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Fauci And Top Health Officials Testify Before Senate. Aired 10- 10:30a ET
Aired May 12, 2020 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For one, this would not be 162-game season. It would be 82, which is more like a typical NBA season. There wouldn't be any fans, which should be the most stark difference you would see on T.V.
We could also also an expanded playoffs format, but there are also a lot of things to work out. So in the financial side and on the health side of things, there are players that are voicing concerns about health with at least one saying, we, as in the players, need to assess how much risk we are willing to assume to get back on the field and play during this pandemic which, of course, wouldn't happen to begin with until the players association and MLB come to an agreement.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Well, listen, if it's safe, I'd take it. I'm sure a lot of baseball fans would too. Omar Jimenez, thanks very much.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: All right, it is a big hour ahead. We're glad you're with us. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.
SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.
We want to welcome viewers in the U.S. and around the world this morning. The nation's top infectious disease doctors set to issue really a stark warning to Congress, to the American public. Any moment now, Dr. Anthony Fauci will be testifying on the coronavirus outbreak and response. His message, there will be, quote, needless suffering and death if the U.S. reopens too quickly. Here is the problem. The president pushing, frankly, in the opposite direction to get business back quickly.
HARLOW: That's right. And this time, he won't be at a podium with the president over his shoulder. He will be testifying under oath to the American people and to the Senate.
Also happening this hour, a key Supreme Court hearing, two of them, justices set to hear arguments in President Trump's efforts to keep his financial documents, his tax records all hidden.
Let's begin though with this highly anticipated testimony from Dr. Fauci. Manu Raju joins us on Capitol Hill. John Harwood is at the White House. And, Manu, let's begin with you. So we do know, we do have a preview of what Dr. Fauci will say.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's going to issue a very stark warning about moving businesses, opening them up, opening the economy too quickly. He says, according to a statement he sent to The New York Times, he says, if we kip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to open America again, then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.
Now, he's one of four witnesses who will all be testifying virtually today, three of whom are in some level of quarantine, including Fauci, Robert Redfield of the CDC, Stephen Hahn of the FDA and Admiral Brett Giroir of Health and Human Services Department. They'll all be testifying virtually. We'll see some members also participating virtually, including Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the committee who is in self-isolation for two weeks after being in contact with an aide who had been exposed to this virus. Patty Murray, the top Democrat, will be participating virtually.
And we've seen some excerpts from Patty Murray's opening statement, where she plans to go after the president's handling of this, criticizing him, in her words, of going after the truth more than going after virus.
There will be some kind of questions, sharp questions on both sides. One Republican I spoke with yesterday, Bill Cassidy, who sits on the committee, is going to question about why there is not a plan yet to reopen schools. He said that is a concern of his.
Tim Kaine, a Democrat on the committee, plans to question why the U.S., in his view, is doing much worse than other countries. So expect a lot of pointed questions, a lot of pushback against the administration claims, and we'll see what these witnesses ultimately reveal, how much some of these witnesses, including Anthony Fauci, break from the message from the White House.Guys?
HARLOW: We will watch very soon for that.
Let's get to John Harwood. He joins us at the White House. So, john, the president has chosen to focus on many other things this morning, tweeting attacks on his predecessor, on many other things, not focused on this critical testimony, it seems.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, he's quite distracted. He's under pressure from both the public health fallout as well as the economic fallout. But that public health fallout is getting right to the White House. We have heard from the White House is morning that the president is keeping his distance from Vice President Pence, or the other way around, Vice President Pence is staying away from the president because his press secretary has tested positive for the virus. The president alluded to that in his news conference yesterday, referring to during this quarantine period, he may -- he hasn't seen Vice President Pence since Katie Miller's testing. Vice President Pence was not at the news conference. That's partly because this is a White House that wants to keep up appearances. We don't see the president or vice president wearing masks, even though public health authorities recommend that when people are together.
It's also partly because they have ample testing at the White House. They test the president, the vice president every day, senior officials every day.
