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Vice President Pence and Members of Coronavirus Task Force Hold Press Conference; Cases of Coronavirus Continue to Rise in Florida and Texas; European Union May Ban Travel from U.S. Due to Coronavirus Concerns; Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan Interviewed on Changing Education Practices Due to Coronavirus; Report States Russian Units Offered Taliban-Linked Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. and NATO Troops in Afghanistan; Roger Stone Sends Instagram Message Implying He Expects Presidential Pardon; Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Leading President Trump in Polls on Who Best Would Handle Coronavirus Pandemic. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired June 27, 2020 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. You are now in the CNN Newsroom. It is Saturday, June 27th. I'm Victor Blackwell.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Bianna Golodyrga in for Christi Paul. Great to be with you this weekend.
BLACKWELL: Good to have you.
This morning, there are new stark warning signs that the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic just is not working. In more than 30 states the number of new cases, they're rising, mainly in the south and west. Health officials in Los Angeles County, California, warn that health care systems there could be overwhelmed without immediate action.
GOLODRYGA: The U.S. is now averaging more new daily cases than at any point in this pandemic. Five states broke single-day records just yesterday, and among them, Florida. The sunshine state is one of at least 11 pausing or rolling back reopening plans.
BLACKWELL: Now, the Trump administration is downplaying any growing threat, but CNN has learned that measures meant to protect the president from catching the coronavirus have scaled up dramatically after more of his staff has tested positive. And there are the international repercussions as well. The European Union is reportedly close to finalizing an agreement to block American visitors.
GOLODRYGA: A lot of news to get to, and we have reporters across the country covering every angle for you. Randi Kaye is in Florida, Alexandra Field is in Texas, Sara Westwood is at the White House, and Polo Sandoval is in New York. Polo, let's begin with you here in New York. Break it down for us. What's the reality of what we're seeing across the United States right now? POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bianna, that reality is in the
numbers. Just consider the totals that we saw yesterday alone in the U.S., basically surpassing its record number of daily COVID cases, nearly 40,000 in all. When you hear from experts, they say if we continue to see these numbers, particularly today, don't be surprised if the nation surpasses 2.5 million COVID cases before the weekend ends.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We did slow the spread. We flattened the curve.
SANDOVAL: A rosy national picture painted by the vice president as several regions experience a new pandemic peak. On Friday, more than 30 states reported seeing increases in new COVID cases, Florida among them. The sunshine state reported nearly 9,000 more COVID cases on Friday, a new single day record. That, as well as the rising number of positive COVID tests now fueling fears that Florida may be a new U.S. epicenter of the outbreak. Still, this Trump supporting Florida resident says he's not alarmed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK BUTLER, FLORIDA RESIDENT: Frankly, I think the inconvenience to the general public and the economy is much worse than the disease itself.
SANDOVAL: In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott hit the brakes on reopening and shifted into reverse ahead of the weekend, ordering the closure of bars and a reduction in dining capacity at restaurants. In Houston, the mayor shared harrowing data about the infection rates now three times higher than they were three months ago.
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D-TX), HOUSTON: The number of hospital admissions is increasing. The number of people requiring ICU is increasing. The number of young people being infected is increasing. So, it is real.
SANDOVAL: And while the president is often seen without a mask, more regions are starting to require them, including some counties in Alabama, Utah, and Palm Beach, Florida. Then there's this from the House's number three Republican, Liz Cheney, a photo of her father, former vice president Dick Cheney, and the #RealMenWearMasks. But the nation's current V.P. remained barefaced as yesterday's briefing even as medical experts by his side were covering up. One of them was Dr. Anthony Fauci, with a warning that even states going in the right direction aren't immune to a spike.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If we don't extinguish the outbreak, sooner or later even ones that are doing well are going to be vulnerable to the spread.
SANDOVAL: Some U.S. travelers may soon face international travel restrictions. European Union officials plan to ban anyone traveling from countries still struggling to control the outbreak. Among them, the United States.
