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Trump Embracing Confederate Flag?; Coronavirus Cases Surging. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 6, 2020 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: That little one is Elvis, the couple's son, who was born just last year. Nick Cordero was 41.

"THE LEAD" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with our health lead: the coronavirus pandemic.

This afternoon, the White House press secretary shockingly claimed that the world is looking at the United States as a -- quote -- "leader" in combating coronavirus.

Yet the nation is only leading in all the wrong ways, the number of coronavirus cases now almost three million, and deaths now more than 130,000. Only four states are seeing the number of coronavirus cases decrease. And California and Florida, well, they're leading the way in the number of new infections.

And we are already in the midst of a surge, but health experts fear another across the nation linked to crowded holiday gatherings. Plus, more than 200 scientists around the world now outlining evidence that coronavirus can float in air droplets, lingering indoors, even after an infectious person has left.

And, as CNN's Jason Carroll reports, at least 10 states are experiencing record levels of coronavirus hospitalizations.



GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We get complacent. We get cocky. We get a little arrogant. That is a real threat.

CARROLL: Across the country, July 4 gatherings with no social distancing or mask wearing, like this party in Diamond Lake, Michigan, at a water park in Wisconsin, this speedway outside Denver, and on Fire Island, New York, where crowds gathered on the beach during the day and at a pool party at night.

CUOMO: I don't know how else to say it. Actions have come consequences.

CARROLL: In all, coronavirus cases surging in 32 states, California reaching new dangerous levels Sunday, with nearly 12,000 new cases reported. Texas saw its second highest day of new cases over the weekend.

The mayor of Austin says his city is two weeks away from running out of hospital beds.

STEVE ADLER (D), MAYOR OF AUSTIN, TX: We opened up in ways that were not sustainable. And now we're having to turn that curve.

CARROLL: In Florida, where they shut many beaches to discourage holiday crowds, a record for the most coronavirus cases in the United States in a single day on Saturday, and more troubling numbers.

In Miami-Dade County, the state's hardest-hit, the positivity rate is at 26 percent. The goal is 10 or lower, hospitalizations up 88 percent, ventilator use up 119 percent. The mayor there today signing an emergency order rolling back reopening, closing restaurants for indoor dining and other businesses starting Wednesday.

DAN GELBER (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI BEACH, FL: We're starting to roll the carpet back up. It's pretty clear we have this real problem.

CARROLL: Health experts warned for months that more attention needs to be paid to how the virus transmits in the air. Now 239 scientists have signed a letter addressed to the World Health Organization asking them to be more up front in explaining that. Currently, the organization does not call COVID-19 an airborne virus.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: The bottom line is very, very clear. Yes, there is aerosolized transmission. And people absolutely need to be wearing masks, and they need to be wearing masks particularly when they're indoors.

CARROLL: And now some potentially encouraging news on the treatment front. The biotechnology company Regeneron announced today it is in phase three of clinical trials on a drug to prevent and treat coronavirus.


CARROLL: And, Pamela, this late development.

Hospitals in at least two Florida counties now so they are at capacity. We're talking about Pinellas County. We're also talking about Clay County, the Kindred Hospital there in North Florida, basically now saying they have zero out of 40 beds available -- Pamela.

BROWN: Jason Carroll, thank you for bringing us the latest. And now let's talk to one of these doctors who's on the front lines,

Dr. Craig Spencer, director of global health and emergency medicine at New York Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

In fact, you're just recovering from an overnight shift in the E.R., Dr. Spencer. You have been treating coronavirus patients since the start of this pandemic. You just finished that shift. The White House says, as you heard today, that the U.S. is the leader of the world when it comes to handling coronavirus. Is that wishful thinking?


Let me be clear and start by saying that what we're seeing now is an abject failure in our pandemic response here in the United States. I want to also be clear that this is not a political statement. This is a public health proclamation.

What we need to do right now to address this is to focus on the future. We need to do the same thing that I have been talking about for months and many other public health professionals have been saying since really the start of this outbreak.


We need way more testing. We don't need to undermine the value of testing. We need to build a contact tracing corps. We need to make sure our front-line providers have personal protective equipment. Many are still going to work without the stuff that they absolutely need all around this country.

