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Fed Chair, Treasury Secretary Testify on Coronavirus Relief; WHO Considers Trump Letter Threatening to Permanently End U.S. Funding; Former Acting CDC Director, Dr. Richard Besser, Discusses Trump's Threat to Remove U.S. Funding from WHO & Trump Saying CDC Originally "Had No Tests" for Coronavirus; Update on Coronavirus Responses Around the World. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 19, 2020 - 11:00   ET



SEN. BEN SASSE (R-NE): For instance, we indicted Huawei and its subsidiaries and the CFO for a long list of crimes, from the Dutch trade secrets, the sanctions evasions, money laundering, but we haven't placed any sanctions on Huawei itself. How do you and the Treasury Department assess the costs and benefits of the sanctions?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John King, in Washington. You're watching a key Senate hearing up on Capitol Hill. This is CNN's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Just there, critical and, at times, combative oversight hearing. The Federal Reserve chairman and the Treasury secretary explaining just how the government is spending, in some cases not spending yet, $2.2 trillion in coronavirus relief.

The committee also pressing this question: Why the bulk of $500 million set aside specifically for small businesses across state and local governments is still sitting in the government's piggy bank and not in the hands of the people who need it most.

A busy day for the president, too. We'll hear from him this hour at the White House. It'll be up on Capitol Hill this afternoon. The president leaving the White House to go to the capitol to attend the Senate Republican luncheon.

The president putting his threat to defund the World Health Organization on paper.

He's also said he's taking an unproven drug to fend off the coronavirus, a decision that runs counter to warnings of his own Food and Drug Administration.

Today's topic at the White House is the food supply and keep the farmers working.

The back-to-work riddle is the defining question right now in American life. The United States now -- you see the numbers there -- just north of 1.5 million confirmed cases and 90,000 Americans have died. Soon 50 of all 50 governors will be part of the reopening experiment.

The model the White House favors revises the death estimate down. This, as the scientists say the big factor is not so much about people leaving the house, it's about whether they wear a mask when they do so.


DR. CHRIS MURRAY, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH METRICS & EVALUATION, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: What's really being fascinating is there's not a strong correlation between where mobility has gone up and the trend in cases and deaths, even when we take into account the increase in testing.

And our explanation for that is if you dig a little bit deeper and look into how the fraction of the population in different states that are wearing masks, we think that's really the key difference there.


KING: We'll come back to that a bit later.

But let's turn to what we just heard in the Senate. The Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifying in front of the Senate Banking Committee, explaining why billions of dollars allocated by the CARES Act is not being spent.

Secretary Mnuchin also addressing concerns about big companies getting loans, small businesses left waiting.


STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: One of the things we are very pleased about the additional money is that the average loan size has come down considerably. I think we all had certain concerns about, in the first tranche, how larger companies were prioritized. I believe that's now been corrected.


KING: Let's bring in our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, and CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.

Christine, let me start with you.

On the big picture mattering to anybody across the United States, this money is designed to keep the economy afloat, the economy paralyzed by the shutdown.

What have you heard so far that either raises questions or gives you assurances that, after some criticism, some stalling, some legitimate, understandable, technical issues getting these programs up and running, where are we?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Some of this money is not out of the door yet. What I'm hearing from these folks is hopefully by June you'll have more of these programs up and running so they can get these main street programs up and running and some of these brand new, made out of thin air lending programs out the door.

What I would like to hear more about from the PPP, small business lending, is that small business owners are saying it's just not flexible enough to them. They need to be able to not spend 70 percent of it on payroll but maybe more like 50-50.

They have to buy PPE for their workers, and they have to change the way their business operates. And that's not necessarily just payroll expenses. That's other expense. And they would like to have that loan money forgiven. There are technical problems with it.

But what I also heard here is the Fed chief telling Congress, look, you might have to do more, you need to think about doing more because we need to make these families solvent and whole again.

KING: Phil, in this hearing, it's been several things. One of it is questions about why is there money still sitting in the Treasury? Why hasn't it been put out there for small businesses?

The Democrats also using this hearing to make their case that more money is needed, more aid to state and local governments, more direct aid to the American people.

And to get into the whole safety debate, if you will. The president and his team gung-ho about reopening. Many Democrats -- and Sherrod Brown put the question straight to secretary Mnuchin, essentially how many lives are you willing to risk to put people back to work?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. It's the balance. It's the very thin line that administration officials are trying to walk that state government officials are trying to walk as well, and I don't think anybody has a black-and- white answer.

