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White House Stands By Kung Flu Nomenclature; Interview with Jazz Trombonist Ron Wilkins; NASCAR Stands With Driver Bubba Wallace After Noose Discovery. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 22, 2020 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: -- from the White House podium, and she knows what she's doing, right? Back in 2015, before she supported the president, she talked about his racist comments about Mexicans. So she knows exactly what she's doing. I want to bring in Kaitlan Collins, April Ryan, Jamie Gangel.

Kaitlan, to you, first. This is -- I mean, we always say this, right? it's hard to be surprised by something. I think what was so -- I guess noticeable there was just her repeated defense of a racist term. I mean, it was like watching someone, over and over again, say something that we know, based on her past comments, I mean, she'll say anything. What did you think about this?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the thing is, the argument the White House is making is that because media outlets back in January and other months referred to it as the "Chinese coronavirus" or the "Wuhan virus" -- I think that was even before the WHO, the World Health Organization, had given it a name -- that means it's OK for the president to call it "Kung Flu," as he did on Saturday night.

Those are not the same things. A media outlet calling it the "Chinese coronavirus" is not the same as the president using this term that civil liberties outlets have said is going to help -- it's going to inspire racism against Asian-American people.

Calling it the "Kung Flu" is not a medical term. No legitimate news outlet has used that phrase, so that argument does not even make sense, those are not the same thing and that was the White House's only defense of the president using that phrase on Saturday night.

And as Yamiche from PBS pointed out in the room, Kayleigh -- or excuse me, Kellyanne Conway, when asked about a White House official using the phrase "Kung Flu" several months ago, said she believed that term was highly offensive.

So there is a recognition inside the White House about what that term means, what it implies, what potential it has and it was not the same as what Kayleigh McEnany was trying to say there, a tactic that she has used many times in these briefings, trying to say, well, the media has done this and it's being hypocritical. Calling it the "Chinese coronavirus" is just not simply the same

thing, and it's not really a viable argument. But that was the argument that the White House used as it stood by and said the president doesn't regret using that term on Saturday night.

KEILAR: Yes, and April Ryan, this is the shift we've seen, where you've had it -- this term used on background, right? From a White House source, and then you have a Kellyanne Conway saying that it is wrong and that it is offensive. And now, the difference is, you have Kayleigh McEnany from the White House podium saying this is perfectly fine, this is not racist.

I mean, this is a change, this is a change that we're seeing here and it's incredible.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Brianna, I don't necessarily call it a change. It has been floating through the White House and now it's being justified, the president has now said it. And if they're making these statements, it's not just a racist statement, it's about the heart. Is this the heart of the president? Is he a racist to say this? I asked him this question early on in his presidency, it took him three days to answer.

And if this is, as Kayleigh wants to say, about the origins of this deadly virus, call it out for the origins, where it came from. Why add all of this extra racial overtone? It not only causes a problem with the Asian-Americans, but it also causes a problem with our neighbors in Asia, the people we have to work on finances, on human rights issues, on diplomacy, on so many other levels.

This is not just about a racist statement inside this nation, this has ripple effects. And at this time, when the president is rallying his base, we need to call it out, not just say it's a racist statement, but everyone in there who is embracing it, are they racist? If they continue to say this and hold onto it like they said the words, like the president said the words, S-hole nations talking about black Haitian and African countries? it's racist, it is racist.

KEILAR: Jamie, you have some new reporting. Tell us about this, about how Republicans are reacting to the president's rally behind the scenes. What are they saying?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think what we just saw is actually going to make the reporting I'm about to say underscore the problem here, because what we've seen today reflects right back to what happened on Saturday night.

My phone blew up, Saturday and Sunday, at the rally, not just because they were empty seats, and not just because these were senior Republican officials, longtime hard-core supporters, fundraisers, big donors who said that having the rally inside was a mistake. But they went on to talk about a lack of leadership.

And what I'm hearing -- and I just think what we saw at the White House just now from the podium, we're going to hear this again -- is Trump fatigue from longtime supporters, from big donors. I just want to read to you, direct quotes. And these are people who have never said things like this to me before on background.


One longtime big donor said, quote, "People are questioning whether they can vote for him who have never questioned voting for him before."

