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Earth's New Normal; Congress Set to Vote on Coronavirus Package; Interview With Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 22, 2020 - 16:30   ET


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But, Jake, I also want to point out a few other things he says in this very lengthy statement, where he basically says that some of the drugs that they were pushing had potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality observed in some recent studies in patients who had coronavirus.


He says he was sidelined in the middle of a pandemic, and places and politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this public health crisis.

Here's what's really newsworthy. He says, at the end, he's going to ask that the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA, the agency he was leading.

And then in his attorneys' statement, they say at the end that they are going to ask the Office of the Special Counsel to look into his termination, seek a stay on it, and they are trying to get him to stay in his position as the director of this agency.

That's what his attorneys are saying here at the end. So, basically, what he is saying, he's not resigning from the administration overall, he's trying to actually keep his job as the director of this agency.

And, Jake, there are going to be a lot of questions about this, if he is saying that the administration was pushing back on what he was trying to do as far as the purchase in the production of vaccines and treatments for coronavirus, and now he says he was pushed out in this job clearly against his will, based on the statement that he just put out.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And the way he describes it in his statement, Kaitlan, it sounds as though he really was motivated, at least in his own words, by trying to protect Americans from what is an unproven drug.

He says I -- quote -- "rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public. I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed cases, while under the supervision of a physician."

This is quite believable, because we heard President Trump, who we should note, has a long record of not believing in science and official medicine when it comes to any number of issues, ranging from vaccines to other things, climate change, for example, but beyond that, President Trump has been pushing this drug.

Here is somebody saying, I don't trust this drug. We can't just say the American people should take it. And he's saying that, because he resisted that, he was pushed out basically of his job trying to protect Americans.


And just to give people insight, and because this is a really little known agency. A lot of people don't know exactly that much about it. And it doesn't generate a lot of news, typically. Of course, now that we're in the middle of a pandemic, it does.

And if you're the director of BARDA, you have a lot of power, basically, to decide what vaccines you're pursuing. You basically pay for those studies. And then that's how that moves forward. So it's a really incredibly powerful position. It's got a lot of money.

And so that's why it is so crucial to know who the director of it is at a time like this. And that's what we were so surprised yesterday when he was pushed out of this job. And it's not like they had someone else come in and replace him. It's just his deputy who is replacing him on an acting basis.

And the question was, is someone else is going to come in? So he's basically in charge of making sure that these treatments are going to be safe and viable and effective. And so he basically seems to be implying that people were trying to get him to invest in these other efforts that he did not think were worth their time.

So, of course, there are going to be a lot of questions about this. We have already reached out to HHS. They did not immediately respond with any kind of statement on his departure. But, Jake, it's also really notable that he's still working in the administration. And now he's put out this loaded statement, basically saying that he was pressured in his job to come up with things he did not think were scientifically ready.

TAPPER: The idea of politics and the president's personal ego being placed above science reminds me of President Trump with the hurricane, but you can't sharpie a drug into acceptability and scientific acceptance to the American people. It doesn't work that way.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. I know you're going to be reporting much more of this later on.

Some states around the country are now making moves now to reopen some businesses.

Let's talk about the safety for customers and for workers. We're joined now by David Michaels. He's an epidemiologist at George

Washington University. And David was also the longest serving head of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which you probably know better as OSHA. He did that under President Obama.

David, OSHA is charged with protecting worker safety. And essential workers have been showing up to work every day since the coronavirus outbreak started.

And I'm not talking just about doctors, nurses and health care workers, but also grocery store employees, food distributors. Is OSHA doing its job to make sure that they are safe.

DAVID MICHAELS, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: That's right, Jake. Thanks for asking me to be on the show.

Well, there are workers across the country, not just in hospitals, farms, meatpacking plants, grocery stores, who are terrified. And there is no federal agency telling them they must protect workers. That's OSHA's job.

But President Trump and secretary of labor, Eugene Scalia, have said, OSHA is not going to play any major role in this. And OSHA is, frankly, missing in action.


