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Interview With White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Director Peter Navarro; Trump Muzzling CDC?. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 20, 2020 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Breaking this afternoon: a rift between the White House and the nation's top medical experts emerging in full view, with the fate of the CDC director now in question.

A Trump administration source telling CNN that there are conversations happening inside the White House about potentially replacing the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield.

And Redfield has become concerned that he may have a target on his back, a separate source tells CNN, as the White House looks for others to blame, fairly or not, for the fact that the U.S. has around a third of the world's coronavirus deaths, with only 5 percent of the world's population.

Right now, the U.S. has surpassed 92,000 deaths from coronavirus. And there are new allegations from unnamed CDC officials that some of these deaths could have been prevented, but that the White House has been driven by politics and not science.

Six CDC sources telling CNN that their agency's efforts to mount a coordinated response to the novel coronavirus have been hindered by the White House, one CDC official telling CNN -- quote -- "We have been muzzled."

Now, we should note that the CDC officials saying this to CNN are doing so during a week when White House officials have been publicly blaming the organization for botching the initial creation and rollout of a test for the novel coronavirus.

Is it possible that they're both right, that the White House is right and the CDC botched the rollout, and the CDC is right that too often the White House let politics, not science, drive the response?

CNN's Jeremy Diamond picks up our coverage from the White House.



JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, questions about Dr. Robert Redfield's future as head of the Centers for Disease Control.

With tensions simmering between the White House and the CDC, a senior administration official telling CNN's Kristen Holmes there are informal conversations about Redfield's fate.

Another source said Redfield, who privately dismissed concerns about his job security last week, is now worried he may have a target on his back, after a top White House official took the infighting public.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: 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. And that did set us back.

DIAMOND: President Trump echoing that criticism behind closed doors, taking a swipe at the CDC yesterday during a lunch with Senate Republicans, but publicly:

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think they work very hard. 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.

DIAMOND: Other officials pushing back, saying there isn't an appetite for a major shakeup amid the pandemic.

The question mark over Redfield coming as the CDC released 60 pages of detailed reopening guidelines, without a word from the White House, which initially shelved those guidelines.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: You're saying, how come the White House isn't talking about this? That's just false. As opposed to what? I mean, the CDC guidelines are posted. That's -- they're accessible to everybody. That is a White House product because it's a CDC product.

DIAMOND: A lack of fanfare for the CDC guidelines, but not for reopening.

CONWAY: As for the rallies, there will be a campaign, there will be rallies, I sure hope so, because people want to -- want to do that. I would just say, if you're socially distancing at a rally, if you only have two out of every 10 seats filled at a Trump rally, it would look more like a Biden or a Clinton rally. So that would be odd.


DIAMOND: And, Jake, no rallies just yet.

But what we are seeing is the vice president and the president increasingly traveling to battleground states around the country. Today, we saw the vice president going to a burger restaurant with the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis. And as you can see in this video, the vice presidents and the Florida

governor, neither of them wearing masks. In fact, nobody at that restaurant appeared to have been wearing masks, other than some of the reporters who were traveling with the vice president.

The vice president's spokesman said that patrons and staff were given a temperature check and asked if they had symptoms, but they were not tested for the virus.

So the vice president there certainly flouting CDC guidelines recommending people wear masks when they are not able to social distance, as they were not, apparently, in this video.

We should also note, Jake, that the vice president is still within that 14-day period, since his press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive. You're supposed to be in quarantine during those 14 days, according to the CDC -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thanks so much. Joining me now to discuss, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.

Peter, thanks so much for joining us.

NAVARRO: Hey, Jake. How are you?


TAPPER: So -- good to see you.

So, you have said that the CDC's failure to develop a reliable test early on set the U.S. back.

Sources tell CNN that CDC Director Redfield is worried for his job. Do you think he should be removed?

NAVARRO: Not -- not my lane by a long shot, Jake.

But I do have some breaking news for you. Tomorrow, when the president goes to Rawsonville, Michigan -- and I will be going with him -- we will be a net exporter of ventilators, 90 days after it looked like we would never have enough ventilators for the American people.

That's the kind of stuff that I'm focused on. And it's a really cool story, Jake. We're going to be sending already thousands of ventilators offshore. Jobs stay here, ventilators offshore, some of them to sell -- that will help our trade deficit -- but also some of them, compassionately, this country is going to be giving them to our strategic allies and partners that need them in time of need.

So, that's what I'm focused on. I will let you guys do the CDC stuff, but not going to happen with me.

TAPPER: Well, first of all, that's great news.

And it's great that we have so many ventilators that we don't need, because people are not that sick and don't need them. So, that is great.

