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U.S. Nears 2.4 Million Cases, 122,000 Deaths; COVID-19 Surges Across Much Of U.S.; TX Gov. Greg Abbott Suspends Further Reopening As Cases Surge; Fauci On Masks: Forget The Politics, Look At The Data; Trump Visits Wisconsin Amid Dropping Poll Numbers; Multiple Trump Campaign Staffers Quarantining After Tulsa Rally; Bolton Says Trump Turned "A Blind Eye" To Coronavirus Pandemic; 1.48 Million File First- Time Unemployment Claims; Another Stimulus Plan Could Include More Individual Checks; Biden Focusing On Health Care In Pennsylvania Stop. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 25, 2020 - 12:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Cristina Alesci, appreciate that reporting. We'll stay on top of that.


Top of the hour now. Hello, I'm John King in Washington. Thank you so much for sharing your day with us. In many communities, this hour, the coronavirus fight getting tougher. 34,000 plus new cases Wednesday alone, that's the fourth highest single day over the entire pandemic.

That's the national map, picture of nationwide failure. Infections are now rising in 29 states compared to last week. Only 11 states managing the trend down at the moment. The top line numbers quite haunting, nearly 2.4 million cases here in the United States. 122,000 Americans, so far, have sadly lost their lives to the coronavirus.

Economics, also grim numbers today another 1.5 million people filing first time unemployment benefits for first time benefits last week. The running total of Americans who have lost a job since mid-March - sit down for this, 47.3 million. There's also politics sadly in the debate over how to stop this case surge and keep the economy open.

Wearing a mask helps, period. Yet the President of United States says some only were asked to protest him and he says he does not consider them an essential coronavirus countermeasure. New projections again pit the President against the science. The current path were Americans take a mixed approach to mass wearing, ends with nearly 180,000 dead by October in this model.

If 95 percent of Americans would wear a mask, the model says, 30,000 fewer Americans would die. Texas right now in the middle of, what one doctor calls, apocalyptic coronavirus surge. The Governor Greg Abbott today taking big steps. He says he's pausing any further reopening.

Governor Abbott also, today, suspending elective surgeries in counties that are home to the state's four biggest cities Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. CNN's Alexandra Field is in in Dallas. Alex, this is big news. The governor was saying just the other day he wanted to wait, a month he decided he couldn't.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He couldn't. Look, Texas is realizing that they have a big problem on their hands and that they have to act now. Look, this is a state that was among the first to reopen. Now they are realizing that there have been dire consequences for this reopening.

There were two straight days where we saw the record for new cases broken in Texas, yesterday and the day before. And we've seen hospital hospitalizations increasing over the last 13 days alarmingly, so much so that the Mayor of Houston said that his ICUs were at 97 percent capacity. That's why you've seen the governor now move to increase hospital capacity, putting a pause on those elective surgeries.

How serious is the situation here in Texas? Well, the positivity rate for tests is now over 10 percent. Back in May, the Governor of Texas had been getting over that 10 percent threshold would signal a problem. Listen to this.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): The positivity test rate is more than 10 percent. That's one of those red flags that we begin to look at. Not if it's just a one-off day of testing more than 10 percent positive. But if there are multiple days and a trend line begins by getting us back up to a 10 percent positive ratio of those being tested, and those being tested positive, that is a warning flag for us to keep track of.


FIELD: With the hand that Texas has now been dealt, the governor trying to put extra precautions, extra safety measures in place, giving local governments the authority to limit gatherings to 100 people. The previous threshold was as many as 500 people.

The governor also telling people that they should be wearing masks, reinforcing the effectiveness that we're all aware of when it comes to masks. But this is again a governor who has not ordered people to wear masks. Instead, he has allowed local governments to require businesses to tell people that they must wear masks, John.

KING: And to that point, Alexandra, help us with a context here, because you got to give the governor some credit. Again, just a few days ago, he said, yes, the numbers are getting worse, but he wanted to wait some time before he acted. He has decided to act here, including the point you just made, which is key.

A lot of those mayors had complained that they wanted to do more locally. They wanted more restrictions, but the governor has stripped their right to do so. This is quite significant.

FIELD: Yes, they are being empowered to do exactly that. This started with a court ruling that determined that a local government could require a business to require people to wear masks. The government, for his part, has supported that ruling. He has agreed with that. He has certainly touted the effectiveness of masks. He's encouraging people to wear them, even though he didn't go so far as to mandate them at the beginning of this outbreak.

But he's warning people that this is truly a serious situation. And while he was one of the first governors to move to reopen this state, taking it as far as phase three right now, he is also telling people that the situation is so serious that if they don't need to leave their home, they absolutely shouldn't.

KING: Very important reporting. Alexandra Field, grateful you're on the ground force in Dallas on this important day. Keep in touch with us as this plays out.