TAPPER: In Georgia, which is taking steps to reopen now, the Board of Cosmetology and Barbers issued guidance for a safe reopening of those kinds of stores. It includes temperature checks for every employee, every client, screening questions for clients, limits on the number of people that can be in the shops.

Clients are being asked to wait in their cars, instead of in the shop. Employees are suggested to shower before a shift, keep their clothes in the shop each day, not to mention, of course, masks for everyone. Salons are being asked to consider divider shields between chairs.

It sounds like a lot of steps being taken to protect people. Is it enough?

MICHAELS: Well, look, it certainly could be making things safer. But we don't know enough about this virus. And we know that, if you get within a few feet of someone who's coughing who's got the disease, you're getting exposed, and many of those exposed people get sick.

What we need are very clear requirements. And everything we have seen coming out of governors, coming out the CDC, they're recommendations. There's no enforcement behind them. The only agency that has the authority to require employers to follow the rules is OSHA.

And OSHA is not in the picture. It's been handcuffed.

TAPPER: Are all businesses going to be in a position to make their own rules, or is OSHA going to -- should OSHA be setting rules for each individual kind of business? MICHAELS: Well, each individual kind of business is going to have to

follow different rules.

But what OSHA needs to do -- and I have been advocating this for months -- if I were still running OSHA, I would have done this months ago -- is issue an emergency standard saying, every employer which has workers who work with other workers or next to the public has to follow OSHA recommendations and CDC recommendations.

Different employers are going to have to do it differently. But every one of them has to follow those rules, or be subject to a penalty. Without that, it's the Wild West.

TAPPER: Of course, the other point of view is that businesses that are allowed to open don't want to be sued for something that is going on that is an international tragedy, and not necessarily the fault of an individual business.

How do you respond to those concerns?

MICHAELS: Well, unfortunately, what -- employers cannot be sued by their employees. Workers can't sue their employer when they get sick. They have to go into the exclusive remedy of the workers compensation system, which is a terrible system.

There's been a race to the bottom, and benefits are terrible. So, because employers don't face that liability, you have employers like Smithfield Farms. Smithfield had hundreds of workers working elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder on pork processing lines. And hundreds of them have gotten sick.

If they were facing liability, they might have done a better job. But they knew they didn't face liability. And they knew that OSHA is not going to come in and do anything. And we have disaster after disaster across the country because of this.

TAPPER: David Michaels, thank you so much. We appreciate your time today.

And we should also note that CNN has invited Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to speak with us on air. He has declined every one of those offers.

Coming up: beaches in South Carolina also now back open, even as the influential model often cited by the White House warns that that state should consider its measures until June.

We're going to talk to the mayor of Charleston. That's next.



TAPPER: Some businesses in South Carolina are allowed to open their doors this week. Clothing, furniture, sporting goods stores, even flea markets have been given the green light by the governor, but under new guidelines. Businesses are only allowed to be at 20 percent capacity. Customers have to stay six feet apart, in accordance with social and physical distance and guidelines.

Charleston's Mayor John Tecklenburg joins us now to discuss.

Mr. Mayor, thanks for joining us.

Did Governor McMaster consult you before making this announcement on the partial reopening?

JOHN TECKLENBURG (D), MAYOR OF CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, Jake, I was in touch with his office last weekend before the announcement on Monday.

And it does add some formerly nonessential businesses to the list of businesses that were open before, like grocery stores, pharmacies, and essential businesses, and puts in place those protocols that you just mentioned.

And the city of Charleston, tonight, our city council will be considering even another measure, another emergency ordinance, which will further decrease the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in retail establishments.

So we're going to augment the governor's order and make it clear that safety is number one in the operation and reopening of any business here in Charleston.

TAPPER: So, as you know better than I, health officials are saying that the way out of this crisis, the way out of this pandemic requires widespread testing, so that experts and society can isolate and quarantine people who are carriers.

Now, I just checked a few minutes ago the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Web site. They say that your state has conducted 42,441 tests in your state. Your state is 5.1 million people.