Another said, "I'm a third generation hard-core Republican, but how can I vote for this guy? He hasn't handled the pandemic like a leader. Why isn't he wearing a mask? How big a deal is that?"

There is -- look, we have a ways to go before November, and just because there were empty seats at the rally doesn't mean that people weren't watching him on TV or may go out and vote for him. But what I've heard in the last 48 hours is something that I haven't heard before, and that is people who may not be willing to vote for Joe Biden, but they do not want to vote for Donald Trump.

KAYLEIGH: That's very interesting reporting. Jamie, thank you for sharing that with us. April, Kaitlan, we appreciate it.

It is the top of the hour, I'm Brianna Keilar and we begin with another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, more than 120,000 Americans dead. Nearly half of all U.S. states are now seeing a rise in newly confirmed cases, 11 of them seeing spikes of more than 50 percent just in the past week. Officials in states across the south have warned that more young people in their 20s and their 30s are now testing positive.

Globally, the World Health Organization reported the largest single- day increase at more than 183,000 new cases on Sunday, and that was driven mostly by spikes in Brazil and also here in the U.S.

CNN's Athena Jones is live for us from New York. And, Athena, these spikes, they're exactly what public health officials have been warning about.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna, that's exactly right. And these spikes are very concerning. While cases continue to fall here in New York City and other parts of the Northeast, the picture in much of the rest of the country is considerably bleaker, just the latest sign this crisis is far from under control.


AILEEN MARTY, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: People are not practicing social -- physical distancing --

JONES (voice-over): With coronavirus cases on the rise in 23 states compared to a week ago, and more states moving to the next phase of reopening, experts are sounding the alarm.

MARTY: They're not wearing their masks, they're not paying attention and they're not believing that there's a problem. JONES (voice-over): New confirmed cases nationwide topped 30,000 for

two consecutive days over the weekend, with 10 states reporting their highest seven-day average of new infections, including Florida, Texas and California, where hospitalizations recently reached their highest level since the pandemic began.

Hospitals, also under pressure in states like Washington, Florida and Arizona.

MAYOR KATE GALLEGO (D), PHOENIX, ARIZONA: Our hospital beds have about 17 percent left in capacity. We are in a crisis situation --

JONES (voice-over): Florida today, passing 100,000 cases, joining six other states to reach that grim milestone, leading some localities to pump the brakes.

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MIAMI, FLORIDA: We're not opening large venues where you could have any sort of large congregation of people, whether it's a sporting event, whether it's a rally --

JONES (voice-over): Many of those testing positive are in their 20s and 30s. And while the White House suggests the jump in cases is due to more testing, experts say the high percentage of positive tests in Florida, where the rate has passed 10 percent, and in Arizona, where it is around 20 percent, show the increase is real.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, agrees.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Even with testing increasing or being flat, the number of people testing positive is accelerating faster than that. And so you know, that's evidence that there's transmission within those communities --

JONES (voice-over): NFL players are now being advised to stop training together, and Major League Baseball is shutting down some training facilities in Florida and Arizona.

In the face of rising cases, the CDC is expected to issue updated recommendations on masks, and one White House official says the administration is preparing for a new wave of infections in the fall by stockpiling supplies, even as another says that wave won't come.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: We're doing everything we can beneath the surface, working as hard as we possibly can.

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISOR: We're on it, we know how to deal with this stuff now, it's come a long way since last winter, and there is no second wave coming, it's just, you know, hotspots --

JONES (voice-over): Moving ahead with reopenings today, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Georgia, where the Six Flags amusement park opens to all guests. While New York, once the epicenter of the crisis in America, is taking the next step in what has been a slow, cautious approach.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: We had less than one percent transmission rate, yesterday. We went from the highest transmission rate in the United States to the lowest transmission rate. If we see any tick in those numbers we will respond.


JONES: Now, phase two here in New York means offices can operate at 50 percent capacity, and hair salons, barbershops and playgrounds can all reopen for business.

And I should note that while most retail shops are open for indoor shopping and outdoor dining is allowed at restaurants and bars and cafes, the governor has warned that localities that don't follow social distancing protocols could have their liquor licenses revoked or be shut down -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, we've seen that already in Miami, so we'll see how New York handles it as well. Athena, thank you for the report.