I think Secretary Mnuchin said he didn't agree with how the question was characterized and said no life is equal to the GDP. I'm paraphrasing there. But it gets to the national attention of this moment of when you're looking at the economy versus the public health crisis, these two things run smack into one another. And without one being solved, the other remains a problem.


I think the interesting element of this hearing, look, we all spend a ton of time on the public health piece of this, whether or not there's going to be a vaccine, whether therapeutics work, whether the lockdowns are working, whether wearing a mask is working.

But the economic side of this -- and this is where Christine and I spend most of our days -- are also dramatic and terrible and the fallout is epically bad at the moment.

What's difficult right now for policymakers, and it extends to the treasury secretary, extends to the Fed chairman, is never before in the country has a recession or potentially worse been self-imposed. This was the government deciding to shut down all these businesses.

And that's why you're seeing such a dramatically large government response, the largest response in the history of the country, $2.2 trillion in one rescue package, $3 trillion in total.

You hear lawmakers say, look, we're focused on the public health side of things. We gave you the tools to try and address the economy, and if things aren't moving out the door fast enough, that's very problematic.

I do want to touch on one thing Christine was talking about, and that's these lending programs the Feds are attempting to set up right now. That's the slowest piece of this up to this point. And $4.4 billion dedicated to it at this point, about $37 billion has actually been sent over, about $190 billion is committed.

The reason this is happening right now is this is something the Fed has simply never done before. Chairman Powell got into this saying this is as complicated as they've ever address, particularly the Main Street lending facility.

But what we're hearing from lawmakers more and more is, we gave you this money, this money needs to go out the door now, because all you need to do is look at every economic indicator over the course of the last several weeks to know that more needs to be done and more needs to be done quickly -- John?

KING: Christine, to that point, one of the reasons Republicans are pushing the secretary and Chairman Powell to do more as quickly as possible, especially in the Treasury sense, get the rest of that money into the economy, is because they understand the Democrats are saying we need to spend even more. Phil talked almost $3 trillion so far.

The Democrats passed a bill that would double that, another $3 trillion, most of it designed for economic assistance.

Listen to the secretary here saying, I'm ready. I have to dot some "I"s and cross some "T"s, but then I'll get that money out there.


MNUCHIN: Of the $500 billion, approximately $50 billion was in direct lending programs from the Treasury and $450 billion was available for the 13-3 facilities. I've allocated about half of that.

And let me be clear, I am prepared to allocate the rest of that. The only reason I have not allocated it fully is we are just starting to get these facilities up and running. We want to have a better idea as to which one of the facilities needs more capital.


KING: There's a lot of banker talk there, a lot of technical talk there. But the question is -- and this is the uncertainty -- if they get this money out, and if they get it out more quickly and set up these structures to do it, nobody really knows if it's enough. That is the big debate.

ROMANS: Right. And the Fed chief said, the Federal Reserve chief said Congress needs to consider more support for families. That's assuming all of this goes out the door and all of this stuff works. They're talking about -- he said you're going to have to consider more help for the economy.

You know what, he said something so interesting, too. He said people have put their lives and livelihoods basically on pause here for the common good, for the public health piece of this story. And it's up positive Washington, it's up to Congress and the Fed to make those families whole. How you make them whole and when? That seems to be the big debate here at the moment.

But it's interesting that not all that money has been deployed yet of that first stimulus. And how quickly the Fed can get it out the door is just critical here.

KING: Phil, in terms of the what next, Leader McConnell has said no way, what the Democrats passed is way too big. But there are several Republicans who say we could do something smaller, help state and local governments, maybe do a little more stimulus spending.

Do you anticipate there will be a fourth round, or when will you be able to answer that question?

MATTINGLY: You know, what's been fascinating is I think a lot of people were working under the assumption there would be a phase four, there would be a fourth round. It was just kind of a given.

I think that's shifted. I think it's more likely than not there will be a fourth round. Obviously, House Democrats already passed their bill, with Speaker Pelosi saying this is our opening pitch. Senate Republicans, now it's your turn.

I think you also have to understand, though, what's going on inside the Senate Republican conference. You have a split conference. You have a split conference in terms of whether or not more support should be sent out to state and local localities. You have a split conference on whether there should be more spending.

There's a split conference on what we were talking about earlier, the tension between public health and economic rescue packages in terms of reopening the country.