So, that's less than 1 percent of the people of South Carolina who have been tested.

So, the White House guidelines say a core state responsibility for reopening is to have safe and efficient screening and testing. You're at less than 1 percent. Is your state really ready for this?

TECKLENBURG: Well, we are ramping up for more testing.

And, locally, the city has been working with another state institution. That is the Medical University of South Carolina. We're really blessed to have this teaching hospital here. They're now up to 900-tests-a-day capacity and have ordered hundreds of thousands of the antibody testing that we really need to safely reopen our economy and reopen our city.

So, we're working, in addition with DHEC, with MUSC to bring more testing on online. And, admittedly, we're ramping up, yes, sir.

TAPPER: A key tracking model from the University of Washington often cited by the White House says that South Carolina should not reopen or cannot safely reopen until at least June 5.

Does that concern you, the fact that the people who have been modeling this say that -- suggest that this is premature?

TECKLENBURG: Well, Jake, I'm concerned about the level of testing.

I'm concerned about contact tracing. We all, not just in Charleston, in South Carolina, but the whole country, need to do a better job at that.

But at the same time, when you look at South Carolina, for example, it's a measured approach. And just today, the governor announced that we would continue to have schools closed through the end of the school year, which normally would have been about that same time frame you mentioned.

So, when he orders that some retail stores are able to now do business again under certain safe conditions, it's not like Katy open the door, the barn door, and everything's fine out. It's a measured approach. And we have to use some common sense. And everybody's got to work together to make this as safe as possible.

And we have done that in Charleston. We were the first city in the state to have a stay-at-home ordinance. And our numbers reflect, that our number of cases and the percentage of increase has been quite reasonable.

TAPPER: I heard your Senator Lindsey Graham express concerns about your neighbor Georgia going too quickly.

Do you share those concerns that Governor Kemp is ordering Katy open the door, Katy bar -- whatever -- whatever colorful colloquialism you just mentioned, that the door is opening too quickly?

TECKLENBURG: Katy, don't bar the door, I think it is.

TAPPER: Right.

TECKLENBURG: Absolutely. I agree with that.

And so they're opening up even contact businesses, which Governor McMaster has not done in South Carolina, parlors and salons and barbershops and things like that, where people have personal contact with each other.

I agree with Senator Lindsey Graham that Georgia has really gone too far. And it shows that South Carolina really has a more measured, practical approach. TAPPER: All right, Mayor John Tecklenburg of Charleston, South

Carolina, thanks. And God bless, and God bless the people of your town. We appreciate your time today.

TECKLENBURG: Come visit us sometime soon.

TAPPER: All right.

Tomorrow, the House will take up the $484 billion emergency relief package passed by the U.S. Senate. The bulk of that money will go to small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. The rest will go to hospitals, health care providers, and to expand coronavirus testing.

But before this bill can get to the president's desk, there is some concern that the $484 billion is not enough.

Let's bring in CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley.

Julia, great to see you, as always. This bill has $310 billion just for small business loans. How quickly do you think this new batch of money will run out?

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: I was told it could be gone, Jake, in as little as three days. That was by the CEO of Lendio, the online lending marketplace. His view was, there's lots of pent-up demand.

It will be gone very quickly, just based on the sheer number of small businesses that didn't get access in round one. But there's a bigger issue. According to LendingTree today, just 5 percent of small businesses that did get loans have actually got their hands on the cash. That's a huge problem too.

TAPPER: Breaking news now from two Ivy League schools. Both Harvard and Princeton have announced that they will not take funds that have been allocated to them in the last stimulus bill.

This comes after President Trump seemed to accuse Harvard of applying for a loan intended for small businesses. Take a listen.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I saw Harvard, they have a -- one of the largest endowments anywhere in the country, maybe in the world, I guess. And they're going to pay back that money.


TAPPER: Harvard initially said that 100 percent of the allocated funds were going to students directly impacted by COVID-19.

But this is a major reversal after the secretary of education today urged wealthy institutions to reject these funds.

What's your take on all this?

CHATTERLEY: It's been called the Shake Shack principle. You can get your hands on the cash, but should you take the cash? And that is the big question, particularly when, like some of these names, you are the richest colleges in the world.

Harvard in the last hour just the latest to come out and say, we are not going to access this cash that was allocated to them by Congress. They didn't ask for. And this is really key. OK, they have lots of money and this is really important. But, remember, Congress perhaps could have got around this by banning these rich colleges in the first place.

They didn't, probably down to speed, quite frankly. But, Jake, in the end, they said, look, this is a problem for us. It's an existential crisis for other colleges. And that's the key.

TAPPER: All right, Julia Chatterley, thanks so much.

On this Earth Day, many are pointing to the positive impact that these lockdowns have had on the environment, even though, of course, what's going on is horrific. And we will take a look at why it's really not all that simple.

That's next.



TAPPER: In our Earth Matters series: Maybe you have noticed animals outside your window, maybe in your backyard that you have never seen before.

With much of the world at essentially something of a standstill. It's not just the wildlife or rats or raccoons roaming free. Some major U.S. cities are seeing pollutant levels down by 30 percent.

CNN's Bill Weir takes a look now at the world's new normal on this Earth Day.


BILL WEIR, CNN CLIMATE CHANGE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the golden anniversary of Earth Day, it's as if Mother Nature has sent us all to our rooms to think about what we have done and to give us a glimpse of life without us.

The penguins of Cape Town had the streets to themselves, while wild pigs used sidewalks in Corsica. Kashmiri goats are helping themselves to the shrubbery in Wales, and the sea turtle hatch in Thailand is reportedly setting modern records.

A normally shy puma ran a stoplight in Santiago. With no visitors to Kruger National Park, a pride of South African lions can snooze in the road. And with no wall of cars to navigate, Yosemite Park rangers are seeing more bears than ever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the most part, I think they're having a party.

WEIR: And while they aren't unheard of in New York City, these days, it's hard not to be shaken by vultures circling over the Navy's floating hospital, the Comfort.

(on camera): Man, it'll be a great day when the only big Naval ship docked in New York City is a museum. When the Comfort finally sets sail, surely, those vultures will fly away and we can finally come out of our homes.

Surely, all those wild critters will go back to what's left of theirs. But what about the effects that are harder to see? What is this pause in the industrial revolution doing to the chemistry of our sky?

(voice-over): Locals in Northern India say they can see the Himalayas for the first time in decades. And before-and-after satellite imagery shows how nitrogen dioxide pollution over North America's big cities is down by as much as 30 percent.

But the blanket of heat-trapping gases around our planet is still thicker than ever.

(on camera): And there seems to be this perception that maybe the virus has helped humanity buy some time when it comes to global warming. What's wrong with that assumption?

DR. JONATHAN FOLEY, PROJECT DRAWDOWN: We'd have to keep doing this even more and do it for the next 30 years to really begin to bend the curve on the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

It's kind of like having a really huge bathtub in the sky filled with pollution, and we have the faucet pouring, pouring, pouring more in, and all we have done is kind of turned down the faucet a little bit, but it's still filling up.

WEIR (voice-over): Thanks to the current oil crash, when the lockdown is lifted, we will see the lowest gas prices in generations.

And with Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency gutting dozens of regulations, experts say a spike in pollution seems inevitable. Both the EPA and Earth Day were born when the air and water got too foul for everyday Americans to ignore.

Fifty years later, science is warning that the storms, floods and fires of the climate crisis are growing too frequent and too severe to ignore. Saving what's left will take everyday folk everywhere deciding that their planet deserves more than one minor holiday, like a dead president, deciding that, to save life as we know it, every day should be Earth Day.

Bill Weir, CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And be sure to tune in to CNN this Saturday for a special report, as Bill Weir goes on the road to see how America is being transformed, "The Road to Change: America's Climate Crisis," Saturday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing starts in just minutes.