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Trump Says He's taking Unproven Drug Hydroxychloroquine Despite Warnings; Trump Threatens to Pull WHO Funding if Improvements aren't Made; Trump Touts Taking Unproven Drug Despite Warnings; Some Colleges Overhaul Fall Plans to Combat Virus; U.S. Futures Flat Ahead of Powell, Mnuchin Testimony. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 19, 2020 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


This pandemic has now killed more than 90,000 Americans. And the president defies the science again, saying he is taking a drug that is not only unproven but health officials warn could have lethal side effects. The FDA says hydroxychloroquine has not been shown to be a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19.

So why does the president take it? And as we close in on all 50 states reopening to some degree, why not do something that has been proven to reduce the risk of transmission and that is wear a mask, something that Americans like you and me are being asked to do.

HARLOW: That's exactly right. Those questions as the president launches a new threat this morning against the World Health Organization. He says the U.S. may pull all its funding from the WHO if there are not major improvements in the next 30 days.

We'll get to all of that. Also today, a major, major hearing on the economy. We're just an hour away from getting answers on the economic toll this pandemic is taking and also what more the government might do to try to stem that. The Fed chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will be on the Hill answering all sorts of questions, especially about that PPP plan.

We are covering all the angles. Let's begin, though, at the White House with John Harwood.

It was just such a stunning moment to hear the president say he is taking something prophylactically that the FDA has said can kill you.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, it was extraordinary. You know, at the depths of this crisis, President Trump reached for something to provide hope and he started touting hydroxychloroquine even though Anthony Fauci and others said there is no evidence that it can work. He got a huge backlash from that. There were subsequent studies that

were -- that highlighted the dangers. The FDA put out a caution that said outside of a clinical trial don't take this. The president then dropped it. He stopped talking about it. And then yesterday, he dropped this bombshell.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's my evidence. I get a lot of positive calls about it.

HARWOOD: The White House doctor recommend that you take that? Is that why you're taking --

TRUMP: Yes, White House doctor. He didn't recommend -- no, I asked him, what do you think? He said, well, if you'd like it. I said, hey -- you know the expression I've used, John? What do you have to lose?


HARWOOD: Well, the answer to what have you got to lose that we've seen with some of the patients who've -- COVID patients who have taken hydroxychloroquine is that they lose their lives. There are some people with heart issues that have had irregular heartbeats, heart arrhythmias, that have been fatal. A relatively small number, but still that's a side effect that's very concerning.

This is a president who has a history of heart disease, a common form of heart disease. He's older, obviously. He's heavy. So all of these things are relevant, but the president, I think, with the wind at his back, economic reopening, good news on vaccines, some of the numbers coming down, it looked as if he wanted to get in the face of the reporters who had raised this question about him and say, no, I was not wrong, I was right, I'm taking it and I'm here.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, unproven treatment there. The proven step is, of course, wearing masks. That's been shown to reduce the risk of transmission. The president not taking that step.

Another threat the president is making is against the WHO, the World Health Organization. In effect making a demand, you know, we'll take away the funding or else.

HARWOOD: That's right. And the president, Jim, as you know, has been trying to look for others to diffuse the blame for his response to the coronavirus.

There is a whole set of issues about how this administration in this country has handled this, but they have been pointing toward China's role and the WHO's role, suggesting that the two of them both concealed important facts that were not transparent at the beginning of this outbreak, maybe because as the president said, maybe China was embarrassed that this had happened.

So the president has threatened to withhold funding and he put out a letter yesterday as the WHO was meeting and said, the only way we can move forward is if the WHO declares its independence from China.

This is something that, of course, is going to ratchet up tensions with China. There are many countries that have questions as the United States does about the origin of this outbreak and the president's threat is going to move that along. The question is, does it have any negative effects on the global response to the pandemic?

HARLOW: Just -- I just sort of can't believe that all of this stuff has transpired in the last 24 hours and we're going to talk about the impact on the American people hearing the president say he's taking this drug against the FDA's guidance. Thanks, John.


The president again defying these medical warnings announcing that he's taken this unproven drug, hydroxychloroquine, to try to ward off coronavirus.

Elizabeth Cohen is with us.

