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Interview with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D); World Health Organization to Halt Hydroxychloroquine Study Over Safety Concerns; Trump Tweetstorm Fails to Mention the Fallen. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 25, 2020 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST, NEWSROOM: In his first public appearance in months former Vice President -- and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee -- Joe Biden left his home to commemorate Memorial Day. He was wearing a face mask. Biden, traveling to the Delaware Memorial Bridge Veterans Memorial Park to lay a wreath, joined there by his wife, Jill Biden. There were dozens of veterans who were also in attendance.

And this is, of course, a very personal day for Biden. His oldest son, Beau, was an Army vet who served in Iraq and died of brain cancer in 2015.

I'm Brianna Keilar and you're watching CNN's special live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Thank you so much for joining me this Memorial Day, which is one unlike any before. As the nation honors the more than 1.2 million Americans who died for this country, President Trump paid tribute today at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

And as the nation pauses to remember the fallen, Americans will also remember those who have lost their lives in the fight against COVID- 19. This week, the United States will reach 100,000 deaths in this pandemic.

At this hour, the coronavirus is blamed for 97,000 U.S. deaths, the number of cases, now topping 1.6 million. But still, that has not prevented scenes like this: beaches, boardwalks, pools, packed with many people who are not wearing masks, who are not socially distancing.

And this holiday weekend is marking a reopening milestone. As of Sunday, with the last of the states entering an initial phase, all 50 states are now in some stage of reopening. As you can see here, looking at new cases from the past week to the previous, 18 states are seeing a trend now of more infections; 22 are holding steady; 10 of them are seeing a drop.

CNN"s Jason Carroll has been following how states are responding to the pandemic at this point. And, Jason, what are beach towns doing? When people don't wear masks, they're not practicing social distancing, they're not behaving in the interest of public health?

JASN CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, look, it really depends upon where you are, Brianna. Here in this park in Brooklyn, we are seeing people practicing social distancing. But when you look across the country, there have been a number of cases of people doing just the opposite. And all of this, as the World Health Organization has just now come out, saying that they are worried that Americans are becoming complacent. And as a result, we could see a resurgence, some this fall.


CARROLL (voice-over): These were not the images health officials were hoping to see this Memorial Day: partygoers, ignoring social distancing rules, packed this pool in Missouri over the weekend. Scenes of crowded vacationers on a boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland; and at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Traffic has completely shut down --

CARROLL (voice-over): More crowds in Daytona Beach, Florida, where gunfire erupted as people standing shoulder-to-shoulder blocked traffic.

MAYOR DERRICK HENRY, DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA: When you get this volume of people, it's going to be tough to control until we get other things open or close things off.

CARROLL (voice-over): The FDA commissioner, tweeting this warning: "With the country starting to open up this holiday weekend, I again remind everyone that the coronavirus is not yet contained."

The warning comes as at least 18 states are showing an upward trend in COVID-19 cases. North Carolina, seeing its highest one-day number. Arkansas health officials, now monitoring the state's second peak, some new cases linked to a high school pool party.

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (D-AR): They're young, they're swimming, they're just having activity. And positive cases resulted from that. And so it's just an encouragement for us to be disciplined in our activities --

CARROLL (voice-over): Troubling and conflicting signs in Alabama, where the governor is pushing to move forward on reopening the state while Montgomery's mayor says there is still a critical need for ICU beds.

MAYOR STEVEN REED (D), MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA: We're still at a crisis level in this community. We still have issues right now with more positive cases coming in.

CARROLL (voice-over): Near downtown Los Angeles, 150 new cases reported at a Farmer John meat plant. In Virginia, 257 new cases at a Tyson food poultry plant.

Even so, a number of Americans, still saying reopening the country is not happening fast enough. President Trump deemed houses of worship essential, and called on governors to reopen them.

New Jersey's governor says he spoke to the president, and says his state, like many others, will reopen houses of worship when the time is right.


GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): I think we all want to -- anyone who worships wants to get back, doing what they have always done. But again, we've got to do it responsibly.

CARROLL (voice-over): Health officials concerned about a resurgence in cases, White House Coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, urging everyone to practice social distancing and to wear a mask.

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: And New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, wrapped up his press briefing today, where he announced that the death benefits for the families of first responders, going forward, will be provided by state and local government. And he also called on the federal government -- Brianna -- to do the same.

KEILAR: That is good news. Jason Carroll in New York, thank you.

The mayor of Houston says he will now enforce a 25 percent capacity rule at businesses across his city, after seeing images of crowds not voluntarily complying with social distancing over the weekend.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is joining us now to talk about what he saw, what he certainly did not like. And I wonder, sir, at what point where you thinking, OK, this is not working?

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D), HOUSTON, TEXAS: Well, Brianna, first, let me say Happy Memorial Day to you and to everybody else, and we certainly honor and remember our veterans and those who have fallen.

But let me just say when I saw some of the pictures, one of my councilmembers sent me some pictures and there were other pictures on Facebook and social media, people engaged in large crowds around swimming pools, no social distancing, no masks. I just said, you know, we have to pump the brakes.

People are -- there are some who are pretending as though this virus no longer exists. And quite frankly, it's not only endangering themselves and those who are at those -- at these gatherings, but they're endangering everybody else. When they leave these gatherings, they go back home, they go to their jobs, respective places. Other people are being jeopardized.

So it was just -- it just said to me at that point, we just need -- we have to pump the brakes, and that's what we started doing, yesterday.

KEILAR: Were you surprised that people failed to act in the interest of public health?

TURNER: I won't say I was surprised. I mean, when you -- we've asked people to stay at home for the last two months, so I know people want to get out. I know, for example, businesses have been not able to operate, and so we want the economy to open up, we want to start the commerce. I understand that.

And then let me just say, for most businesses and for most customers, they are obeying and complying with the rules. But there are some who just didn't barely miss complying. I mean, they totally opened up, large gatherings, people in close proximity with one another. Those are the things that we cancelled or rescheduled or stopped in March and April to prevent the spread, the community spread.

And by and large in the city of Houston, we have been successful. Our numbers are comparatively very low --

KEILAR: Mayor Turner --


TURNER: -- other cities of our size.

KEILAR: Yes. So it's an exception, but obviously that's all the coronavirus needs, right? I wonder --

TURNER: Right.

KEILAR: -- what happens if a bar or restaurant, as you described, blatantly violates these capacity rules? What happens?

TURNER: Well, what happens then is that the fire marshals go out and they talk to them, they inform, they make them aware of what the requirements are, and we ask them to voluntarily comply. And if they fail to voluntarily comply, we can close them down for that particular evening.

I am pleased to say, for example, we received 180 complaints from last night. The fire marshals, they went out, they talked to the establishments, the managers or the owners. And in all of the cases where they went out, the people agreed to voluntarily comply. That's a good sign, and we are hoping that others will follow suit.

KEILAR: Mayor Sylvester Turner from the great city of Houston, thank you so much for joining us.

TURNER: Thank you -- thank you for having me. Happy Memorial Day.

KEILAR: Remembering on this Memorial Day to you as well, sir.

Breaking news, the World Health Organization, putting a stop to its global study of hydroxychloroquine because of safety concerns. It's the same drug that President Trump touted and personally took.

And despite the weekend being a time to remember America's fallen, and as the nation nears 100,000 coronavirus deaths, the president instead tweeted sexist attacks, B.S. conspiracies. He accused someone of murder, and he played golf twice.


We'll talk about that. This is CNN's special live coverage.


KEILAR: As public health officials expect the U.S. death toll to reach 100,000 this week, President Trump spent much of the holiday weekend lashing out on Twitter and playing quite a bit of golf at his resort.

Protestors gathered outside of his golf course in Virginia; one side, reading, "I care, do you? One hundred thousand dead."

But the president is defending his decision to golf, tweeting that it was the first time that he had played in almost three months. He also attacked former President Obama and former Vice President Biden for vacationing and relaxing and, quote, "always playing golf while in office," a line then-Candidate Trump repeated on the campaign trail.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go play golf.

He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods.



KEILAR: Now, the president's untrue claims about his predecessor, just a part of his 48-hour Twitter tirade that focused on anything but the deadly pandemic or this solemn day, Memorial Day.

On Saturday, the president shared sexist insults against female Democrats, including retweeting a message that called Hillary Clinton a, quote, "skank." Another insulted a gubernatorial candidate's weight.

He also tweeted -- with no evidence, proof or basis -- that mail-in ballots will produce, quote, "the greatest rigged election in history." He's voted mail-in, by the way. And then then continued to peddle a baseless conspiracy theory against a morning TV show host.

Noticeably missing from the president's tweetstorm? Mentions of the Americans who have died. Instead, he bragged about the nation's response to the coronavirus crisis, writing, "cases, numbers and deaths are going down all over the country." Also not true.

CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp is here. She's also the host of "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED."

And you know, S.E., you know, I think no matter who the president is, there's always going to be someone criticizing the response to a disaster. But something that has been true since the beginning of this is that the president really had a real opportunity -- he was handed one -- to unify people, to lead, to set a tone. And he's really squandering it, isn't he?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and for some time. And I think we should say, Brianna, that this has long gone past offensive and distasteful. I think what we're seeing is the president losing it. I don't think the president's behavior is that of a healthy, stable, balanced person. That he can't focus all of his energy and efforts and attention on this global pandemic, on securing the physical and economic safety and health of this country is very alarming.

Instead, devolving down these rabbit holes of conspiracy theories -- baseless conspiracy theories, as you pointed out -- attacking women for their looks and their weight, you know, threatening governors -- one in Michigan for mail-in voting, another in North Carolina for not guaranteeing a full house at the RNC.

This is not how a healthy controlled person would behave at all, let alone during a pandemic and on a weekend meant to honor the memories of our fallen soldiers. I think it's time for us to just call this what it is: The president is not well.

KEILAR: I think -- you mentioned Memorial Day Weekend -- I think, you know, for me as a member of a military family, I think that's one of the things that really stands out to me. Is I think about where in my family our minds are on this weekend, this is a tough weekend, right?

CUPP: Sure.

KEILAR: This is -- when you are military-connected and the president is the commander in chief, there are people -- there are supposed to be -- people on your mind this weekend --

CUPP: Yes.

KEILAR: -- who paid the ultimate price. You know, we're talking about that. I interviewed several widows and family members who lost loved ones over this past week, they've been very much on my mind.

CUPP: Sure.

KEILAR: And then to see someone tweeting this kind of thing? Clearly, it seems, at least in those moments, these people are not on his.

CUPP: No. It's grotesque. And, you know, my heart goes out to military families. And unfortunately or fortunately, you know, we all know -- we all know a veteran, we all know a veteran who has fallen in service. And it's not hard to try and think about those people and what their families are going through -- today, it's one day a year.

And, look, I don't need the president of the United States to help me do that. But at the very least, don't get in the way of that. And that's why I say, this is beyond offensive. Because of course, it's offensive, it's grotesque. It's not -- it's not healthy behavior to do that. It's not helping him, it's not helping his own cause politically.

You know, I saw some members of his own party in Congress, tweeting at him, please stop doing this, this is not helpful, this is not productive.

So there's no good reason why he's acting this way, which leads me to believe, I think, what anyone can plainly see is obvious, that he is not healthy, he is not well. And at the worst possible time for our country, to have someone in charge who cannot master basic control and discipline to focus on this incredibly serious task at hand.

KEILAR: Yes, this is a moment to at least be decent, and certainly to lead. Because this is a Memorial Day where we are thinking of lives lost and service to this country. And, S.E., it's been completely redefined this year, when we think of all these folks on the front line.


You know, people in the military will tell you, that's what we do, that's what we sign up for and now you're seeing an entire group of other people --

CUPP: Yes.

KEILAR: -- who have had to answer this call, and it's really just amazing. So we honor them today too.

S.E. Cupp, thank you so much.

CUPP: Yes. Thanks, Brie, yes.

KEILAR: Safety concerns raised again about the drug that President Trump touted to treat and prevent coronavirus. Details on the breaking news that the WHO has paused its global study on this.

Plus, the slowing spread of the virus in the U.K. may actually be bad news for a vaccine trial there.

This, as the Japanese prime minister says a vaccine is significant in determining whether the Olympics will go on next summer.



KEILAR: Breaking news that we are following today, the World Health Organization has temporarily halted studying the Trump-touted drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for coronavirus, citing safety concerns. Officials made the decision after new findings linked it to a higher risk of death in seriously ill coronavirus patients.

Dr. Peter Hotez is the dean of the School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor University, and he's an acclaimed vaccine researcher. Doctor, this is the same drug the president claimed he was taking for preventative measures for two weeks, which he wrapped up last week. But scientists from across the globe are saying that it's too dangerous to even continue in clinical trials with. How significant is that?

PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, a lot of this came out of a publication last week in "The Lancet," a group led by a cardiologist that the Brigham and Women's Hospital and the cardiovascular group there. And it was a massive study of over 96,000 patients and multinational registries, two-thirds of them were from North America.

And of those 96,000 patients, it showed about a third of those were either randomized to either hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin. And the results were pretty -- were not subtle, they were pretty clear that those patients who received any one those arms, had a significantly higher increased of risk of dying in the hospital, increased mortality as well as a very serious type of arrhythmia known (INAUDIBLE) that was really concerning.

So the WHO had to act. And it was part of their big solidarity study, where they're looking at three or four different medications. And it's clear that they have to pause this one now, that it's not ethical to continue. And probably it's going to shut down pretty soon.

KEILAR: Unethical to continue, I think that really encapsulates what is going on here.

Doctor, we're also learning that Oxford University's vaccine trial only has a 50 percent chance of success, according to scientists. And that's because the number of people with the virus in the United Kingdom is actually falling too quickly, right? You need to have people try a vaccine, and then they need to be subject to it to see if they get it or not. So the lead researcher here was quoted saying, we're in the bizarre position of wanting COVID to stay.

HOTEZ: Yes. Adrian Hill is a longstanding colleague and friend and associate, we've known each other for years. He made that statement. I didn't quite understand it because it was referring to the fact that there may be decreased transmission by the time the vaccine is ready to test in the U.K.

But who cares? This is a vaccine that's been licensed to AstraZeneca, it's one of the major vaccines going into Operation Warp Speed -- I hate the name, but there it is, Operation Warp Speed -- in the United States, it's probably going to be tested elsewhere internationally, maybe Brazil or elsewhere. So whether or not there's transmission going on in the U.K. should not really matter. So unless he was referring to something else, I would assume that the trials are going to go forward. We -- we had one result in nonhuman primates that -- with mixed results in terms of nonhuman primates, but it's moving forward in people.

And we should be able to get a pretty good sense, over the coming year and a half, whether the vaccine's working and whether it's safe.

KEILAR: Yes, we are constantly looking for these bright spots, aren't we? But this is a long road ahead of us. Dr. Hotez, thank you so much for joining us.

HOTEZ: Thanks.

KEILAR: There are clusters that are breaking out across the U.S., including at a Great Clips store as well as a private school.


Plus, the White House has issued new travel restrictions on Brazil, as cases in that country surge to the second-highest total in the world. CNN is on the ground as a war of words erupts between Brazil's president and the mayor of a town that has been forced to dig mass graves.