But to be honest, sir, your -- the whole reason we're having this conversation is because of what you said about the CDC on Sunday.

I do want to -- we can move off this in one sec.


TAPPER: But I do want to play for you what Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said in response to your comments about the CDC letting the country down.

Take a listen.

NAVARRO: Would love to hear brother Alex and Kevin. Fire away.


ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: The comments regarding CDC are inaccurate and inappropriate.

KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: I know that the CDC is doing the best they can. So I wouldn't criticize the CDC.


NAVARRO: So -- so, here's -- here's a little inside baseball, Jake.

Literally an hour after Alex said that on the air, he and I were huddled on the phone talking about what was one of the most amazing pieces of news for this country yesterday, which was the awarding of one of the largest contracts in history to an American high-tech company.

It's going to produce in Richmond, Virginia. They're going to be the tip of President Trump's sphere -- spear for bringing here advanced manufacturing of American pharmaceuticals. That's great news.

So, that -- that's -- that's the extent of our rift.

TAPPER: Pharmaceuticals for what?

NAVARRO: Oh, here. This is -- this is great. Think about this, Jake.

The way the industry is organized now, you have got precursor chemicals in one box, you have got the advanced pharmaceutical ingredients that come from the precursor chemicals, then you got the finished dosage form things, the antibiotics, the presser agents, and things you need for COVID-19 patients.

And what this company does, through the miracle of technology, is do an advanced manufacturing technique called continuous manufacturing. So they can do all that process continuously. It's environmentally friendly. It's more cost-effective, we can compete with the sweatshops and pollution havens of this world. And this corporation is -- is a great corporation, because it's a

classified corporation, is a socially conscious corporation, so it's contributing to this nation in a really beautiful way.

So, we couldn't be more pleased.

TAPPER: What is the name? What is the name of the company?

NAVARRO: It's called Phlow, but it's got a weird spelling. It's P-H- L-O-W.

TAPPER: Right.

NAVARRO: It partners with a company called Civica, which is a nonprofit.

TAPPER: Right. OK. It's the same -- I read about that -- yes, I read it in "The Journal" and "The Globe."

NAVARRO: Great, great story. Great -- great story.

TAPPER: I want -- I did read about -- well, let me ask you a question.


TAPPER: Because one of the things about Phlow is that there are companies -- there are people who are criticizing it. It's a $300 million contract.


TAPPER: People say it doesn't have a -- really much of a track record in delivering drugs to market, which their top executive has acknowledged to "The Wall Street Journal."

And some people are saying, how did this company get this contract? Are you sure that they're qualified?

NAVARRO: A couple of things to say here.

First of all, they have already been produced over a million doses of various pharmaceuticals during the COVID-19 crisis. So, clearly, they have the capability.

Number two, I liken this to the Tesla vs. GM, right? You have got a lot of traditional manufacturers and pharmaceuticals that do this batch processing. They circulate it all around the world in the global supply chain as a way of saving a few pennies here and there.

But, Jake, if we have learned anything in this crisis, it's that we cannot afford to have our pharmaceutical production offshore. This company has proven technology on the advanced manufacturing side.

My own team went and visited and looked at it. That contract that they signed was vetted probably by a team of 30 procurement officers and lawyers.

And this will be the first of many. Congress appropriated a lot of money precisely for this task.


NAVARRO: Good for them, for a change. And we're going to get after it in terms of making sure that we have the -- our capability...



NAVARRO: ... not just for the medicine, Jake, but we're doing great work on medical supplies, like masks.

The president was in Arizona.

TAPPER: Right, keeping the supply chain...


TAPPER: Keeping the supply chain here in the United States.

NAVARRO: And we can all agree on that. It's a nonpartisan, American- type issue.

TAPPER: No, I agree, absolutely.

NAVARRO: And I think -- I think we're actually doing a great job on this.

So, more power to Phlow yesterday, and more power to Ford tomorrow, because they stood up. They stood up, as a patriotic corporation, with General Electric. They stood up.


NAVARRO: And now they're making ventilators, 50,000 ventilators, I think, what -- in, what, 100 days. I think it's something like.


NAVARRO: It's really remarkable.

TAPPER: Let me just ask you.

NAVARRO: And these are cost-effective ones, too.


TAPPER: Let me ask just you, because you have been very -- you have been very -- you have been very agile in dodging the questions.

But just, when Alex Azar and you had this conversation about all these wonderful developments, did he repeat to you that he thought your comments about the CDC were inappropriate and inaccurate?


NAVARRO: We're not -- we're not going back there.

TAPPER: Do you agree -- do you agree...