The president -- it wasn't even an admission. That was just sort of a bold pronouncement that he's taking it. But for every American watching who thinks maybe they should do the same, what do they need to know?


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They need to know to not do it. They have a choice. They can listen to President Trump who has been an anti-science president, or they can listen to Tony Fauci, number one, the National Institutes of Health, number two, and the Food and Drug Administration, number three. That's their choice. Right?

Now, first of all, you have to get your doctor to prescribe it, and I am hoping that doctors out there in the United States are not going to give in to pressures of patients and prescribe it. President Trump's doctor, it appears, did give in to pressure from his patient, the president of the United States.

It is -- as mind boggling as it is that President Trump wants to take this drug, to me it is even more mind boggling that his physician was willing to prescribe it, given these two things.

Let's take a look at what the FDA has said. The FDA says hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, which is a similar drug, have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing, which is the key here, or preventing COVID-19.

Doctors are not supposed to prescribe drugs that are not effective. The reason why is our next set of facts here, hydroxychloroquine side effects. Allergic reactions, heart arrhythmias, liver injuries, seizures, low blood sugar.

What kind of a doctor prescribes a drug that the FDA and the NIH have said doesn't work and might be unsafe and has those side effects? Not only is it irresponsible for his patient, it's irresponsible for members of the public.

Now, I'm crossing my fingers that this doctor prescribed a very, very low dose. Because at very, very low doses this drug doesn't have -- it is unusual for this drug to have side effect issues. The problem is the American public hears President Trump is taking this drug, I'm going to insist on it, too, and sometimes doctors do give in to their patients and they might get a higher dose -- Poppy, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Anti-science president, that's what you said, on a number of fronts.

Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with Dr. Jeffrey Gold. He is the chancellor for the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

So, Doctor, I don't want to belabor this too much because the science is clear, no demonstrated benefit from taking this, and a demonstrated risk in fact for some patients taking it. What is the danger as a healthcare professional like yourself for the president to take himself and to tout an unproven treatment? What is the public health danger?

DR. JEFFREY GOLD, CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER: Well, you know, we all have role models that we follow and people lead by example. You know, we do believe in masking policies here in Nebraska and certainly in our hospital system. And so for me as the chancellor to walk through the halls without a mask and be respectful of others, we're trying to protect the health of our families and our patients.

You know, it's very difficult to understand the decision-making for me, but it comes to the doctor-patient relationship. Every drug has side effects, every drug has benefits. And that's exactly the conversation as a physician that we have with our patients all the time. We review the benefits, we review the side effects, whether it's a medication or a surgical procedure or other type of treatment. And then we make a decision to either go forward or not.

I'm hopeful that that conversation occurred in the White House and that that decision was made in an appropriate risk benefit way. You know, most of us, certainly I don't have insight into that.

HARLOW: OK. But this letter from the FDA on April 24th that every American should look at, if they're thinking about reading this, says that it can cause abnormal heart rhythms, it warns of death in patients with COVID receiving hydroxychloroquine. And it can cause serious side effects and we know the president is 73 and we know he does have a heart condition, a typical heart condition for men of his age.

But given all of that here, is there a scenario in which taking a drug like this if it is in the higher dose, we don't know the prescription dose, could be potentially -- have more adverse side effects for the president than coronavirus, if he were to contract that? GOLD: For sure. The number of patients who will develop a side effect,

they typically tend to be severe. There is a good deal of GI upset that goes with it. There's even potential visual loss, blindness, seizures and of course the arrhythmias so that is the reason that the FDA issued this warning, saying that if it's going to be prescribed under the emergency use authorization, that it needs to be done for hospitalized patients or as part of a clinical trial.


Now, it happens that there's a very large clinical trial going on right now in the United States, involving healthcare professionals who are being randomized to this drug or to no drug at all to see if it will protect them against it. But that's research. That's not therapy.

SCIUTTO: Folks, if you're watching at home, listen to your doctor. I mean, it's the simplest advice possible.

Let's go on another topic. Reopening. Most states now are reopening to some degree, some quite aggressively. How do you explain the relatively low infection rates from some of the states, such as Georgia, Florida, that have opened more quickly and more aggressively? Is it early? Can we learn anything from that, Dr. Gold?

GOLD: Yes, I think we can. You know, one fact is that the cycle of time that this virus takes is not overnight. And so if the decision is made to reopen restaurants, places of worship, parks, those sorts of things, from the time of exposure to the virus to infection, infection to symptoms, symptoms to testing, testing to reporting, is, you know, somewhere between a 10 and a 14-day cycle.

So before we really know what any effect is going to be in any part of a state, it's going to be about 14 days. But, you know, I also think that there is another factor that's very hard to measure is that people are still afraid. Particularly our older more vulnerable people, folks, you know who have high blood pressure or kidney disease or whatever.

And while, you know, they may be reopening and the restaurants may be -- and the bars and the parks may be open for people to picnic and things of that nature, I'll bet grandma and grandpa are not going out quite as frequently. They're still washing their hands more. You know, they're just taking care of each other and I think that's very wise until we see what some of these effects are going to be.

HARLOW: Dr. Gold, thanks very much for being here. We know you've had some success with this largescale antibody testing there in Nebraska. We wish you a lot of luck on that. We'll get to more of that next time. Thank you. So --

GOLD: Look forward to it. Thanks.

HARLOW: We do, too.

So school, class, is going to look a lot different for many students. I think every student in the fall. We've got the latest on a group of schools, colleges making some major changes.

SCIUTTO: Some of them deciding to open up, I think to the relief of some parents.


SCIUTTO: Plus, next hour, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and the Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell, they're going to testify in just minutes on the administration's economic response to the pandemic with more than 36 million Americans having lost their job just since the middle of March.

And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks out for the first time since the firing of the state department's inspector general. Hear why he asked the president to make the move. You'll want to hear that.



SCIUTTO: More now on that starting -- startling revelation from the president. Trump announcing that he is taking the drug that he has touted many times, hydroxychloroquine, he's taking it. He says as a precaution. To be clear, no study has shown that the anti-malaria drug can prevent the coronavirus. In fact, health officials warn it could cause heart issues, particularly for certain patients.

HARLOW: That is not the only guideline coming from his own health experts that is -- that the president is undermining with this move. He is not wearing a mask. He is still shaking hands. And at times, he seems to even be bragging about it.

I think this begs the question of why? Why do this in the middle of a global pandemic? John Harwood back with us from the White House, also our chief political correspondent Dana Bash. It's pretty impossible question to answer, but give it your best shot, Dana, why?

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you for prefacing the question that way, Poppy. I think it's the way that we have observed this president for -- in his political life, but also in his sort of personal and real estate life before that. And the answer is, he does what he wants to do. And he leads by example, and in this case, the example he is leading by is -- flies in the face of what medical professionals clearly want him to do.

But the example that he is leading by is what his political antenna are leading him towards. Which is everything is OK. We need to reopen the society, reopen the economy, get things back to terra firma politically, as we get closer to November. And that's just the hard reality of it. I don't think that there's anything deeper or more complicated than that.

One of the things about this president is that he's quite transparent in what he does. Now, on this drug, hydroxychloroquine, he has been a believer in it since the beginning, I mean, we all covered it, talked about him pushing it really hard, and he -- it's vintage Trump, he doubles down, he triples down, he quadruples down, even to the point where he's taking it, he says, with the approval of his own physician.

SCIUTTO: John Harwood, the president is a master of distraction. There are other issues going on in the last 24 hours that he would have an interest in downplaying. One being revelation that the IG, the State Department was fired while he was investigating the fast- tracking of aid to Saudi Arabia, military aid to Saudi Arabia. Based on your reporting from there, what is the president's intention here? Was it to create something else shiny to take eyes off other damaging stories?

HARWOOD: Jim, I'm not a big believer in the distraction with the new shiny object theory, especially since so many of the shiny objects he's -- that are supposedly offered as distractions are themselves unattractive to the president.


I think this is a president who is operating on impulse, as Dana said. He is somebody who wants to drive culture war themes right now. And he's turned the mask-wearing and the hydroxy, which of course came out of the right-wing media universe, was being pushed by "Fox News" host at a time when they were trying to downplay the whole threat of coronavirus and say, oh, well, see, you know, it's not much worse than the common cold, and then when it was worse than that, they said well, here is a cure for it.

