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Nation's Top Health Experts Testify On Coronavirus Pandemic; Trump In Arizona Today As State Sets New Record For Coronavirus Cases, Deaths. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 23, 2020 - 13:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar and I want to welcome viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

We begin with testimony from Trump administration officials about the nation's response to the coronavirus pandemic, where they're sounding the alarm in front of lawmakers. They are seeing a, quote, disturbing surge in parts of the U.S. They do not expect the pandemic to subside any time soon and the upcoming flu season could make this pandemic worse.

One of the controversies at the center of this hearing were the president's claims that he asked officials to slow down testing, contradicting his aides. The president said he was not kidding when he said that at his Tulsa rally. But these top health officials say they were never directed to alter COVID testing.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I as a member of the task force and my colleagues on the task force, to my knowledge, I know for sure, but to my knowledge, none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing. That just is a fact. In fact, we will be doing more testing.

REP. GREG WALDEN (R-OR): Has President Trump ever directed you to slow down testing for COVID-19 in the United States? Dr. Redfield?





KEILAR: With me now live from the Hill is CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, you watched this hearing. What stood out to you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The message coming from these top public health officials much different than the message hearing from the president and from the vice president. What Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the country, made clear is that he sees a disturbing surge in infections. He says that it's a mixed bag where the country is right now.

And he is concerned about community spread of this disease, much different than what the president has been saying about a phenomenal that is happening in the United States, praising the America's response to this and then essentially saying -- the vice president saying there's not going to be a second wave.

Also, the president himself has said that testing is overrated and that it determines whether there are new cases by having more testing. It makes the U.S. look bad in the words of the president. That's not the message coming from these public health officials who say that more testing is essential to dealing with the spread of the disease.

Admiral Brett Giroir, who is in charge of testing in this administration, said this about testing. He said, the only way we will be able to understand who has the disease, who is infected and can pass it and to do appropriate contact tracing, to test appropriately smartly is to test as many people as possible.

So that is the message that they are making clear, they plan to move. They've already said 27 million people have been tested. They want to have 40 to 50 million people per month tested, have test -- 40million to 50 million tests per month by the fall.

So that is the push by this administration, by these officials, much different than what we're hearing from the president who suggesting that perhaps testing is not the way to go, perhaps it's overrated, perhaps it needs to be slowed down. They're saying, we need to ramp it up because the disease is still spreading. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Manu, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Dr. Peter Hotez, Professor and Dean of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and also Elizabeth Cohen, our CNN Senior Medical Correspondent.

Dr. Hotez, you heard Dr. Fauci there. He warned of a disturbing surge in infections. What did you think?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, the point is it's much more than a disturbing surge. We are in the middle of a public health crisis here in Texas, as well as Oklahoma and Arizona and the southwest portion of the country.

I'm here in Houston. We are having a massive uptick in the number of cases, this almost vertical rise, patients are piling into our intensive care units in the Texas Medical Center. We're actually opening our Texas Children's Hospital for adults patients in order to manage this surge.

And, unfortunately, all of this was both predicted and predictable and reflected the fact that the federal government largely abdicated its responsibility and left the states to their own. And we have to recognize that what's happened in 2020 is the greatest public health collapse in the history of our nation. This is an epic failure.

And I understand the point of the hearings is to try to get an update on what's going on, but it really mostly just chipped away at the stark realization that something terrible has happened to our nation and we're still in the middle of it. We have just begun in many respects with new numbers coming out, suggesting that we will have 200,000 American deaths by -- over -- within a few months.


KEILAR: And, Elizabeth, listening to these administration officials talk about how there's actually a lag in the deaths, right, behind the cases. So to Dr. Hotez's point where we're approaching this grim milestone, it is very possible that as we're seeing these spikes in so many states right now that we are going to be seeing furthermore a spike in deaths coming. Was that your takeaway?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, for sure, because the deaths always trail the hospitalizations and the hospitalizations trail the infections. So you're going to see the deaths come later. And that's what's so scary about this is that so much of this travesty is in front of us.

And so when President Trump says, oh, COVID, it's kind of -- you know, it's the embers. We just have some embers. We have a choice. We can listen to President Trump saying, basically, COVID is over, don't worry about it, or in the other hand, we can listen to people, like Dr. Hotez and Dr. Fauci, who say that there are these disturbing surges that are happening and we are on the wrong road going in the wrong direction.

