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U.S. Hits Highest Unemployment Rate Since Great Depression; Vice President Pence's Press Secretary Tests Positive For Coronavirus. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 8, 2020 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: But stay put. Jake Tapper starts now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to the lead. I'm Jake Tapper.

At this hour, 76,475 people in the United States, 76,475, have now died from coronavirus; 1.2 million in the U.S. are infected, including now two people who work closely with President Trump and Vice President Pence.

Today, in fact, we learned that Pence's press secretary, Katie Miller, has tested positive for the virus. This comes in addition to the man we learned about yesterday, the personal assistant to the president, being infected.

Those two apparently a result of the routine surveillance testing that happens at the White House. President Trump said today that -- quote -- "She," meaning Katie Miller, "tested very good for a long period of time and all of a sudden today she tested positive."

The president went on to say:"This is why the whole concept of tests aren't necessarily great. The tests are perfect. And then something can happen" -- unquote.

But that doesn't actually make any sense. The testing has meant now that the White House knows that Katie Miller has contracted coronavirus, and they are isolating her from others, so it doesn't spread at the White House.

President Trump's own health officials say the opposite of what President Trump just said, that this is why surveillance testing is needed, to prevent the spread.

Take a listen to Dr. Deborah Birx on CNN last night.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: It's important to test those with symptoms, but really to get out there and proactively monitor. I really want to emphasize over and over again that this asymptomatic spread is key. We have to be able to find it.


TAPPER: Of course, there is routine testing happening at the White House looking for exactly what Dr. Deborah Birx was just talking about, asymptomatic carriers to prevent the spread.

There is not, however, that same thing for you. There is not widespread, routine surveillance testing happening across this country, as Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci and other health officials want.

Wouldn't you feel much safer and in fact be much safer about going to work or sending your kids to school or sending your kids to camp if those places were able to make an effort to proactively test folks there to make sure there are no asymptomatic carriers, and, if there are, to isolate those with the virus from everybody else?

That's what they do at the White House. But for whatever reason, President Trump refuses to invoke the Defense Production Act to allow far more widespread testing of asymptomatic individuals.

Plus, today, more news out of the Trump administration breaking this afternoon. The investigative office reviewing the whistle-blower complaint filed by the administration's former vaccine chief, Dr. Richard Bright, determined there is reason to believe Dr. Bright was removed directly as retaliation.

The agency has also said that Dr. Bright should be reinstated, pending a full investigation. And we will have more on this breaking news in a minute.

But let's start with the White House today.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins me now.

And, Kaitlan, it's clear now this White House is not immune to exposure. This morning, President Trump revealed the valet who tested positive this week was in the office with him on Tuesday. And, of course, just minutes ago he said publicly it was Vice President Pence's press secretary, Katie Miller, who tested positive.

What more do we know about her contact with the vice president and the president?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Katie Miller is an incredibly visible presence inside the West Wing. She's obviously the vice president's press secretary.

She often accompanies him to meetings. She attends meetings herself in the West Wing and she also goes with him to those Coronavirus Task Force meetings, typically. And, of course, she is also married to the president's senior immigration adviser, Stephen Miller. So, that throws another question into this, as to raising questions as to just what the contacts and possible exposure could be inside the West Wing, which, of course, is raising questions about the president himself.

And we're sitting -- seeing this week, Jake, just how close to home this coronavirus is really hitting for the White House.


COLLINS (voice-over): There is now a second reported case of coronavirus at the White House in two days.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She's a wonderful young woman, Katie. She tested very good for a long period of time and then all of a sudden today she tested positive.

COLLINS: President Trump confirming today that Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary has tested positive, causing Air Force Two to sit on the runway for an hour this morning, as six staffers who may have been in contact with her deplaned before Pence's trip to Iowa.

Katie Miller is married to another senior staffer in the West Wing, Stephen Miller, raising questions about coronavirus protocol in the White House.


MARK MEADOWS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We have already put in a few protocols that we're looking at obviously to make sure that the president and his immediate staff stay safe.

COLLINS: A senior administration official said earlier that Miller had tested negative yesterday, then positive today, after showing no symptoms.

The press secretary wasn't scheduled to be on Pence's trip and he continued on to Iowa with multiple other staffers and lawmakers in toe.