My next guest knows what it's like to battle COVID-19 and to defeat it, famed jazz trombonist Ron Wilkins -- pardon me -- spent 33 days on a ventilator during the two months that he was battling the virus. And now, he has a message for the rest of the country. So let's bring in Ron to talk about this.

Ron, thank you so much for joining us.

RON WILKINS, MUSICIAN WHO SURVIVED CORONAVIRUS: Hi, Brianna, thank you so much for having me. How's it going.

KEILAR: Yes, we are doing well. You appear to be healthy, which is wonderful to see. And I'm hoping you can just kind of take us back to the beginning here, when you first learned that you were infected. Tell us about that.

WILKINS: I can. First off, I was contracted to come down from New York City to Austin, Texas to play the Broadway touring show "Aladdin." That was in early March, so I came down. And instead of doing a full two-week run, because of COVID, we did two days and then it was cancelled.

So seeing as how at that time, New York was more of the epicenter for the virus, I decided to stay in Texas and go down to San Antonio from Austin, to visit with my family and check in on my mom, who's been living there for just about most of her life.

And it was there when I got COVID, which was surprising. I'd been away from New York for literally over a month, and it was in early April when, at the time, allergies were really kicking in pretty bad and I thought that I was dealing with allergies, feeling feverish and sluggish and such.

And then probably around I would say April 3rd or so, my older brother, who's over at the house visiting and comes over to check in on me, and they found me unresponsive, laying back in the bed. From there, they went ahead and called the EMS, who took me over to Northeast Baptist Hospital in San Antonio.

And big thanks over there to Dr. Tamara Simpson and the doctors and nurses over at the CCE unit there, for taking good care of me. I was put on a ventilator, I was intubated and I was in a medically induced coma for 32 days.

When I came out of that coma a few days later, I was also taken off the ventilator. I'd been on that for 37 days. And having known about the issues in particular with people who had been on ventilators and how it could affect their lungs, I was very fortunate to find out that my lungs really weren't that affected, and I attribute that to years of playing low brass instruments.


KEILAR: Thank goodness. I mean, I was -- sorry, go on.

WILKINS: No, I was going to say, after that, I was then transferred over to the PAM Specialty Hospital in New Braunfels, just north of San Antonio, where Dr. Kay (ph) and the nurses there and the therapists did a great job and helped me to regain my strength, as well as my muscle control and balance.

And then after about six week there, I was transferred over to the Warm Springs rehabilitation hospital in Kyle, just south of Austin, where, after about a week of intensive therapy, I was able to come home. I'm here in Austin now and just very, very grateful and thankful to everyone who's been rooting for me.

KEILAR: And, you know, I want to -- Ron, listening to just everything you went through, I mean, it is so much, the involvement of what you went through. And you now have a message when it comes to masks, which have been politicized. Tell us what it is.

WILKINS: My biggest message is that for those of you out there who still feel like you don't have to wear a mask, please reconsider your thought on that. Masks can help as far as being able to reduce the spread of this virus. Even if you're maybe asymptomatic, you might be in contact with someone who, in my case, has an immunosuppressant system, and they could get sick from this.

I mean, people are dying from this virus. So it's so important, if you're out and about, please wear a mask, please practice social distancing, please wash your hands, please use the hand sanitizer.

I mean, I understand how people can go stir-crazy after being inside for so long with this, but it's the best way we have right now, according to the scientific community, to go ahead and stem the swell of this virus.


KEILAR: Ron, thank you so much for coming on. And a shout-out, as you did, to all of your doctors and nurses who helped you through this. We appreciate you being here with us, healthy.

WILKINS: Thank you. Listen, if I could throw in a quick shout to all my friends who are watching this, musicians or civilians. Let's all hang in there together. I've got a fundraiser going at, that's been able to help me out, and I appreciate all the donations and appreciation and such.

And one of the big things too for me, is that the reason I felt I pulled through was because I still have a lot of work to do with my music. I've got a new album coming out later this summer called "Ron Wilkins, Tromvocalist." And it was things like that that helped me to go ahead and hang in there and fight this virus.

