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President Trump Faces Scrutiny Over West Point Address Plans; Wisconsin's Unemployed And Small Business Owners Speak Out; Houston Restaurant Reopens Despite Stay-At-Home Order. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 27, 2020 - 07:30   ET




I think you know, part of the frustration here is that we'll hear a lot of things on Chinese social media, we'll read it in Chinese state media, but unless you're on the ground and you're actually able to see and to speak with the folks directly or you're able to actually verify what we're reading and seeing. And so that's our reasoning for going.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And, of course, the Chinese officials don't make it easy to verify, David. So why do you think they make the bar so high?

CULVER: I think it's two parts.

The reason, for one, is that they have now -- going across state media -- the concern for foreigners. They believe imported cases to be the real threat right now as they put out each daily reporting of numbers which, of course, we question often and there's a lot of skepticism behind them. But that's certainly the narrative that the people are receiving is that it's the foreigners who may be bringing the virus now back in.

And the other part of just this general distrust of the media in general and the foreign media, in particular -- those of us from the West. They have a lot of questions as to whether or not we're there with authentic and genuine intentions.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: David, obviously, it is risky for you to go back. I understand why people would ask about you going. But we could never get a window into Wuhan like you have given us --


CAMEROTA: -- if you weren't there on the ground. It has been so fascinating to watch what happened there and to just see it with our own eyes -- you know, the wet markets, et cetera.

And so, in terms of what it can teach us back here in the U.S., Wuhan reopening now, was it a staggered reopening like some of our states are trying or what it sort of just all one fell swoop and it came back to life?

CULVER: It's a good question Alisyn because I think about that April eighth date and we were hearing -- even hearing state media that it's back open as of April eighth, but the reality is it's still not back open. I mean, many of the businesses -- more than half are still closed.

There is still a struggle for a lot of the folks to accept that they can comfortably walk out of their homes. There's a lot of hesitation and you feel it and you sense it amongst the people there that they are not fully willing to accept that things are in the past.

There's a lot of fear of a second wave even though health officials that we talked to there say they're pretty much comfortable, assuming that this is under control now and that they have a good grip on things. It's not necessarily what the people are feeling there.

CAMEROTA: That's really interesting. I mean, human nature might end up making some of these decisions --


CAMEROTA: -- for us -- and just comfort level.

David Culver, thank you, as always, for the great reporting --

CULVER: Thanks, guys.

CAMEROTA: -- from Wuhan and beyond.

OK, back here, West Point Military Academy is ordering 1,000 military cadets to return to West Point to hear President Trump's commencement speech. Is a gathering like that safe? We get reaction from a West Point graduate and parent, next.



BERMAN: New this morning, President Trump is defending his decision to attend West Point's commencement ceremonies next month. The decision to speak, despite the pandemic, caught organizers at West Point off guard, scrambling to bring 1,000 cadets back to the campus north of New York City.

Joining us is CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. And, CNN military analyst and retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, a West Point grad and the parent of a West Point grad.

Barbara, I want to start with you. How did this come to pass and how is it going to work?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via Cisco Webex): Well, I think that Vice President Mike Pence probably set the precedence several days ago. He went out to the Air Force Academy graduation. West Point, however, is a little bit different. The cadets are at

home. They have left the -- they have left West Point many days ago because of the pandemic. So now, to make this all happen, they will have to return.

The likelihood is they will be in some days of isolation and testing before the ceremony. There is every reason to believe there will be social distancing at the ceremony. We saw that out at the Air Force Academy. Not clear about family attendance at this point.

It's an interesting case because the cadets were already going to have to return to West Point at some point this summer to collect their belongings and to check out of their rooms as the new class already is getting ready to come in.

BERMAN: All right, Gen. Hertling. As someone who has graduated and been part of that magnificent ceremony once yourself, and then as a parent, how do you feel about this?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER ARMY COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY, WEST POINT GRADUATE (via Cisco Webex): Well, John, it's interesting to me because whenever you conduct a military operation you always sort of evaluate the rewards versus the risks. And in this case, I think the risks are still pretty high to get those 1,000 cadets back.

They won't be coming with family, for the most part. They are going to be going through the airports in New York and New Jersey, which is ground zero right now for the pandemic. They will be coming in several weeks before the announced 13 June ceremony. So there's a lot of risks associated with bringing these cadets back.

At the same time, what I'd say is graduation at West Point is much more than the speech and the giving of the diplomas and the throwing the hats in the air. That's what everybody knows it as.

But if you're associated with the Academy, you know that that entire graduation week is still with awards convocations, farewells to the kinds of people that you've been with over the last four years under some very difficult training and academic circumstances. It's the commissioning ceremony, which is post-graduation. It's all shared by parents.

