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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Threatens to Move Republican National Convention; Memorial Day Crowds Raise Fears of Virus Spikes; President Trump Tweets Insults Ahead of Memorial Day Events. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 25, 2020 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:00]

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suddenly, in this business, everything old is new again.

Athena Jones, CNN, Bridgeport, Connecticut.

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BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Athena, thank you.

And thank you so much for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin here in New York.

Dana Bash is in for Jake. "THE LEAD" starts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to a special edition of THE LEAD. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper, on this Memorial Day, a day for honoring those who gave their lives fighting for the United States, and, this year, a day where we are now mourning almost 98,000 deaths, family, friends, and neighbors.

Dr. Deborah Birx says the Trump administration is still predicting up to 240,000 Americans dying in the first wave. And the World Health Organization today is saying there may be a second peak as part of the first wave.

Plus, as White House senior adviser Kevin Hassett told me yesterday, the devastating economic losses could also be long-lasting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: As the president is on the ballot in November, you think there could be double-digit unemployment still?

KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: I think that -- yes, unemployment will be something that moves back slower.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Many Americans are out and about on this Memorial Day visiting newly reopened businesses and trying to get a taste of summer.

And, as CNN's Jason Carroll reports, some health experts are alarmed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After weeks of caution and confinement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You wouldn't know a pandemic was going on by looking at the beach today.

CARROLL: Looking almost normal in some places, crowded beaches and busy boardwalks, seemingly little sign of social distancing and even fewer face masks.

In Missouri, shocking images of a packed pool party in the Ozarks causing concern, in other areas, more vigilant, with some communities encouraging people to maintain six-feet distance on the beach. In New York City, beaches remain closed.

Today, the World Health Organization warns we could see a second peak in the virus.

DR. MICHAEL J. RYAN, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now that it's on -- it's on -- it's going to keep going down, and then we're going to get a number of months to get ready for a second wave. We may get a second peak in this wave.

CARROLL: Another WHO official says all countries should remain on high alert, since the hallmark of the virus is how fast it can spread from a single event.

In the United States, at least 18 states are showing an upward trend in COVID-19 cases. And health experts warn, Memorial Day weekend gatherings have the potential to spark a new string of infections in some areas.

In Alabama, the Montgomery mayor is again sounding the alarm over ICU beds.

STEVEN REED (D), MAYOR OF MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA: This morning, we have six ICU beds out of 100 in this region. And so while that is some mild improvement, it is not the type of improvement we'd like to see. We're still at a crisis level in this community.

CARROLL: Today, the president attending to Memorial Day remembrances says without a mask on in public, even though the White House coronavirus response coordinator has urged all Americans to wear them.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: A mask does prevent droplets from reaching others. And out of respect for each other, as Americans that care for each other, we need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot social distance.

CARROLL: Ohio's Republican governor in agreement, saying wearing a mask should not be political. GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): This is not about whether you're liberal or

conservative. You wear the mask not to protect yourself so much as to protect others.

CARROLL: As deaths relating to COVID-19 near 100,000, "The New York Times" publishing a stark reminder of the humanity behind the numbers.

John Herman Clomax Jr. of New Jersey, taken by the virus in April, was one of a few African-American corporate bond traders on Wall Street.

PAULETTE CLEGHORN-CLOMAX, WIFE OF CORONAVIRUS VICTIM: Just seeing all of those names, you realize the vastness of this pandemic, you realize the immensity of it. It's not just one kind of person, and it really hits home.

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CARROLL: And, Dana, this afternoon, Houston's mayor telling CNN that, given all that he has seen in his city, people not following social distancing rules there, going forward, he is going to enforce a 25 percent capacity rule on all business there -- businesses there until further notice -- Dana.

BASH: Jason Carroll, thank you so much for that report.

And I want to go now to Dr. Seema Yasmin, a former CDC disease detective.

And, Doctor, thank you so much for joining me.

I want to ask about the WHO warning about a possible second peak coming even in this first wave. Now, you saw the photos, the video, which we're playing again now, people packing boardwalks. That's a massive pool party in the Ozarks over the weekend, no face coverings that I can see.

