of health guidelines. And the costs are mounting, with more illnesses, more deaths tied to church gatherings.

In Kansas, they are implicated in at least five outbreaks, the Governor ordered no groups larger than ten people only to have Republican legislators override her, forcing a court battle. She won, but tensions remain.

LAURA KELLY, KANSAS GOVERNOR: We do not have time to play political games during a pandemic.

FOREMAN: In California, at least 70 people from one church have contracted the virus yet a few religious leaders have launched a lawsuit against the Governor's restrictions on worship even as he tries to give the faithful some space.

GAVIN NEWSOM, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: So, practice your faith, but do so in a way that allows you to keep yourself healthy, keep others healthy.

FOREMAN: As it is, more than a dozen states have given some exemptions to religious groups. And the U.S. Justice Department says Attorney General Bill Barr is monitoring government regulation of religious services and likely to take action soon.

(on camera) What kind of action we don't know, but we do know this -- white evangelicals are among the most ardent supporters of Donald Trump and when they make noise he generally listens.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Bethesda, Maryland.


CHURCH: We'll take a short break here but guess what. The Muppets on "Sesame Street" are staying home these days, but it hasn't stopped them from sharing a little wit and wisdom with their youngest fans. Back with that in a moment.


CHURCH: Well, it seems like every corner of the world is hunkering down at home, including, it turns out, "Sesame Street." The long- running children's show is reflecting the new reality kids and their parents find themselves in and doing so with a smile. Here's Anna Stewart.


SESAME STREET CHARACTERS, SINGING: La, la, la, la, la, la --

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): The "Sesame Street" Muppets are stuck at home, but they're staying social in a special episode.

ELMO: Elmo knows it can be hard to be away from your friends.

STEWART: Elmo set up a virtual play date.

ELMO: Hi, everybody!

STEWART: Complete with songs -- -- games, and some celebrity friends dining in. Staying at home and working from home present the same challenges for the "Sesame Street" Muppets as the kids and parents who will be watching.

ELMO: I'm bringing everything in your phone is doing that.

Reporter: Inadvertent use of phone filters and a video chat --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am even more adorable than ever!

STEWART: Or failed attempts at home cooking.

COOKIE MONSTER: Because we know that their eating. Me eat everything!

STEWART: And given we only ever see the Muppets' top halves, it's fair to assume they're wearing pajamas or sweatpants on their bottom halves. Like much of the world, video conferencing from home.

MUPPETS: Bye, everybody!


CHURCH: And putting a smile on your face.

Thank you so much for your company this hour. Stay home, stay safe, stay strong. I'm Rosemary Church. CNN NEWSROOM continues now with Robyn Curnow.