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NY Governor: Will "Tell The Truth" When Meeting Trump Later Today; Georgia To Reopen Some Businesses As Early As Friday; Mayor Stephen Benjamin, (D), Columbia, SC, Discusses SC Governor Reopening State Though Cases Haven't Flattened; Trump Plans To Temporarily Suspend Immigration Into U.S. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired April 21, 2020 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00]

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: But he says testing, testing, testing is the critical issue and that will be the dominant theme as he goes to Washington to sit down with the president of the United States.

Let's discuss the challenge ahead with CNN's Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash, and Dr. Leana Wen. She's an emergency room physician and a former Baltimore City health commissioner.

And, Dr. Wen, I want to start there with your Baltimore experience.

If you listen to the governor, it seems to make common sense. He says, I've got 211 labs in the state of New York. I'm welcome to be responsible for the testing but I can't get all of the supplies right now. My labs can't get supplies right now. That's where the federal government should take over the supply line chain. And that's the truth, he says, he will tell the president of the United States today.

You've had to live this experience as a city health commissioner. We're in a national challenge now. Help us understand the pieces of that when all these governors, not just Governor Cuomo, say, sure, I will do this, but we don't have the swabs, we don't have the reagents, we don't have the vials, we need help.

DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN & FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Yes. Where the rubber meets the road, John, is always what's happening on the front lines.

We can listen to President Trump or whoever nationally talks about how there's all this capacity. But at the end of the day, it's what happens on the front lines at the level that a patient is trying to get the test from a hospital, from a doctor, and that doctor is trying to order that test.

What I'm hearing and what we're hearing all over the country is that patients will have mild symptoms and still are not able to get the test themselves, much less people who have no symptoms at all.

But we need to do surveillance testing in order to find out what's the prevalence of coronavirus in their communities. As long as we don't have that local capacity, that's all that's important. And it just doesn't make sense for every state to be procuring their

own supplies, trying to get supplies, as was mentioned, from South Korea or other countries. We really need a national, coordinated effort.

What I would like to hear from President Trump going forward is a recognition that testing is important. Look, nobody is saying that this is easy. It will take a lot to ramp up testing to the millions of tests a day that we potentially need all across the country.

But we at least need to start with the recognition that we need this level of testing. And then we need the federal government to step up and help those on the front lines, on the local and state levels, to reach that.

KING: It will be interesting to see if they have progress in a face- to-face meeting. The governor says he thinks sometimes the governors in the states are talking past each other. And he's right when says, one day, the president says the states are responsible, then they have a briefing so the federal government is involved.

Dana Bash, what remarkable to me is this political moment in the middle of this pandemic where you have the governor of New York -- people aren't supposed to travel that much -- he's going to take a trip to Washington to sit across from the president.

And Governor Cuomo may not like this but they are very much alike. They are New Yorkers. They like to be in charge of their briefings. They like to bring their team. The governor likes to dominate like the president likes to dominate. He's trying to bridge this divide. Sometimes he has thumped the president. Sometimes he has hugged the president.

What struck me move today, as he goes into this meeting -- and he will be held accountable to this -- could you get the president to budge? Can you get the president to embrace you on testing here?

He says some words we don't hear that we don't hear from the president in the middle of this. Twice, the governor, at one point he said, I should be held responsible. At another point, he said, hold me responsible.

Those are words we don't hear from the president, who often says, oh, it's China's fault, it's the governor's fault, it's someone else's fault.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And at the end there, he said, if you can't take the political heat, don't be in the political kitchen. That's the theme we heard from Governor Cuomo over and over again today.

And I do think it's noteworthy that that's what he chose to communicate right before he travels here to Washington to meet with the president who, as you noted, doesn't do that at all. Doesn't take responsibility.

But the idea that the president and Andrew Cuomo are going to meet face to face could be a huge development.

And a huge development in trying to bridge that divide that you talked about, the divide that we hear over and over and over from big city mayors, from governors all across the country, and them saying, we don't know what the federal government is talking about, we don't know what the president and vice president really mean, what world they're living in when they say that we have the tests that we need, because we don't.

