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Trump Heads To Capitol Hill For Lunch With Senate Republicans; Several Schools To Skip Fall Break, End Classes By Thanksgiving; California Hopes To Have 13,000 Active Contact Tracers. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 19, 2020 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Earlier today, the President was at the White House talking about his efforts to keep the food supply safe up and running. This hour, he's on his way up to the Capitol to have lunch with Republican senators.

CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju is with us, also the New York Times White House correspondent, Maggie Haberman. Manu, let me start with you. The President coming up there, A, it was a surprise, B, it's part of the President's effort to try to show, try to portray to people watching around the country, we're getting back to normal.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And trying to keep his current conference on the same page as members will go back to their home states next week. And they'll probably hear concerns about what's happening. He wants to make sure that they're -- his own party is supportive of the strategy so far.

But yes, indeed, John, this was a surprise that came around 10:00 a.m. this morning. Republican offices were notified that the President would come up to Capitol Hill. When people typically meet with the President these days at the White House, they are -- they get tested and to make sure that they are not testing positive for the coronavirus.

But on Capitol Hill, the senators have not been told whether they all have to be tested before this afternoon meeting. It seems unlikely given the timeframe that that's not going to happen. But this is a big room in which they'll mostly be spread out. We'll see how the President takes any precautions.

We'll also see the President's message about whether to do another relief package, the House Democrats, of course, push through a sweeping $3 trillion bill to help stimulate the economy. The Republicans say that is too much right now. They're trying to put the brakes on that. There was a morning meeting today in Mitch McConnell's office, the Senate Majority Leader, along with Vice President Mike Pence. And emerging for that meeting, the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, told me he does not believe there needs to be another package right now. So we'll see how the President if he's in line with that message and if the Republicans continue to believe that as you hit the brakes amid this economic downturn or whether there's a change in tune, that'll be something to watch as the President meets with this conference behind closed doors today, John.

KING: And Maggie to that point, it's an election year. So when it comes to additional spending, we'll see where the President is maybe today doesn't matter as much as a couple weeks from now, what he thinks will help his reelection campaign. But I'm fascinated today, the President, you know, he traveled to Arizona, he traveled to Pennsylvania, he traveled to Michigan later this week. Now, he's going up to Capitol Hill.

He's trying to show the American people it is safe to get out and about. You had some Democrats at the hearing this morning, trying to lecture Secretary Mnuchin saying, how many lives are you willing to risk to send Americans back to work? So there is a political and philosophical disagreement, if you will, between the parties right now.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There is. And look, John, I mean, I think that, you know, where are you seeing that contrast more than how Andrew Cuomo, the New York Governor is handling the situation in New York versus how the President is handling it nationally.

Andrew Cuomo, when he is talked about the same concerns, the economy versus the ultimate precautions to try to preserve, you know, even one loss of life, that's where he has gone. The President has said, there are always going to be death, there's always going to be something, you know, that essentially life has to go on and that he's concerned about the psychological impact of this in terms of depression and other things.


Look, I think that the President believes and whether he's right or not, we will find out. But the President believes that. And his advisors believe that the way that he can win reelection is if the economy appears to be coming back, the economy is unlikely to appear to be coming back even marginally, if everything remains closed.

And so I think a lot of this is the President trying to, as you say, get people feeling psychologically comfortable about going outside again, despite the absence of therapeutics, they're proven to work, unlike chloroquine that the President keeps talking about, or despite the absence of a vaccine. And, you know, I think that in some places he is likely to be successful with that. I think other areas of the country that are harder to hit, it's going to be a tougher message to sell.

KING: And Maggie, let me stick with you for a minute to that point. The President also trying to distract attention or move on to other subjects quite a bit, Obama gate going after his predecessor trying to link Joe Biden to him, I get that, I get the idea to gin up the base, I get the idea to give another network alternative programming.

But when you push for honesty among the Trump political team, do they understand this is by and large a referendum on the incumbent President and because of this pandemic, a referendum on his response to it?

HABERMAN: Some of them do. Some of them don't. Some of them are more honest about it than others. Look, I disagree with you a little bit that the President is doing this just to, quote unquote, distract.