The news comes on the heel of President Trump's personal valet also testing positive, raising concerns about his and the vice president's possible exposure.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I just can just tell you that we have taken every single precaution to protect the president.

COLLINS: Trump announced today that his valets will now wear masks, but he won't say why few other staffers do.

QUESTION: Is there a reason why people just aren't wearing masks at the White House?

TRUMP: Well, they are.


QUESTION: But they're not, sir.

TRUMP: No, people that are serving me are. The people...

QUESTION: But we have not seen anyone wear a mask around you, sir, in the last two weeks.

COLLINS: The president himself did not wear a mask as he visited the World War II Memorial today for a wreath-laying ceremony with a group of veterans in their 90s.

MCENANY: It was their choice to come here. And I can tell you that the president always puts safety of our veterans first.

COLLINS: Trump was in the middle of an interview on FOX News this morning when the nation learned that 20.5 million Americans had lost their jobs in April, sending the unemployment rate soaring to 14.7 percent, the worst level seen since the Great Depression.

TRUMP: It's fully expected. There's no surprise. Everybody knows that. Somebody said, oh, look at this. Well, even the Democrats aren't blaming me for that.

COLLINS: The numbers reveal the scope of the damage that the coronavirus pandemic has done. Analysts have warned it could take years to recover, though Trump's aides are trying to put a positive spin on it.

MCENANY: This president is the jobs president. This president got us to a place where we had the lowest unemployment rate in the history in this country.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, Rick Bright is that vaccine chief who was pushed out of his job. He filed a formal complaint this week.

And now we have a new development with that, because the investigative office that is looking into his complaint now says that, early on, they do believe that he may have been removed from his job as part of retaliation, which, of course, he alleged in that very lengthy complaint that we brought you earlier this week.

And they are requesting that the Department of Health and Human Services reinstate him in his position as this vaccine chief for the next 45 days as they continue to look into his complaint further, though we should note, so far, HHS has not commented on this, so it's not clear where this is going.

But it is notable, though, so far, for this early look, this office does believe he should be put back in his job for the time being.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

I want to bring in CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash to discuss this news of two White House staffers now testing positive for coronavirus at the White House.

And, Dana, like, first of all, obviously, on a human level, this is sad. We wish the Navy officer who serves President Trump and Katie Miller with the vice president's office, we wish them both speedy recoveries. We hope that they are healthy and remain asymptomatic, first and foremost.


TAPPER: But, beyond that, you can't ignore the symbolic concern here too.

The vice president is the man in charge of the Coronavirus Task Force. Communication is a major part of that. His press secretary now has coronavirus. She's supposed to be helping with the messaging around how to stay safe.


BASH: That's right.

And it's the message that is coming out as part of this, without having to say it, just because of this event, is that it's really hard to stay safe. And it really does crystallize the fact that, despite the fact that the vast majority of states are beginning to reopen, most of them in defiance of the administration's own guidelines, that it is very, very difficult to stay away from this virus, even when you are in what should be the safest building on the planet.

And that is the White House and the White House complex. As you said, this isn't just Katie Miller. It's the valet we heard about yesterday, and her as well. And it is because they have the luxury of having tests.

Because of the valet testing positive, there are now tests being conducted pretty much on a daily basis. And that is why Katie Miller found out that she is positive, whereas just the day before she was negative.

And it shows just how quickly things can change for any individual, no matter who you are and no matter how close you are to the levers of power, and that is the message that is being communicated here by the person who is supposed to be the messenger and in charge of messaging for the broader coronavirus strategy.

TAPPER: But, in addition to that, we're also seeing surveillance testing in action working.


BASH: That's right.

TAPPER: I mean, President Trump presumably is safe and has not contracted coronavirus because they're doing regular testing on individuals.

And when they test positive, you isolate them, and you get them away, so it doesn't spread.

Meanwhile, we have seen President Trump resist wearing a mask in public. Vice President Pence, when he visited the Mayo Clinic, also resisted wearing a mask, although, since then, he has gone on to wear a mask at a different event.

Now, look, White House officials get tested often. So I understand the risk is low. But do you think that this is going to change at all the president's reluctance to wear a mask in public?