SANDOVAL: Staying on that topic of travel, this is the first weekend for the New York tristate area to have these new restrictions in place that will require anybody traveling from a state that is experiencing a high COVID rate to quarantine themselves for at least two weeks. Bianna and Victor, the idea here is to try to keep those numbers from rising again, because it's certainly a night and day difference here in New York state when you compare what we're seeing now compared to what was happening during the height of the pandemic, at least for New York a couple of months ago.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, and just a couple months ago it was a complete reversal. We saw that other southern states were cutting off access for New Yorkers coming in. Now we're seeing the opposite. Polo, thank you so much.
And let's go to Florida now, one of at least five states to report its highest single day record of COVID-19 cases just yesterday alone. CNN's Randi Kaye is in West Palm Beach. And Randi, there's a lot of growing concern about the cases that continue to skyrocket in that state.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Bianna. Good morning. We saw the highest number of cases in a single day yesterday here in the state of Florida, nearly 9,000. Governor Ron DeSantis attributes that to what he calls a test dump. We says that we have increased our testing from about 25,000 tests a day to 45,000 tests a day. He says really nothing has changed in this state.
But a lot has changed. If you take a look here behind me, there's plenty of people that have been heading out to the beach, the restaurants here are crowded behind me. There's been a steady stream of folks milling about. So people are out and about more. We are seeing a higher positivity rate here in the state of Florida. Lee County, for example, where Fort Myers is, is now seeing a positivity rate of 20 percent, that's up from about 13 percent just a week ago.
Mainly it's young people who are seeing these cases with 33 to 35 years old. They're mostly asymptomatic. But that is still concerning because then those young people go home and they bring it to their grandparents or their parents.
Now, that could be one of the reasons why they closed the bars here in the state of Florida. They are now closed. That's because young people tend to hang out in the bars, and they seem to be spreading this coronavirus.
DeSantis, though, has said, the governor here has said that he will not mandate masks throughout the state. He says that he wants to leave it up to local governments, local municipalities. He says, quote, he's going to trust people to make good decisions. It doesn't seem as though that's been happening so far. Meanwhile, around the state, facemasks have been required in many
areas. Palm Beach County here where I am, also Orange County where Orlando is and Disney World is, also in Miami and Tampa as well. Hollywood, Florida, also requiring masks. Miami says that they can fine people as much as $500 in a civil fine for not wearing a mask. Here in Palm Beach County you'll get a warning first and then you could get a fine as well.
And just a couple other quick points to make. In Miami-Dade, they are now saying that coming up for the July 4th weekend they are going to close the beaches. Now, you have to remember that this was part of the hardest-hit -- the hardest-hit part of the state. More than 60 percent of the coronavirus cases were here in Palm Beach County, Broward, and Miami-Dade. So they are now once again closing the beaches for July 4th weekend, from July 3rd to July 7th, to make sure, at least attempt to keep people safe, Bianna.
BLACKWELL: All right, I'll take it. Randi Kaye for us there in West Palm Beach, thank you so much.
Bars closed in Florida, also in Texas. Let's head there now to Alexandra Field in Houston. Alex, Texas was one of the early states to begin reopening. Now those plans are on pause.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, they raced out of the gate to reopen, to be very frank, Victor. They opened up businesses across the state, and people here are certainly paying the price. They are seeing the record for new daily cases shattered day after day. They've seen a two-week trajectory now of hospitalizations on the rise. I'm in front of Texas Medical Center in Houston. This is often billed as the largest medical complex in the world. Earlier this week they announced that their ICU beds were at 100 percent capacity.
We're seeing similar stats around the city as hospitals prepare to turn to their surge capacity. They, of course, have had months to prepare for another surge, another spike, but nobody wanted to. This is a city that recognizes that they already went through hard times in March and April. They thought they were on the other side of this. But this is a state that has not mandated individuals to wear masks in public, as Randi had pointed out in Florida. Instead, they have come to the conclusion that they would allow municipalities to enforce guidelines that would require businesses to require masks for the people they are serving. So you do have more masks that are being worn right now. You do have a lot of public health messages that are being sent out about the effectiveness of masks.