We as Americans get to choose who we're going to listen to, to President Trump or the actual doctors.

KEILAR: And I wonder, Dr. Hotez, especially as you put it in very stark terms here, the greatest failure, the greatest public health failure in the history of the U.S., I mean, that is pretty stark in terms that you're putting it. One of the solutions here is obviously going to be a vaccine.

So I wanted to ask you, Dr. Hotez -- sorry, go on.

HOTEZ: Well, that's the whole point. I think we -- and this is part of the failure of the federal government. They keep on talking about this as though we're going to magic solution our way out of it, some biomedical miracle. First, it was hydroxychloroquine and then it was remdesivir and now it's a vaccine.

First of all, I don't see a path by which we will have any vaccines available to the public until the middle of 2021 at the earliest, and even that would be a world land speed record. Based on the selection of candidates coming out of Operation Warp speed, I don't think we're even selecting candidates that will give us the best immune responses and give us the highest level of protection, maybe be partially protective at best.

And let's face it, we've seen no data from any of the Operation Warp Speed candidates, zero data, except for one non-human/primate study of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Oxford vaccine, which did not look all that great.

So we are asked to believe that all of a sudden a miracle will happen sometime early next year when we have not seen any data. I mean, I have to tell you honestly, maybe I'm just jaundiced by the fact that we're undergoing such a horrific public health crisis here in Texas that could have been avoided.

But I have to tell you, with seeing no data on any of these candidates, I'm treating all of these as a very expensive version of the hydroxychloroquine at this point.

KEILAR: I know. We have you on, Dr. Hotez. We have you on whenever there is new information coming out about a possible vaccine, and you say I, want to see the data. I don't want to see a press release, so to your point there.

But we heard Dr. Fauci say that it is possible that there is a vaccine really at the New Year. You are in the middle of the vaccine race and you, based on what you are seeing, do not believe that. He is talking about seeing some positive signs. He said there's no guarantee but some positive signs in this race for the vaccine. I wonder where the discrepancy is noting that you are very much in the middle of this race for the vaccine.

HOTEZ: Well, I think Tony, Dr. Fauci, is very well-intentioned, you know? Everybody -- those four guys that were up, they all want to give some hope to the American people and I understand that's important. It's just that without any data to look at, without any realistic timelines for how that can occur, when you actually look at the fact that the first vaccine really just start phase three trials by later in the summer and it's going to take likely a year to collect enough data showing that these vaccines actually work, and they're safe.

And the fact that that first vaccine going into clinical trials is probably on my lower tier in terms of ones that will mostly likely to work. You know, the timelines just keep shifting. And so I think that we have to be realistic about that aspect as well.

And, again, meantime, even when we have those first vaccines, they're likely to be at best partially protective. There are not going to be miracle cures. They will likely not replace existing public health control measures. They will be used alongside.

We're still going to have to wear masks.


We're still going to have to maintain social distancing. We're still going to have to be doing a lot of the things we're doing now. It will be a companion technology, not a game -- it will partly a game changer but not a replacement technology. And in time, other vaccines will come along, and as they always do, we'll get new and improved vaccines.

But we have to get away from this miracle solution, magical thinking that this is going to solve our problems. It's not going to be that way. We now have to recognize that we have a massive surge across our American southwest. People are piling into ICUs yet again.

This is New York all over again. I don't see -- I don't see how things get better on their own unless we have really sound, pragmatic, thoughtful management at the federal level that's communicated to the state level. And even six months into this epidemic, that still not happened.

KEILAR: Yes, I mean, we do not have that, right? We just do not -- we see that, we do not have that at the federal level coming from the White House.

Elizabeth, Dr. Hotez is talking about people are going to have to continue to social distancing while we just got word that 17 Ohio students have tested positive after a trip to Myrtle Beach. So, people are now not social distancing and this is what they're talking about when it comes to the surge of cases in young people.