BASH: No, I really don't. In fact, I just was making some calls to ask that very question before coming on with you, Jake, thinking the answer was probably no. And that was right.

At least the people I talked to who really know the president say that it is highly unlikely that he will change his practice, for a lot of reasons, but, first and foremost, he just doesn't want to be photographed that way. And it is an example-setting question.

He is not setting the example, again, that his administration is putting out there in their own guidelines. But it just is unlikely, according to the people I talk to. I'm guessing you're hearing the same, Jake, that he's going to change anytime soon, even with this news.

TAPPER: Look, and, again, I just want to reiterate, we wish the best to Katie Miller. We wish the best to the Navy officer.

But, once again, this idea of surveillance testing for the White House, but not for the rest of the country, seems to be problematic, testing for me, but not for thee.

And that really could be a problem for the White House going forward.

BASH: Yes, it could be.

And, look, this is why talking about testing from two months ago until today and ramping up testing is so incredibly critical. And we have had mixed messages from the president and vice president and even some of the medical professionals about how critical testing is.

And this is just proof, you're exactly right, that the reason this was caught is because of very quick, very -- very important on-site testing, that in order to have a safe society, you're going to have to have it across the board nationwide.

TAPPER: And there's still a reluctance to do it.

Dana Bash, thank you so much, as always.

BASH: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up: Who gets some of the limited supply of this promising new drug remdesivir? We're going to talk to a top doctor who's sharing her hospital supply with other hospitals.

Plus, as states scramble to secure personal protective equipment, spending hundreds of millions of dollars, some of that money and -- some of the equipment, rather, wasn't showing up -- a CNN investigation ahead.



TAPPER: Two categories of numbers today painting a picture of unimaginable pain and devastation in the United States from coronavirus.

First, 76,475 deaths and 1.2 million confirmed positive with coronavirus, an incredible amount of suffering there.

Second, 20 million. That's the number of people out of work last month with an unemployment rate nearing 15 percent.

As the U.S. continues to face this difficult balance of lives and livelihoods, at least 47 states will partially reopen by the end of the weekend, as CNN's Nick Watt reports.


ARMAN SARIAN, LOCAL BUSINESS OWNER: I have two teenagers to raise up. We have to keep up the good spirit. But we're all scared.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More than 20 million American jobs vanished in April alone, the worst jobs report in American history.

In only 15 states are new case counts consistently falling, but still, 47 states are at least now partially reopening through the weekend. Some restrictions remain, which not everyone likes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a right to buy groceries without being forced to participate in (EXPLETIVES DELETED) --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me. You need to wear a mask. Do you understand that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're violating my constitutional rights.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Well, this is private property.

WATT: But today, bars can reopen in Alaska, dentists in Iowa now are back in business. Bowling alleys in Tennessee. Tomorrow, restaurants can open in Nevada and campgrounds in North Dakota.

Montana opened some schools yesterday. Now, movie theaters will follow a week from today.

MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D), AUSTIN, TEXAS: What's concerning here is that this is an experiment. No one knows what's going to happen.

WATT: In Texas, hair salons now a go.

OMAR LONGORIA, OWNER, BONAFICE BARBER SHOP: We're about 9 1/2 feet apart, each chair. And then each chair will be disinfected after each service.

WATT: There is a potential problem with such uneven openings. A new study of cellphone data found that after Georgia started opening earlier than surrounding states, more than half a million people traveled into Georgia every day, a 13 percent spike, there's spread potential. As this Tyson meat processing plant reopens in Waterloo, Iowa, the number of confirmed cases among workers more than doubled to over a thousand.

One worker, reluctantly returning today told CNN he has no choice. I can't beat Donald Trump and Tyson. Both of them are billionaires. I'm not a billionaire, I'm broke.

Good news: The NFL just laid out a full schedule in the fall. Unclear if there will be fans in the stands.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Spectatorless sports. We can add that term to the lexicon along with flattening the term, social distancing.

WATT: Social distancing enforcement, by the way, clearly a work in progress. This arrest in New York City sparked a internal investigation.

And Brooklyn's D.A. tells CNN of the 40 people arrested for not social distancing through Monday, 35 were black, four Hispanic, just one white person.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY, NY: When we see disparity, we're going address it.

