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U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Topped 90,000 As 49 States Moves To Reopen; Moderna's Early Vaccine Results Promising; President Trump Taking Hydroxychloroquine; Automakers Resume U.S. Production; Trump: Secretary Pompeo Asked For Firing Of Inspector General; CNN: Fired I.G. Was Investigating Pompeo's Role In Saudi Arms Sale. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage on CNN continues now, right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room." We're following breaking news.

Just a little while ago the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surpassed 90,000 people here in the United States, and 1.5 million confirmed cases. Worldwide there are more than 4.7 million cases and 317,000 confirmed deaths.

But tonight, 49 states are moving forward with reopening including California where the governor has just announced new guidelines that will allow about 53 of the state's 58 counties to move into the next phase of reopening.

And the Texas governor just announced that gyms, offices, and childcare centers can now reopen, and professional sports can resume at the end of the month.

Also tonight, a promising sign in the frantic effort to develop a vaccine. The biotech company Moderna says eight participants in its initial trial developed neutralizing antibodies to the coronavirus and that its vaccine could be available as soon as January.

That news helped send the Dow up more than 900 points today. There is also breaking news from the White House where President Trump just revealed he's now taking the drug hydroxychloroquine to prevent being infected by the coronavirus.

Let's go to our White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, just last week a study showed hydroxychloroquine is not effective in preventing COVID-19 and could actually cause some serious heart problems. Tell us what the president just said.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, he seemed to catch the reporters in the room off guard, announcing that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine, this drug that he has pushed for some time now. He says he's now been taking it for a week and a half and he takes it in a pill form on a daily basis.

He said the White House physician is aware though, Wolf, it's still unclear what Dr. Sean Conley's advice on the president wanting to take hydroxychloroquine is.

He says he's taking it as a preventive measure that he does not have symptoms of coronavirus and he has continued to test negative, but he says he wants to take it just in case. Listen to just a little bit more of his reasoning in this surprise announcement.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The frontline workers, many, many are taking it. I happen to be taking it. I happen to be taking it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hydroxychloroquine?

TRUMP: I'm taking it, hydroxychloroquine.


TRUMP: Right now, yes.


TRUMP: A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it.


TRUMP: Because I think it's good. I've heard a lot of good stories. And if it's not good, I'll tell you right, I'm not going to get hurt by it. It's been around for 40 years for malaria, for lupus, for other things. I take it. Frontline workers take it. A lot of doctors take it. Excuse me. A lot of doctors take it. I take it.


COLLINS: That is the drug that the FDA, Wolf, recently cautioned against using outside of a hospital or a clinical setting because they raised concerns about what it can do to the rhythm of your heart.

And they also said that there is an added layer of concern if someone has heart or kidney disease, yet the president dismissed those concerns. He says he's been taking it and so far says he feels fine.

And Wolf, he repeated his line about basically what do you have to lose, something he had been saying to the American people and now he was saying in regards to his own health.

And Wolf, this all comes as the president also commented on those promising early results that they are seeing from the first vaccine test in people.


TRUMP: It almost feels like today is the first day. I think last week didn't feel the same. Now it feels good.

COLLINS (voice-over): The White House is sounding optimistic tonight after the drug maker Moderna announced the first coronavirus vaccine tested in people has shown promising results.

TRUMP: This was a very big day therapeutically, cure-wise, and vaccine-wise.

COLLINS (voice-over): Stocks soared on the news which came just days after President Trump named one of Moderna's former directors as the leader of a federal effort to accelerate vaccine production.

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We're going to be putting other big bets on other vaccines. So we're not going into battle with just one shot.

COLLINS (voice-over): The Federal Reserve chairman said the economic downturn won't turn into a second Great Depression, but he cautioned that a full recovery may not come until after a vaccine.

JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, U.S. FEDERAL RESERVE: For the economy to fully recover people will have to be fully confident and that may have to await the arrival of a vaccine.

COLLINS (voice-over): Amid high hopes for a vaccine, administration officials are publicly feuding with each other after Trump's top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, directly blamed the CDC for delaying coronavirus testing.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing.


AZAR: The comments regarding CDC are inaccurate and inappropriate. That was never going to be the backbone of testing in the U.S.

