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Trump Pushes to Disband Coronavirus Task Force as New Cases Rise; Texas, Other States Begin Reopening Despite Rise in Cases; Genetic Analysis: Coronavirus Spread Quickly Late Last Year; Ousted Vaccine Director Files Whistleblower Complaint; W.H. Advisor: April Jobs Report Could Show 20% Unemployment Rate. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 6, 2020 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as the task force, we're now looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety in opening.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a bad idea. It sends the message this is over. We've gotten through this.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The faster we reopen, the lower the economic cost, but the higher the human cost.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all want to be safe, but we want to be able to support the economy.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In a new whistle- blower complaint filed today, Dr. Rick Bright alleges his early warnings about the outbreak were ignored, and it led to his removal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He pushed back on this idea that we should flood the streets with this drug, because he knew it wasn't safe.


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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers around the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, May 6, 6 a.m. now in New York. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me again this morning.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to be back with you.

BERMAN: So 71,000 deaths from coronavirus as of this morning. New data shows that, while the New York area has seen a drop in new cases, the numbers in the rest of the United States have steadily increased.

Now, those 71,000 deaths, as many have noted, is more than the U.S. death toll in the Vietnam War. But there might be another Vietnam comparison this morning.

When the direction of that conflict was apparent to many, Senator George Aiken from Vermont famously stated that the U.S. should just declare victory and get out. Is that what the administration has decided to do with coronavirus this morning? Declare victory and get out?

The White House is moving to wind down the coronavirus task force by Memorial Day. Why? Now, they specifically say this is not a declaration of victory, but what message does it send? We will explore.

Also this morning, the ousted director of the office in charge of developing a vaccine is filing an extensive whistleblower complaint. It alleges his early warnings about the coronavirus were ignored and that his questioning of a treatment being touted by President Trump led to his removal.

HILL: Now, despite the grim numbers, a growing number of governors are moving to reopen their states, and that's even as the number of new infections is rising across the U.S., as well.

New polling shows most Americans oppose easing stay-at-home restrictions.

There's also a new genetic analysis to tell you about this morning, which reveals the coronavirus has been circulating since late last year and appears to have spread rapidly after the first infection. Why is that so important? We'll explain that one just ahead.

We begin our coverage with CNN's Joe Johns, who is live this morning at the White House.

Joe, good morning.


The urgent question this morning is whether they're actually going to go through with this, because the evidence is overwhelming that the pandemic is still raging. Also, crystal-clear the administration wants to move on now. They're talking about getting rid of the task force with Dr. Birx and Dr. Faust [SIC] -- Fauci.

This, of course, a huge issue, simply because Americans get their information from this task force. But the administration, frankly, wants to focus on restarting the economy.


JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump seemingly confirming reports that the White House coronavirus task force could be winding down as soon as Memorial Day.

TRUMP: Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job. But we're now looking at a little bit of a different form. And that form is safety and opening. And we'll -- we'll have a different group, probably, set up for that.

JOHNS: A senior White House official tells CNN the pandemic experts will still continue to advise the Trump administration. This coming on the heels of two models projecting the relaxing of social distancing orders in most of the country will bring a spike in coronavirus cases and deaths.

DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: Do you believe that's the reality we're facing, that -- that lives will be lost to reopen the country?

TRUMP: It's possible there will be some, because you won't be locked into an apartment or a House or whatever it is. But at the same time, we're going to practice social distancing, and we have to get our country back.

JOHNS: But some state leaders were still resisting, saying it's still too early to start reopening.

CUOMO: This entire situation has been an inconvenience and a disruption. They want it over. But the virus doesn't care. The virus doesn't listen. This is not a marketing situation. You can't talk your way around this.

JOHNS: Trump sending this message to the families of more than 70,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus.

TRUMP: We love you. We're with you. We're working with you. We're supplying vast amounts of money like never before. We want that money to get to the people, and we want them to get better.

JOHNS: Meantime, one of the nation's top vaccine experts says he was fired for prioritizing science and safety over politics.

Dr. Rick Bright led the biomedical research subdivision of the Department of Health and Human Services until he was suddenly removed last month and reassigned to a lower-level position.

And in a new whistle-blower complaint filed with the Office of the Special Counsel, Bright alleges he flagged the emerging threat of COVID-19 by early January 2020 and, in result, encountered indifference, which then developed into hostility from HHS leadership.

Dr. Bright also writing in the complaint that from 2017 until he was removed, HHS leadership pressured Dr. Bright and BARDA to ignore expert recommendations and, instead, to award lucrative contracts based on political connections and cronyism.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It's very damaging. But you know, the thing is, is that this points to the larger issue. Where are the ethics in all of this?

JOHNS: The Department of Health and Human Services responding to Bright's allegations, writing, "Dr. Bright was transferred to NIH to work on diagnostics testing critical to combatting COVID-19. We are deeply disappointed that he has not shown up to work."