In terms of the mask-wearing, I think the president wants to try to drive the message that Democrats are the science nerds and we're the football team and we want to get the football games going, and we want to pack the stands and try to divide that way.

It's not -- I don't think a winning wedge for him because there is more apprehension within the general public than he has pitched to, but this is somebody who has always pitched his arguments directly to his base with the idea that if he can rev up his base --


HARWOOD: Ever more, he can overcome superior numbers on the other side.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean --


SCIUTTO: It is a mistake to sort of invest automatic wisdom in all these moves. So I hear you, I hear you, John Harwood.

HARLOW: I was just looking to pull up, and Dana, you've probably seen this, about what Kayleigh McEnany; the White House Press Secretary just said this morning when she was asked about this. And I think it is -- it's the spin that we're going to hear from the White House on this.

We don't have the sound, but she basically said, look, for years, this has been -- and I'm paraphrasing here, this has been taken in a way that proves to be effective for other people. That leaves out a whole lot of context.

BASH: No, not at all. And, look, now because we have -- have seen such a deep-dive in this, because the president has been talking about this drug for so long during this pandemic, we know -- I think all of us know more about this drug than we ever thought we would, and what we've learned from the medical professionals including the president's own FDA is that there are serious dangers in taking this drug for people with heart disease, for people with other ailments.

It could be fatal. So that is why when you have somebody with the megaphone that the president of the United States has, saying, take this drug, that is why the medical professionals including our own Sanjay Gupta, who, I was on with yesterday after the president said this, he was apoplectic as were others because of the concern about, you know, the message-sending to people that this president who doesn't have a medical degree could get people, you know, really hurt and in trouble.

Now, having said that, there were -- this drug was given at some point, maybe even still currently in hospitals, prophylactically as, you know, kind of an attempt to see if it worked. But again, the FDA has said that the study is not conclusive to see if the prophylactic, you know, consuming -- consumption of this drug really does work, which is why --


BASH: Everybody needs to be careful, and the four of us are not medical professionals, but we know enough to listen to them, and that is what they say loud and clear.

HARWOOD: And, guys --

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's the -- the simplest advice --

HARWOOD: Guys --

SCIUTTO: You offered, listen to doctors and the FDA --

HARWOOD: If I could just add to what Dana said --


HARWOOD: Well, right, but for Kayleigh McEnany to say that it's been used for years doesn't make any sense. Coronavirus has not existed for years, it's --


HARWOOD: Contact specific. I've taken --

HARLOW: Yes --

HARWOOD: Chloroquine for anti-malaria purposes for several --

SCIUTTO: Yes -- HARWOOD: Trips to Africa, but that doesn't mean it would be safer if

I had COVID to take it. You've got to listen to the FDA and clinical trials which haven't been completed yet.

SCIUTTO: Yes, do not listen to what's coming out of the White House, listen to your doctors. John Harwood, Dana Bash, thanks very much.

BASH: Thanks, guys.

SCIUTTO: A whole new world for students returning to some schools this Fall. We're going to explain.

HARLOW: That's right. We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. U.S. futures pretty flat this morning, the Dow and the S&P recording their best performances yesterday in six weeks. Stocks rallying, following that promising news of a potential vaccine out of Moderna. Wall Street will likely be keeping a close eye on testimony next hour from Fed Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. So will we, stay right there.



HARLOW: So this morning, the U.S. is edging a little closer to a milestone by this weekend. Every state in one fashion or --


HARLOW: Another will have begun easing restrictions. I mean, Jim, even here, parts of New York, not New York City, but, you know, rural New York.

SCIUTTO: Slowly in some places, but it's happening. Change is coming --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Right now, Connecticut, really, the final state to hold out, but that changes on Wednesday when their places such as offices, retail stores and malls will begin to reopen. Keep in mind, only 16 states though have seen the downward trend of cases over the past week that health officials recommended prior to reopening on a broad scale. Ed Lavandera is in Dallas.

Ed, Memorial Day weekend, of course, next weekend, traditional start of the Summer. That's raising concerns, is it not about people gathering and reopening now with a lot of these businesses might get busy.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know, we all know full well. You talked to family and friends, and you get this difference of opinion among everybody about how all of this should unfold.