COHEN: Right. Brianna, it is human nature. We all want to be together. We all want go to Myrtle Beach. Everybody wants to go to Myrtle Beach. Everyone wants to have fun. It is completely understandable. And so when leadership doesn't tell you, hey, guys, I am so sorry but now is not the time to have fun, now is the time to social distance as much as possible. Yes, there are certain things that we need to do to keep the economy going. A trip to Myrtle Beach is not one of them at the moment.

So that would be what leadership should say, right? Leadership should be saying let's be reasonable here and let's do social distancing, let's wear masks, but they're not saying that. And that's the trouble here, is that there's no voice telling us, I know it's been four months, I'm sorry this is so long, but sorry, guys, you just have to keep at it.

KEILAR: It's really amazing. And, Dr. Hotez, just a final word to you. We are hearing just from -- for instance, from the Trump campaign, they held up his rally as an example why it's okay for large groups to gather even though and we have no idea, right, what the effect is of a rally 6,200 people who were there in Tulsa. This isn't what should be heard at this point in time where everybody is stir crazy and, of course, they want to have some fun in the sun.

HOTEZ: Well, the extraordinary thing about these rallies is they're being held in areas of the country seeing the steepest acceleration of the number of cases, you know? How could anybody justify that at any level? I understood there was going to be an effort to move it -- to have the next one in Phoenix, which is as bad as Houston or even worse right now, or even in Florida. I don't understand how those kinds of decisions are made.

It's as though -- you know, it's almost as though they have thrown in the towel. They basically said we have given up on trying to control COVID-19 in America and maybe this is a farewell tour. I don't understand why anybody would make such awful public health decisions.

And I think it's important the public health leaders speak out on this, as well. We simply cannot be holding rallies in the states, in the cities, especially in the metro areas where people are piling into intensive care units.

KEILAR: Dr. Hotez, thank you so much for the reality check, and, Elizabeth Cohen, always good to see you.

The president's administration and his campaign said that he was joking about slowing coronavirus tests in the U.S. Well, today, he completely contradicted that. He says he does not kid.

Plus, as the president gets ready to touchdown in Arizona, the state just hit a new record in cases and deaths. You heard Dr. Hotez talk about.

And President Trump orders the feds to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys statues after protesters tried to topple a statue of Andrew Jackson just outside of the White House.

This is CNN's special live coverage.


KEILAR: President Trump is set to arrive in Arizona any moment now where he will be holding a number of events in a state where coronavirus cases are surging. The president will first make a stop at the border wall before heading to Phoenix to address thousands of young supporters inside of a church. No masks required for that event, which the mayor said violates safety rules against large gatherings.

All of this is happening in a state as you can see here that is quickly becoming a hotspot in the coronavirus outbreak, today setting a new single day record with more than 3,500 new cases and 42 deaths. That is just today so far and it is still morning in Arizona.

Before leaving for Arizona, Trump insisting he was serious when he said he asked his administration to slow down coronavirus testing. That contradicts claims from his top advisers who say the president was just joking.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was a comment that he made in jest, it is a comment he made in passing.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: You know it was tongue in cheek. Come on now, come on now, that was tongue in cheek.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know that it was -- I don't know that it was tongue in cheek at all. He has said similar things for months.

NAVARRO: That's news for you, tongue in cheek, okay?


TIM MURTAUGH, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN: It was clearly -- I understand that there's not much of a sense of humor at CNN center but the president was joking.

I'm not surprised you're willing unwilling to understand that the president had a tongue and cheek remark there.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't kid. Let me just tell you, let me make it clear.


KEILAR: CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us. And, Kaitlan, yesterday, you heard the administration, the campaign said he was joking. Today, he says he's serious. What's going on here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This has happened so many times before, Brianna. But what's concerning is that this is happening, of course, as the pandemic is still going on. Health experts say we still need to increase more testing to reopen safely and now we have the White House, everyone here contradicting each other once again on whether or not the president was joking about that.

Now, the president is contradicting aides who said that that was a comment in jest, that he was only kidding. But his own health officials who are testifying right now on Capitol Hill contradicting what the president said, saying that they've actually not been told to slow down testing ever to their knowledge, is what Dr. Fauci said, and you saw several other health officials testify that, as well.

And so, of course, the questions are, you know, how does the president view testing and which lens does he view it through because he's making clear that while he wants the United States to do more testing as he was saying earlier, he says that he sees it as a double-edged sword because then he believes that means there are more cases.

That's not what health experts are saying. They say that the reason that there is increased cases is not just because there's increased testing but also because are people relaxing social distancing measures, you're seeing places open back up and that's what's causing so much concern for people like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield and those other officials as they're looking at states like Arizona, the one that the president is going to today.

And you pointed out that that rally he's going to be hosting much smaller than the one -- a much smaller venue at least than the one he hosted on Saturday is a mask optional rally. And it comes as eight of the president's own campaign staffers are now quarantining because they tested positive for coronavirus and several other officials are also quarantining as a measure of precaution. Yet, the president is proceeding with these campaign events.

KEILAR: Kaitlan, thank you for that report from the White House. I want to bring in Dana Bash now, our Chief Political Correspondent. Dana, I was actually disparaged by the campaign yesterday for not having a sense of humor about this joke, which is, clearly, it's not funny, right, because we're talking about something that has killed so many people and that has totally upended life for millions and millions of Americans.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not funny. But it's like what you just played at the beginning of this segment before Kaitlan could have been on late night T.V. because it's so absurd. I mean, the fact that the campaign went after you for not having a sense of humor and then you immediately cut to the president saying he wasn't kidding.

And, listen, you have to actually have -- I know I will get probably some backlash for this but you have to have a little bit of sympathy for the campaign staffers who try as hard as they can to clean up for their boss and then their boss undercuts their attempt to protect him. I mean, it's just -- it is mind blowing. So that's number one.

But the most important thing, as you and Kaitlan were talking about, is the substance of this. The fact that the president is still saying that he believes that testing is not the best thing in the world. I mean, this is after we have heard scientists on Capitol Hill all morning. You have had them on this program saying that this is one of the worst run, if not, the worst run responses to this kind of thing ever in modern history.

And the reason is because not only was the government not prepared but more importantly is not coordinating it on a federal level in a way that it needs to happen. And this is about people's lives. This is about people dying.

And the fact that the president doesn't want to know the best way to help people to prevent people from dying because he thinks that it is bad to have those numbers up because it is on his watch and he is looking ahead to his re-election is -- even for this White House we have heard things like this from over the past few months, it's almost hard to wrap your mind around.

KEILAR: Yes. It's also just such a losing battle because you can't fight the reality that is the coronavirus. I mean, he is clearly trying to but people are dying and we have the numbers, so there you go.

BASH: And, listen, Brianna, you said you can't fight the reality. What better evidence do we have of that, unfortunately, sadly, than his own rally? Never mind that people were with families and people who were older were afraid to come, according to people on the president's campaign explaining away the lower numbers than expected, more importantly, his own campaign is now suffering.


At least six staffers are tested positive who were there.

So it is hitting home in a way that even they are not recognizing. And it's an exhibit A, B and C of how he cannot ignore the reality.

KEILAR: And can I also just ask you, Dana, about -- look, Tulsa was having a spike. He goes to Tulsa. He's in Arizona, they're having a spike. And we heard Dr. Hotez say that it's almost as if this administration given up on dealing with coronavirus, which is alarming because it's kind of like throwing your oars out of the boat when you barely started to cross the river, right? But he's almost taking this tour of places where coronavirus is just ravaging communities.

BASH: Yes. I mean, the Tulsa rally was planned because it was the furthest -- one of the furthest ahead, they said, when it came to reopening and it was planned before the spike there. And Arizona is a swing state. And they want to go to Arizona. They want to go to Wisconsin. And so the president and the team are trying to find ways as best they can for him to be present in these states which will determine whether or not he gets elected again.

And you're right, it doesn't speak to the thing that they're trying to ignore, which is the fact that the coronavirus is spiking in some of these places, especially where he is going today.

KEILAR: All right. Putting the lives of your voters at risk doesn't seem like a great strategy but, Dana Bash, thank you so much.

BASH: And I just want to say for the record, you have a great sense of humor.

KEILAR: Thank you, Dana. I appreciate that, as do you. Thanks.

President Trump ordering the feds to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys statues after protesters try to topple Andrew Jackson outside of the White House.

Plus, underway right now, the funeral service for Rayshard Brooks, who was killed by police in Atlanta, we are going to take you there as his family is getting ready now to speak.