So what you're seeing between Leader McConnell and some of the Republicans leaders, and frankly, the Treasury secretary, the president, too, aligned with McConnell on this, is we'll pause, we'll wait and see how this money kicks out and we'll go from there.

I think the reality is, any economists you talk to -- and Christine talks to them more than I do but also business executives-- there's going to be more needed. The question is: How big and bold are they going to go? Do you just fluff out the existing programs or do you go bigger? Do you get closer to where the House Democrats' package is right now? [11:10:12]

There's a serious, serious split between on where Republicans are on this right now and where the Democrats are. That's a difference from the first three packages that were largely bipartisan, particularly in the Senate. So how that plays out in the weeks ahead will be complicated.

This is not going to be an easy sell. This is not going to be an easy package to come together. And certainly not in the size and scale the House Democrats are pushing for -- John?

KING: And the president has moved several times on this question. He is up for reelection. His view in a couple weeks or months may be the determining factor.

Christine Romans, Phil Mattingly, appreciate it.

We'll keep watching that hearing on Capitol Hill.

We're also watching the White House where the president has an event this hour.

Up next, the president is demanding that the World Health Organization make major changes and make them quickly or face a permanent end to U.S. funding.



KING: The World Health Organization says it is, quote, "considering the contents" of a letter from President Trump. President Trump threatening U.S. funding and even withdrawing the United States from WHO membership unless changes are made, and the presidents wants within 30 days.

President Trump writing this: "It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world.

The only way forward for the World Health Organization," the president writes, "is if it can demonstrate independence from China. I cannot allow tax dollars to continue to finance an organization that in its present state is so clearly not serving America's interests."

Just this morning, a number of countries did agree to an independent investigation of the WHO's response to the coronavirus.

With me now is the former acting director of CDC, Dr. Richard Besser.

Dr. Besser, good to see you today.

Two things can be true at once. That it is legitimate to question to how the WHO responded to this initially, whether the WHO was aggressive enough, but then there's the issue of, in the middle of a pandemic, is it the time to initiate this fight? What do you think?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: Clearly, it's important to look at every response and see what was done well and what was not done well. That's been done with every major response WHO has been involved in.

It is critically important, though, for us to maintain our membership in WHO

I worked with the World Health Organization a lot during my career at CDC. And there are many reasons for that. Out of pure self-interest, the nature of infectious diseases is that a threat anywhere is a threat everywhere. And so you need global organizations like the World Health Organization that promote open reporting, that promote a shared response to global threats.

It's also a place where the interests of nations with lower income are shared and are addressed.

As we're working towards a vaccine, the idea that we would create a vaccine only for U.S. use, it may sound good, but what if the vaccine is developed in Germany or in France or in China? We want to make sure that there's a body that's looking out to make sure that vaccines that are developed and manufactured are distributed to the entire world.

So, yes, your point is a good one. There are always things that can be done better, but now is the time to rally behind WHO and make sure they have the support they need.

KING: If this president is not willing to do that unless he sees changes. Do you see a middle ground or a compromise, or is this going to be at least a political standoff and then we'll see if there are policy implications?

BESSER: Yes. And it's hard for me to look at the politics around this. We are the largest funder of the World Health Organization. There are quite a number of staff, actually, from the CDC who are placed at WHO in key positions.

And the reason is that the CDC has some of the leading experts in disease control around the globe. And we have always seen it as part of our interests for America as well as for global health to have some of our best people positioned in Geneva with the World Health Organization.

You would hate to see that stop. You know, the sharing of information alone through WHO is absolutely essential.

KING: Let me bring the conversation back to the CDC, which you once led. It also has found itself to be a bit of a public pinata recently. The president's trade advisor publicly blaming it for missteps early on. The secretary of health and human services coming out, saying, no, no, don't listen to the trade adviser, Peter Navarro.

But listen here to the president of the United States yesterday who, at times, has praised, at times, then shelved the work of the CDC. Listen to how he describes the agency and how it fits within the government.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think they work very hard. Don't forget, they've been here for many years. They don't work for me. They work for the country.

I will say they, originally, they had no test. And one of the tests had a problem very early on, but that was quickly remedied and now we have the best tests anywhere in the world. I think we give ourselves a lot of that credit.


KING: They don't work for me. They work for the country. I guess that's literally true because it was there before him and will be here after him, however long he serves as president.

