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Trump Now "Strongly" Disagrees With GA Gov. Kemp's Move To Reopen; Tyson Closes Its Largest Port Plant After Workers Contract Virus; Veepstakes 2020 Moving Full Steam Ahead Amid Pandemic. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 23, 2020 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: -- restrictions this week, the beginning of a 50 state experiment that will play out for several months.

The new unemployment numbers from Washington will only add steam to those saying the sooner, the better. Look at these depressing numbers, 4.4 million first time jobless claims filed last week. The five week total now just shy of 26.5 million Americans tossed out of work.

And take a look here at the states beginning to open for business, some more aggressively than others. We know the President is beyond eager to get the economy going. Yet, he made clear yesterday he thinks the Georgia plan is going too fast.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I told the Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities which are in violation of the Phase 1 guidelines for the incredible people of Georgia. But at the same time, he must do what he thinks is right. I want him to do what he thinks is right. But I disagree with him on what he doing.


CNN's Victor Blackwell joins us now from Atlanta. Victor, your state is ground zero. What is the Governor saying about the President saying not so fast?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The governor says, John, that he is moving forward after the President disavowed the plan for thousands of business across Georgia to be reopened.

The governor tweeted out a statement saying that this plan will protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians. But below the governor, there's a lot of division from his Coronavirus Task Force advising him on how to move forward to the millions of Georgians will have to decide if they will patronize these businesses starting in the morning. There really is no one answer we're hearing from everyone. So the question is, what now? Well, this morning, the Governor tweeted out a list of guidelines, mitigation measures that must be, shall be followed for by businesses that will open, including creating physical distance between customers and workers.

Well, there's no guidance yet on how a nail tech or a barber or a hair salon employee or a massage therapist can create any more distance from the customer than he or she would have before the start of the pandemic. But when you ask these business owners, are they going to reopen? Is this the right time? No consensus.


KEIRA JOHNSON, OWNER, STEEL MAGNOLIAS: Now I have a 19-month-old son, one of my managers has three little girls. Most of my chefs have children and we all have to know what we're going home to at the end of the night is safe.

CHRIS LONG, SPA OWNER: I'm excited. I'm ready to go. Yes. I've got a mortgage to pay. I haven't gotten any help from the government. No PPP plan.


BLACKWELL: You know, John, we focus a lot on the barbershops and the bowling alleys and massage therapies that are opening on Friday, the movie theaters on Monday and restaurants with dine-in services as well.

But let's talk about what happens on Sunday. The governor is relaxing the guidance for religious services, in-person services in the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, an organization of 3,600 churches across this state say that --

KING: We lost Victor's signal there at the end. Victor Blackwell, thank you very much. Georgia, agree or disagree with the governor, governors around the country watching the state. We will learn more in the days ahead. Victor, really appreciate that.

Tyson Foods is closing its largest pork plant now as more and more of its workers test positive for coronavirus. Nearly half of all cases around Waterloo, Iowa, are from this plant. Waterloo's mayor says, Tyson may have acted too late.


MAYOR QUENTIN HART, WATERLOO, IOWA: Implementing safety precautions at this particular point. We believe that it was too late. We went from 21 cases of COVID on April 9th to about 380 yesterday.


KING: That's a big jump. And many of Tyson's employees agree with the mayor and they have taken issue with Tyson's defense. The company's defense reads in part, quote, despite our continued efforts to keep our people safe while fulfilling our critical role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases, and community concerns has resulted in our decision to stop production.

One worker who did not want to be named told CNN this, quote, I want my job, but I want a safe job. I got family and grandkids that I love, and I'm not going to risk their lives to cut some damn hogs up. Tyson says it will continue to pay its workers while this plant is closed. It's also invited workers to take tests later this week.

Let's discuss this now with Pastor Belinda Creighton-Smith. She has counseled some of the employees at this Tyson plant who were scared to work and are now scared because they are out of work. And so help me with those competing tensions, Pastor. You had people who were frightened. They see their friends, their colleagues, some of them getting COVID because they're packed into these close quarters at the plant.