Now, there are graduates all over the country who are experiencing the same thing with graduations, but West Point or the military academy -- all of the military academies graduations are very different.

The other thing that I'd point out is both the Naval Academy and the Coast Guard Academy has already -- have already conducted virtual ceremonies. They have already graduated their cadets -- or they will soon at the Coast Guard Academy.


West Point taking this kind of risk -- I'm sure they've done extensive analysis and they've weighed the rewards of the president giving a speech but to me, as both a graduate and the parent of a graduate, I wouldn't want my son or daughter going back there right now.

BERMAN: And as you said, by definition, you're getting people from all 50 states who will be coming back through the New York area airports. That is a bit of a logistical challenge, to say the least.

Gen. Hertling, you talked about it as a parent and as a graduate. I'm wondering if you can put yourself in the 21-year-old body of then- cadet, soon-to-be Second Lt. Mark Hertling. Would you have wanted to be part of this ceremony then?

HERTLING: I would not have, John. And I'll be honest with you, too. You know, it's hard for me to put myself back in the 21-year-old body -- that was 45 years ago -- but what I would tell you is I would not want to do it.

And the reason why is because you're already excited about going to your first unit of assignment. As Barbara said, you do have to go back to the academy eventually to get your goods and get it out of the barracks because the new class is coming in soon. But truthfully, right now, I would not.

They've been on leave since March. They have done their virtual education through distance-learning classes. And there's really no reason to go back for that one-hour ceremony unless the Academy shoves a whole lot more into that week that they're back there, and they will. They'll make it worth their while.

But, right now, it would seem to me the risk far outweighs the rewards of a one-hour political speech by the president.

BERMAN: So, Barbara, we want an update on exactly what is happening with Capt. Crozier, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt -- the aircraft carrier -- who was pushed off the carrier after he wrote that letter concerned about the coronavirus outbreak on his vessel. There are now, what, more than 800 sailors who have tested positive for it.

What's going to happen to him because the Navy -- there was a recommendation on Friday that he be reinstated but we're waiting on the Defense Secretary to make a decision?

STARR: Exactly right, John. So, the Navy has been conducting this investigation since all of this happened, trying to figure out exactly what did transpire and whether Capt. Crozier's dismissal from his command was justified. So they conduct the investigation.

On Friday, they briefed Defense Sec. Mark Esper and it becomes widely- known that the recommendation is that Capt. Crozier be reinstated to his command. Every expectation was that Defense Sec. Esper would approve it. In fact, there were public signals from the Pentagon on Friday morning -- a statement that they were going to be likely briefing on the conclusions of the investigation. But then, silence -- all-day silence.

And what we learned late Friday is Sec. Esper says that he wants to first receive the written report -- besides, he's already been briefed on the recommendation -- and read the report and then make a decision on whether he agrees with it or not. This seems to be just extending an already difficult situation.

BERMAN: All right, Barbara Starr. Thank you for being with us.

Gen. Hertling, as always, our thanks to you -- Alisyn.

HERTLING: Thank you, John.

CAMEROTA: OK, John. We want to take a moment to remember some of the nearly 55,000 Americans lost to coronavirus.

Wogene Debele never got to meet her baby. The pregnant Maryland woman went to the hospital coughing. She was weak.

She delivered her newborn the next day, one month premature. He was whisked into intensive care so he would not be exposed to the virus. And then on Tuesday, nearly a month afterwards, she died.

An immigrant from Ethiopia, she leaves behind a husband and three other children.

Friends say 74-year-old Tessie (sic) Thompson had a life force that was phenomenal. They're full of stories about her. They say in her long career as a concierge and importer she traveled the world. And they say when Thompson died last week in Rhode Island, she left nothing undone.

Ivelisse Goveo and her husband Ruben Merced had a love story that lasted 46 years. They met in Puerto Rico. They married, they raised a family. And about five years ago they moved to Central Florida.

They also fell ill together and died one week apart earlier this month. On Tuesday, Ivelisse and Ruben were buried side-by-side.

We'll be right back.



BERMAN: More than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last five weeks; nearly 400,000 of them from the state of Wisconsin. Workers and the small businesses that hired them there are struggling.

CNN's Miguel Marquez live in Milwaukee with the very latest. Miguel, what are you seeing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, fear. I mean, people are very, very concerned about what the future brings and there is very high anxiety about how deeply this economic downturn will bite. One thing is very clear. No matter what industry you work in, it is going to -- they're all going to take a very deep hit.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): In cities across the Badger State, many businesses shuttered, manufacturing in free fall, farming plowed under. Wisconsin's economy in a state of near-suspension with no end in sight.