WATT: Still no vaccine, of course, and remdesivir, that drug found to shorten COVID hospital stays by about four days -- well, there are only 200,000 courses available right now.


DR. PETER CHIN-HONG, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN FRANCISCO: I think there was that excitement, and then there was sadness and disappointment. Every day you don't get a drug, it means that more patients are potentially going to do badly.


WATT: And, Jake, a massive day of re-opening here in California. The governor claims that 70 percent of the economy is now back opened, but the retail opened today, including toy stores, is just curbside pickup. So, here at the Brentwood Country Mart, they have hired an army of runners to bring merchandise to you in your car.

Another big headline from here, every registered voter in California will get a mail-in ballot this year as the secretary of the state said, this could be the most consequential election of our lifetime -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Watt, thank you so much.

We're joined now by Dr. Rochelle Walensky. She's the chief of infectious diseases at Mass General. Dr. Walensky, great to have you back. Thanks for joining us.

Doctors and pharmacies on the front lines are telling CNN that they're frustrated by the limited supply of remdesivir and the lack of transparency over who gets it, as determined by the Trump administration. Your hospital as I understand received 1,000 doses of this drug. Explain how and why you decided to share that with other Boston hospitals that were denied completely.


Yes, we were -- we logged on to the website Tuesday and learned on Tuesday that we would be receiving this drug. That evening I had some conversations with my colleagues in different hospitals around the city, and it became very clear we were the only hospital in the city, and one among -- one of four in the state of Massachusetts to receive the drug. We had high hypothesis about why we have gotten it, whether because we were involved in the clinical trial, and we might have preferential gotten it, but those hypothesis didn't bear out.

And so, it became clear that we were selected. We don't know why, but there were a lot of vulnerable patients in hospitals the around the city and around the state, and we did not feel like we alone should be the ones -- the ones alone to receive the drug.

I want to be very clear. We have about 240 patients with COVID in the hospital right now. We have courses for about 173 of them. So, we already, given what we were given, didn't have enough for the patients under our roof today.

That being said, we decided as a hospital, as an administration, I'm very proud to say, to share it among the city, to give it to the state, so they could equitably disperse it, based on patient load across the state. The three other hospitals that receive it followed suit.

TAPPER: Well, that's quite altruistic of you and Mass General. It's probably too early to determine any results, but are you seeing any results from remdesivir in the patients that you've given it to?

WALENSKY: Right, so we received it Tuesday. It's being distributed now. And it will be given probably today and tomorrow. So yes, it's too early for us to be able to say.

TAPPER: OK. The Department of Health and Human Services --

WALENSKY: I should say we received it Wednesday.


TAPPER: OK. The Department of Health and Human Services was supposed to hand it will delivery of the drug while the White House task force approved allocation plans. Just as somebody on the frontlines, how would you describe the process of acquiring the drug? WALENSKY: Well, it arrived in our pharmacy fine. How it was allocated

is still a complete mystery. We're very frustrated, actually, to try to understand this. Certainly we're -- we in Massachusetts are now allocating it. We had, you know, numerous calls over the last 24 to 48 hours to make sure we were giving it out in an equitable fashion.

I don't know that other states are going that and I don't know how it's been allocated in other states. But it's been frustrating for me and my colleagues nationwide to try to understand this.

TAPPER: "Axios" is reporting more than 230,000 doses were delivered to Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, and as we mentioned, Massachusetts. "Axios" reports that those states were picked based on outdated data about where it was needed.

What's your reaction to that report?

WALENSKY: Well, you know, my reaction is there are too many patients for the drug -- for the amount of drug that we have, so certainly you would like to have a fair allocation process, and that was what we were trying to do in Massachusetts. As I said, because the process is completely opaque, we really don't know.

It's very hard to understand how to equitably give the drug. I say that -- it's been frustrating on another level as well, and that is the indications for the drug are so wide right now.


It's almost everybody who's in the hospital. And because of that, you know, I think there's going to quickly be more patients than there is drug. So wherever it goes, there won't be enough of it.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Thank you so much. Stay in touch with us. Let us know how these patients are doing and we'll have you back soon.

WALENSKY: Great, will do. Thank you so much.

TAPPER: One expert says the FDA created a Wild West environment for testing, raising major questions about the accuracy of coronavirus test results in this nation.

Stay with us.