With us now to share his expertise and his insights, the Director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Tom Inglesby. So, doctor, thank you so much for being with us. Help us with the context here in Texas.

We've talked about this before. It's inevitable as you reopen the case count will go up. When you see this governor, who was among the early governors to reopen, say it's time to pause or be more careful. Is this just inevitable smart, midcourse adjustment or is it the sign of a bigger problem?


TOM INGLESBY, DIRECTOR, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: It's a couple of things. I think it's a very good sign that the governor is doing this. I think the fact that he is moving - kind of moving forward in terms of mask use, I would like him to go further. I think at this point he should require mask in public spaces while this crisis is growing, while the numbers are growing at this rate.

I think if you look at the numbers in Texas, over 6,000 new cases. I mean, New York at its worst moments for a period of time was around 10,000 cases a day. So that's a state versus city comparison, so it's not accurate. But it gives you a sense that this is a serious situation for Texas, and for other states that have rapidly rising numbers. So I think it's very appropriate for the governor to be doing that.

KING: And you mentioned masks, I want you to listen here to Dr. Fauci. And let's just listen to him. I mean, its simple common sense. Yes, it's science. But yes, it's common sense. Let's listen.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: There's no secret formula for that except to say get tested. You know, it should not be a political issue. It is purely a public health issue. Forget the politics, look at the data.


KING: And among the scientific data we have now, this is more of a projection. It's not rear view window data. But IHME out of the University of Washington says on the current path, with some people wearing masks some not, the 57,000 more Americans would die between now and August.

It projects that if 95 percent of Americans would put on a mask whenever they were outside and close to other people, that 24,000 people would die. So 33,000 fewer Americans would die. That's a projection. And we know projections can change. But is there any doubt about the effectiveness of masks, any doubt at all?

INGLESBY: No. I think every health agency in the world now talks about the importance of masks. It's important for the wearer to prevent the inadvertent spread to somebody else in their community. So it's an act of kindness and generosity, and it's the right thing for public health.

And I completely agree with Dr. Fauci. It's just the right thing to do. There is no other subtext to it. It's just wear the mask. It'll decrease the spread in your community. And for people to do that, that increases the chance that businesses can move forward and that our society can reopen in other ways.

And when they don't wear masks, they're endangering the whole reopening process and a resurgence of cases in that state. So absolutely favor of moving ahead with wearing masks at this time.

KING: So you're a public health expert and I on occasion have to wander you into the political debates in the country, because these political debates so impact the course we take on public health. There's quite a thoughtful editorial today on the editorial page of "The Wall Street Journal," that's a conservative newspaper.

It goes through the idea that you cannot shut down the economy fully right now. It says that, would be too painful. But it goes on to say states, the feds and private businesses will need more testing. And states and Washington may have to surge capacity for hospitals.

Governors, mayors, businesses and religious leaders, and even President Trump can talk realistically about the continuing risks and measures to reduce the spread. Large gatherings will have to be limited and young people should protect their elders. It will be a long haul. But America has managed through worst.

People may agree or disagree with it if you read the whole thing, but it is thoughtful, it as well laid out. The point I want to focus on here is, it talks about even the President can talk realistically about the continuing risks. And it also says limit large gatherings. The President in recent days has been at several large gatherings and he says he's done a phenomenal job and the fight is won, is that responsible leadership?

INGLESBY: Well, we know that large gatherings in other places around the world which have sparked large outbreaks. There's plenty of evidence, many, many repeated examples of that in the U.S. and outside, in other countries in the world. So we absolutely should be limiting large gatherings right now. We're not ready to reopen large gatherings. And that act of opening large gatherings endangers the reopening process for all the other businesses that we could move forward with more carefully and more slowly and without as much risk.

I think it's important for the President, for national leaders and for state leaders, all to be consistent and communicating the same things. Actions that we take as individuals can reduce the risk of spread of this disease in the country.

It's the same messages we've had all along. It's the same virus we've had along all along, it's not changing. Physically distant at more than six feet when you're outside your home. Telecommute if you can, avoid large gatherings and were face covering. Those things alone could really reduce the spread of this disease around the country.

KING: And Dr. Inglesby in closing, as we see some of the surges, I'm kind of going back to the building blocks of what we started a few months ago in some cases. Explain to people, when you hear the Governor of Texas saying positivity rate in the testing. Testing is good. More states are testing more people.


The President blames the case count just on the testing. When the governor there says we're above 10 percent consistently in the positivity rate, that's why we have a problem. In some communities in Florida, of late, we've seen it above 20 percent. Why is that such an important issue to focus on right now?