That is not something that is available to the average American worker or consumer in their -- as they move about the country. The president has said anybody who wants a test can get one. That is not the case. We heard from Admiral Giroir yesterday that anyone who needs a test can get one. That's a much different threshold. That's somebody who presents with symptoms.
But we've got a long way to go until the testing is ramped up, and that's one of the things that Fauci thinks is necessary for a safe reopening.
SCIUTTO: John Harwood at the White House, Manu Raju on the Hill.
Let's go now to the Hill. I believe Senator Lamar Alexander has been introducing comments before, and you see they're doing this differently, right? This is Lamar Alexander from a distance, because I believe he's been self-quarantining.
He is introducing Dr. Anthony Fauci whose testimony, we expect today, will tell a very different story from what we've been hearing from the president on the way forward. Let's have a listen.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): -- here in Tennessee where I am today.
First, anyone who is sick, first responder or healthcare worker, can get tested. Our governor, Bill Lee, is also testing every resident, every staffer in a nursing home. He's offered weekend drive-through testing. He's extended testing to low-income communities in Tennessee and can get a free test from the local health department. The governor's slogan is, if in doubt, get a test.
Governor Lee sent his testing goals in May to the federal government, as every state has done. The federal government is helping him make sure that he has enough supplies in case he has trouble getting them through the labs and the other commercial sources.
As a result, our state has tested about 4 percent of the population. The governor hopes to increase that by 7 percent in May. That's one of the best in the country. This impressive level of testing is sufficient, we believe, to begin Phase 1 of going back to work. As I said last week, it's not nearly enough to provide confidence to 31,000 students and faculty members who we hope will show up at the University of Tennessee campus in August when school starts.
Last week, I talked with U.T. Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman about that. We said, what would persuade those 31,000 students, as well as the 50 million K-12 students in the country and the other 5,000 university students? What will persuade them to go back to campus in August? That's where the new shark tank comes in, Dr. Collins at the National Institutes of Health calls it Red X.
We had a hearing about that on Thursday. It's a really remarkable scientific exercise to take a few early stage concepts that are swimming around in what we call that competitive shark tank and see if Dr. Collins and his associates can find a few new technologies to create millions of new tests that will scale up rapidly and make it more likely that students will go back to school in August.
For example, the FDA authorized last week its first diagnostic test using saliva that a person provides at home instead of a nose swab or blood. It authorized its first antigen test. We're hearing a lot about those, like the ones used for flu or strep throat, which involves the swabbing of a nose and you can get the result in just a few minutes.
Another proposal not yet approved is to put in your mouth a sort of lollypop sponge, take a photo of that with your cell phone and send that to your doctor. It lights up if you're positive. Or the university might send that saliva lollipop to a nearby laboratory which could be a gene sequencing laboratory, which can deal with thousands of those samples overnight. That same process could occur at a middle school. It could occur at a factory.
Of course, anyone testing negative one day can test positive the next. But such widespread screening of entire campuses, schools or places of work will help identify those who are sick, trace down those who are exposed. That, in turn, should help persuade the rest of us to go back to school and back to work.
In addition to more testing, I expect Dr. Fauci talked to us about additional treatments that will be available to reduce the risk of death and the administration's plan to do something that our country has never done before, which is to start manufacturing a vaccine before it actually has been proven to work in order to speed up the result in case it does work.
Those vaccines, those treatments, are the ultimate solution. But until we have them, all roads back to work and school go through testing. The more tests we conduct, the better we can identify those who are sick and exposed, and we can quarantine the sick and exposed instead of trying to quarantine the whole country.
Now, in my opinion, this requires millions of new tests, many from new technologies. Some of these will fail but we only need a few successes to get where we want to go. That's why I said on Thursday that what our country had done so far in testing is impressive but not nearly enough. First, squeeze all the tests we can out of current technologies. Next, try to find new technologies to help us contain the disease and persuade us to go back to work.
Now, one other thing, this is a bipartisan hearing to examine how well we're preparing to go safely back to work and to school, and to determine what else we need to do in the United States Senate. Such an exercise sometimes encourages finger-pointing.
Before we spend too much time finger-pointing, I'd like to suggest that almost all of us, the United States and almost every country, so far as I can tell, underestimated this virus, underestimated how contagious it would be, underestimated how it can travel silently in people without symptoms to infect other people, how it can be especially deadly for certain segments of our population, the elderly, those with preexisting conditions, minority population.
Let me go back to the March 3rd hearing that we had in our community on coronavirus. Six weeks after the first case was discovered in the United States, a day when only two deaths were reported in this country, I read at that hearing this paragraph from The New York Times two days earlier on March the 1st.
They reported this. Much about the coronavirus remains unclear, The Times reported, and it's far from certain, this is March 1, that the outbreak will reach severe proportions in the United States or affect many regions at once. With its top-notch scientists, modern hospitals and sprawling public health infrastructure, most experts agree United States is among the country's best prepared to prevent or manage such an epidemic. That was The New York Times on March 1.
A lot of effort has gone into trying to make our country well prepared. Over the last 20 years, four presidents, several Congresses in response to 9/11, bird flu, Katrina, Ebola, H1N1, MERS passed nine major laws to try to help get this country ready for what we're going through today.
These laws stood up to strategic national stockpile, created an assistant secretary for preparedness, it created incentives for the developments of vaccines and medicines that we're using today, strengthened the Centers for Disease Control, created BARDA. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Blunt and Senator Murray, for five straight years, we significantly increased funding to the National Institutes of Health.
All of this was part of a shared goal. Democrats, Republicans, four presidents, several Congresses, to try to get ready to go through what we're going through today, whether it was known, like anthrax, or unknown, like COVID-19. But despite all that effort, even the experts underestimated COVID-19. This hearing is about how we improve our response to this virus as well as the next one.
During the oversight hearing, I also intend to focus on, as I just said, the next pandemic, which we know is coming. What can we learn from this one to be ready for the next one? Can we learn from the fast-tracking of vaccines and treatments that we're about to hear about that will make it even faster the next time? How can we keep hospitals in states from selling off protective equipment when their budget gets tight? How can we make sure Congress does our share of the funding responsibility? How do we provide enough extra hospital beds without canceling elective surgery, hurting other patients and bankrupting hospitals? Whose job should it be to coordinate supply lines so that protective equipment and supplies get where they're supposed to go when they're supposed to go? What's the best way to manage the stockpile?
A preacher said, I'm not worried what you do on Sunday, it's the rest of the week that concerns me. I'm afraid that during the rest of the week between pandemics, we relax our focus on preparedness. We become preoccupied with other important things. Our collective memory is short. Just three months ago, this country was preoccupied with impeaching a president.
Now, that seems like ancient Roman history.
Now, while this crisis has our full attention, I believe we should put into law this year whatever improvements need to be made and be well prepared for the next pandemic. If there is to be finger-pointing, I hope they're pointed in that direction.
We're fortunate today to have four distinguished witnesses with the heart of the response, the coronavirus. We're grateful for their service to our country. I've asked them each to summarize their remarks in five minutes, then we'll have five-minute round of questions from each senator. I've agreed we'll end our hearing about 12:30 after we have a full round of questions. Every senator will have a chance to have his or her five minutes. Senator Murray will then have an opportunity to ask the last question or close the hearing and I will then close the hearing.
There will be other hearings to follow this hearing, like last Thursday's hearing, and senators may submit their questions in writing within the next ten days.
Staying at home indefinitely is not the solution to this pandemic. There is not enough money available to help all those hurt by a closed economy. All roads back to work and back to school lead through testing, tracking, isolation, treatment and vaccines. This requires widespread testing. Millions more tests created mostly by new technologies to identify those who are sick and who have been exposed so they can be quarantined, and by containing the disease in this way, we'll give the rest of America enough confidence to go back to work and school.
For the near term, help make sure those 31,000 U.T. students and faculty members show up in August, we need widespread testing. Millions more tests created by mostly new technologies who identify those who are sick, who have been exposed so they can be quarantined by containing the disease in this way, it gives the rest of America enough confidence to go back to work and back to school.
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. My thoughts are with you and your team right now as you try to navigate the same challenge so many in our country are worried about. We all wish your staff member a speedy recovery.
And as everyone works to take appropriate safety precautions today, I'd like to thank not only our witnesses for joining us today, but also our committee staff for working to set up a safe format for members and witnesses and the public to participate in this hearing remotely.
Families across the country are counting on us for the truth about the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since it is clear they will not get it from President Trump. Truth is essential so people have the facts, so they can make decisions for themselves and their families and their communities. Lives are at stake. If the president isn't telling the truth, we must, and our witnesses must, and we're counting on you today.
And families need us to take this opportunity to dig into the facts about where things did go wrong so we can finally get them on track, because the Trump administration's response to this public health emergency so far has been a disaster on its own.
Delays, missteps have put us way behind where we need to be on diagnostic tests and allowed inaccurate antibody tests to flood the market. Corruption and political interference have impeded efforts to secure desperately needed personal protective equipment and promoted dangerous, unproven treatments.
And we recently learned that after experts from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention spent weeks developing a detailed guide to help our communities understand how to safely reopen when the time comes, the Trump administration tossed it in the trash bin for being too prescriptive.
But this is far from the first time this administration has silenced experts who are doing their job and putting public health first. The fact of the matter is President Trump has been more focused on fighting against the truth than fighting this virus. And Americans have sadly paid the price.
Since this committee last heard from these witnesses on March 3rd, we have seen over 900 deaths in my home State of Washington, over 80,000 deaths nationally and the numbers continue to climb. Still, President Trump is trying to ignore the facts and ignore the experts who have been very clear we are nowhere close to where we need to be to reopen safely.
My hope today is that we can cut through this and have a serious discussion about what is needed to safely open, how close we are as a country to meeting those needs and how we actually get there.
One thing that's abundantly clear, we need dramatically more testing. It is unacceptable we still don't have a national strategic plan to make sure testing is free, fast and everywhere. That is why I fought to make sure our last COVID-19 package included an initial $25 billion testing fund and a requirement that the administration submit a plan by May 24th.
And when I say a plan, I don't mean a P.R. plan. I mean a plan with specific timelines and numeric goals for supply and funding needs, one that actually addresses the issues we're seeing on testing capacity and distribution and disparities and building out our public health system. And makes clear to states and tribes and employers and the American people what they can expect and what the administration will do to keep Americans safe.
But testing alone won't be enough to reopen our country. We still need far more personal protective equipment that has been available to our healthcare workers on the frontlines. And we will need more and more for other workers as we reopen.
So we desperately need this administration to step up and get that equipment to states who are doing everything in their power to purchase supplies but simply cannot get nearly enough. Because the reality is, unlike states, the federal government has the tools to actually fix the problem if only the administration would use them.
And we also need that equipment to actually work, and for the FDA to act promptly if it does not, not weeks later when people may have already been exposed. And just as importantly, we can't expect people to go back to work or to restaurants confidently send their kids to school if there isn't clear, detailed guidance about how to do that safely.
Schools from early childhood to college need to know how to keep their students, their staff and their educators safe. When should they wear a mask? How do you run a school cafeteria or a school bus? And if they can't reopen classrooms, schools and families need to know we are working to ensure every student gets an education.
Tools like online learning can only get us so far if we don't address the digital divide so that every student can access them. And even then, there will learning lost that could deepen existing educational disparities among low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners and other vulnerable populations if we don't make sure they get equal access to resources and support.
And, of course, schools aren't the only workplaces we've got to be thinking about. We need to make sure that industries across the country know how to safely reopen and that people know their workplace is safe. Secretary Scalia needs to stop dragging his feet and do his job and have the Department of Labor set forward a rule that makes clear worker safety is not optional. Mr. Chairman, I hope this committee can hear about those critical issues from Secretary Scalia and Secretary DeVos, as well as other experts in the space in the days ahead.