JOHNS: Bright's complaint also claims his resistance to the wide use of the drug hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug, contributed to his removal. The president had pushed hard for the drug as a treatment.


We expect to hear more about this complaint from Dr. Bright himself when he testifies up on Capitol Hill before a House subcommittee next week.

Erica, back to you.

HILL: We'll be looking for that. Joe, appreciate it.

The majority of states, meantime, in the U.S., as you know, have started to reopen. That, of course, is despite a rise in new infections across the country.

Barber shops and hair salons set to open today in Tennessee and Arkansas as the governor of Texas unveils his plan for reopening the state.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live this morning in Dallas for us with details.

Ed, good morning.


Well, this debate on how to reopen, when to reopen, is raging all across the country. An interesting graphic here to take a look at. When you compare in the states where the reopening has begun, and you compare that to New York, where the restrictions are much -- much more in place, look at the trend lines there of the new cases.

Now, many critics of this will say that there's more to containing this virus than just monitoring the new cases. But nonetheless, dozens of states across the country are continuing with reopening, as you mentioned. Texas -- Tennessee and Arkansas, hair salons can reopen today.

In the city of Denver and the state of Massachusetts, face mask orders are going into place. And here in Texas, nail salons, hair salons, barber shops can reopen on Friday.

Now, the governor of Texas had originally said that those types of businesses would reopen until mid-May. But just after five days of the first -- of the -- the reopening of the economy here, the governor has sped up the opening of those types of businesses. He says he has a great plan in place that has been signed off by Dr. Birx of the White House coronavirus task force.

But if you look at the CDC guidelines, it suggests that one of the benchmarks that states should follow is a prolonged decrease in the number of new cases. If you look at the graphics here in Texas, in particular, over the

course of the last seven days, you can see that new coronaviruses across -- new coronavirus cases across this state are hovering either near 1,000 or well over 1,000 new cases per day.

The governor here says he is looking at other data to guide his reopening of the economy here, like the infection rate and whether or not there are teams in place to go out and combat the flare-ups wherever they might occur here in this state.

But as you might imagine, John, there is a great deal of skepticism and concern about whether or not this is the best approach.

BERMAN: All right. Ed Lavandera there for us in Dallas. Ed, please stay safe.

Joining us now, CNN political commentator Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. He's an epidemiologist and public health expert. And CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. She's a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.

The death toll continues to add up. The new cases continue to rise. And some signals from the White House and the administration that they're beginning to wind down at least some of the apparatus that they had in place to monitor coronavirus: the White House task force. This is the thing chaired by Mike Pence. Dr. Birx is part of it, Dr. Fauci. They say that they're going to go into a new phase by Memorial Day, they think, Juliette. What does that tell you?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. That Trump has the theory that, if there's no task force, then there's no pandemic. I mean, it's clear that he wants this to end.

I don't know what world he's living in. We're going to continue to have dead and sick and have states grappling with outbreaks, not just in the next month or two but continuing into the fall if there's a second wave.

So this is, I think, a political strategy, that if we're not paying attention, if he's not paying attention, then we will ignore the numbers. The challenge that the White House has is that there's too many independent counters at this stage, whether it's reporters or the Johns Hopkins numbers. So we're going to know when it hits 100,000, 150,000, 200,000, the kinds of numbers that we're now looking at.

So this is, I think, just a pivot, a sort of either a surrender or a victory march, depending on how you look at it. But this is purely optics. The -- you know, the virus will still be here for a very long time.

HILL: Dr. El-Sayed, if this is -- if this is purely optics, because as we know, these numbers, potentially 100,000 deaths by Memorial Day. I know you're also concerned about how people are looking at this virus. Looking on a national level not perhaps on a more local level. As we just saw from Ed Lavandera, that can really change the perspective in terms of numbers and reality. DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED: That's right. We've got a really concerning

situation here.

First, to Juliette's point, yes, the president has dealt with this crisis as if it was just a P.R. crisis this entire time. To him, the task force is simply a P.R. exercise to be able to address his P.R. crisis.

But the whole point here was an operational focus. And if we were looking at this with any degree of nuance, we'd realize that the national numbers just aren't nuanced enough. We have to be looking at local spread.

And we have these intersecting trends. We are dismantling the institutional capacity to deal with this through that task force at the same time that we're seeing an increase in some of the more rural areas that are opening up the fastest. And this is a recipe for disaster.

BERMAN: Dr. Sayed, can I ask you about a bit of medical information we got overnight? These -- this genetic tracing, which indicates that the virus was spreading around the world before Christmas, at the end of last year. Fairly widespread, very quickly. What does that tell you?