And now, of course, they're worried about their families getting sick. But they're also worried because they have to feed their families and now they're out of work getting paid at the moment, but uncertain.


PASTOR BELINDA CREIGHTON-SMITH, FAITH TEMPLE BAPTIST CHURCH: Yes, I am -- Hi, I'm Belinda Creighton-Smith as you mentioned, John.

Yes, I am concerned that they're out of work and that they may or may not get paid for their time. But I'm also concerned about the number of people who have died as a result of working in the Tyson plant here in Waterloo. So when we weigh those, when we weigh those concerns, you know, being safe is more important. And we'll lobby, we'll advocate for their pay.

KING: And when they come to you for help and for guidance and just for friendship and somebody to talk to and get some counseling from. I just want to read you this. This is from the out -- this is your sheriff out there in Black Hawk County.

I don't think Tyson gives two, insert word there not family friendly, about their employees. I really don't. All they talked about was production, production, production. That's all they talked about. When you talk to these employees, is that their view that their employer only cared about the bottom line making money or is it more complicated?

CREIGHTON-SMITH: Yes. No, they were -- they shared with me for those who talk with me, shared that the company was more concerned about the hogs than they were concerned about them. It's had not been for the pressure of elected officials, you know, and the Black Hawk County Health Department and OSHA, they would not be close.

The strong statement of the health department, the work of state representatives like Timi Brown-Powers and RasTafari Smith, if they had not been for us pushing, they would still be open and we would still have beautiful people like the wonderful Haitian woman who died working in this plant. You know, as a result of getting COVID and not being treated adequately, dying, you know, in this plant, no. They would still be open and the hogs would still be on the line being slaughtered.

KING: So help us understand, America's having a conversation about when should the other people go back to work, people who are not viewed as essential. What needs to be done? Should the temperatures be taken? How far should they be spread out?

You are dealing with some of the workers who are essential, who didn't have that choice, who had to go to work through this. What from their experience as they share with you, do you take as a cautionary note, as more and more people who get told by their governors, it's OK, leave your home. Go back to work.

CREIGHTON-SMITH: My niece does not work at Tyson's, and yet she was infected because they were folks who were infected that work at Tyson's that was in the same space that she did not know.

So this is bigger than just Tyson's. It's the entire community, it's the City of Waterloo, it's the Cedar Valley, it's the State of Iowa, and even beyond the State of Iowa. So we have to be very careful about re-opening a state where we're traveling from state to state and have family members traveling from state to state who could be infected and potentially infect others. This is this is serious.

KING: This is serious. Pastor Belinda Creighton-Smith, thank you so much for your insights. Keep in touch as people go through this and hopefully the community starts to heal and hopefully they figure things out about testing and safety at that plant. Please keep in touch as we go through this, please.

CREIGHTON-SMITH: I will. Thank you, John.


KING: Thank you so much for your time and your insights there. Still ahead for us, education now dependent on the internet, electronic devices, parents filling in as teachers. How schools are now addressing the digital divide.


KING: Home is not only the office for many of us these days, it is also the classroom. School is not in session. Take a look here. In total now, 33 states and the District of Columbia say schools must remain closed through the academic year.

Six other states have recommended that, but not mandated it. Distance learning, online classrooms now the new normal for children. Experts predict the educational damage could be massive and that students will retain perhaps only 70 percent of what they normally do in an ordinary school year.

For the 22 million children who rely on free or reduced price lunches, there's a much more immediate problem. No school can equal new hunger and a new struggle for families.

Here with me now to discuss their expertise and their insights on what's happening, the superintendent of Camden Schools, Katrina McCombs, in California, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond. Thank you both for being here.

You're the heroes and the people you work with are the other heroes. We talk about the health care workers in the frontline. What you're trying to pull off in this environment is a heroic venture. Katrina, let me start with you in the sense that what do we know about even if you're doing the best job you can, what can't you do in the sense of what if, let's hope you get your kids back in the classroom in September. How much will they have lost?