If there's anybody who can get through to the president, it could be Andrew Cuomo because of their similar backgrounds, but also because Andrew Cuomo has been very diplomatic and delicate in how he's treated the president. He seems to understand him at his core.

KING: They say they have an adult relationship. They tell each other when they agree and disagree. We'll see. It will be a fascinating moment today.

Dr. Wen, Dana Bash, I appreciate your insights.

Again, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, on his way to Washington. Testing, testing, testing he says. That has been the biggest issue in this pandemic and as the states grapple with dealing with it. Interesting day ahead. We'll stay on top of it.

[11:35:00]

Next up for us, Georgia becomes a case now in the reopening debate as it prepares to relax its coronavirus restrictions. But several mayors and health experts in the state worry it is just too soon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's important to note that, right now, no state currently meets the president's criteria to reopen their economies. But several are planning to reopen at least in part beginning this week.

Georgia's governor, Brian Kemp, for example, wants to move quite quickly. Effective Friday, gyms, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors and massage therapy can reopen in Georgia. Next week, movie theaters can be opened as can restaurants.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): If we have an instance where a community starts becoming a hot spot, then I will take further action. But right now, I feel like we're in a good spot to move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:40:11]

KING: It is a risky decision for the governor and it is at odds with White House guidelines. Also at odds with many of his state's mayors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA: I've searched my head and my heart on this, and I really am at a loss as to what the governor is basing this decision on, other than getting people back to work.

MAYOR BO DOROUGH (D), ALBANY: Reopening the economy should be guided by benchmarks and not dates. Reopening the economy should be a gradual and controlled process. And that's not what we're seeing here.

UNIDENTIFIED GEORGIA MAYOR: Now is not the time to come out of sheltering.

MAYOR SHIRLEY SESSIONS, (D), TYBEE ISLAND (voice-over): We're really not ready. There's just not a lot of time for planning.

HARDIE DAVIS JR, (D), AUGUSTA MAYOR: We were all caught off guard and, quite frankly, surprised that the governor moved as swiftly as he did to open the state back up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Martin Savage is in Georgia and joins us.

Martin, it is a wow. You want the government to all be speaking on the same page, from the same page, speaking on the same sheet. Not the case in Georgia. The governor there taking quite the risk.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Some people see it as not just a medical risk but a political risk as well. And a lot of people were taken off guard by this news conference, not so much that the governor said he was going to ease restrictions on business, but the breadth of it and how swiftly he's doing it. And even right down to some of the businesses for which he's allowing them to reopen again.

We talked to people just in the parking lot of those you run across in this strip shopping mall here and it's about 50-50. Half say, yes, it is about time, they've had enough of this quarantine and the small businesses are suffering, and you have to give in some way.

I asked them, well, aren't you worried this will cause a resurgence in coronavirus. They said, it's a risk, but it's also a risk for these businesses you keep shut down because they eventually possibly couldn't reopen again.

There are others who say, no, it's absolutely too soon. Georgia has made some progress and they believe all of that will be thrown away.

We should point out that the number of cases of coronavirus have actually spiked since the Sunday into Monday period, so that time frame the governor started to put out his plan, and on top of that, the death toll in the state has continued to rise as well. So there are very strong concerns.

And there's confusion. The public is saying, well, does that mean the shelter-in-place order has also been lifted. No, it hasn't. In fact, that stay-in-place until the end of this month. And the governor is saying the "medically fragile," as he calls them, they should remain in shelter and out of contact until at least the middle of next month.

So a lot so a lot of people are very confused. And, quite frankly, they say social distancing at a barber shop, at a tattoo parlor? How is that even possible -- John?

KING: That's a fascinating question. Like it or not, agree or disagree with the governor, exhibit A in the national debate.

Martin Savage, appreciate the live reporting.

South Carolina is another big example. Today, at noon, another piece its reopen plan kicks in. That's when local governments can reopen beach access, retail stores, also have a green light, but they also must follow social distancing rules and limit capacity inside.