COLLINS (voice-over): Health officials said sloppy lab practices of the CDC led to contamination in the nation's first coronavirus test, making it ineffective and and causing weeks of delays.

President Trump is ramping up his attacks on former President Barack Obama, after Obama said the U.S. lacked leadership when it came to fighting coronavirus.

TRUMP: Look, he was an incompetent president, that's all I can say.

COLLINS (voice-over): Without any evidence, Trump has accused his predecessor of committing crimes, though he and his aides have declined to elaborate.

TRUMP: You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.

COLLINS (voice-over): A sitting president going after his predecessor is practically unheard of, but sources said this weekend at Camp David, Trump discussed ways to continue his attacks.

Attorney General Bill Barr seemed to throw cold water on that idea, saying that an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe won't focus on Obama or former Vice President Joe Biden.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Durham investigation is trying to get to the bottom of what happened. I don't expect Mr. Durham's work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man.

COLLINS (voice-over): Trump later said he was surprised by the attorney general's statement.

TRUMP: If it was me, I guarantee they would be going after me. In his case, they're not, so I think it's just a continuation of a double standard. I'm surprised by it. I'm surprised by it.

COLLINS (voice-over): Congressional Democrats have now opened an investigation after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Trump to fire the State Department's inspector general Friday night.

TRUMP: I don't know him at all. I never even heard of him. But, I was asked to by the State Department, by Mike.

COLLINS (voice-over): The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says the I.G. was close to finishing an investigation into Pompeo's decision to fast-track an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

The inspector general was also looking into whether Pompeo had his staff perform personal errands like walking his golden retriever or picking up his dry cleaning.

TRUMP: Maybe he's busy and maybe he's negotiating with Kim Jong-un, okay, about nuclear weapons.

COLLINS (voice-over): Pompeo told "The Washington Post" today that he was unaware of the latter investigation. So, "It's simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation."


COLLINS (on camera): Now, Wolf, in that FDA guidance going back to hydroxychloroquine, they basically warned about the concerns about it if you already have heart disease or kidney disease. We know that Sanjay Gupta wrote based on the president's last physical that he does have a common form of heart disease.

So we've reached out to the White House and the White House medical office to try to get a statement from the president's physician about his use and his taking of this drug. And we've also reached out to the vice president's office to ask if he is also taking hydroxychloroquine.

BLITZER: Very potentially significant development, Kaitlan. The president said about a week and a half ago he started taking hydroxychloroquine. He also said at least at the beginning, he was also taking azithromycin or Z-Pak, as it's called, at least briefly taking that in conjunction with hydroxychloroquine.

And he said he was also taking zinc, all for preventive purposes even though he's tested negative for the coronavirus and even though he says he has no symptoms. This came as a big surprise, right?

COLLINS: Yes, you could hear the reporters in the room kind of gasp a little bit as the president announced it because, Wolf, it was unprompted. No one actually had asked the president if he was taking hydroxychloroquine.

And he was talking about a day, what a day it had been for not only that vaccine reporting that we were talking about, but also talking about therapeutics. That was something the president really kept talking about there at the beginning.

And then he announced he's been taking hydroxychloroquine, as he says that some frontline workers are that he's heard from. He didn't say which frontline workers are taking it or cite any names.

But he said he's gotten positive reviews from them and that is why he has decided to take it and says he was the one who told his physician he wanted to be taking hydroxychloroquine.

BLITZER: And we did see the Vice President Mike Pence sitting right next to the president at that event. Nobody was wearing masks. At least I didn't see anybody wearing masks in that room.

But the vice president is now back in action together with the president. All right, Kaitlan, we'll get back to you, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, there are more - we have more on the reopenings across the country right now including some of the nation's largest states. Let's go to our national correspondent Erica Hill. She is joining us. Erica, very important developments, first of all, in Texas.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there certainly are. We knew gyms and offices were allowed to open today, Wolf, but the governor just a short time ago, Governor Abbott saying starting today, childcare services can open.

He stressed that he understood the need for childcare services for people to get back to work. He said this would also include boys and girls clubs. We talked a lot about not just childcare but summer camps.


Summer camps can come back May 31st along with youth sports. Starting this Friday in Texas, bars and bowling alleys will be allowed to open and restaurants can increase their indoor seating capacity to 50 percent.