Listen to what Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force said about it.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIRX: A mask does prevent droplets from reaching others. And out of respect for each other, as Americans that care for each other, we need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot social distance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So, Doctor, what is your perspective, what is your view and advice when you see those pictures and photos of people out and about this weekend and probably even as we speak?

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So, America is not out of the woods yet. Every day, people are becoming infected. Every day, Americans are dying by the hundreds of COVID-19. I so wish that this was over, but we're not there yet. And by seeing people packed together on beaches, on boardwalks, even in some restaurants that haven't been strict about restricting the number of people who are going in, we know there's going to be person-to-person transmission.

And as much as we have some unknowns about the virus, we do know that it spreads really effectively from one person to another, that those infected microscopic droplets can travel six meters. We know that masks work.

And, worryingly, we know that about 40 percent of the spread is occurring from people who don't have symptoms. So, we have to keep reiterating that you need to do physical distancing even as states are sought to reopen.

And I don't even like that term reopening, because it symbolizes the floodgates being opened. We need to think about this as a gradual easing, a gradual lifting of restrictions. And you can end up in a situation like some counties in Northern California, where you reopen, you ease those restrictions, and, very quickly, you see a big spike in the number of deaths, and you have to toggle back to closing.

And that can actually be more detrimental to the economy, when you're opening, shutting down, and reopening again. So, we have to remember that people can transmit the virus when they don't have symptoms. We have to remember we are not out of the woods yet.

BASH: Yes, so much of this is human nature. After being shut in effectively for more than two months, the weather is nice, you hear it's summer, you feel like it's summer, and people are just kind of done with this.

What from a medical perspective -- I know you talk about -- you and Dr. Birx and others talk about the droplets, but what should people be keeping in mind as they are trying to break out of their homes and try to grasp for some normalcy?

YASMIN: So, we did make really big gains by sheltering in place and flattening the curve. We made sure that health care systems didn't get overwhelmed.

But as a reminder of how quickly that situation can flip, just think about Montgomery, Alabama, where the ICU beds are filled up, and people who are severely sick with COVID-19 are having to travel more than an hour to Birmingham to get intensive care treatment.

That can happen really quickly. The way that we minimize that is still by sheltering in place as much as is feasible. Sure, states of reopening, but we have to look at the data in our area to make safe and sensible decisions about what you should and shouldn't do.

And bearing in mind that people are packing out these public spaces, make sure that, if you end up in a situation like that, you're staying as far away from people as possible, and you are wearing a mask when social distancing isn't possible for you.

BASH: So, officials where I am in D.C. announced that there was an uptick in cases this weekend.

And a top doctor at the University of Alabama -- you mentioned Alabama -- warned of a surge that could really get out of control in that state. Arkansas said that a high school pool party fueled a second wave there.

So, overall cases in the U.S. are trending down, but can you make a direct correlation between the spikes and easing the restrictions over the past several weeks?

YASMIN: So, this is a situation where it's really important to look at the national data overall, but also look at what's happening in your state and your county, because you might get a false sense of security from just seeing that numbers are going down across the country.

They might be spiking in your area. I think it is too soon to say exactly that reopening and easing restrictions is what's causing a spike, because there can be a two-to-14-day lag between people being exposed to the virus and actually getting sick.

But we do know that spikes have occurred about a week after reopening. Maryland, for example, a few days after it reopened, just last Tuesday, it said it had the highest daily case count in recent weeks. More than 1,700 people in Maryland were diagnosed with COVID-19 last Tuesday.

So, it's really important to look at what's happening in your region. And be aware that, of course, as we lift restrictions, as people do less and less physical distancing, that curve can peak again, and we still need to do all we can to flatten the curve.

BASH: I want to ask you about something that former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said over the weekend. He said that children, students here in D.C. shouldn't go back to school fully until there is a vaccine.

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Yesterday, I spoke with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, and I asked him about the real difficulty that parents who have no school, no camp, and in many cases no child care, the difficulty they have in getting back to work.

Listen to what he said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): The big nuts to crack here are going to be day care, not just camps, but back to school in August and September and mass transit. Those are not easy ones to get stood up again in a way that remotely looks like it's an -- it's an old normal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Dr. Yasmin, what is your message to parents?

YASMIN: This feels like such an impossible situation for parents.

And we did see, at the beginning of the epidemic, that we thought that kids were spared. Now we're seeing in the U.S. that around 2 percent of all cases are in children. That's reassuring to some extent, because they don't seem as hard-hit as you might expect with a respiratory bug.

But the bad news is that some kids who are becoming sick with COVID-19 are becoming very, severely sick. And we're still at that tip of the iceberg of learning exactly why it is that some kids get this full body inflammatory response that can land them in the ICU.

I think, in the meantime, as we learn more about this virus, that we do what we can to keep kids as safe as possible.

Maybe, in the interest of feasibility and being realistic, kids do have to start returning, in some cases, to some kind of schooling situations. But, in that case, we need to have good evidence-based guidelines to keep kids as apart as possible, to have disinfectants happening, and also for them to be wearing masks, if that's feasible.

BASH: Dr. Seema Yasmin, thank you so much for those incredible insights and advice, science-based advice, that you're giving to everybody on this holiday weekend. Appreciate it.

YASMIN: Thank you.

BASH: And with restrictions still limiting large gatherings, President Trump is attacking the governor of North Carolina, trying to force plans for the GOP Convention just months away.

Plus, a stunning scene in Brazil -- mass graves, as coronavirus surges.

CNN is on the ground, as Brazil becomes the nation with the second most reported cases.

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BASH: Before heading out to honor the nation's fallen heroes, the president blasted out a series of tweets, lashing out after critics attacked him for playing golf on one of the most somber holiday weekend in the year, in the middle of a pandemic, a pandemic that has killed more Americans than Vietnam and the Korean wars combined, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On this Memorial Day, President Trump laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery to honor those who have sacrificed their lives and addressed coronavirus as he remembered fallen soldiers in a speech at Ft. McHenry in Baltimore.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In recent months, our nation and the world have been engaged in a new form of battle against an invisible enemy.

COLLINS: Earlier today, President Trump threatened to move the Republican National Convention from North Carolina if the state's governor doesn't commit to allowing a full attendance. The convention has been planned for months and is scheduled for late August. But the coronavirus pandemic has threatened to upend both it and the Democratic National Convention the week before.

On Twitter, Trump complained that North Carolina's Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is still in "shut down mood" and unable to guarantee that by August, we will be allowed to hold a full convention.

Vice President Mike Pence said they may move it to a state that's further along in reopening.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We all want to be in Charlotte. We love North Carolina. But having a sense now is absolutely essential because of the immense preparations that are involved.

COLLINS: Last week, Governor Cooper told CNN it wasn't a political decision.

GOV. ROY COOPER (D-NC): This is not political. This is not emotional. This is based on health experts.

COLLINS: Trump spent the weekend dedicated to fallen troops on Twitter where he aired his grievances, posted insults, promoted a baseless murder claim, and amplified disparaging remarks.

For his 80 million followers, the president retweeted his supporter John Stahl who accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of drinking booze on the job, mocked former Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams by claiming she visited every buffet in the state, and referred to Joe Biden as a racist.

The president also pushed a debunked theory that MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough played a role in the death of a staffer in 2001 who hit her head and died. The woman's death was ruled an accident and police never suspected foul play though the president implied that he's under investigation.

As the death toll from coronavirus nears six digits, Trump complained about the media's coverage about him playing golf twice at his club this weekend.

Though he often criticized Barack Obama for golfing while in office, Trump said he was only exercising and accused the press of portraying it as a mortal sin, though he once predicted the death toll in the U.S. would never come close to 100,000, Dr. Deborah Birx said the White House is still operating under the idea that it could range from there to 240,000 people.

On Sunday, the U.S. added Brazil to the list of countries from which travel is banned because cases there have skyrocketed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Dana, back to what's going to happen with the Republican convention, we are told by the city of Charlotte, that they want to put out some guidance as soon as next month on what to do for these events. They say they have a meeting with stakeholders for large gatherings like the RNC and they are hoping to put out guidance on exactly what everyone can expect in the coming days.

BASH: Yes, and, Kaitlan, I'm told by source familiar with the president's thinking that this tweet storm about the RNC and threatening to pull out of North Carolina wasn't meant to really say he was going to pull out of North Carolina.