NAVARRO: You can -- you can fish all you want on CDC today, but I -- this fish ain't biting.

I think what I love to do when I talk with folks on CNN, like yourself, I just want to talk about jobs, manufacturing, the security of our supply chain.

TAPPER: I get it.

NAVARRO: I really have news to bring people, which is interesting...

TAPPER: And it's -- and it's...

NAVARRO: ... because what my office does every day is actually get stuff done for the American people, for the American president...


NAVARRO: ... jobs for American workers.

And I think -- I think we're really coming out of a really dark period. I can see a future in which we repurpose our great manufacturing capability.

TAPPER: I hope so.

NAVARRO: Jake, that's where I'm headed. That's where I hope everybody is headed.

TAPPER: I hope so.

NAVARRO: Come along with me.

TAPPER: I'm going to move on from...


TAPPER: I'm going to move on from the CDC issue.

NAVARRO: Thank you.

TAPPER: But, just for the record, you're -- you're the one that caused the entire brouhaha.


TAPPER: But let me ask you about China, one of your...

NAVARRO: Sure. TAPPER: ... one of your other topics that you have been talking about for years.


TAPPER: The Trump administration, this week in particular, has really been going after the Chinese government for covering up the pandemic, going after the World Health Organization for taking President Xi's word for it when it came to President Xi's information and his transparency.

And let me just say, those are fair criticisms. We have been making them on this show as well.

NAVARRO: Sort of, yes.

TAPPER: But, to be frank, President Trump also praised President Xi. He also took President Xi's word on it when it came to the pandemic throughout January and February.

On January 24, one of many tweets, but I will only quote one, the president tweeted -- quote -- "China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The U.S. greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf the American people, I want to thank President Xi."


TAPPER: And take a listen to these two snippets of President Trump in February and March.



TRUMP: I think President Xi is working very, very hard. I spoke to him. He's working very hard. I think he's doing a very good job.

I have great respect for President Xi. I consider him to be a friend of mine. It's unfortunate that this got out of control. It came from China. It got out of control. Some people are upset.



TAPPER: Obviously, the details are different.


TAPPER: But how can you criticize the World Health Organization for doing the same thing President Trump did, believing President Xi?

NAVARRO: See -- see, here's the thing, Jake.

One of the reasons why the president may have said that is because he trusted the World Health Organization to be telling him the truth as well. That was a conspiracy between China and a -- the client, in the World Health Organization.

One of the things I'd love to see CNN do is a special on Tedros. I mean, that -- that's a bad, bad man. I mean, he was implicated in -- in -- in scandals in cholera in his home country. And that country itself, do a feature on that.

How much money does China give to its client state of Ethiopia, so that it's become a client?

I think the problem, the old expression -- I hate to mention this guy, Dukakis, because he always talked about the fish rotting from the head down. That's the problem at the World Health Organization, the leadership there.

We're giving -- Jake, we're giving them a half-a-billion dollars a year. And what did they give us back? A global pandemic, with secrecy, working with communist China on this.

TAPPER: But...

NAVARRO: I mean...


TAPPER: So, you're -- so, you're saying President Trump -- President Trump made the mistake of listening, not only to President Xi, but to the World Health Organization?

NAVARRO: I -- I never love it when people rephrase me.

But let's just -- let's just put it on the table.


NAVARRO: The Chinese came here on January 15 to sign a trade deal.

That might have been a nice time to let us know that there was a raging pandemic with human-to-human transmission. Instead, the day before, the World Health Organization put a tweet out that said, no, no human-to-human...


TAPPER: Well, the Taiwanese -- the Taiwanese were warning...

NAVARRO: Yes, sir.

TAPPER: Well, we have to go, but the Taiwanese were -- the Taiwanese were warning long -- two weeks, I think, before that trade deal.

But, Peter Navarro, thank you so much.

NAVARRO: Yes. I appreciate it.

TAPPER: And, Peter, you would be interested to know -- listen to this next promo I'm about to tell you.


TAPPER: Be sure to tune in this Sunday. CNN's Fareed Zakaria will investigate the moment the pandemic was born. The CNN special report, "China's Deadly Secret," airs Sunday night at 9:00.

And I know Peter Navarro will be watching. You should as well.

Coming up, a stunning number of grocery...


NAVARRO: You and me with popcorn, Jake.


TAPPER: All right, but you have to be six feet away.


The stunning number of grocery store workers that have died from coronavirus, as major companies start facing out hazard pay.

Plus, promising new signs about a coronavirus vaccine, but now some experts say they need the proof, they need the scientific proof to back up the developer's claims.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: You're annoying.