KATRINA MCCOMBS, SUPERINTENDENT, CAMDEN CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT: That's a great question, John. We know that as educators during the summer months, there's always summer regression or what we call summer slide that we have to consider and contemplate and plan for.

And so, in a district that is already facing closing an achievement gap, that's due to many factors. We've already begun thinking about what that transition plan will look like if we are to return in September while awaiting our governor's orders. But we know we will have to have a robust transition plan, a robust summer program if we are able to have one.


But we know that we will have to definitely ramp up to close the gaps that have been put in place, that layer on top of existing achievement gaps within our community.

KING: And Tony, come in on that point in the sense that, you know, everybody in America has to re-imagine the workplace. And so we also have to re-imagine the classroom. And if you're in an inner city area where you have kids, crowded in a classroom, crowded in a cafeteria, maybe only one teacher for, what, 20, maybe even more students sometimes. How do you re-imagine that both from a space perspective and a resource perspective?

TONY THURMOND, CALIFORNIA STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION: Thanks John. I would just say now what we are experiencing now are 6 million students in our state who are in distance learning. And that means that we are providing the meals that you reference in 5,000 different locations across the state.

I want to commend our teachers, educators, and our students, and their families for their resiliency. As you said, this is tough. And this is unchartered territory that no one would have imagined that we would be in. Our educators are doing everything to support our students.

Our biggest challenge right now are the lack of computers for our students at home and the lack of internet connectivity. And I've created a new task force that's focused on how we will expand internet connectivity for our students. We need internet connectivity to flow like electricity. There's no way that we can make this work successfully without the internet service providers stepping up and providing more connectivity for our students in low income areas and rural areas.

As we look ahead to when school reopens, we are going to have to continue to use the safety precautions. Imagine students wearing masks trying to find ways to do social distancing in school. We're working with some of the top educational leaders in the state and in the country to think through what that might look like as we move forward in this pandemic.

KING: Yes. It's a fascinating question. I want you to listen here, Katrina to you first. This is the U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, saying Washington is on your side.


BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: To our students, your educations can and should continue. Learning can happen anywhere. And we will help make sure it does. We believe in you. To our teachers, we will support you and help you.


KING: We see this playing out in other spheres here economically. For example, one governor wants to reopen, the mayors are fighting, people are fighting the White House. Are you getting help, guidance from the Federal Government or do you feel like if you're in Camden there, that you're on your own?

MCCOMBS: That's a very good question, John. We have had lots of guidance from our New Jersey State Department of Education, from our commissioner of education, Dr. Lamont Repollet and our Governor Phil Murphy.

Additionally, we've had lots of collaboration among superintendents in Camden County and guidance from our county superintendent, Dr. Lovell Pugh-Bassett. However, I have not seen specific guidance that's come from the Federal Government directly. And so any additional guidance from the Federal Government would be great.

Any additional support right now that will help us to continue to close those gaps that are exacerbated based on equity in this COVID-19 pandemic would be helpful. Specifically to Tony's point around closing the digital divide, especially in communities of color, we know that in Camden City, prior to going into the pandemic, we already knew that less than 30 percent of our families had access to the internet or a device.

And so we quickly began to galvanize philanthropic efforts and as well as state collaboration in order to repurpose our funding, in order to provide laptops for all of our students grades K through 12. And so anything that could help in that effort, anything that could help replenish the budgets that have been depleted as a result of having to purchase hotspots and Chromebook devices for students would be definitely helpful. And I would say to the Federal Government, we need those things. KING: Well, one of the things that you should keep pressure on our business too, to keep raising the issues. Those are the preexisting conditions, if you will, of coronavirus, the digital divide, the lack of resources, especially in inner city communities. And we should keep focusing on them as we get through this.