But Texas is tasked now with putting the genie back in the bottle. Here is how bad it is. In the Houston area and in Harris County where they are seeing an alarming spike, the county's chief executive moved the COVID threat level from significant to severe. That is the highest level. It indicates an uncontrolled outbreak. It indicates a strain on testing and tracing resources. And it comes with a strong advisory to people that they should stay home and that they should limit contact to people who are directly in their household except for essential needs, like leaving the house to perhaps go get medicine or to go get groceries.
How did it get this bad in Texas? Well, health officials are saying there was a layering effect. You opened up the businesses early and then you had a number of events, like Mother's Day gatherings, like Memorial Day gatherings, like protests. Then you had Father's Day. They're now preparing for the 4th of July. They're telling people, if they want to see fireworks, they have to stay in their cars. Enough is enough. They want people to take some social responsibility here. Victor?
GOLODRYGA: Yes, I'll take it, Alexandra. The mayor of Houston and officials there really frustrated, not wanting to reopen as soon as the governor mandated, and now obviously the state and the cities are paying the price there. Thank you.
Well, now let's turn to the White House, and that's where CNN's Sarah Westwood joins us live. Sarah, the signals from the president, the vice president, they're clearly at odds with what we heard from health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci. The president and vice president are painting a much rosier picture than he was.
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Bianna and Victor. Mixed signals for sure from the task force yesterday which held its first task force briefing in nearly two months. And in that same press conference we heard some of the members applauding the progress towards return to normalcy, and other members, the public health experts, issuing a warning that the danger could still be ahead of us with cases on the rise in a number of states.
And that confusion is just coming as many Americans are experiencing whiplash. Some of those states, as we just heard, are hitting the pause button on some of those re-openings, things starting to close down again as cases spike. But nonetheless, Vice President Mike Pence yesterday was still touting the re-openings, which he said were occurring in all 50 states. But as we know, that is just simply not the case. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: All 50 states and territories across this country are opening up safely and responsibly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WESTWOOD: We heard Pence and House Secretary Alex Azar have sort of a celebratory tone when they were talking about the efforts that the administration has made so far in mitigating the virus. We also heard Pence issue a defense of his decision and the president's decision to return to the campaign trail. They're starting to hold political events, even ones in hot spots like in Arizona this week. While on the other hand, you had the public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci having a more cautionary tone, warning that, for example, contact tracing has not been nearly effective as experts had hoped at containing the spread of the virus, and also urging Americans to accept what he described as their societal responsibility to wear their mask. I want you to listen to the conflicting tones that we heard at the task force briefing yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: Well, I want to remind you again that the freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. And even in a health crisis the American people don't forfeit our constitutional rights.
FAUCI: You have an individual responsibility to yourself, but you have a societal responsibility, because if we want to end this outbreak, really end it, and then, hopefully, when a vaccine comes and puts the nail in the coffin, we have got to realize that we are part of the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WESTWOOD: The U.S. this week hit its single day record for COVID cases, so clearly Bianna and Victor, the curve not nearly being flattened as much as we heard the task force touting yesterday.
BLACKWELL: Sarah, before we let you go, tell us about this third White House staffer who has tested positive there.
WESTWOOD: Well, CNN has learned that a senior economic official has tested positive for coronavirus. This is a person who had been in the vicinity of President Trump, for example, had appeared during a Rose Garden event with the president just earlier this month. CNN is not identifying the individual out of privacy concerns. But all of this just underscores the danger that the virus still poses to the president and the vice president, but also to the general public. That was also underscored last weekend with more than a half dozen campaign aides testing positive for coronavirus at that rally in Oklahoma. And all this week campaign staffers who had come into contact with those aides, they had to quarantine. So a clear signal that the virus is still raging even though the White House is taking measures to protect the president during this pandemic.
BLACKWELL: Sarah Westwood for us at the White House, thank you very much.