We're also hearing from California Governor Gavin Newsom who said that a number of the counties in his state are ready to move into phase two. He said in-person retail could be coming soon, even churches may be able to meet in person in the coming weeks.


HILL (voice-over): Gyms in multiple states are open today including Texas, which posted its highest single-day spike in cases over the weekend, two weeks after the state began easing restrictions.

UMAIR SHAH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HARRIS COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH: We do have more testing that's happening. But at the same time, we're also recognizing that we have reopened and people are mixing and so we don't know how those two equations coming together, how that really is impacting the overall equation that we have.

HILL (voice-over): More than a third of the new cases there connected to meat processing plants. Overall, Texas is one of 17 states seeing a rise in new cases over the past week, 18 posting a decline, including Massachusetts, which just announced its plan for a phased reopening. California's new cases are holding steady.

GAVIN NEWSOM, GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA: We are moving forward to allow some of the larger counties to continue to make progress, deeper into phase two.

HILL (voice-over): One vaccine currently in the works is showing signs of promise. All eight participants in the study developed antibodies to the virus. Moderna, which is partnering with the NIH, says if future studies go well, the vaccine could be available to the public as early as January.

ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Everything I'm seeing so far makes me optimistic.

HILL (voice-over): Across the country, beautiful weather, cabin fever, and more reopenings made for a busy weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been really steady, busier than I thought it was going to be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am beyond excited to be shopping again.

HILL (voice-over): In Scottsdale, Arizona, packed bars and restaurants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have no more fear than contracting the flu, a cold, a virus that they haven't named yet.

HILL (voice-over): Lines in the mall and outside this casino, though not everyone is ready for the crowds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you go to Wal-Mart, everybody's on top of each other and people in the bars are high fiving and people you don't even know and they try to get too close.

HILL (voice-over): The University of South Carolina will reopen its campus this fall. But after Thanksgiving, classes will move online. The university fears a spike in cases could come in early December. Automakers returning to work in Michigan today with a few changes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm pretty comfortable with the precautions that I've heard that they're going to be taking.

HILL (voice-over): NASCAR in Darlington for its first race in two months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Green flag, NASCAR is back.

HILL (voice-over): So is golf. A charity event in Florida raising more than $5.5 million for COVID-19 relief, as California says it's ready for professional sports to return next month without fans.


HILL (on camera): Now, as for here in New York City, a lot of questions of course because of the density of the city and it being an epicenter for so long.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today said the city has met three of the governor's seven criteria which need to be met to reopen. He says he's feeling good about the other ones and that they could even meet some of them by mid-June, Wolf.

BLITZER: Erica Hill in New York for us, thank you. Joining us now, the mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. Let's get to the news in your state. Right now, workers at the big three auto plants are heading back to work today.

Those companies employ a lot of people, as you well know, from the Detroit area. Are you completely confident mayor that reopening those plants won't lead to a spike in new cases?

MAYOR MIKE DUGGAN (D), DETROIT, MI: Oh, I am very confident. The supplier plants opened last week and the assembly plants are starting today. But at the city of Detroit, we probably got 4,000 or 5,000 workers going to work every day.

The police officers, firefighters, EMTs, bus drivers, road workers, we test their employees continually and we've been running about 2 percent infection rate, which is lower than people staying at home, is because we have the masks, we have the distancing.

And if you look at what the auto companies have done with the UAW in putting the same kind of protocols in place, I'm confident you're going to see infection rates comparable to families who are staying at home.

BLITZER: Will those plants, those auto plants stay open, mayor, even if new cases begin to rise again?

DUGGAN: You know, everybody is going to have to deal with this the same way, but I'll just tell you what happens to us. If in the fifth precinct we get an officer or two tests positive in the morning, we immediately go back to who they've been in contact with, isolate and test them, but you don't shut down the operation. I think you're going to see the same kind of thing. You're going to

see prompt intervention, prompt contact tracing.


At least our experience so far has been that if you wear the masks and you wear the gloves, you can run a work environment in a way that's safe.

BLITZER: President Trump sounded very optimistic today about quickly reopening the country, and in his words, and I'm quoting him now, "moving quickly but safely." Is it too soon for that kind of optimism when so many people are still dying?