Tony Thurmond and Katrina McCombs I want to thank you again. I have a third grader at home going through this and the teachers and administrators and everybody trying to help our heroes as part of this, best of luck in the challenging weeks and months ahead to both of you and to everybody trying to do what you're doing.

THURMOND: Thank you, John.

MCCOMBS: Thank you, John.

THURMOND: We take your effort to keep getting the word out that we have to have connectivity, so thank you.

KING: Please do keep the pressure on us to raise the issue.


Up next for us here amid this pandemic, yes, some politics, Joe Biden preparing to whittle down his list of contenders for the number two spot on the Democratic ticket.


KING: Some sad news to report those numbers you see on your screen, they're not just statistics, Senator Elizabeth Warren's oldest brother now among those who have died from coronavirus. The Massachusetts senator says her brother, Donald Reed Herring, died Tuesday night. She posted these photos on Instagram. In a series of tweets, she describes her brother as funny, charming, and a natural leader. He spent his career in the military after joining the Air Force at the age of 19. Donald Reed Herring was 86 years old.

Moving on to a big political search now, he knows more about -- more than most about what the job entails. And let's just say many of the prospects not exactly being shy about their interest. Joe Biden says he will roll out details of his vice presidential search process in a week or so.


CNN's MJ Lee now with more.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): He knows what it takes to be a good vice president.

ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): That is a decision that will be up to the vice president.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): I am honored to be included in a bigger conversation.

STACEY ABRAMS (D): All I can say is that if asked to serve, I'd be honored.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): Obviously, I would be honored if I were being considered.

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's full steam ahead for the 2020 veepstakes, Joe Biden searching for his future running mate in the middle of a global pandemic.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Only thing I know a little bit about is the vice presidency.

(voice over): Traditional in-person campaigning and retail politics all but coming to a halt and the former vice president fighting for the presidency from his home in Delaware.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're in your basement. I'm in my garage. This was just never the -- this was never the circumstances with which I thought we'd ever meet.

BIDEN: No, mine either.

(voice over): He's already made one significant promise about his upcoming decision.

BIDEN: I commit that I will, in fact, appoint a -- I pick a woman to be vice president. There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow.

(voice over): But Biden, unable to campaign alongside the women on his short list as presumptive presidential candidates typically would during their selection process. Instead, auditions to be Biden's right-hand woman, largely unfolding across cable T.V. live streams and podcasts.

California Senator Kamala Harris co-hosting a virtual fund raiser for Biden, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar appearing as guests on Biden's new podcast.

WHITMER: No one anticipated that we would confront a crisis like this.

KLOBUCHAR: Empathy is something that we are missing right now in the White House.

(voice over): Both women sidestepping the V.P. speculation.

WHITMER: I'll be very frank with you. The job that I want is the one that I have.

KLOBUCHAR: Right now I am focused on my state. I'm just not going to engage in hypotheticals.

(voice over): Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams taking a notably different tack. ABRAMS: I believe I have the capacity, the competence, the skills, and the willingness to serve. I try to be straightforward because while we hope the work speaks for itself, sometimes the work needs a hype man.

(voice over): And Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren offering a simple one word answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he asks you to be his running mate, would you say yes?


(voice over): Biden says he is heating this piece of advice from his former boss, Barack Obama.

BIDEN: Pick someone who has some background or some confidence. That may not be your strong point to make sure that you're able to make up for each other's weaknesses.


LEE: Now, what is the timeline that Joe Biden has in mind? He shared this week that by the beginning of May, which is just a week away now, he hopes to have a vetting committee fully setup and that by sometime in July, he hopes to have narrowed his shortlist down to just a few people.

And you, of course, know, John, that the Democratic National Convention now has been pushed back from July to August, though at this point, we have no real sense of what that convention is going to look like. John?

KING: No, no, no real sense, MJ. But the vetting is about to begin on process. MJ Lee, thanks so much.

LEE: That's right.

KING: I want to thank you all for watching today. Anderson Cooper picks up our coverage after a very quick break. Have a good afternoon. Stay safe.