I think that that is some of it. But I also think that this is a President who is very interested in payback in many different scenarios, certainly in the one where he has clearly believes that he was an aggrieved party and Bill Barr, the attorney general, has publicly supported that position, despite the fact that the intelligence community has said that Russians interfered in the election in 2016, with the goal of helping Donald Trump win.

So I think that this is about, you know, someone scores as much as anything else. It's also about finding Joe Biden negatively. If this is a referendum on the President, then that is a much different race for the President, if this is can be about Joe Biden, that's an easier chance for this President. And that's what he's trying to turn it into.

But they're not doing it consistently, John. It's a lot of means he's sleepy Joe one day, he's sinister Joe the next day plotting to take money from China. They had a pretty consistent message about Hillary Clinton in 2016. And it was much more effective than this one seems to be so far.

KING: So far. But we are working progress in the middle of all this. Manu, Maggie, really appreciate your insights.

Coming up for us, on campus or online, college and universities now trying to plan both ahead of the fall semester.



KING: Now a debate among U.S. colleges and universities about whether to reopen this fall. Some do plan to reopen including Purdue and Rice University. We're also told those schools will skip fall break and then face to face teaching before Thanksgiving. Notre Dame on the other hand, plans to shorten the fall semester altogether.

Joining me now to discuss the challenges ahead Brian Hemphill, he's president of Radford College in Virginia. Sir, thank you so much for being with us. Just helped me understand Radford wants to be open as you try to think this through, part of the problem is you're acting on what you know today, making decisions about August, September, and beyond. Just walk me through this challenge.

BRIAN HEMPHILL, PRESIDENT, RADFORD UNIVERSITY: You know, it has definitely, John. Thank you for the opportunity to be with you. And it's definitely a challenge. But a part of what we have to focus on is looking at all of the intelligence we have.

I will tell you that our public health officials have been outstanding in terms of providing guidance. And so as we are making decisions, we are really looking at all of the data, all of the research that we have, and really making the best decisions that we can and knowing that we have to have contingency plans when you are looking at just the challenges that we know that we face with COVID-19.

KING: And so part of this is a public health challenge. Part of it also is a survivability challenges for many, especially smaller schools. What is your situation? How big of a hit are you expecting to take this fall, as some students understandably have apprehension?

HEMPHILL: You know, John, I tell you, this is going to be something that I think will change higher education. It will change the landscape of higher education. You know, for many universities, we were spending our time and we were focused on COVID-19 in terms of as we're thinking about this potential impact.

And we were talking about the enrollment cliff of 2025. But I will tell you that the enrollment cliff is here now. So of course at Radford University, we're looking at retention, we're looking at our recruitment. And right now, we feel pretty good about where we are. We know that there are challenges ahead, but we're going to make good decisions as we move forward.

We've always been fiscally conservative. And so I think that has served us well. And so we feel good about our ability to navigate these uncharted waters that we're in right now.

KING: So everybody is trying to reimagine everything in their lives, whether you're in a higher campus, whether you're talking about younger students, whether you're talking about a factory, I want you to listen to your colleague. This is the Rice University President this morning saying, OK, we know what we know today, and we think we could have a problem in the fall, so we need to adapt, listen.


DAVID LEEBRON, PRESIDENT, RICE UNIVERSITY: The best information is that these five versus ten to turn around the winter particularly in possibly late November, December, maybe January. And so we wanted to be prepared for that. I think as we thought about it, the importance -- the important thing was really to be very flexible, very agile, and very adaptable.



KING: So is that your approach as well trying to get in a fall semester, but thread the needle, maybe change the scheduling, so you can get students out before people expect there'll be some sort of a, let's hope it's not a wave, but a second recurrence?

HEMPHILL: You know, John, we have a contingency planning group. And I will tell you that we've announced that we intend to open in early -- August 24th. But we have a plan that will allow us to open early, potentially around August 10th, and allowing us to wrap up the semester before Thanksgiving.

That is one of our contingencies. And so we're going to make a decision as we approach that particular point in time in July of what the actual opening date will be. But you have to be nimble because it is so uncertain right now in terms of what will happen with COVID-19. And so we're going to be ready with a number of different contingencies as we move forward.

KING: Brian Hemphill is the president of Radford University. Sir, we'll keep in touch in the weeks ahead as you go through this. And I don't know if juggling is the right word. You know, it sounds too trivial in the middle of all this, but you face an enormous challenge. Appreciate your time today.