DUGGAN: You know, I think everybody has to go based on the science of their area. In the city of Detroit where we've seen really 95 percent drop in our death rates, we're now seeing infection rates below 50 percent.

And today, we test everybody in the city no matter what your age, whether you have symptoms, whether you have health insurance at our huge drive-thru testing. And so we can track on a daily basis what's happening in the infection rate.

Well, we're ready to open the clothing stores, the shoe stores, the art stores, the book stores, which have been closed up until now, with the kind of protocols that customers wear masks when they go inside with intense cleaning.

We're not to the point yet of having sit-down restaurants where people are going to be exposed to each other in close distances for an extended period of time.

But everybody should be making the same kinds of decisions. Different areas of the country are making different judgments. And certainly in Detroit, we're close to reopening another segment of our economy.

BLITZER: Well, that's pretty encouraging. Let's hope for the best. Mayor Duggan, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck.

DUGGAN: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more on the major milestone in the race to find a coronavirus vaccine.

Plus the news just in, President Trump now says he's taking hydroxychloroquine, the controversial anti-malaria drug he's been touting for use against the coronavirus. I'll speak to a medical experts about the possible consequences.



BLITZER: All right, breaking news right now, President Trump says he's taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure against coronavirus. Let's dig deeper with our medical experts, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy is with us as well.

Sanjay, listen to how the president described why he decided a weekend ago to start taking hydroxychloroquine.


TRUMP: The frontline workers, many, many are taking it. I happen to be taking it. I happen to be taking it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hydroxychloroquine?

TRUMP: I'm taking it. Hydroxychloroquine.


TRUMP: Right now, yes.


TRUMP: A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it.


TRUMP: Because I think it's good, I've heard a lot of good stories. And if it's not good, I'll tell you right, I'm not going to get hurt by it. It's been around for 40 years, for malaria, for lupus, for other things. I take it. Frontline workers take it. A lot of doctors take it. Excuse me. A lot of doctors take it. I take it.


BLITZER: What do you think, Sanjay?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he shouldn't be taking it. I mean, you know, his own FDA has said that this is still something under investigation. It should not be taken outside of a clinical trial, taken out of hospital -- only hospitalized patients should be getting it.

I mean, what he said about the fact that it's been used for malaria prophylaxis for decades is true. What we have found more recently is in people who already have COVID, already have this disease, that there are some real concerns.

You know, and concerns about impact on the heart, possibly causing these heart arrhythmias, things like that. He said that there are a lot of health care workers that are taking it. I mean, there is a trial that is going on, still.

Most of the data that we've been talking about, Wolf, which is not at all impressive regarding hydroxychloroquine, was in people who already had the disease, were already quite sick. There has been this lingering question, could it be used more as a prophylaxis to prevent the virus from entering cells in the first place. There's no evidence to suggest that, but as we have tried to be very

responsible, you know, we want to present the evidence as we get it. There's no evidence to say that that works in that way.

That trial is ongoing. It's for health care workers who have significant exposures. And obviously President Trump doesn't fit either of those categories.

So, you know, this is one of those things that I think is going to cause a lot of confusion in people. But according to his own FDA, they say that this should not be used outside of a clinical trial or for patients who are in the hospital.

I hope -- I don't know who prescribed this for him. It is a prescription drug. I hope, given that he has a history of heart disease, that he is being monitored in some way so he doesn't develop a problem. I'm not suggesting that he would, as a prophylaxis drug, but you know, he obviously has to be careful.

BLITZER: Yes, he should be careful. He did say, Dr. Murthy, that he also started taking azithromycin or Z-Pak in conjunction. He stopped taking that. He said he did that once and he's taking these other medication, zinc. Does that make any difference?

VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Wolf, I think this is a good example of how just because a medicine has been around for a long period of time, doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't have side effects or that it's effective.

What we know based on the data is we know that in patients who have COVID-19, that all of the trials to date have not shown any effect of hydroxychloroquine in terms of shortening the duration of infection.

And we also know that when combined with azithromycin, the other medicine the president mentioned he was taking, that not only was there no benefit seen with hydroxychloroquine plus azithromycin, but there was in fact an increased rate of cardia arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms.


And so these are not benign medications and the clear message I want to make sure and one that the public hears, is that there is no evidence that tells us that taking hydroxychloroquine is either safe or effective for preventing COVID-19 infection.

As leaders, it's essential that we lead by example. Especially it's true for public officials in particular when the spotlight is on them. And this risks sending the wrong message to people and that could come at a serious cost to their health.

BLITZER: Well that's a significant point, Sanjay, because the drug clearly has some potentially harmful side effects. Do you worry that the president announcing today publicly, and it's a huge headline, that he's taking it, will lead Americans to rush out and try to get more of this drug even if it's not necessarily right for them? I mean, I understand if you have lupus, if you have arthritis, if you

have malaria, this drug has been prescribed, but not necessarily for coronavirus.

GUPTA: Correct. No, absolutely. And by the way, that problem has already happened, Wolf. I was getting calls from pharmacies around the country saying that they were running out of this medication, there wasn't enough to provide to the patients who are taking this for some of these auto immune issues like lupus.

So, that is a real problem and it was happening. It's probably going to amplify now as a result of this news. And that's what I'm trying to be very cautious about as well.

He shouldn't be taking it. He doesn't qualify to be taking it. There's no evidence that this works in this way. Again, I want to be careful, because the data that we have seen so far about hydroxychloroquine has primarily looked at patients who already have the disease.

The question about whether or not it can be used as a prophylaxis is part of an ongoing trial looking at health care workers who have significant exposures. He would not be a part of a trial like that.

We may get some of these results back. But right now, to be clear, no evidence that it works to treat this disease. There's no evidence that it works to prevent this disease. And there are some potential side effects.

There are people who are dependent on this drug who've, you know, there's been shortages as a result of this. So, this is obviously going to confuse a lot of people, I think, hearing what the president has said. But there's, again, no evidence that people should go out and start taking this.

BLITZER: Yes, and I'm worried. I'm sure both of you are worried as well, that if everybody rushes out to try to get this drug, there might not be enough for those people who really need hydroxychloroquine, at least in the short term. All right, Sanjay Gupta, Vivek Murthy, doctors, both of you, thank you very much for joining us.

Coming up, we have new details about the president's firing of the State Department's inspector general. President Trump just told reporters that the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo himself asked for the firing. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We get back to our coverage, special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in just a few moments. But there's other breaking news we're following here in "The Situation Room". New details emerging right now about the firing of the State Department's Inspector General Steve Linick. Just a little while ago, President Trump told reporters the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo himself asked for Linick's firing. CNN has learned Linick was investigating Pompeo's role in speeding up a multibillion dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia and Pompeo was refusing to cooperate. Here's what the President just said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- explain, sir, why you decided to fire the Inspector General at the State Department?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. I don't know him at all. I never even heard of him. But I was asked to by the State Department, by Mike. So I don't know him. Never heard of him. But they asked me to terminate him.

I have the absolute right as President to terminate. I've said who appointed him and they said, President Obama. I said, look, I'll terminate him. I was happy to do it. Mike requested that I do it. He should have done it a long time ago, in my opinion. He's an Obama appointment, and he had some difficulty, but I just don't know who he is. I really -- I don't know. I've never heard his name.


BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our National Security Reporter Kylie Atwood and our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash. Kylie, first of all, what are you learning? Walk us through the allegations, and they're simply allegations nothing proven, so far. The allegation against Secretary Pompeo.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So we're being told right now that Secretary Pompeo refused to sit down for an interview with the State Department Inspector General, as part of an investigation that they were doing into the Trump administration. And Secretary Pompeo's positioned to declare an emergency last year, which then prompted the fast-track of an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Now, that in doing so, they went around Congress because Congress had put a hold on those arms sales as a result of the Jamal Khashoggi murder. So that is part of what is being looked at here by these Democrats in the Senate and the House, who are wondering precisely why Secretary Pompeo recommended that President Trump fire the Inspector General Steve Linick.

Now there's another allegation that the Inspector General is also looking into some of the personal tasks that Secretary Pompeo asked a political appointee to do. So this is all part of the puzzle that they are trying to figure out right now.