And the most important thing we need to do right now is, we need to put public health, public health professionals, and public health agencies, at the forefront. We can't be hearing public health information from the president on his Twitter feed, if we hope to get through this pandemic.

BROWN: And I want to get your reaction to these pictures, Dr. Spencer, people hitting beaches across New York. How concerned are you that New Yorkers might believe they are in the clear, which could once again lead to packed emergency rooms and hospitals incredibly, incredibly overextended?

SPENCER: You know, I am really worried.

What we went through here in New York City and what we saw on a daily basis in the emergency department was horrible. I understand that people want to get out and they want to get to some sense of normalcy. I'm, quite frankly, less worried about people being on beaches as long as they're far from each other.

We know that being outdoors helps reduce the transmission. But being close is certainly no good. I'm more concerned, quite frankly, about people in other places where the number of cases are surging. Right now in New York City, the test positivity is between 1 and 2 percent, meaning that there's not much virus floating around. There's not much virus here in New York City, in contrast to places

like Arizona, Florida, Texas, where the percent positivity for those tests is 10, 15, 25 percent in places like Arizona. That's where I'm more concerned about people being outside, being inside, really just allowing this virus to spread.

That is what's more concerning to me.

BROWN: And you have said that, essentially, there has been abject failure, from what you're seeing, in terms of leadership on coronavirus.

And yet you have the White House today defending the president saying that 99 percent of coronavirus cases are totally harmless, saying that it just has to do with how you look at the numbers, looking at the mortality rate.

What are the facts here?

SPENCER: Well, that's not true, as someone who took care of hundreds of COVID patients and saw many of them die and held their hands as they did, and saw their families sobbing on FaceTime, as they saw their family members fall prey to this illness.

Look, even if you look at the really, quite honestly, bad statistics we have in the U.S. -- we know that we have undertested for a long time -- if you look at the 11 million cases, over 11 million cases we have here, and 130,000 deaths, that's 4.5 percent mortality.

We know that's not necessarily the true mortality rate. But 99 percent doesn't even jibe with the bad numbers that the president is so proud about; 99 percent doesn't make any sense. No public health professional...


BROWN: But even if you don't die from coronavirus, does that make it not harmless, from what you have seen?

SPENCER: Absolutely not.

I see so many people who have chronic or longer-term complications. It's not just a flu, where you get over it and you feel better a couple days later with some chicken soup, some Tylenol.

I am seeing people who are having complications one, two months after this. I have seen people in the emergency room in the past 24 hours that have blood clots that have been associated with this. We know people that have had strokes and will have chronic disability from this.

Look, it's very clear that death is not the only thing that we should be thinking about with this. Many people are going to have long-term symptoms. And as someone who survived Ebola, a viral disease as well that many people have had and continue to have these long-term consequences, there's a lot more that we're going to learn about this. It's not just death. We need to think about the other chronic

conditions that are going to come from coronavirus infection.

BROWN: And let's take a listen to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, when he was asked by my colleague Dana Bash about the president's false claim.


DR. STEPHEN HAHN, COMMISSIONER, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: I'm not going to get into who is right and who is wrong.

What I have going to say, Dana, is what I have said before, which is that it's a serious problem that we have. We have seen the surge in cases. We must do something to stem the tide.


BROWN: Does that damage the trustworthiness of the nation's public health officials when you hear that?

SPENCER: Absolutely.

Look, the biggest problem we have had all throughout this outbreak is that we have not had public health professionals at the forefront. We're hearing from an FDA commissioner. We also heard from the White House chief of staff, who was commenting on the same thing, and saying that this only affects people with comorbidities, not recognizing that the majority of American adults have some comorbidities, like high blood pressure, diabetes.

They don't know the nuance of this disease. They have never treated a patient with this disease. They should not be talking about the public health or really the health complications of this disease. They should be focusing on the policy. And that policy should be guided by public health professionals only.

BROWN: All right, Dr. Craig Spencer, thank you so much.

SPENCER: Thanks for having me.

BROWN: And up next: President Trump stoking division, and his press secretary unable to explain it, as the president of the United States embraces the Confederate Flag, all to benefit himself.

Then, 8 years old, 7 years old, 11 years old, 8 years old, these are the ages of just some of the children shot and killed in a weekend of violence.



BROWN: In our politics lead: As the nation faces a reckoning on race, the White House press secretary could not defend the latest divisive rhetoric from President Trump today, unable to say whether the president of the United States disavows the Confederate Flag and refusing to explain the president's tweet today that NASCAR's decision to ban the Confederate Flag has caused -- quote -- "the lowest ratings ever."


QUESTION: What is the president's position? Does he think NASCAR made a mistake by banning the Confederate Flag?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, he said he -- I spoke to him this morning about this. And he said he was not making a judgment one way or the other.

QUESTION: Let's drill down on the Confederate Flag. Does he think it was a mistake for NASCAR to ban it?

MCENANY: The president said he wasn't making a judgment one way or the other.


QUESTION: Why would the president not praise NASCAR for removing the Confederate flag, particularly given the history of that flag, the symbol that it has for African-Americans?

MCENANY: What we're seeing across the nation is this vast cancel culture where we're going to tear down our monuments, we are going to tear down Gandhi, we are going to tear down George Washington, we're going to tear down Lincoln. And it's really quite appalling what we've seen happen across the country. And the president wants no part in cancel culture.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And soon after the press secretary's briefing, the president also complaining that the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians are considering changing their team names to, quote, be politically correct.

Now, this is the latest episode of President Trump pitting Americans against one another, defending statues of controversial figures, refusing to consider renaming army bases named for Confederate leaders, calling Black Lives Matter a symbol of hate, and, of course, having said there were good people on both sides of the violence in Charlottesville in 2017.

All of this an apparent distraction tactic as the coronavirus pandemic is raging in the United States with more than 130,000 people in this country dead from that virus.

As CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports, the tweets today follow a series of inflammatory statements for the president during the weekend celebrating American independence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, President Trump ramping up his divisive and racially charged rhetoric. The president suggesting he disagrees with NASCAR's decision to ban the Confederate flag at its races and falsely accusing NASCAR's only black driver of orchestrating a hoax after a member of his team found a noose in his garage.

QUESTION: Why is the president even suggesting that Mr. Wallace should apologize?

MCENANY: Well, look, the FBI, as I noted, concluded that this was not a hate crime. And he believes it will go a long way if Bubba came out and acknowledged that as well.

DIAMOND: But Wallace did back on June 24th, saying he was relieved after the FBI determined the noose had been in the garage since last year. This afternoon, Wallace tweeted: Always deal with the hate being thrown at you with love, adding, even when it's hate from the president.

The White House press secretary also trying to claim that Trump was not expressing support for the Confederate flag.

MCENANY: I spoke to him this morning about this and he said he was not making a judgment one way or the other.

DIAMOND: South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a loyal Trump supporter, backing NASCAR's decision.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): They are trying to grow the sport. The Confederate flag is not a good way to grow your business.

DIAMOND: And defending Wallace.

GRAHAM: Well, I don't think Bubba Wallace has anything to apologize for.

DIAMOND: Trump's tweet builds on the inflammatory rhetoric he delivered in a pair of Independence Day speeches, in which he painted racial injustice protesters as fascists trying to end America as we know it.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.

We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children, or trample on our freedoms.

DIAMOND: After trying to recast his fight to protect Confederate monuments as an attempt to --

TRUMP: Protect and preserve our history, our heritage, and our great heroes.

DIAMOND: The president's race-based appeals unmasked by his own tweets, signaling a campaign strategy to stoke fear among white Americans, just like in 2016.


DIAMOND: And, Pam, as you see the president and the White House's rhetoric on these issues of race and on this issue of the Confederate flag, in particular, we are now learning from a defense official who tells our colleague Barbara Starr that top military brass are reviewing a draft policy proposal that would ban all Confederate flags from military bases across the armed services. That would put on hold efforts by different branches of the military service currently underway to consider potential bans.

But, Pam, as you can see based on the rhetoric from the White House press secretary from the president himself, this could certainly set up a clash between the president and top military brass over this issue of the Confederate flag -- Pam.

BROWN: You're absolutely right about that. Thanks so much, Jeremy Diamond.

And I want to bring in CNN political correspondent, Abby Phillip, "Washington Post" reporter Toluse Olorunnipa, and "Vox" senior politics reporter, Jane Coaston.

My apologies to Toluse.