Up next, a health expert is calling the pandemic a humanitarian tragedy because deaths are mounting and the level of action taken to control it is modest, at best. He's with us next.
GOLODRYGA: Plus, as teachers, parents, and children anxiously wait for schools to reopen, former United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says the time is now to reimagine education in America. He'll be joining us live.
BLACKWELL: So let's look at the data about the coronavirus. And you really will be able to see why the U.S. handling of it is so concerning. So, it's currently averaging more than -- more new coronavirus cases per day than at any time during the pandemic. Look at the slope there. More than 45,000 new cases reported yesterday. GOLODRYGA: Now consider where we were just a month ago today. This is
a map of coronavirus case trends from May 27th. Note the green. Well, now here is a map of how we're trending today. You can see much more red and orange as cases continue to go up in 32 states.
BLACKWELL: The northeast struggled early on. You know that. But now other regions are causing concern. Look at the graph on the screen. Look at how the curve of the northeast, represented here in the green, compares with the now rising curves of the south and the west. Florida led the way on new cases reported yesterday, almost 9,000 in Florida. Georgia also reported its highest single day record.
New this morning, people in East Lansing, in Michigan there, have been asked to self-quarantine after more than 30 people contracted COVID-19 after visiting a bar earlier this month. Let's bring in now Dr. Peter Hotez. He is the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Hotez, welcome back.
DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE AT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Thanks for getting all that in.
BLACKWELL: Yes. That was a lot.
BLACKWELL: So let's start here. I think when the U.S. hit its new single-day record, the expectation was that the White House Coronavirus Task Force was going to come out and say, OK, guys, here is what we're going to do. They did not do that.
HOTEZ: That's right. That's right. We're now seeing a new resurgence, a steep acceleration. Most of that is coming out of our metropolitan cities across the south and Florida, but particularly in the American southwest -- Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles.
And this is not just, quote, a hot spot, as was said at the White House task force. This is our major metropolitan areas, the largest metropolitan areas in the country, except for New York and Chicago. And we've got a huge issue. The acceleration is extremely steep. It's a vertical rise. It's an exponential curve, without apparently any real federal plan to do anything about this.
And that was -- there were a lot of commentaries about the White House Coronavirus Task Force yesterday, what this person said, this person said. The bottom line was they did not, one, seem to acknowledge that there was a major problem. Second, they could not get their arms around describing the problem and giving us what the interventions are going to be, or even presenting a model, projection of where we're headed.
That's what worried me. It gave the impression, I don't think it's true, but it gave the impression that there was no plan for a federal response, and there wasn't even lot of intellectual curiosity or interest in creating one.
BLACKWELL: But if there's a plan for the federal response, that would be the time to tell us, right? Usually, if it's better than it looks, people will say so?
HOTEZ: Well, it was a very disorganized briefing. And quite honestly, I find most of the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings not very well organized, not to the point, and not very informative. What they've got to do now is they have to fix this. They've got to regroup. They've got to look at the models, explain to the American people how the interventions will reduce intensity and acceleration of infection, get back up there this coming week and present it, and stop screwing around. They really need to reassure the public that they've got this, that they understand what's happening, and that they've got a plan. And if they don't, people will continue to lose confidence in the federal government, which is a terrible thing. And I've never quite seen that before.
BLACKWELL: So I know a lot of your focus, your work is on low-income communities especially. In March, at the start of this, we really didn't know how low-income communities, also how black and brown communities or people would be impacted. Let me ask you a cynical question. Now that we have that information, how do you think that will impact the decision on whether to or how to shut down, if necessary?
HOTEZ: Well, America is all about protecting our most vulnerable, right? And that's what we need to do. You're absolutely right, COVID- 19 is a health disparity. It specifically targets low income communities because it's more difficult to do social distancing there. Also, people who live in poverty have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension. I have an article out in the Public library of science basically arguing that COVID-19 is a neglected tropical disease, because of those features. And we are seeing very high, disproportionate death rates among African-American, Hispanic, Latinx population. Native-American populations are getting devastated. We have to protect our most vulnerable.