EL-SAYED: Yes. Well, that tells us that the tip of the iceberg is the cases that we see that are symptomatic and, ultimately, often end up in death. And don't get me wrong; that's a very big tip of the iceberg, as 71,000 deaths will tell you. But that it's underneath -- underneath it is a gigantic level of asymptomatic spread. And that asymptomatic spread happens both a lot faster and a far higher volume than we had -- we had understood at the very beginning.

And so, yes. This has been spreading and taking hold and then creating that tip of the iceberg that floats to the top in the form of disease and death. And so it's far more widespread than we thought. That also has implications for the way that we tackle it now.

Pulling out of social distancing when we know how widespread it is, until we can bring down that spread and make sure that we are able to mount up the contact tracing, the testing capacity to be able to contain this is just -- is just not the right policy move. And unfortunately, we're going to start seeing more and more transmission because of it.

HILL: As we look at that, right, and we talk about this spread, Juliette, it -- it bears repeating that this is a perfect example, perhaps, of why you may need a task force and why you may need people in charge of the response, because it's not going away. And the response, as we know, was late out of the gate.

KAYYEM: That's exactly right. I mean, almost every piece of how we look at the last four or five months of the White House has been -- has sort of failed its duty. Whether it was recognizing that the virus is coming, whether it's supporting the states and -- and getting a testing system in place, and now in terms of what the count is and social distancing. So across the board, we're looking at failures.

But Erin, you raised a good point, which is task forces aren't just P.R. They are, obviously, to help the agencies figure out what they're supposed to do. I often say a crisis has brains and muscles. The brains reside generally in the task forces. Think of the Ebola task force, the B.P. oil spill task force. That's where they're making the tough policy decisions.

And we have a lot of tough policy decisions to come, including if we get a vaccine, how are we going to distribute it? But that work has to be done by the agencies -- FEMA, DHS, HHS, even the military. So there's no -- going to be no guidance.

The good news is, is that maybe this will reside, then, in the experts at the agencies. But my fear is that, without a task force, there's going to be no focus to operationalize a lot of the stuff that still needs to get done.

I mean, we -- this idea that we're done here is just so mind-boggling when you look at the numbers. But when you -- when you see other countries, we are -- we haven't even sort of -- we're not in the middle yet in terms of the numbers nationally.

BERMAN: Juliette, quickly, because we have to go. There's this whistle-blower complaint and testimony that will happen next week from Dr. Rick Bright. He makes a number of charges. We're going to speak to his lawyer later on.

But one of them that is new is cronyism, suggesting that there was somehow favoritism maybe back years, not just specific to coronavirus, necessarily, to people who may have had relationships with people inside the administration.

This comes as there's all this reporting that Jared Kushner was running this operation --

KAYYEM: Right.

BERMAN: -- for the last two months with young consultants who may have been giving preference or priority to VIP lists. What does this tell you?

KAYYEM: It tells me that, what we've seen in this administration for years applies to death. I mean, it applies to a crisis where people are dying.

In other words, this administration steers these contracts, whether they are having to do with vaccines or treatments or, as we see in the Jared Kushner story with "The New York Times," supplies. Literally supplies that are going to the front lines that they bring in their VIP list.

So what we've seen in this administration for years continues in crisis management. And it is so -- I mean, having been in this world, it's so disruptive to have groups like Jared Kushner sort of say, I have a friend of a friend of a friend who has masks. Write them a check. It actually happened, as we know from the reporting. And that has impacted the ability for us to execute on -- on state and local planning.

BERMAN: Juliette Kayyem, Dr. El-Sayed, thank you for being with us this morning. Appreciate your time.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

EL-SAYED: Thanks for having us.

BERMAN: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hospitalized overnight. What we know about her condition, coming up.



MUIR: Do you believe that's the reality we're facing, that -- that lives will be lost to reopen the country?

TRUMP: It's possible there will be some, because you won't be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is. But at the same time, we're going to practice social distancing.


HILL: President Trump acknowledging reopening parts of the economy will coast [SIC] -- cost, quote, "some" Americans their lives. He insists, though, it is worth it.

This comes as a senior White House official tells CNN the White House coronavirus task force will start to wind down later this month, even as experts warn that the worst is still to come.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman, White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

So Maggie, in some ways, I guess it's not surprising. The president is setting forth the narrative that he would like to see. And it is that we move forward with the economy. It's going to be a little rough, but we're good. We're moving on.

That's not the case, of course, despite the fact that he's winding down the task force.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's right. Look, it's very clear that the White House wants to put the economy front and center. That's what they want to move toward and they want the emphasis to be on that, as well as a vaccine and therapeutic drugs to treat COVID-19.


As you point out, that's not the reality of where this virus is right now. The task force has been problem-plagued from the very beginning. There were issues about people left off of it. Under its first iteration, it was taken over by Mike Pence. There's been a shadow group led by Jared Kushner working.

But this task force is where the medical professionals have been involved. And the White House insists they will still be involved. This doesn't mean they're going anywhere.