And, Toluse, I'm going to start with you because the White House says Trump doesn't doesn't have a stance one way or the other on the Confederate flag front. Why is it so hard for the president, for this White House to come out against a flag that's a symbol of racism?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, obviously, by saying the president doesn't have a stance, they are taking a stance.


This is a president that has an opinion on everything from the Oscars to the weekend lineup at Fox News. He has an opinion on basically everything that you can think of and he tweets it out, he's not shy about his opinions, the fact that they are trying to essentially play both sides by saying the president doesn't have a view, doesn't have an opinion, is very clear that in 2020 if you don't have a view about the Confederate flag, that speaks volumes and it tells exactly where you stand. We've seen the president call the Black Lives Matter movement a symbol of hate. But when it comes to the Confederate flag, he has no view, no thoughts about what exactly it means. And, obviously, we see from his tweet where he said that it was a mistake essentially for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag.

He does a view. He does believe that NASCAR made the wrong decision by banning this flag and that he would be fine having the Confederate flag flying all over the country in 2020. It's very clear he has a view. The White House may not have wanted to sort of publicize that view.

But in 2020, if you're saying you don't have a view about the Confederate flag, it's pretty clear where you stand.

BROWN: And yet, he's made that view clear not just recently but historically. And what struck out to me was the White House press secretary also said this repeatedly. Take a listen.


MCENANY: As happened with Jussie Smollett, as happened with the Covington Catholic boys in an aggregate, those actions made it seem like NASCAR men and women were racist individuals who were roving around and engaging in a hate crime.


BROWN: All right. So, Abby, those incidents she mentioned, they are all totally different. But let's talk about remarks taken in aggregate here, OK?

You have the president's Confederate flag tweet today. He said he will veto any bill to change the name of military bases named after Confederate generals. The president has said there are good people on both sides in the Charlottesville violence.

He's attacked NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem. He called himself a nationalist. He said, quote, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. And he shared a tweet and then it was deleted where a person said "white power."

So, when you look at that in aggregate, what does that tell you, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you can just take the president's statements and actions over the last week and you would have an aggregate view of a president who's running for re-election on white grievance, as a central unifying message for his campaign. This is not an isolated incident, and it's also not about, you know, false claims of hate crimes that are not real, as the press secretary wanted it to be about.

What this really is, is about how the president leads. Does he unite the country or does he divide the country? Does he stand up for anti- racism or does he defend symbols of racism? And I think time and time again, the president has defended the symbols of racism, threatening that he would veto a bill that sought to remove Confederate names from U.S. military bases because that is a priority for him.

He has rarely voiced the concerns or the feelings of, you know, millions of black Americans who do not view Confederate symbols as their history. And so that is the aggregate, as you say, Pam. That's the aggregate view I think of what the president's been doing over the last several weeks but really over the last many, many years dating all the way back to, as Jeremy said in his piece, back to 2016 when, at that time, it was Mexicans being criminals and rapists and banning Muslims.

Today, it's Americans being pitted against Americans in an effort to further divide the country, it seems. BROWN: That's a very important point there. And you make also another

point, Abby, when he kept saying and the White House press secretary kept saying "our history."

But, Jane, what do you really hear? Are they really talking about everyone's history here in America?

JANE COASTON, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, VOX: I don't think so. The Confederacy was canceled in 1865 by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of American citizens who stood up to reunite this did country and the institution of slavery. But it's a fascinating rhetorical tactic because it's one that's reliant on not just racial grievance but online racial grievance. If you're not on Twitter and you're not following the news super closely, what you're concerned about are small businesses shutting down because of coronavirus. What you're concerned about is the pandemic that continues to kill across the country.

And you go online and you find out that the president is more focused about yelling about football teams than he is on what working-class Americans, many of whom voted for him in 2016 believing that he would listen to them when others hadn't. And he is really worried about a NASCAR driver and a football team and kind of the -- it's an extraordinarily online campaign that is supposed to reach out to people who aren't online.


And so I think it's a base attention tactic. But it shows no promise of either widening Trump's base, getting independent voters, or more importantly speaking to what Americans are worried about.

BROWN: OK. Well, Jane, we're going to work on your audio over the break.

And be sure to stick around because there's a lot more to discuss that, you know, President Trump may be using racism to appeal to his base. But are some of his critics playing into his hands?

We're going to discuss that right after this break. Stay with us.