BLACKWELL: Dr. Peter Hotez, always good to have you, sir.
HOTEZ: Thank you so much.
GOLODRYGA: And coming up, we'll ask former Education Secretary Arne Duncan how he would plan to safely reopen schools, and why this could actually be an opportunity to rebuild the education system.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Now to the fallout of a potential travel ban for Americans heading to Europe. Diplomats from the E.U. say U.S. travelers are, quote, unlikely to be allowed in once the E.U. fully reopens in July.
BLACKWELL: The ban would likely includes Russia and Brazil, countries that have been not been able to curb the coronavirus. Let's bring in CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson who is there in London this morning. Nic, how close is this to a done deal?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's very close. I think it's all but signed off on. There will be another meeting on Monday, but I don't think we can expect any big changes. The countries that are likely to be in the list of those that can come to the E.U. are likely to be Canada, Australia, South Korea, because they have low infection rates. When the E.U. began debating this in earnest on the 11th of June they set out three criteria. Reciprocity, i.e. E.U. citizens can't come to the U.S., which they can't, that obviously puts a bad tick in the column for the U.S. and U.S. citizens wouldn't be able to come to Europe.
The other thing was how good and controlled would be the health measures on aircraft, on flights between the two destinations? And then the third thing, which really seems to be the big, big thing now, it is the infection rates. Europe's infection rate is so much below that of the United States, particularly now so many of the states are spiking. And that's the concern for the E.U. Whatever other conditions, businesses the need for the tourist dollars, between the two -- between the E.U. and the United States, is over $800 billion worth of business done. Some countries in Europe rely on 10 percent of their income coming from tourism, and much of that from the United States. But it's the health of half-a-billion citizens here in the E.U. that's at stake. And that's why the E.U. is really drawing quite a tough line on this. They'll look at it again over coming weeks. It's not something that will stay forever. But for now, this is very much how it looks. The U.S. won't make the cut this go around.
BLACKWELL: Nic Robertson for us there in London. Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, school districts across the country are weighing if and how students will return to class in the fall. But our next guest says a return to school can't be a return to old ways, writing "A moment when we are experiencing a national health emergency and nationwide discontent may seem like exactly the wrong time to propose a bold new direction in American public education. But the coronavirus has changed everything, and the Floyd protests have shown a light on inequity inherent to all our education systems."
Joining me now, former education secretary under President Obama, Arne Duncan. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much joining us. We'll get to your overall proposals in just a moment, because it is important to acknowledge that there were many issues in our education system prior to COVID, but I want to begin by asking you, as objectively as you can, because I see the Joe Biden sign behind you, how you would assess the federal government's response in terms of issuing guidelines for when and how schools can reopen safely?
ARNE DUNCAN, FORMER SECURITY OF EDUCATION, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Well, it's unbelievably discouraging, and just the lack of leadership, the lack of clarity at the federal level, has made a very, very difficult situation that much more complicated and hard. And so I'm just working very, very closely with school superintendents across the country, that local leadership is stepping up where we have an absence of leadership, an absence of clarity, frankly, an absence of honesty at the federal level. But I just have so much confidence, so much hope because of what I'm seeing from mayors, local superintendents, principals, we're all thinking this stuff through together.
GOLODRYGA: What should the federal government be doing? What should Secretary DeVos be doing, acknowledging that this is unprecedented time, right, we're seeing once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Given all of that, what would you be doing if you were now the secretary of education?
DUNCAN: Well, you really have to ask her how she's spending her time. I honestly have no clue how she spends time. But this is obviously a national pandemic. Everybody knows that. And so you need a national response. You need clarity. You need clear guidance. You need to be explaining what's possible, what's not. You need to be honestly assessing risk for students, for parents, for teachers, for all the staff. And that's -- we just had basically silence coming from D.C.
But again, we have to just put that to the side, and working with local leaders we're going to figure this out together.