The governor says it is time, in his words, quote, "to stomp on the gas." But there's not a downward trend in cases in South Carolina yet, which leaves businesses and mayors in a difficult spot.

Joining me now, one of those mayors, the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, Stephen Benjamin.

Mr. Mayor, thank you for your time.

Your governor says stomp on the gas, it's time to accelerate. When you look at the data, cases in your city, in the state, are you ready for this? Are you comfortable?

MAYOR STEPHEN BENJAMIN (D), COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA: John, we've been focused like a laser beam, cities like Columbia and Charleston and Myrtle Beach and others, even when the governor -- the World Health Organization declared coronavirus to be a pandemic, the governor did not want to close schools. He wanted to have large parades and events.

We've been operating on the other side in which we've been focused on the data and not arbitrary dates.

The reality is South Carolina has not peaked yet, according to our own professions. We've seen some additional data that say we may have seen some peaking, but we'll see significant numbers of cases, hundreds more in the next few weeks. And we just think it's a false twist to think you can be pro-business and not be pro-public health.

If, in fact, we're going to corral this pandemic and see a true deceleration, it's going to require us all to work together in using good, thoughtful public health practices.

Our conversation really, at a local level, is when you should go back to business is when you have some true indicators of two weeks that show a deceleration of the pandemic.

[11:44:57] And more importantly, the conversation that no one seems to be having, at least on the state level here and across the country, is more testing gives you data. Data gives you intelligence. Intelligence lets you make informed decisions.

We need more testing. We need more data. And then we can decide how we go back in the business, recognizing there will be a new normal as to how we do business here.

But the challenge is, in places like Florida and Georgia, and, yes, even here in South Carolina, is there's not that dialogue that is data focused rather than these arbitrary dates our governors keep laying out.

KING: Absent that dialogue, the governor says, starting Friday, if you're a nail salon, if you're a massage therapist, if you're a bowling alley, you can reopen.

Are you telling those businesses in Columbia, do not do that, we're not ready, or do you have to follow the governor's orders and cross your fingers and pray for testing?

BENJAMIN: It depends on what the governor does. He shared some ideas with the public at the end of last week. Our local communities across the state said, no, we're not doing it, and he changed his tune. There's a risk with not making truly informed decisions.

He has the authority to preempt local governments. If he chooses to do that, then our hands are tied. If he chooses not to, then just as we did several weeks ago when we issued our stay-at-home order, we have some tools in our toolbox we'll deploy in the interest of public health.

We work for the people of Columbia. It's our job to keep them healthy and safe and protect their families. We can do that and also be very thoughtful on what we do to help small businesses.

We rolled out a great business plan here. We put about a million dollars in small business locally. The state has done nothing. The federal government has obviously had the PPE plan. We're going to operate from the front.

Hopefully, the governor gives us good data-centric leadership not politically focused that will help us protect our economy while, at the very same time, keep our people healthy. They do not need to be mutually exclusive.

KING: So help me here. You have a divide with your governor. You're the mayor of the capital city of the great state of South Carolina. As we talked earlier in the program, the governor of New York, a Democrat, is on his way to see the Republican president today to see if they can work out their differences on a subject that's also critical to you, testing.

Has there been any effort by Governor McMaster to reach out to the mayors, or have the mayors said, Governor, we're coming to see you because we have people who are afraid, who don't know what to do? Do I listen to my mayor, do I listen to my governor? Businesspeople who deservedly want to get back into business.

My point is, how do we break the political dysfunction in the middle of this so people can get a consistent voice, or is that wishful thinking?

BENJAMIN: When it comes to constant communication, John -- and I say this not just about the mayors, but school superintendents, businesspeople -- everyone hears from the governor literally at his press conference that he has every other day or so. There's very little communication. I believe communication has to be at the center of what we do.

And I think at the rallies, you can say you're going to reopen the economy. The goal ought to be to reopen a pandemic-resistant or pandemic-free economy.