BLITZER: It seems Dana, that what the President has done in this particular case is pretty much in line with what we've seen him do over the past three years plus, isn't it? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is three years. I mean, Wolf, we were just looking at it, how about the last month? It's really remarkable. And we've said so many times during the Trump years that this is not normal.

This is one of those times where that should be in flashing neon lights. It is not normal for a President of the United States to fire any Inspector General, never mind for inspectors general within the span of about four to five weeks, which is what we have seen here.

The first couple were seemed pretty clear. It was retribution for impeachment. I was talking to a source on Capitol Hill just before coming on. The suspicion was initially was that this Inspector General at the State Department might have been because of impeachment because he provided some documents to Capitol Hill over the objection of political appointees, others at the State Department.

But as Kylie just said, her excellent reporting, the feeling on Capitol Hill as well as those who do oversight of the State Department is that it was those two investigations that made the Secretary of State look bad.

And just think about what the President just said, the clip you just ran, Wolf. The President, you know, kind of threw the Secretary of State under the bus, although throwing him under the bus was -- is what it would be in normal times. If he doesn't really care, I guess, they're all just kind of doing everything that seems so inappropriate, even though it is legal. They're doing it in plain sight.

BLITZER: Yes, a dramatic development indeed. All right, Dana Bash, Kylie Atwood, thanks to both of you for that. Coming up, how schools are dealing with the decision of whether or not to hold classes in person this fall.



BLITZER: We're following a very significant development. Schools and universities nationwide are facing major decisions right now on whether to hold in-person classes for the fall semester. Joining us now Robert Robbins, the president of the University of Arizona. He's announced plans to hold in-person classes. President Robbins, thanks so much for joining us.

I quickly want to get your reaction to what they're doing at the University of South Carolina. They're planning to bring students back to campus for in-person classes starting in the fall, but we'll actually moved back to online learning after Thanksgiving because of concerns about potentially a second wave of the virus. Would you consider similar plans for the University of Arizona?

ROBERT ROBBINS, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA: Well, Wolf, good afternoon. Thanks for inviting me on your program. I hadn't heard about the University of South Carolina's plan. Now, I think that our plan is to go to offer our students which, as you well know a recent survey, over two-thirds of students said even without a vaccine, they would want to come back to some sort of face-to-face on campus experience.

So we're planning to go forward with that. We've set up a whole incident command system at the University of Arizona. As you well know, we were offering testing to all of our faculty, students and staff. But I think there will be the invariable wave that comes during the influenza season, but we think that we can set up guidelines and precautions to keep our students and our faculty and staff as safe as possible.

BLITZER: So is it -- what about dormitories? What about classes? Are there special procedures you're going to take now as a result of this coronavirus pandemic?

ROBBINS: Yes, without question. Until we have a vaccine, things are going to look very different than they did before. We own spring break in March decided to go remotely. It's going to be a hybrid approach and almost every university is going to do that. So there will be proper social distancing.

We're going to test, trace and treat our students, our faculty and our staff. Good public health hygiene measures will be put in place. With this instant command center that we're setting up, we're going to be very disciplined focus and pay meticulous attention to detail of all issues to provide the safest environment possible.

BLITZER: What about sports on campus? What's going to happen with your teams? You got a lot of very strong teams.

ROBBINS: Yes. And, you know, there have been national dialogue with the NCAA and the Power Five conferences. I was on a call today with the other Pac-12 university presidents. Clearly, you know, we have 100 days before we start our school session, our fall semester. So we're vigorously addressing all the avenues that we think we need to address.

Sports is another one. I think that there's no resolution to that issue where we obviously saw NASCAR and some PGA events that went on over the weekend. We'll watch the NFL. But I think the idea of trying to do fall sports including football is one that everybody is focused on right now.


My sense is that it'll be unlikely that we will have individuals, large numbers of individuals in the stadiums.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what we're hearing with a lot of the professional sports leagues, NFL, NBA, et cetera. Good luck, President Robbins. I know you got very, very tough decisions you have to make. We're grateful to you for joining us.

ROBBINS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, President Trump meets with restaurant tours and pushes back against suggestions the restaurant industry will struggle to recover. We'll be right back.