GOLODRYGA: And you need funding as well. The CARES rescue package includes some $13 billion for public schools K through 12. We know that Secretary DeVos has been pushing to reallocate some of that money for private schools as well. Do you think that's the right thing to do?
DUNCAN: Well, honestly that's a distraction. What you really need is somewhere closer to $250 billion. And so what this administration has done, I think they're intentionally is actually to starve public education. So rather than fighting over a few crumbs, we need a much, much bigger infusion. As hard as this past school year has been, this next school year is going to be even harder because so much on the K to 12 education side, the funding comes from local and state property sales taxes, and those have all been devastated. So you're going to see school budgets hit by 10, 15, 20, 25 percent. We need a massive infusion of resources that could only come from the federal level. And unfortunately, they have shown no interest in doing anything like that.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. Many states were in terrible shape and in the red prior to COVID. But let's talk about how we can reopen and how we can reopen safely, because you offer some suggestions, and you talk about the current environment, as well. You say it's time to reimagine public education, not just to face the pandemic but to eliminate racial and economic inequities we have long known about. How do you address that? I've talked to superintendents and teachers who say that they are most concerned about those vulnerable students who don't have food at home, three meals a day now since they don't go to school, they don't have the technology they need for distance learning.
DUNCAN: So, let's take these issues one at a time, because it's pretty complicated, but let's start right where you left off. I'm doing a weekly call with non-profits and school districts around the country every single week on food distribution. They're doing tens of millions of meals every single day across the country, even when buildings are closed. So schools just aren't places of learning. They're social safety nets. And our schools have become food distribution centers. And so they're doing remarkable job of feeding children, their parents, and the broader community. That has continued and that will continue, must continue.
Secondly, we have to worry about the children social and emotional health. Children are already dealing with trauma. You already have children very vulnerable, as you mentioned. And now it has so many families that may have been sort of doing OK living paycheck to paycheck. Those paychecks have disappeared with the jobs. And so that telehealth, counselors, social workers, teachers checking on children every single day, making sure we're trying to do whatever we can to take care of their social and emotional needs, that's huge.
So first, the food part, then the social and emotional health, and now this talk about education. So, folks are working very, very hard to close that digital divide. It makes no sense that every child in this country does not have access to a computer, to the Internet, to wi-fi. We have to make that as ubiquitous as air and water and electricity. So the internet, to wi-fi. We have to make that ubiquitous as air and water and electricity. So public/private partnerships here in Chicago have given out 100,000 devices, Boston has given out 30,000 devices to children, and San Antonio, 49,000 children -- now 47,000 devices because of so few children had that technology at home. And so we have to continue to close that digital divide and make sure our children can learn anything they want anytime, anywhere.
But then we have to go beyond that and really think about individualizing instruction, thinking about competency rather than seat time, making sure children have afterschool supports when they need that. Because when we go back to school, whatever that might mean, I think we're going to going to be a hybrid situation, where some children will be in school some of the time, all children will be learning virtually some of the time as well between very, very thoughtful and careful and flexible and balance that the student needs with family needs, all the needs of teachers and staff at the physical school building.
GOLODRYGA: And you also say that summers are obsolete and we should go through school next summer as well. A lot of innovative ideas you have. Secretary Duncan, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.
DUNCAN: Thank you.
BLACKWELL: Up next, we'll speak with one of "The New York Times" reporters who broke the story of the Russian intelligence unit that offered to pay militants to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
GOLODRYGA: The Trump administration still hasn't responded to an incredibly disturbing report from U.S. intelligence that Russian units offered Taliban-linked militants bounties to kill U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. That reporting is from "The New York Times."
BLACKWELL: Michael Schwirtz, an investigative reporter with "The Times" is one of the authors of that report. He joins us. Michael, thanks so much for being with us this morning. First, how has the White House responded? And do we know if the president has been briefed himself on this?
MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ, REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": So far the White House hasn't responded. We know the president has been briefed and have been briefed on this situation months ago. And that the White House had discussed an array of options as far as response is concerned from sort of stern diplomatic warning to things that are more serious. But a decision has not yet been made on how the United States should respond to this action by the Russians.
GOLODRYGA: And Michael, since then, though, you go back and look at the president's action vis-a-vis Vladimir Putin in Russia, and he has since then insisted that Russia once again be readmitted to the G-8. He has said that he wants to pull U.S. troops out of Germany. Obviously, that would benefit Russia as well. That makes this reporting and the fact that he was made aware of Russia's intentions even more alarming.
SCHWIRTZ: Right. If you go back and look at the history of this administration, the president, in contrast with I think the majority of his administration, including, as well as Congress, has taken a much more accommodating stance toward Russia. He famously suggested that he believed President Putin -- President Putin's contention that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that goes contrary to the findings of the majority of the U.S. intelligence establishment.
This is once again a curious form of accommodation from this president to Russia, though in this case you're seeing a serious escalation of the confrontation between Russia and the United States down to targeting American troops in Afghanistan.
BLACKWELL: Two questions for you here, Michael. First, do we know how long this offer has been on the table from Russia? And if they have made good on it? We know U.S. troops have been killed. We know the offer is there. But have they actually paid anyone for a bounty for a U.S. service person?
SCHWIRTZ: As far as we're told, yes. Some Taliban fighters or criminal groups linked to the Taliban have received bounties. We haven't been able to determine whether any of these attacks, or whether these resulted in any sort of attacks on American soldiers. We do know that in the timeframe that this was supposed to be occurring, something like 20 U.S. soldiers had been killed and a number of coalition soldiers, but we haven't yet been able to identify a direct link between these payments and any specific attack.
GOLODRYGA: I'm curious if we heard any reaction from congressional officials, and I'm specifically referring to Senator Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Tom Cotton, also a military veteran. These are alarming headlines. We haven't heard from them yet, have we?
SCHWIRTZ: As far as I know, no. And I'm not exactly sure when congressional leaders in these committees specifically have been briefed about this, whether they had been briefed along with the president months ago, or whether that briefing came more recently. What we do know is that this information was held very, very tightly for many, many months, and just within the last few days appears to have spread more widely, including to briefings with U.S. al lice, including the United Kingdom.
BLACKWELL: It's remarkable reporting from "The New York Times." Michael Schwirtz, thank you so much for being with us this morning to discuss it.
GOLODRYGA: We appreciate it. Thank you.
SCHWIRTZ: Thanks very having me.
GOLODRYGA: President Trump's longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone just posted a message on Instagram thanking his supporters for standing by him. Hard to miss this one, he writes in part, "I am in great spirits and continue to be confident that God will deliver me from my demonic persecutors."
BLACKWELL: Now, if you're listening on the radio and you can't see it, he is standing below a huge banner that reads "Pardon." Stone was supposed to report to jail this Tuesday, but a federal judge delayed his original sentence until the middle of July and ordered him to spend time at home. The judge rejected Stone's legal team's request hold off until late August due to the pandemic.
GOLODRYGA: Stone was sentenced to three years for lying to Congress about his role as a backchannel between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks during the 2016 election. He was also convicted of witness tampering after obstructing Congress's inquiry into Russian meddling.
So the president refuses to be seen at least wearing a mask, but what about the rest of us? We'll take a look at the numbers on who is wearing a mask and who is not, and where especially, next.
BLACKWELL: OK, so President Trump tweeted that he is staying in Washington, D.C., to make sure law and order is enforced, keeping an eye on the anarchists, he says. Apparently, he's going to do that from Trump National Golf Club in Sterling. Here he is. This is the president leaving the White House heading off to play golf this Saturday morning. For those of you keeping count, this is the president's 363rd day of his presidency at one of his properties, and the 271st day at one of his golf clubs since the beginning of his administration. President Trump off to Trump National.
GOLODRYGA: You could say he's multitasking, keeping an eye on the anarchists while golfing --
BLACKWELL: Getting a lot done.