INGLESBY: As we increase the number of tests that are getting done around the state, the other really important metric is to follow what percent of those tests are positive. And the global standard right now is to try to have that percent be below 5 percent. There are some states in the country where that percent is down around one or even less than 1 percent, which is fantastic.

But now we're seeing some states where that number has gone down and is now coming back up in a dangerously quick way. So states with 5 percent, 8 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent in parts of their states, and that's a really - that's a sign that the diseases resurging. That the epidemic is not under good control and that that state needs to take new action.

KING: Tom Inglesby, we appreciate your insights. More importantly appreciate the work you're doing every day, sir. Thank you.

INGLESBY: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you. A quick programming no for us. Bill Gates will join Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta tonight, a brand new CNN Global Town Hall. Coronavirus: Facts and Fears. Again, live tonight 8:00 pm Eastern only here on CNN.

Up next for us, President Trump's travels to Wisconsin one day after governor activated the National Guard to help local police. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KING: President Trump off to battleground Wisconsin today. Poll show him losing, and losing quite big to Joe Biden there at the moment. Among the items on his agenda, a town hall with Sean Hannity of Fox News. CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us live for the latest on the President's trip today. Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, it's clear that President is trying to shore up support in Wisconsin. The Vice President was already there this week. He barely won in 2016, and they have seen internal polls that have not looked good in recent weeks. So that is, of course the reason for the President's visit to that shipyard that is getting that contract from the Navy today.

It's all, of course, got a political lens to it, four months out from the election. But we should note that this comes as just days ago the President was in Tulsa, of course, for that first rally since he returned to the campaign trail after the coronavirus restrictions.

And we have now learned just in the last few minutes, John that several of the President's campaign staffers are now quarantining this week out of an abundance of caution after they interacted with several of those staffers who tested positive either on Saturday or in the days after that rally.

Several staffers are not going into the office this week, the office right outside of Washington. Instead, they are deciding to quarantine and this just comes as you're seeing more and more fallout from that rally, John, were not only are campaign staffers having to quarantine, but also several secret service officers who came into contact with those two officers, who tested positive, are also now quarantining.

It has not stopped the President from traveling. We should note the White House often says that the President and the aides around him are regularly tested. And so now he is making his third trip out of Washington in his many days. This time, he is hoping to shore up support, though, in Wisconsin

KING: We'll watch as that one plays out, a key battleground state. Kaitlan Collins at the White House appreciate that. Let's continue the conversation with our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, before I move on to the polls and the outright politics. The President keeps saying I did a phenomenal job, my team did a phenomenal job, the coronavirus is behind us. One would think if a bunch of your campaign staffers tested positive and several of your secret service agents tested positive, you might think you might want to calibrate the message a little differently.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You might, but you're thinking about somebody who doesn't believe that he can will things to be a certain way just by the power of his rhetoric. And that's what he's still believes. And it's just not true. It is not true on so many levels.

First of all, when it comes to the reality, as you mentioned, more than a handful of his campaign staffers have already tested positive. We don't know what's going to happen with the others who are quarantining right now.

We also don't know what this means for that people who actually attended his supporters who attended that rally. So far, there's been no word of people being positive. But, again, it's too early to tell.

What's really, one of the most fascinating things about this, John, is the whole mask debate. Because, many of these staffers, for example, were not wearing masks. They're following the lead of the boss, of the commander-in-chief.

The President's heading into Wisconsin right now, obviously a swing state. There is a pollster by the name of Rich Tao, who has been doing a lot of really monthly interviews with swing voters in swing districts, districts that went for Obama and then went to Trump. The last round earlier this month, six of the people he talked to all voted for Trump - and Obama and then Trump. They all said that the President is being ridiculous and irresponsible.

Those are my words, but that's effectively what they said in not wearing a mask. That, if anything else - if nothing else, that should tell the President that he's on the wrong side of this for the people he needs to win reelection, if that's the thing that that is guiding all of this.

KING: People who live in the world - real world live this every day. They understand. They're trying to go to work, they're trying to deal with their kids and the questions. One of the issues here is the President says he has done a phenomenal job and that we in the media and the American people should give him more credit.

Listen here, his former national security adviser says at the beginning of this, the President wanted no part of it.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He didn't want to hear about the potential impact of a pandemic on the American economy and its effect on his reelection. Turning a blind eye to all these early signs, I think, hampered the country's ability to deal with this and continues to do so.


KING: That's pretty damning from John Bolton. Now, the President can say he's disgruntled, that he didn't like him to begin with. But we do see the impact of all of this now when you see this swing state polling and the President's numbers that he's underwater in Arizona, in Florida, in Michigan, in North Carolina, in Pennsylvania and in Wisconsin, in this new New York Times/Siena polling.