HEMPHILL: All right. Thank you so much, John. I appreciate the opportunity.

KING: Thank you.

Up next, the President says everything is fine at meatpacking plants clusters, dealing with clusters of coronavirus infections.



KING: President Trump met today with farmers, ranchers, and others involved in the nation's food supply at the White House today. And during a question and answer session with reporters, the President said he is now convinced that problems we saw in the meatpacking industry, clusters of coronavirus cases across the country, President says there in the past.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since this problem came up and what we've done, they've done a lot in terms of fields and other things. But they have a -- they had a disproportionately high number of people that had the problem. And that's going away. The plants are very, very clean now. And they're getting to a level where I think we had some report that they're cleaner than they've ever been. That's a good important.


KING: CNN national correspondent Dianne Gallagher has been tracking this issue for us for weeks now. And she joins us now live. Dianne, is the situation as improved as the President suggests?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm not really sure what the President is talking about when he says that the plants are cleaner than they've ever been before. It is true that we're seeing more plants adhere to those CDC and OSHA guidelines, putting in those plexiglass boards on the lines. Making people wear face masks.

But we're also still seeing plenty of outbreaks, John. Just yesterday, the governor of Nebraska announced that 25 percent of the total cases in the whole state are meatpacking and processing workers, more than 2,600 cases in Nebraska. And it's continuing to rise. On May 7th, that number was 1,005.

So the problem is not going away. We saw a spike in the panhandle of Texas as well. Now, we are seeing additional testing happening but it's still not mandatory at these plants. And while they're not shutting down at the same rate they were in April that is likely due to the President's use of the Defense Production Act to keep the plants open. John, the workers are still getting sick.

So capacity is rising. But the people who are making your meat, the people who are producing it, are still getting sick at alarming rates.

KING: Dianne Gallagher, appreciate your insights perspective today and the work you've been doing for weeks on this important issue. We'll stay on top of it. Thank you very much.

Up next for us, California now, assembling an army of contact tracers as the state lays out its guidelines to further reopen.



KING: Contact tracing we are all learning is a critical tool for trying to contain the coronavirus, tracking the infected, and all the people they've come in contact with and beyond. In California they're enlisting an army of what you might call, a disease detectives now as part of the state's efforts.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is in Los Angeles for us. Stephanie, it's this country's most populous state, I assume they need a pretty big army.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very large army, John. And so what they are doing at the direction of Governor Gavin Newsom is taking current state and local county employees and redirecting them to be part of this army and training them right now.

Currently, there are about 3,000 contact tracers that are always there throughout the state. But right now, what they're looking to do is grow that number to about 13,000. So adding 10,000 contact tracers during this month, so that they can find out where this virus is, who has it, and stop from these outbreaks becoming any larger.

And this is something that a lot of people maybe don't know about, but it has been around since the 30s, tracking where these outbreaks could be and who is sick. Take a listen to what Dr. George Rutherford from the University of California, San Francisco. He's an epidemiologist there. They're leading this program here in California. Listen to what you can expect to hear from the government officials when they do call you.


DR. GEORGE RUTHERFORD, PROFESSOR OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, UC SAN FRANCISCO: We'll talk to you about your symptoms, and then really go over in detail where you've been in the last five days. We're interested in finding out with whom have you been in contact for more than 10 minutes, within six feet without a mask on. We need to know who they are, where they are, either medical providers are, where they're going to go into isolation. We also want to know where they're working.

So this is also -- not only about managing the individuals, but also trying to identify clusters of transmission.


ELAM: And so this is talking about people who have already tested positive for the virus. That's who gets a call. And they want to know who they've been around so that they can call them making sure that these people are isolated and quarantined. And they have what they need, food, resources.

And they say that most of the people, John, most of these people are very compliant. They want to help, they want to give the information, and sometimes get little sticky, sometimes you're asking for other people's phone numbers, but they want to get back to work as quickly as they can, so people do participate.

But just to give people a heads up on what this would be like, these are some of the questions they're looking for. They don't care about your financials, none of that. It's just about your health. And that's all that matters here, John.


KING: It's an enormous gargantuan task --