SUSAN BERNA, UNEMPLOYED: I have to turn off the news at a certain point. I have to go out for a walk. And I have to do other things so I don't get overwhelmed.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Susan Berna worked in promotions and sales. She had just started two part-time gigs, now both gone. She has some money saved and can survive for a while, but --

BERNA: I have crummy health insurance.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): For Berna, it's the uncertainty of what getting the coronavirus could bring.

BERNA: I pay almost $300 a month and it only covers me for $15,000 in a year.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Total?

BERNA: Total.

MARQUEZ (on camera): So if you get coronavirus --

BERNA: I'll either be in huge debt or I won't be treated. I don't think they can turn people away but I don't see any relief for someone like me who does have insurance. The governor has said he will cover people who don't have insurance, but I do.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Since mid-March, more than 300,000 Wisconsinites have filed for unemployment, and economists say it is going to get worse.

MARQUEZ (on camera): How big a hit is the Wisconsin economy going to take?

NOAH WILLIAMS, ECONOMICS PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: It's quite substantial. Our overall numbers are declining in economic activity on the order of about 50 percent.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Fifty -- 5-0?

WILLIAMS: Fifty percent year-over-year.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Williams and his center for research on the Wisconsin economy, tracks anonymous cell phone data at 50,000 establishments statewide, from mom and pop retail shops to malls, movie theaters, and manufacturing plants big and small. His latest data indicates a 60 percent reduction in manufacturing activity.

WILLIAMS: It's crushing, to be honest. It's -- manufacturing the is the backbone of the state. MARQUEZ (voice-over): Last October, CNN profiled Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry in Manitowoc. Then, it was struggling with the effects of the trade war with China. Today, it's keeping all its employees paid but new orders are down 90 percent.

In agriculture, a similar story. The price of milk in a tailspin. Milk's so cheap farmers cannot give it away.

RYAN ELBE, FAMILY FARMER, GOLDEN E. DAIRY: This would have been on a store shelf 24 hours from now, but it's not. We're just dumping it down the drain.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The restaurants and hospitality industries nearly at a dead stop. Coming back online won't be easy or quick.

BRANDON WRIGHT, OWNER, HAMBURGER MARY'S: Our sales are down about 90 percent. We'd be good to survive through the current -- what they're saying -- like, by the end of May. If it goes any further than that then we're going to have to do a lot of adjustments.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Those adjustments will be made across the economy, leaving millions vulnerable.

RON TORRISI, UNEMPLOYED DISABLED VETERAN: I've got $983 in the bank right now.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Ron Torrisi, a Navy veteran now on disability, was homeless for two years. His job as a cook ended seven weeks ago when Buckingham's Bar & Grill in Madison closed. His monthly income cut in half.

MARQUEZ (on camera): What's your level of anxiety and stress about the future right now?

TORRISI: It's pretty high right now, I'd have to say.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): An avid fisherman, he spends hours every day hooking largemouth bass and forgetting about how he'll survive the months ahead.

In this political battleground state, the battle for many has become surviving from one day to the next.


MARQUEZ: Now, the other thing that economists are tracking is that cessation of economic activity -- when did it happen? And what they're seeing is that even before those safer-at-home orders went into effect, most people started staying away from restaurants, movie theaters, shopping -- all those sort of things that drive the economy here.

So the thought is that v-shaped economy -- a recovery that people are hoping for, it probably won't happen because until there's a cure, until there's a vaccine, no one's going to want to go out to dinner, shop, and engage in the overall economy until they know they're not going to pay with their health by doing it.

Back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: Well, we shall see, Miguel. We'll see this week what people's comfort level is with re-engaging in the economy. Thank you very much for that report.

So, one restaurant owner in Houston, Texas reopened his dining room for customers this weekend despite the state's stay-at-home orders, and he joins us now. He is Matt Brice, owner and operator of Federal American Grill in Houston. Matt, great to see you this morning.


CAMEROTA: So let's just start by telling us what it was like this weekend. What happened when you reopened? What was your capacity like? How'd it go?

BRICE: Well, I've got to say, a lot of people are grateful. They're just so happy to be out of their homes, as you can imagine, so the vibe was just amazing. Everybody was just glad to be social again and that's what we've all come to see -- that we're actually very social human beings and it's time to get back out.

CAMEROTA: You defied, I guess, for lack of a better word, a judge's order and you reopened sooner than your county -- that the judge in your county wants you to. And I think you risked a jail sentence -- a six-month jail sentence -- by reopening early.

So, what's your -- what are your thoughts? Why did you want to take that risk?

BRICE: Well, I didn't put that much thought into that side of things. This is not to defy. You know, everybody's using this word defy. It's not in my nature to do that with whoever. I'm not trying to break any laws.