[12:20:00] All states he won last time, six of them, he trails in now. And Dana, you hear from Republicans on Capitol Hill. Roy Blunt, "Not the way I pursue politics, meaning the President should change his rhetoric." Mike Braun of Indiana, "Something needs to be adjusted." John Cornyn, "Sometimes he undermines himself." Lindsey Graham, "It's been a bad couple of weeks." Lisa Murkowski, words matter. John Thune, "Strike a more empathetic tone." Members of his own party, essentially my translation Mr. President, you're dragging us down.

BASH: Yes, and that's what they say in public. What they say in private is a lot more clear and a lot more blunt, you can be sure of that. Because it's not just dragging them down, it's just wrong. And, you know, that one of the storylines, and the through lines of the Trump presidency has been Republicans on Capitol Hill just too frightened to challenge the President, because their own base has been So pro-Trump.

The fact that these Republicans, you know, they're not abandoning him, at least for the most part. But the fact that they feel more free to speak out, is very, very telling about how even the President's own base in their states are seeing the way the President is doing it. They don't like it.

KING: That's an excellent point. They feel more freedom. As the President's numbers go down, they feel more freedom to step at least a few inches away. Dana Bash, appreciate the reporting and the insights there.

When we come back. You heard the unemployment numbers today, more people claims. Congress again considering more stimulus.



KING: New jobless numbers out this morning show that nearly 1.5 million more Americans filed for first time unemployment claims last week. You can see the effect the pandemic has had on jobs over the past 14 weeks.

If you lay it out since mid-March, that total now nearing 50 million people applying for unemployment benefits. Here the state's hit hardest. Georgia, more 50 percent of the labor force filing unemployment claims. Kentucky, Oklahoma, Hawaii all topping 40 percent of their labor force.

Another round of checks could be coming as part of a new stimulus package from Capitol Hill. President Trump says he supports the idea. But this go around likely to be different from some of the other coronavirus response efforts, one of which distributed money to 160 million Americans affected by this pandemic.

Our senior congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill tracking this. Phil, obviously they get the urgency. The question is what will they do and when will they do it? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, I think you hit on a key point and that's - the dynamics right now are very, very different. You think back to the massive $2 trillion emergency rescue package that was passed in March. It was passed unanimously in the United States Senate, near y unanimously in the United States House.

Things are different now. Republicans, over the course of the last several weeks have really pumped the brakes. The House led by Democrats has already passed a $3 trillion second phase of the stimulus package.

Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making very clear, they want to wait. They want to see how that first package is implemented. They want to see where there's holes, they want to see where there's more necessity, and then they will start to act. I think the interesting element of that is you've got an economy where Republicans have long felt like they've had the edge, that is obviously in a very bad spot, and they need to act.

So here's the timeline right now, Republicans right now making very clear in the Senate, they will act by the end of July. The structure of the bill will actually look a lot like that first package. You talked about direct payments, very much in play right now. The Trump administration, the President himself, the Treasury Secretary supportive, though they will likely look different if they occur.

You also have unemployment. Keep in mind, the expanded unemployment insurance, one of the key provisions of that first package, adding $600 in federal enhancement, that runs out at the end of July, that is a cliff. And that will largely drive whether or not something happens.

Republicans very uncomfortable with extending that, as Democrats have asked to do. They've talked about scaling it back, perhaps adding an unemployment bonus instead of that. So there's a lot of different issues here.

One more I want to point to is state and local funding. Where there is report out this morning from Moody's as many as 4 million jobs could be lost if there's not more state and local funding, Republicans have been uncomfortable with that. It will need to be addressed. Bottom line here, John, there's a recognition something has to be done. One thing to key on unemployment report next week for July, that I'm told, will drive probably where things end up.

KING: And those numbers likely to be more grim news for us, Phil Mattingly tracking very important conversations up on the hill. Phil, thank you very much.

Healthcare, a big focus for the former Vice President Joe Biden today, the presumptive Democratic nominee, as he campaigns in Pennsylvania. Our political Correspondent MJ Lee is in Lancaster, Pennsylvania ahead of that Biden campaign event. MJ out on the trail, what's on Joe Biden's mind today?

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, because we are in the middle of this pandemic, Joe Biden, of course, has not been out on the campaign trail full time. But when he has had these in-person events, he has really tried to use them in recent weeks to push forward a new policy plan or a key platform of his campaign.

And as you said, the theme and the focus today is going to be healthcare, and it is twofold. One, we are told that Biden very much wants to highlight and remind voters of a recent comment that Donald Trump made where he said he wanted his administration to slow down on coronavirus testing.

Of course, this is a comment that goes against all of the advice that we have heard from public health experts in terms of how to clamp down on COVID-19 and try to stop the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. And so this is something that we are expected to hear Joe Biden talk about today.

And second, and more broadly, we expect Joe Biden to talk about protecting and improving upon Obamacare.