But if you reopen the economy with the people's trust and confidence that they can go out and participate in that economy is not there, then it's really not happening. We're not doing anything for our small businesses.

We endeavor to reach out to the governor every once in a while, every opportunity I have. Sometimes I get a call back, sometimes I don't. I understand that.

I've been very clear when he does something right to say it's been done right. But when he's done something wrong that's not in the interest of our citizens, I'm very openly critical and transparent as we go along in this process.

We're going to continue to lead on the local level. And hopefully, if he decides to make some moves and does not limit our ability to do what's right in the long-term interests of our citizens.

KING: Mayor Benjamin, I appreciate your time today. Keep in touch in the days ahead. It seems, on top of everything else, we have people, again, talking past each other. I hope you can sort it out there. And I certainly wish you and your city the best of luck.

Mayor, thanks again.

BENJAMIN: Thank you very much.

KING: Thank you, sir.

[11:49:21]

Up next, President Trump says suspending immigration will help the coronavirus fight. The experts wish, as the mayor just said, he would focus on testing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The president's favorite campaign themes are now finding their way into his coronavirus response. Late last night, the president tweeting, "Suspending immigration is critical to stopping the spread of the virus."

Never mind that most immigration into the United States is already on hold. And never mind that any public health experts will tell you that the biggest immediate challenge is limiting the spread from people who are already here and already infected.

But we know immigration is what the president goes to when his poll numbers are slumping.

At yesterday's coronavirus briefing, for example, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers was discussing of all the remarkable coronavirus hospitals the Corps has rushed to hot spots. And the president interjected.

[11:55:07]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We might say, while you're here, we're building -- the general is in charge of the wall on the southern border. And we want to build 450 miles of wall. And it's very much under construction.

You might give them a little bit of an update on how we're doing with the wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back with us now our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

It is striking, Dana. We see it often. The president's go to is immigration. He can't have rallies. He can't campaign. So in his tweets and interrupting the briefing there, immigration, immigration, immigration in the middle of a pandemic.

BASH: That's right. Even late at night, doing, much to the chagrin of the people who makes policy in the administration and the United States government, he tweeted out that he was going to sign an executive order stopping immigration. That was before 10:00 last night or around 10:00 last night eastern.

That sent a lot of people scrambling to figure out what he's talking about.

This morning, I'm told by an administration official, that what it really will mean it a temporary 120 days or so they will half some work visas and green cards to mitigate unemployment concerns.

Now is time for the reality check. Because of the coronavirus, most new visas and green cards, those things are not happening anyway.

So this is an attempt by the president to get political credit with his base for something that a lot of people in his base have wanted him to do for some time, which is to talk not just about illegal immigration but legal immigration. And the coronavirus is giving him the opportunity to do that. KING: If you listen here, this is the mayor of Los Angeles, one of

America's most-diverse cities, a city with a high Latino population, a lot of immigrants, documented and undocumented, making the point that, Mr. President, not now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC GARCETTI, (D), LOS ANGELES MAYOR: This isn't going to get stopped by playing politics. Some of the darkest chapters in our American history are written in times like World War II, where we scapegoat people and try to change the subject.

This is a public health emergency. This is not an immigration emergency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is a public health emergency. But we have seen this in the past. You listen to the mayor and you think, oh, is this wise for the president. He likes these fights.

BASH: He loves these fights. He can't help himself. He's looking, even amid all of responsibilities he has to govern, to try to fix this, he can't help himself in being who he is and trying to find the political fight that he can fight, even though a lot of people are say, put that aside, good politics right now is good policy and good leadership.

KING: It'll be interesting to see his reflexes. In the past, sometimes, in surprising ways, it's helped him. And amid this pandemic, I think there's a giant open question. The current trajectory of his numbers suggests otherwise. But "unpredictable" is the word we always have to keep in mind.

Dana Bash, appreciate it very much.

Up next here for us, President Trump defends the availability of federal coronavirus testing while many governors say, Mr. President, we need more help.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)