[16:20:11]

It's more about forcing the governor and local officials there to set the rules of the road, to, you know, this is something that he does when he's negotiating. He does the most extreme, he takes the most extreme position in order to try to get people to where he wants them.

What are you hearing there?

COLLINS: Yes, and we know that the RNC and these state officials have been talking about this.

BASH: Exactly.

COLLINS: Are they going to have to test all the delegates? Are they going to -- I mean, it's thousands of people that come to a convention like this, temperature checks, all of these things are under discussion right now, we're told, but it's not clear what agreement they're going to come to and it's not clear what the state of the country is going to look like in late August.

Though we should note that these conventions bring a lot of money to the states where they're held. So it's hard to see why the governor would not want to hold the convention given just how much of a financial boost they can be.

But as he told our Jeff Zeleny, he said that safety is their concern at this moment.

BASH: A lot of bluster going on, not surprisingly in politics.

Kaitlan, thank you so much for that report.

And many Americans are marking this holiday weekend with trips to the beach. But in some communities, there is a new battle brewing. I'll talk to one official who is trying to stop out of towners from visiting.

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BASH: Welcome back to this special edition of THE LEAD.

In our national lead, Americans have flocked to newly-reopened beaches, bars, and parks this holiday weekend, even as health experts warn that if they don't social distance, there will be a spike of coronavirus cases within the next two weeks.

CNN's Natasha Chen is live from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Natasha, what are you seeing there? Are people social distancing or are they not?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Dana, they're doing a pretty good job of that on the beach here because there's a lot of space to do that and the crowds are a lot lighter than what we saw this weekend. So, people can keep their groups, their families separate from other groups.

Now, the problem really comes when you talk about indoor spaces, hotels, restaurants, the people flocking to these businesses that so badly need these tourism dollars. They're supposed to keep restaurant capacity here in the state to 50 percent but the state tells me when they sent out regulators, they found some places, had too many people, had to ask some patrons be shown out the door.

We talked to one person. Now, keep in mind, we're wearing our masks when interviewing people in close range. He is the only other person we've met today wearing a mask. And we asked him what it was like wearing a mask when others arent'.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISAIAH WHITFIELD, BEACHGOER: I saw one older couple, a very older couple. But other than that, we didn't see any. And that kind of surprised us slightly, hmm, we're oddballs here at these restaurants. But we did notice that they still were taking proper precaution with the six feet distancing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: And the city of Myrtle Beach, of course, took extraordinary action with an executive order, seeing previous problematic behavior last weekend, giving their police more authority this weekend to do things like potentially close down businesses overnight if they had to. I'm hearing from the city that so far they have not -- Dana.

BASH: OK, Natasha, thank you so much for that report.

And in New York, there's a battle over beaches after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city's shorelines were going to stay closed this weekend. And now, neighboring beach towns in Long Island are putting in place a residents-only policy, hoping to stop the exodus of city dwellers. Joining me now is Nassau County executive Laura Curran.

And, Laura, let me ask about what you're doing there because Nassau is the westernmost part of long island. So, some of the closest beaches to New York City. You signed legislation --

LAURA CURRAN (D), NASSAU COUNTY, NY EXECUTIVE: That's right.

BASH: You signed legislation to restrict beach access to locals only. A, why did you do that? And B, how are you enforcing it?

CURRAN: So, number one, that we share a 50-mile border with New York City. We're right on the Queens border. We're the first county into Long Island.

And I've been speaking with Mayor de Blasio about his rationale for keeping his beaches closed for now. I completely understand it, there are density issues there, people take public transportation. And since the local jurisdiction has to enforce it, I understand his decision.

So, since we're capped at 50 percent here, all over the state, I want to make sure that our residents who pay the taxes actually get the chance to enjoy the beach since we are limited. Now, as soon as the governor deems it safe and enforceable -- excuse me, the mayor deems it safe and enforceable to open up his New York City beaches, then our law sunsets.

BASH: How worried are you about that policy having a big impact on businesses in your county? I mean, Nassau is typically kind of -- you have a lifeline in New York and other areas around, especially in the summer months, for the economy.

CURRAN: Absolutely. We had a wonderful tourism season last season, one of our best. And now, we're seeing it really suffering. Hotels, restaurants, all those wonderful beachside places, are really struggling.