I am a businessperson and I have a lot of employees that are hurting at the moment -- a lot. You can see the economy just absolutely crashed. The first two weeks when we were going through -- you know, basically hunker down as we say here -- everybody did, and we have all the way through the (audio gap).


You know, we wanted to make sure that the medical employees weren't inundated with hospital beds and whatnot, so we were doing our part there to make sure that they were all safe until we felt that it was safe to open.

And I've got to tell you that when I say that our employees are in bad shape (audio gap) it was my duty to get us open.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I hear you. I mean, I know you don't like the word defy and you're not trying to be defiant, you say, but, I mean, you could be arrested. The judge didn't want you to open until at least April 30th. And so, have you thought about what happens if somebody shows up with an arrest warrant at your restaurant?

BRICE: Yes, of course. But at the same time, I'm not going to harp on that. What I'm going to do is move forward and try to get the economy back (audio gap).

And listen, I'm just one restaurant trying to get people back to work. And I think there are a lot of people that are grateful for what I've done. And, you know, again, it wasn't to be rebellious or anything. It was really because people don't have an out. These guys have to get a paycheck. Paychecks stopped.

You know, there's a lot of nice programs out there with a stimulus check. That helped but for how long? And then, unemployment. How long is that going to go for? I know they're doing (audio gap) $600 and that's going to stop. What happens then that all stops?

So at some point, we have to get back to work. And being -- I can't emphasize enough the program that I've put together that I presented to the local mayor and I have the backing from the local mayor of our village, which (audio gap).


BRICE: And he wrote a declaration supporting us to open --


BRICE: -- so that was helpful then. So I felt a little bit more secure there when it comes to (audio gap).

CAMEROTA: Understood.

And so, let's talk about what it looked like and how it worked this weekend because you are Guinea pig. I mean, let's be honest, this is what lots of restaurant owners --


CAMEROTA: -- are considering.

So, were customers met with waiters and hosts wearing masks and gloves? Did you hand out disposable menus? How did you do it?

BRICE: Yes, exactly. So a lot of these protocols are brought to the local mayors and I showed them what my plan was -- the Texas Restaurant Association, who sent me all of their precautionary measures that they were recommending.

So I kind of put this together as a pilot program in hopes that everybody else would give some feedback on it and get it going so when the economy gets back open here in Houston and everywhere else, I hope that this can be a guide. And I believe that it's a great system.

So, disposable menus, masks, gloves. I have a bathroom attendant at this point where he or she stands outside the restrooms and only one person goes in at a time.

We have different colored linens on our tables. So if it has a black linen on it right now, that we're not seating it, and then if it has a white linen on it, we're seating it. So it kind of denotes that you can't make the mistakes of seating somebody in the wrong seat -- and it's well over six feet. So we've done that.

We've done social distancing at the bar. I took away bar stools. I put tape down so it shows in between six feet -- no more than four chairs, then a six-foot gap; four chairs, six-foot gap. So we've done all that.

The big thing is the hands-free payment option is great. So right now, you can still do an option of pay by credit card but also, if somebody has a PayPal or Venmo they don't even have to touch the check. So they have that option. They can leave the tip there and they can walk out and go.

On top of that --

CAMEROTA: So you don't have to touch it. You just tell the waiter that -- what your Venmo -- or you just, I guess, pay with your -- on your phone. You just pay with Venmo.

BRICE: That's correct. So, we ask that you download the app before you come in. That way you don't have to touch anything. We were doing that before because we had that option for our curbside pick-up and delivery. And we said if you don't want to come in -- I mean, for us to walk out and grab your card and have to go inside and run your card and bring it back out --


BRICE: -- and sanitize it.

What we're doing is the hands-free option and that's been wonderful.


Well, Matt, we appreciate you explaining to us how it's working and obviously, we'll be watching. So, thanks so much and best of luck.

BRICE: It really means a lot to me. You know, I'm praying for everybody out there that's going through this tough time.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

OK. NEW DAY continues right now.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, RESPONSE COORDINATION, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: Social distancing will be with us through the summer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Only a handful of states are really approaching the legitimate thresholds to consider opening up and Georgia is not one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're probably going to see our cases continue to go up. I believe we'll be able to stay on top of it.

STACEY ABRAMS, (D) FORMER GEORGIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: We are not ready to open. The people who power that economy are at risk.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: As we begin to reopen the economy in May and June you are going to see the economy really bounce back in July, August, September.

KEVIN HASSETT, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: This is the biggest negative shock that our economy has ever seen. We're going to be looking at an unemployment rate that approaches the Great Depression.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

And this morning we really are at an inflection point.