TRUMP: That's good, and it's been a great business over the years and it'll be --




BLITZER: President Trump met with members of the restaurant industry at the White House today to discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and he pushed back against one CEO suggestion that the restaurant industry will struggle to recover touting his administration's response. Listen to this.


TRUMP: Well, my news negates what you just said because you would be back into business like you had it.


TRUMP: No seat lost, et cetera, et cetera. So --


TRUMP: -- you will see what happens, but it certainly negates it, yes.


BLITZER: All right, let's talk about that in more with Sam Kass, a former White House Chef and Adviser to the President Obama, also a member of the group that sent representatives to meet with the President today, the independent restaurant coalition. So what's your response, Sam, to what the President is saying that the restaurant industry is going to bounce back very quickly?

SAM KASS, FORMER CHEF AND SENIOR POLICY ADVISER FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I was encouraged that they, you know, had the meeting, I think it's important to hear from this group, you know, independent restaurants have about 11 million people working in directly in these restaurants.

They are in restaurants with the leading industry being driving the unemployment numbers that we're seeing there, last month alone, there were 25 percent of the unemployment numbers that are up and now it's 30 million Americans. And these restaurants face unique challenges. They're -- you know, right now, almost all of them are shut down.

And when they're able to reopen, they're not going to be able to open at full capacity. And if you know anything about a restaurant, if you can't operate at full capacity, you know, you're already on short margins, you're just not going to be able to function. So I think these independent operators are looking at a future where it just doesn't make sense to reopen.

PPP, which was a well-intended build simply doesn't work for small operators, it was a two-month fix to a year long problem, at least. And so I think, you know, there's going to be a lot more work to do and a real stimulus package that's going to be needed for this industry if we want hundreds of thousands of jobs, not millions of jobs to disappear forever.

BLITZER: Yes, but it's going to be a real serious problem. The President says restaurants in his words will be back into business, like you had it. But is that really possible before a vaccine?

KASS: No, I don't -- I just don't think that's in the cards, unfortunately. I mean, I think we all love to believe that but the reality is across the country, most places are still completely shut down. And no places allowing any, you know, restaurant tours to just reopen and have their seats packed in like they were before. We're going to have to social distance in a way that, you know, other businesses just aren't affected in this manner. And you can't run an -- you know, operate a restaurant at 50 percent capacity, just doesn't the numbers simply just don't work.

BLITZER: I was going to say -- finish your thought, go ahead.

KASS: I was going to say if you think about where we would want to make an investment in the economy, you know, not only do restaurants employ the, you know, independence employ the 11 million directly, but we are -- the ripple effect from the shutdown is extraordinary farmers and ranchers and fishermen are all shut down and not having any place to sell their products.

Real estate is plummeting because restaurants are shuttered. All the delivery drivers that deliver food the whole ecosystem is collapsed and so 90 cents or more of every dollar given to restaurants go right back out into the economy. So this is really a place that I think the government is going to have to invest in if we want to see the economy booming, and get people back to work.

BLITZER: And it's so hard --

KASS: It's not going to happen.

BLITZER: So many of these family restaurants, probably going to go out of business and they've been in business for so long. We've loved all these restaurants and they're struggling right now. Are the restaurants based on everything, you know, Sam, getting the specific guidance they need from the CDC to reopen safely?

KASS: Unfortunately, no. I think you're seeing guidance that is a patchwork state to state. People don't know what it means to open safely. They don't know how much distance it needs to be, especially people, you know, from state to state, it just tremendous variants.

And I think really right now for most operators, especially independents, who, you know, unlike some of the people in the White House meetings today don't have access to like $300 million of loans that they can get from banks, or the public markets.

You know, these small operators are looking at an economic, you know, future that it just doesn't make sense to reopen. And so I'm really concerned we're going to lose hundreds of thousands of our beloved restaurants which are, you know, the lifeblood of our communities.


And for those who have to reopen, you know, they really don't know what it means to run a safe operation and that's troubling. And I just don't see that going away until we have a real widely available vaccine.

BLITZER: Yes, so sad to hear that because we love all these restaurants. All right, Sam, thank you so much for joining us. Sam Kass, with the latest on that front.

KASS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Breaking news, coming up next, President Trump reveals he's now taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent being infected by the coronavirus, even though a study shows it's not effective and can actually cause serious heart problems.