But when you hear language like that from the president, what does it tell you?

BESSER: What I would like to see is a daily conversation with the CDC in terms of what they're learning, what they're doing, what we can do as a nation to open our economy in a way that is safe and based on the best public health science.

I'm very concerned when I see public health put out as the enemy of getting people back to work, when, in fact, public health and applying the principles we keep talking about in terms of testing and tracking and isolating, that is the road map to getting people back to work in a way that is safe and sustainable.


And we need to be hearing that so that people understand how critically important it is that, as people go to work, they have the protections they need, that every community, every person, regardless of color, has what they need to be safe and secure as people are going back to work.

KING: But you know that's not the case, at the moment, in the sense they put together a 60-plus-page document that laid out very detailed reopening guidelines, very cautious reopening guidelines, setting standards for safety along the way. And the White House said, no, thank you. They viewed it as too cautious and to prescriptive, and instead, they put out those trees, guidelines, if you will. Essentially, common sense talking points.


KING: I think I'm getting involved too much in politics today.

You're a doctor. I asked you about the WHO. But what is the circuit breaker to get the CDC, which normally is the place that you go, the trusted source for just science-based information, no matter who is president, no matter which political party is the center of the economy at the moment, how do you get it to be more prominent and more normal, if you will?

BESSER: It is a real challenge. I'm on the commission to restart and recover New Jersey, and on the seven-state commission that's coordinating in the Mideast. What you don't want to see is a different plan being implemented by every states. What you want to see is a national plan that's very detailed that's applied locally based on the circumstances.

So in a state that's in the midst of rising cases, they would be doing something differently than a state that's having two weeks of decline. But they're all working off the same playbook. And that we don't have right now.

There were some good guidelines the CDC just put out on contact tracing, and I hope those get some traction because they have that kind of detail. But the overarching ones, those checklists really don't provide any value.

KING: Dr. Besser, I appreciate your time and your insight.

BESSER: Thanks so much, John.

KING: Thank you, sir. Take care.

Up next for us, China's slams the United States' response to the coronavirus as incompetent and is urging President Trump to stop playing what China calls the blame game.



KING: India says the number of positive coronavirus cases in that country now, more than 100,000. India also announcing it has carried out more than 2.4 million coronavirus tests nationwide. This news comes as India and its neighbors brace now for a super cyclone due to make landfall in less than 36 hours from now.

More on today's big coronavirus developments from CNN correspondents around the globe.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here in Hong Kong, I'm watching how China is defending the World Health Organization from criticism hurled at it by President Trump.

A spokesperson for China's foreign ministry has accused the U.S. government of playing the blame game, of seeking to distract people from the Trump administration's own failings at home of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

And he's also trying to remind the U.S. that it has responsibilities to pay fees to keep the WHO functioning.

President Trump, he has threatened to completely permanently stop funding the WHO, and if it doesn't make serious reforms to withdraw or reconsider U.S. membership in that organization.

He's accused the WHO of being a puppet of China and defending its first weeks and months of response to the coronavirus pandemic. The coronavirus was first discovered in mainland China in December of last year.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN BRAZIL BUREAU CHIEF: Here in Brazil, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has now topped 250,000, surpassing the U.K.'s total and making Brazil the third-highest in the world. The death toll is over 16,000.

In Sao Paulo, considered the epicenter of the outbreak, officials have declared a five-day holiday this week in the hopes of convincing people to stay home. And 90 percent of ICU beds are full, but less than half the population is sheltering-in-place. The outlook is similarly bleak in hospitals from Rio de Janeiro to the Amazon.

Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro is focusing his efforts on trying to expand use of anti-malaria drugs to treat the coronavirus. His second health minister resigned last week but he has yet to name a successor.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sao Paulo.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here in Denmark, the government is continuing to ease some of the restrictions put in place to combat the novel coronavirus. As of this week, shopping malls are allowed to open again, as well as bars, restaurants and cafes. All of them under strict hygiene standards to make sure people don't catch the novel coronavirus.

Also professional sports leagues are going to start playing again fairly soon as well.

Denmark is really considered a role model here in Europe and really around the world for the way to tackle the coronavirus. They went on a lockdown very early on, they shut their borders very early on and are now able to get out of that lockdown fairly quickly again.


The interesting thing about Denmark is they don't really believe in things like wearing masks in public. They also haven't really started mass testing for coronavirus until fairly recently.