GOLODRYGA: -- and also while not wearing a mask.
And all morning we have been discussing the health benefits of wearing a mask, so now let's talk about the politics of wearing one, because, of course, they have been politicized as well, unfortunately. Despite our polarized politics, it's not just split down party lines, however. Representative Liz Cheney, we've been showing this tweet all morning, tweeted this picture of her father yesterday, that's former vice president Dick Cheney with the #RealMenWearMasks. You can see the former vice president wearing that mask there, and a cowboy hat. And that's a sharp contrast to President Trump who continues to wear -- who continues to refuse to wear one in public. So who is wearing a mask and who isn't? Let's bring in CNN political analyst Harry Enten. Harry, what do you have for us?
HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Hey, how are you doing? Look, here is the deal. I've been looking at a lot of the recent polling, and what's so amazing to me right now is only about half the country, according to "Axios"/Ipsos polling, says that they are wearing masks all of the time when they go out. And in fact, if you add up the sometimes and all the times, right, that still leaves you with about 20 percent of the population who is occasionally or never wearing a mask.
But I think it gets really interesting when you sort of drill down on the regions that are actually wearing masks, and that's exactly what I did. I basically aggregated all of these polls that "Axios"/Ipsos did across the last month and a half, and what we see is those in the northeast, places like New York, places like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, the mid-Atlantic into New England, they are the ones who are wearing the masks the most, 60 percent plus, versus, perhaps, say those down in the mountain region, they're only wearing masks less than 40 percent of the time.
Now, I think what's so important here is you know, there's all this argument about whether masks help. And obviously the vast amount of scientific evidence suggests that they do. And, indeed, if we do a correlation, right, and you see the places where they're wearing the masks the most, the states they're wearing the masks the most, they, in fact, do have the lowest virus transmission rate. So this is just a small extra bit of evidence that does suggest that mask-wearing does, in fact, help stem the transmission of the virus.
BLACKWELL: Do we have any clarity on why people aren't wearing these masks?
ENTEN: I think a lot of it has to do in terms of partisanship. If you look across the polls, you do, in fact, see that Republicans are wearing them significantly less than, say, Democrats are. And in fact, if you know anything about politics, you know that New England and the mid-Atlantic region is one of the most Democratic regions in the country, and indeed, there certainly is that correlation whereby it seems to me that Republicans aren't wearing masks as much as Democrats in part perhaps because the president of the United States has obviously not been wearing it necessarily too much when he goes out in public.
GOLODRYGA: Harry, masks aside, the president does seem to be conveying the sense that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and it's time to move forward even as we're seeing these numbers spike. And you're showing that this is coming through in the president's approval and disapproval rating for how he's handling the pandemic.
ENTEN: Yes, exactly. Take a look at this. Take a look at how the approval rating for the president on the coronavirus is from March when it was just starting to occur versus now. You see that his approval rating back in March was 55 percent. Now it is all the way down to 41 percent according to ABC News/Ipsos polls, and that's what we're seeing across a lot of polls whereby his handling of the coronavirus has gone steadily in a downward direction. And obviously there's an election this fall in November, and I think the coronavirus will be this issue. We see it most important in the polls, it ranks very high.
And the polling has asked, who do you trust more on handling the coronavirus? What do we see in a recent CNBC poll? Joe Biden, 46 percent say he would be better with dealing with the coronavirus versus the 32 percent for Donald Trump. And I think you're seeing that illustrated in the polling at large where Joe Biden has a significant lead over Donald Trump just generally speaking.
BLACKWELL: Harry Enten, thanks so much for being with us. Good to see you. Welcome to the beard gang.
ENTEN: Thank you very, very much. I like the beard.
GOLODRYGA: You wear it well.
ENTEN: Thank you.
BLACKWELL: You do, indeed. Thanks so much for you joining. We're back at 6:00 a.m. eastern tomorrow.
GOLODRYGA: And there's much more ahead in the next hour of CNN Newsroom. Fredricka Whitfield is up next.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday.