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Pennsylvania Democrats Accuse GOP Colleagues of Coverup After Hiding Coronavirus Diagnosis; State Rep. Brian Sims (D-PA) Discusses GOP Members Silent on Colleague Testing Positive; Trump to Sign Executive Order to Reign In Social Media after Twitter Fact-Check; Trump Executive Order Targets Communications Decency Act, Section 230; Zuckerberg CEO Blasts Twitter Fact-Checks, Dr. Dave Montgomery Discuss the Controversy over 6-Feet Social Distancing & Why COVID-19 Disproportionately Affects African Americans. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 28, 2020 - 13:30   ET

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


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[13:34:26]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Pennsylvania State Democrats are outraged after learning a GOP colleague had been diagnosed with coronavirus days before they learned about it.

Representative Brian Sims took to social media shortly after he was informed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STATE REP. BRIAN SIMS (D-PA): You don't' get to (EXPLETIVE DELETED) my life. My life belongs to me. It does not belong to you. You have no business, no business putting me, my friends and my colleague at risk in the way you have.

You are a scoundrel if there ever was one, Mike Turzai. You have no business in government and no business in the private sector. I believe you should be investigated. I believe you should be prosecuted. And I believe you should be in jail. How dare you.

[13:35:06]

So I will continue to report back. I'll continue to not mince my words.

I am a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House that just found out my Republican leadership, in a coverup to make sure that we didn't know that COVID-19 had breached the House of Representatives, was lying to its members and covering to its members about that.

The only way we found out is because a reporter asked one of our members and our members got it out of their leadership. You belong in jail. Shame on you.

And thank you to everybody asking us how we are doing and what's going on. The answer is we don't know. The answer is a whole bunch of my colleagues are on the phone right now with their loved ones saying I am sorry. I'm sorry for what I have done to you and not known that I did it.

It was Mike Turzai who did it. It was Republican leadership that did it. It was Russ Diamond that did it.

Every single day, slamming the secretary of health for saying it was risky for us to be together. Every single day walking around this House without a mask. And where are you right now? You are in quarantine because you might be spreading the deadly disease to all of us and our family.

This is shameful. This is disgusting. This is the height of Republican hypocrisy.

This is what happens when Republicans gerrymandering a state. This is what happens when Republicans take control.

I've (EXPLETIVE DELETED) spent so much of my time here trying to see beyond the blind, disgusting partisanship. And now that partisanship has grown deadly, deadly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Republican lawmaker, Andrew Lewis, said in a statement that his last day in the capital was May 14th. Lewis learning that he tested positive for coronavirus six days later. And then he immediately went into self-quarantine.

As to why Democratic lawmakers learned about it a week later, the press secretary of the Pennsylvania House majority leader sent out this response: "A person's personal medical history or condition is protected by HIPPA law, so we would be breaking the law if we announced anything about his medical status or even information that could lead to him being identified."

"The 48 hours before symptom onset is worth nothing. By that timeline, Representatives Lewis was only in the capitol for a short period of time within that window. So tracing who he was in contact with was easily verified."

And Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims is going to join me now to talk about this.

Actually, we'll have a quick break. We'll be right back with Democratic Congressman Brian Sims.

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[13:42:23]

KEILAR: Before the break, we heard the fiery video from a Pennsylvania Democratic representative who was livid over the fact that a Republican colleague tested positive for coronavirus and shared it only with a few GOP colleagues and did not tell Democrats. Democrats learning actually from a reporter asking a Democrat about this congressman who had become ill. And that's how Democrats learned.

Representative Brian Sims is joining me now.

Tell us exactly, as you learned that your Republican colleague tested positive, and break down the concerns here. Because what we know is that he found out on the 20th, backtracking, May 20th and tested on the 18th, and he had been on the House floor on the 14th where Democrats and Republicans were obviously present.

SIMS: You got that timeline perfectly right.

Thank you for having me Brianna.

That's where we began to learn about this ongoing coverup, which is still ongoing. I am still here in the building. We still know next to nothing about how many people have tested positive or tested or under quarantine.

I understand there was a question raised about a HIPPA of violation. We did not ask the name of any person who tested positive. But we do need to know what committee they served and what day were they entering the building.

To your point about this member testing positive, what we've learned -- and we only learned this by prying it out of our Republican leadership who control this building -- we learned this member got results of his test on the 20th and he tested on the 18th.

For the CDC's guidelines, the incubation for COVID-19 is two to 14 days. This member was potentially infected and infectious from the 4th on.

We, as a legislature, were in session on the 4th, 5th and 6th, again on the 11th, 12th, and 13th. This member interacted with members across the floor, members in the committee, certain, in the committees that I serve on.

More importantly, if you ever see a video of what the Republicans on the Pennsylvania House floor look like at any given time, there's no social distancing on the floor. And the vast majority of them are not wearing masks and not taking it seriously.

This idea that by simply quarantining maybe the last two or three of his own colleagues he interacted with after finding out he's positive is the same as the contact trace that's required by public health and the CDC is laughable if it wasn't so deadly.

KEILAR: One of the frustrations is the fact that Republicans wanted and sort of against the advice of health experts, they wanted to convene in person.

[13:45:09]

SIMS: That's right. The Pennsylvania legislature has probably met more than any legislature in the country during the COVID-19 crisis. It's because we're a gerrymandered legislature. There are a million

more than Democrats in the state than Republicans. But using sophisticated algorithms and gerrymandering, Republicans are still in control of the House.

And so they used these months to grandstand and try to hurt our governor and hurt our secretary of health who are doing impeccable work. We're saving thousands of lives.

And every day, they came in and told us it would be safe to interact and restrictions were overbearing. That different industries could interact as long as people could just follow their CDC guidelines.

Now what we were learning is that was a lie and they were not following those guidelines themselves.

KEILAR: They're saying it is about HIPPA law. And to your point of not identifying the person, leadership also saying they couldn't release information that could lead to him being identified. You do not believe the statement put out.

SIMS: No, I don't.

KEILAR: Why do you think then -- what is your opinion of why Republicans kept this quiet?

SIMS: Sure. I think it's twofold. One, we are in the middle of negotiating a budget right now for the entire commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We've gotten indication, as Republicans used these last months to grandstand, that they would use this time period to dramatically impact our state's budget.

For them to be testing positive at the same time that they're telling everyone else that our governor and secretary of health are wrong for requiring the lockdown, for requiring masks and social distancing, I think it was counter to their narrative but also counter to their power vac.

KEILAR: It is worth noting for you personally -- and I think a lot of people saw the video of you very upset. Once you dug into it a little bit, we realized that you were someone who is immunocompromised. You donated a kidney and this puts you at risk. There are a lot of people, I imagine, who are at risk in the Pennsylvania legislature.

Tell us about how that factored into your thinking about this.

SIMS: Sure. Every one of us takes the people that we interact with in our lives as we find them, but we don't know what their lives are like.

After we learned about the potential exposure, most of the Democrat caucus had to get on call with the secretary of health. The stories that were shared and questions shared were heartbreaking.

Colleagues of mine disclosing that they have spouses that are immunocompromised. People talking about the risk to their children. For me, I donated a kidney back in January. He's doing fantastic and I

am doing fantastic. But it does not change the fact that I am immunocompromised.

And it was not for Republican leadership, it wasn't for them to lie and coverup this public health crisis in the building and put all of us at risk.

And I look at the chairman of the committee that we have been serving on for a number of these members, he has two small children. I have a colleague that has a newborn baby, a preemie. And I have a close colleague that has a 14-month old baby. We go home to these people at night. These are the families that we decided we could be safe around.

Little did we know, because of a lie and a coverup, because of partisanship, because of the dirtiest of politics, that my Republican colleague were putting all of our families, all of out staff and all of our constituents at grave risk.

KEILAR: Brian Sims, thank you so much, from the Pennsylvania State House. We appreciate it.

SIMS: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: By the way, the Republican leadership did not respond to our invitation to come on air. We did extend that invite to them.

President Trump is set to announce an executive order against social media companies after he is fact-checked. Does it have teeth, though?

Plus, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg criticizing Twitter for its fact- check. What is he doing here? We'll talk about that.

[13:49:05]

And a disturbing new discovery about why African Americans appear to be at higher risk of dying from coronavirus.

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KEILAR: President Trump is looking to curtail the power of large social media platforms after Twitter labeled his tweets on mail-in voting as potentially misleading.

Facebook entering the conversation. CEO Mark Zuckerberg criticizing Twitter's action this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: I don't think that Facebook or Internet platforms, in general, should be arbiters of truth. I think that's kind of a dangerous line to get down to, in terms of deciding what is true and what isn't.

And I think political speech is one of the most sensitive parts in a democracy. And people should be able to see what politicians say. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: An executive order against social media companies is being prepared by the Trump administration. The president is expected to sign that today.

CNN legal analyst and former media law professor, Paul Callan, with us.

Paul, CNN reviewed the draft of this executive order. This targets a law known as the Communications Decency Act, Section 230.

Tell us what this law is and tell us if the president has a case.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is probably the most famous law that governs the Internet. And it was passed, the regulation was passed in 1996 by Congress. And what it does is it protects Internet service providers from being sued for things that get posted on their forums.

[13:55:05]

You have to remember, back in 1996, we lived in a different world. Google didn't exist. Facebook didn't exist. There was a company called AOL that's still around, which had forums. And there were, you know, free-ranging political discussions on those forums. But lawsuits were being filed against people who said they were being treated improperly.

So to keep a free Internet and to keep this ability to have these free-wheeling political discussions, Congress passed this law and said, hey, if it's an Internet service provider -- which, by the way, Twitter is, it fits the definition of the law -- they can't be sued and they can't be censored as a result of things that they post.

So that's, in general, what has arisen from that section of law.

KEILAR: And then he's blasting, Mark Zuckerberg is, blasting Twitter's stance on fact-checking. You heard him say that social media platforms should not get in the place of saying what is true or isn't true, especially in terms of political speech. What do you think about that?

CALLAN: He makes an interesting point.

I think, frankly, the president is causing a lot of people to panic with this executive order of his, which another lawyer friend of mine described it as having the force of a tweet on fancy paper. Because his executive order, at least the parts we've seen at CNN, would be a violation of the free-speech provisions of the U.S. Constitution. So that's going to go no place.

But I think Zuckerberg is afraid of something that's legitimate. If all of these companies start fact-checking statements that they don't like, don't agree with, you really will have a kind of one sidedness and censorship on the Internet. And I think Zuckerberg is acutely aware of this because, remember, Facebook tried to get into this business of posting that certain things were false that were being posted on Facebook. And they got into a lot of trouble, a lot of disputes about whether something was accurate or not.

They're really not equipped to be fact-checkers in the way, say, that journalists are. And I think that's what Zuckerberg fears.

And he fears, I think, that this idea of Trump's executive order to shut down the Internet.

I mean, what Trump is trying to do is scrub the Internet and make it something like the one in China where you can't criticize the government because that's considered to be an inaccurate fact, whereas, in America, we're used to freewheeling expression.

And I think it would be a big, big mistake for an executive order like the one the president is proposing to be upheld.

KEILAR: All right, Paul Callan. And this is developing so we'll be keeping a watch on this as well with you. Thank you for coming on.

As the nation is reopening, medical experts and public health officials continuing to emphasize the need for social distancing and for wearing masks. But some scientists now warn that six feet may not be enough to stop the spread of the virus.

Experts writing in the "Medical Journal of Science" say that the problem has to do with how far respiratory droplets can travel.

Dr. Dave Montgomery, a preventative cardiologist at the PREventClinic, is joining me to talk about this.

I mean, this is -- there's all kinds of things, Doctor, that are -- have been signs that have been made. Right? Everyone has hung their hat on six feet here. So what is a safe distance and this may be changing? What do people need to know to make sure they're safe?

DR. DAVE MONTGOMERY, PREVENTATIVE CARDIOLOGIST, PREVENTCLINIC, INC: Yes, Brianna, you hit right on the point, which is what we know for certain is we don't know much for certain.

Think about this. Just a month ago, we thought six feet was fine. We thought that a month ago not wearing masks were fine. And we're changing all that.

Here's what this study really shows us. That the six-feet recommendation was based on old science, old technology. And the technology that the investigators used in this top "Journal of Science" to investigate how aerosolized particles, when you talk or breathe, which everybody's doing, not just cough or sneeze, cannot only go six feet but further.

And the second part, not just go straight down by gravity, but depending on, let's say, air-conditioning in a room, can literally live in the air, swirling around in that air for hours. And it's terrifying to many people.

KEILAR: It is terrifying to just hear you say that.

MONTGOMERY: Yes.

KEILAR: And also, doctors trying to understand why African Americans with COVID are disproportionately hospitalized and more likely to die. Researchers conducted autopsies on 10 black patients. They found their lungs were riddled with blood clots. Can you shed any light on this?

[14:00:00]

MONTGOMERY: Yes, we're getting more and more information about this disproportionate death rate with COVID-19. And what seems to be playing out, Brianna, is that this is not about a race or the part of the gene that makes one darker complexion or textured hair but more about the underlying conditions that one might have.