And this is especially important to protect workers and residents at our nursing and other congregate care facilities, where we've seen some of the most deadly outbreaks. And as rash of outbreaks at meat packing plant shows, this isn't just an issue for the healthcare industry, it is an issue for everyone.
And just as we need a plan before we can start to reopen, we also need to plan well before we have a safe and effective vaccine to guarantee that we can quickly produce and distribute it on a global scale and make it free and available for everyone. So I'll be asking about our progress on those issues today.
Today, safely reopening our country may be ways off, and the administration's planning may be away behind. But there is still a lot that Congress needs to do. There isn't time to spare. Some including the White House say we've already provided enough economic relief. Well, my question to them is what good is a bridge if it only gets you to the middle of the river? We don't need to wait around to see if people need more help. We know they do.
We need to work quickly on another aggressive relief package and we need to make sure our priorities in that bill are protecting our workers, our students and our families and addressing this public health crisis, not bailing corporations or protecting big businesses from accountability.
People across this country are doing their part. They are washing their hands and wearing masks and social distancing and staying home. They need their government to do its part too. They need leadership, they need a plan, they need honesty and they need it now before we reopen so they can rest assured that we are doing things safely and competently with their health and well-being as a top priority.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
ALEXANDER: It's an important hearing and I know lots of people may be watching it for the first time. If they are, I hope they notice that we have 23 members of this committee, I believe, one more Republican than Democrat. We have some very strong views, but we're able to work together and to express those views and respect each other and our witnesses, and a big part of that goes to Senator Murray and her staff, so thank you for that.
Each witness will have up to five minutes to give his testimony. Thank you for making an exception and agreeing to testify by video because of these unusual circumstances, and thank you for what you're doing for our country.
Our first witness is Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's Director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. He's held that position since 1984, which meant he's advised six presidents and worked on HIV/AIDS, influenza, malaria, Ebola and other infectious diseases. He was involved in treating Ebola patients at NIH and also worked on vaccine trials for Ebola.
Next, we'll hear from Dr. Robert Redfield. He's Director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which has its headquarters in Atlanta. More than 30 years, he's been involved with clinical research related to chronic human viral infections and infectious diseases, especially HIV. He was the founding director of the Department of Retroviral Research from the U.S. military's HIV research program. He spent 22 years with the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
Third, admiral Brett Giroir. Admiral Giroir is Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That puts him in charge of development of public health policy recommendations. He's taken on the responsibility for coordinating testing and focused on the increasing number of tests that we can do with existing technology. His federal service includes a variety of activities with our Defense Department in advanced research, threat reduction, he was part of the blue ribbon panel to reform the U.S. Veterans health system.
And, finally we'll hear from Dr. Stephen Hahn. He's Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Before joining FDA, he was the Chief Medical Executive at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He was chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health, was commander of U.S. Public Health Service Commission Corps 2025.
Now, we'll ask each of our witnesses to summarize their remarks for five minutes. Following that, each senator will have five minutes for questions and answers in order of seniority.
Dr. Fauci, let's begin with you. Welcome.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Murray and members of the committee. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss with you today the role the National Institutes of Health and Research addressing COVID-19.
The strategic plan that we have is fourfold. One, to improve our fundamental knowledge of the virus and the disease it causes. Next, to develop new point of care diagnostics. Next, to characterize and test therapeutics, and finally, to develop safe and effective vaccines.
First with regard to diagnostics. As you probably heard from Dr. Francis Collins last Thursday, the NIH has developed their rapid acceleration of diagnostics program called Red X with an award to that specific program of up to half a billion dollars to support the development of COVID-19 diagnostics. It is a national call of innovative technologies that will be evaluated in a shark tank-like selection process to get to either success or failure rapidly.
Moving on to therapeutics.
I'll talk a bit about the remdesivir success antiviral in a moment.
But let me emphasize that there are a number of broad spectrum antivirals that are in various.