And I know maybe not a lot of people don't have that, but I'm hoping that this interview and them hearing me will at least give them some inspiration because this thing is deadly.

KEILAR: Ron Wilkins, thank you so much. We really appreciate seeing you from Texas.

And NASCAR is now investigating a noose found in the garage of Bubba Wallace, a black driver here, who was allowed inside that facility.

Plus, New York, sparking another debate about statues when it comes to plans to remove the Theodore Roosevelt statue from the steps of the Museum of Natural History.

And the future of Trump rallies is now in question, after sources say the president's angry over the turnout in Tulsa.

This is CNN's special live coverage.



KEILAR: NASCAR is now investigating what it calls a heinous act against the sport's only full-time black driver. Officials say a noose was discovered inside Bubba Wallace's garage, at the Talladega Super Speedway over the weekend. Just two weeks ago, Wallace drove a car promoting unity and the Black Lives Matter movement. He also led the initiative to ban Confederate flags from NASCAR events.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live for us there at Talladega, at the Super Speedway in Alabama. And, Dianne, drivers are planning a show of support for Wallace ahead of today's race. What can you tell us about this?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are, Brianna, already right now on the track, the grass there, they are painting #IStandWithBubba. And then at the beginning, before the race begins, during these pre-race formalities, the drivers, we're told, are planning to push the number 43 car of Bubba Wallace to the front of the grid, and then stand around it as a show of support during the national anthem. Now, we're told that they are still working out some additional

details on how the rest of the field is going to support Bubba Wallace through all of this, but the main thing here is that the other drivers want to make sure that those watching, people who are here again today, understand that what happened yesterday, the discovering of that noose in the garage stall of the number 43, is not OK and they all stand completely against it.

Now, NASCAR released a statement last night, Brianna, telling us about the discovery of that noose. I am told that Bubba Wallace actually never saw the noose, that it was NASCAR President Steve Phelps who told him about it after a crewmember discovered it in that garage stall.

NASCAR said in the statement, "We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport."

They reiterated that today, just a few moments ago, saying that once they determine who did this, they will be banned for life from NASCAR. The FBI is currently here, on-scene, continuing that investigation.

Now, we know there are cameras here, but NASCAR would not comment on what if any video was recorded of the incident, and said that right now, they didn't have a lot of answers for it, simply that the FBI was investigating this, and that they were doing everything they could to support it.

Now, Bubba Wallace, last night -- late last night -- did release a statement on his Twitter account. He said in part, "We will not be deterred by the reprehensible actions of those who seek to spread hate. This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in."

Brianna, Bubba said that his mother told him yesterday that the people who did this were just trying to scare him. And of course, Bubba has been standing up and sort of leading the charge, here in this sport. This was the first race, and it was postponed from yesterday due to weather, where fans were able to come in who had purchased tickets, 5,000 of them, due the pandemic.

It's also the first one, really, where many noticed that this confederate flag ban on the property would be taking place. And yesterday, there were videos of people sort of doing these demonstrations with the flags across the street from the speedway. There was a plane that flew over it with a "defund NASCAR" and a Confederate flag behind it.

But the members of the sport, the drivers, say that right now their focus is on Bubba Wallace, making sure that he is OK. And, Brianna, NASCAR says they have additional security on hand now, since finding that.

KEILAR: OK, all right. Dianne, thank you. Dianne Gallagher from Talladega. And we have more on the news, just in from the White House. The press

secretary is now defending the president's use of a racial slur, defending it over and over again, this slur to describe the coronavirus.


The Trump campaign will join me live on this, plus we'll talk about the size of the president's rally in Oklahoma.


KEILAR: President Trump's weekend rally had fewer than 6,200 people in attendance according to the Tulsa, Oklahoma fire department. That's certainly a good showing for your run-of-the-mill campaign rally, but this event was certainly not billed as such.

The campaign said that more than 1 million people had registered to attend. Campaign chief Brad Parscale claimed 100,000 Trump supporters would be there. They had made plans for a massive overflow area, and that overflow area was completely empty, as were entire sections inside the BOK Center.


Now, sources say President Trump is very upset about the crowd size, and that the format of future rallies is now in question. I want to bring in Trump campaign communications --