Nearly 70 grocery store workers nationwide have died of coronavirus, according to a union organization. New York is launching a statewide effort to test its grocers for the virus.

And as CNN's Nick Watt reports for us now, the risk may only grow for these workers with all 50 states now at least partially reopening.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Retail reopens in Miami Beach today, but not the beaches or the hundreds of bars and restaurants.


Not yet.

MAYOR DAN GELBER (D), MIAMI BEACH, FL: This is to see how we do. We're -- we're a crowd-based city, so we want to make sure we don't draw too large a crowd.

WATT: In New York City, they're now installing ultraviolet lamps on buses and trains that flash and kill the virus during overnight cleaning to keep cramped commuters safe.

Across the state from tomorrow, religious gatherings allowed, but ten people max.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): As a former altar boy, I get it.

WATT: And there's a renewed public education push.

CUOMO: You drive through some of these communities and you can see that social distancing isn't happening, PPE is not being used, and hence the virus spreads.

WATT: And a vaccine? Well, researchers who used an experimental vaccine on 25 monkeys, then exposed them to the virus, say it lowered levels in the blood in all of them. Nine monkeys were then re-exposed a month later and appeared to have near complete immunity.

DR. DAN BAROUCH, BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER: Our studies are in primates, not humans. And therefore, we've to be cautious in how we interpret these data.

WATT: As of this morning, when Connecticut got rolling, all 50 states have now started reopening. Yet in at least 18, including Kentucky, new case counts are going up.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): But the way we're reopening gives us the type of gradual and safe reopening where we can do it while watching the data at the same time.

WATT: Boston, by the way, now targeting June 1 to start, but taking more time than the rest of Massachusetts before opening up, say, office space.

MAYOR MARTY WALSH (D), BOSTON, MA: For example, making sure that when people go into buildings, they get temperature checks, they get asked some questions, basic questions, making sure that proper protocols are in place, tracing.

WATT: Amazon, Kroger and others are now phasing out hazard pay for their front line workers. Today, the UFCW union says at least 68 grocery workers have been killed by COVID-19 and 10,000 infected or exposed.

Further back down the food chain, 25 percent of cases in Nebraska are tied to meat processing plants. The USDA just announced beef production is down 21 percent and will be low the rest of the year due to continuing outbreaks.

Finally, some good news on the food front, beignets nearly back in the Big Easy, Cafe du Monde in New Orleans reopens Friday.


WATT: And some ominous news this afternoon from Ford. A plant in Chicago that they opened just yesterday, today they had to close again after two workers tested positive. It's now back up and running, but Ford's truck plant in Dearborn is now closed after one worker tested positive.

I say ominous because we're going to see a lot more of this. This is not going to be smooth sailing, a clean trajectory to reopening. We will see, Jake, a lot of this stop and start. Back to you.

TAPPER: Although in a way I should say it is good news in the sense that they're doing the testing and able to stop and isolate those individuals.

WATT: Yes.

TAPPER: So that is at least something positive to look at this.

Nick Watt, thank you so much.

As states start easing restrictions on religious gatherings, the CDC is now detailing how church services in one state may have started a deadly spreadsheet of coronavirus. We're going to discuss that and much more with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. That's coming up.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead today, religious groups in New York state will be allowed to hold small ceremonies starting tomorrow. Governor Andrew Cuomo said that gatherings must have strict social distancing guidelines and consist of no more than ten people at a time. Just yesterday, the CDC released a report that found church events in Arkansas were likely behind a total of 61 cases and four deaths in March. Not to say anyone did anything wrong, but the investigation linked those cases back to two symptomatic people who attended services at the beginning of that month and that is believed to have set off a chain of transmission.

Joining me now is CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, let's start with this. How do we begin to gather in small groups for religious services, funerals, bat mitzvahs, weddings, safely? Is there a safe way to do it or is there still a chance for infection?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there's a safer way to do it, Jake. I mean, you know, we still know there is a virus out there. It is still a contagious virus, as we've been talking about for some time. As people start to reemerge, I think the question of the safest way to do it, especially at a religious service like that, is going to be a question that comes up again and again and we'll probably learn as we go along.

A couple of things about the Arkansas situation that you brought up. 38 percent, roughly, of people who then were attending those services became infected. You know, if you do the math, roughly, 4 to 5 percent of people died. That was around 92, 93 people I believe at these services. So it was pretty significant.

Now, you know, and there were symptomatic people there. So if you break it down, religious services, if somebody has symptoms at all, they obviously can't go. There's just no question about that. Maybe that's obvious at this point.

Yes, the distancing, the physical distancing. But also you've got to take into account the duration that people are in --