But what it also means, candidly, is there's not going to be this opportunity for, A, the president to hold briefings surrounded by this task force, which has been problematic for him. But it also means less of a chance, potentially, for reporters to be able to ask questions of the medical professionals as the country battles this virus for the foreseeable future.

BERMAN: Less transparency. Is that one way of putting it?

HABERMAN: We don't know yet, John. I don't know want to say less transparency yet. We don't know.

But I certainly do know that Dr. Fauci's interviews have bothered a lot of people in the White House, one of whom is the president. But not only the president.

Dr. Deborah Birx has gotten along much better with the president and with some of his staff. I could see a scenario where Dr. Fauci spends less time at the White House, Dr. Birx sticks around.

What will matter is, you know, the proof is in the pudding. And it's going to matter whether these doctors still remain accessible, even if Dr. Fauci is back at NIH. Whether they remain accessible for questions, and we just don't know yet.

HILL: There's still so many questions out there. There's also the fact that Jared Kushner, as we're learning from some reporting in "The New York Times," about how he was handling what was going on in terms of procuring masks and taking bids and working with this group of volunteers, essentially. That Jared Kushner could continue to play a large role moving forward in terms of the response and coordinating, especially with a therapeutic czar?

HABERMAN: Yes. Some therapeutics or vaccinations, or some combination therein.

But look, you're right. I think that, as we see the oversight on Capitol Hill start to crank up in the coming weeks, there's going to be a lot of focus on what Jared Kushner's group was doing. And I think that's going to raise questions about what Jared Kushner is continuing to do.

His allies argue that he has been instrumental in moving things forward in terms of testing. Others in the White House suggest that he's taking credit for things that were moving ahead regardless.

But certainly, the way that Jared Kushner has gone about this has been to have inputs from a variety of people, getting tips from various places. And the problem with that is it's certainly a crisis, and I understand that part of the argument for that is, well, you're breaking down process barriers.

The problem is, then you're not properly vetting people, and you have no idea who is offering what and whether it is actually substantive and whether they have relationships that they're playing on.

Jared Kushner was pretty candid that this is how they're doing things in his one briefing room appearance, where he stood at the microphone and said, I got a call from my father-in-law, who said he got a call from someone he knows in New York City looking for supplies of some kind, and now we're dealing with that.

From the outset, it was clear that this was going to be a group that was responding to requests from someone who knew someone.

BERMAN: Maggie, very quickly, Rick Bright, the president knows TV events. He's going to be testifying on Capitol Hill next week. He was the doctor who was moved out of his position.

What's the level of concern inside the White House about this testimony?

HABERMAN: It's moderate. I mean, look, the White House is concerned in general about this testimony, about this type of testimony. You've seen the White House try to block a number of witnesses. They obviously could not block Dr. Bright.

But there is concern that he is going to raise questions about what exactly the White House was doing, particularly in terms of chloroquine, but also about contracts that have gone back for a couple of years. He in his -- his whistle-blower complaint invoked Jared Kushner's name. He talked a lot about Alex Azar, the embattled health and human services secretary. I think that officials in the White House are less concerned about what it means for Azar. They're more concerned about how deep inside the White House this could go.

HILL: Maggie Haberman, appreciate it, as always. Good to see you.

Justice Ginsburg, meantime, waking up in the hospital this morning after suffering another health setback. Details on how she's doing, next.



BERMAN: Developing this morning, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is hospitalized at this hour. She underwent non-surgical treatment for a gallstone-related infection. Justice Ginsburg expects to remain at Johns Hopkins Hospital for a day or two.

And despite this, the 87-year-old will participate in the Supreme Court's oral arguments today by phone. All the arguments right now are by phone.

Justice Ginsburg has been through four bouts with cancer over more than 20 years. HILL: The White House is bracing for a bruising April jobs report this

week. A White House economic adviser telling CNN it could show a historic unemployment rate, as high as 20 percent.

CNN's Christine Romans joins us now with more. The entire country, I think, bracing for those numbers, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. You know, we've shut down huge parts of the American economy on purpose. And this is what it looks like for the jobs market.


KEVIN HASSETT, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISOR: My guess right now is it is going to be north of 16 percent --


HASSETT: -- maybe as high as 19 or 20 percent. And so we are looking at probably the worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression.


HASSETT: It's a tremendous negative shock. A very, very terrible shock.


ROMANS: You know, those numbers are hard to hear. But do the math, and it's not hard to get to 20 percent unemployment.

Thirty million people have been laid off or furloughed in just the last six weeks. That's almost one in five workers.

Now, some perspective. It took months during the Great Recession to reach a peak of 10 percent unemployment. During the awful recession in the Reagan years, the jobless rate reached 10.8 percent for two months back in 1982.

But this, what we're seeing right now today, this would be the worst.