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Interview with DHS Acting Deputy Secretary, Ken Cuccinelli; Movie Theaters Sue New Jersey Claiming First Amendment Right to Open; Update on Coronavirus Responses Around the World. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 7, 2020 - 14:30   ET



KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY DEPUTY SECRETARY & FORMER MEMBER, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: Certainly, the president is seeking the maximum reopening we can get, not just of schools but of the economy, consistent with maintaining pressure on the virus, to try to balance the needs of all of the aspects of our lives, whether economic and public health and so forth.

So I certainly agree that that's the right direction to go.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: But you're aware of where the numbers are headed I this country on coronavirus?

CUCCINELLI: I'm very aware. As we learned over time, we don't have a one-size-fits-all arrangement. We've zeroed in on about 130 counties in the country where the spikes are significant.

And if you look back in the January, February timeframe, march, we were dealing state by state. We've gotten a lot more particular. Governors have gotten a lot more particular about how we address the needs and how we focus our resources to the points of highest need.

And we've continued to do that as we've continued to up testing and do those other things you've heard the president talk about.

KEILAR: You said there's no one size fits all. Why is the president prescribing a one-size-fits-all for schools?

CUCCINELLI: Well, this isn't one size. You mean a hybrid by definition is not.


KEILAR: Have you seen his tweet, sir? Have you seen his tweet?


KEILAR: It's exactly a one-size-fits-all.



KEILAR: I would say he's your boss. Seeing his tweets is --


KEILAR: No, I don't. I'm just trying to understand what he's --


CUCCINELLI: Tweets are an expression of his opinion.


KEILAR: What he's calling for -- He's calling for --


KEILAR: -- so many characters at a time.

CUCCINELLI: He's calling for a one-size-fits-all. I think he even spared himself some characters in this tweet. He was calling for all schools to open and you know that.

CUCCINELLI: He would like all schools to open.


KEILAR: That's not what's happening.

CUCCINELLI: That doesn't mean -- that's up to the schools. With a hybrid model, that's not one-size-fits-all. Some schools will do all, some will do less.

KEILAR: No, I was repeating what you said. I was quoting you.

CUCCINELLI: Well, I was right in that case.

KEILAR: Why is the president saying that the United States has the lowest mortality rate for coronavirus when it does not?

CUCCINELLI: Well, the data I last saw -- and it doesn't have every single country in the world -- but the ones we've been tracking for the longest like Italy, United Kingdom. We just dropped below Germany's fatality rate. We're below any of the countries I'm familiar with that are doing significant testing.

To our south in the U.S. hemisphere where the spike is worldwide among the hottest, there's some of the lowest testing levels going on. It's hard to discern what the fatality rate is down there.


CUCCINELLI: It's obviously with Department of Homeland Security, that's a big deal to us.

KEILAR: Sure. You're aware, then, that out of the 20 worst affected countries, the countries that are doing the worst, that 13 have lower death rates than the United States? They're all right here. Iraq, Columbia, Chile --

CUCCINELLI: I'm not quite sure how you --


KEILAR: Iraq, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Bolivia, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Bangladesh.

CUCCINELLI: And we're testing at more than 50 percent of the rate of any other country in the world.


KEILAR: But these are death rates.

CUCCINELLI: So just below 10 positive --


KEILAR: These are death rates.

CUCCINELLI: I understand.

KEILAR: Not positive rates, death rates.


CUCCINELLI: We've driven death rates down and down and down with higher testing rates, partly because we know of more who has it, including without symptoms, as I heard you all speaking about earlier, and as well we've learned better treatments.

And as we continue to learn that, and America really is a leader in developing those and promulgating them around the world, we continue to get better.

So, you know, we are certainly the biggest country doing as well as we are in terms of driving the rate down. If you look at how much improvement we've seen even with the highest testing, and you look at the oldest age group, which has stayed flat. And they're our most vulnerable folks statistically.

Where you see the spike, and I know you all report on it as well with younger people, where we're seeing numbers go up among younger folks and in specific counties around the country. That's where we're focusing our resources.

We'll continue to fight this battle. There will be plenty of other countries where the numbers will come and go of various degrees of reliability in their reporting. I think, of those, we're among the most transparent in the whole world, by far.

And, you know, so we have data we can talk about. And we continue to work to push that rate down, not just the death rate, but also to partner with governors in addressing the hot spots.


And FEMA, DHS continues to be deeply involved, as is CWMD. And frankly, some agencies that a lot of people hadn't heard of until COVID, TSA, CBP.

We're suffering from the same thing that our society does. We see spikes in our employees, but they're also geographically in the same areas where you see the communities spiking.

So, we're taking additional precautions there ourselves, just like the governors and the federal government by the president is doing in those particular targeted areas.

KEILAR: I want to ask you, you are a member of this administration. You are also a Virginian. You're joining us from Virginia right now.

The president recently taking aim at the only black driver in NASCAR, and he was supporting the -- he was in opposition to the Confederate flag ban by NASCAR.

The White House has refused to denounce the Confederate flag. Do you?

CUCCINELLI: So, the White House said they were taking a neutral position. The president was not taking a position on that. And that's what the White House reiterated. I support them in that.

NASCAR has to make their own decisions, but the president came back and said, or the White House said he was not pushing them one way or the other. It's not my place to do that.

And I think you see a lot of state-level debates, including in my state, Mississippi, and all over the country. That's where those debates belong. The federal government shouldn't be imposing outcomes in any direction on these otherwise local decisions.

KEILAR: How is it a local decision when the Confederate flag is a symbol of people who wanted to destroy the United States and who were in support of slavery in that effort?

And -- I mean, I wonder how you can say that, and how you can say that the president taking a neutral position, opposing NASCAR's decision to ban the Confederate flag, which he did, is not a neutral position. That's just -- that doesn't make any sense.

CUCCINELLI: Well, what I can tell you is, whatever your interpretation, the White House came out and explicitly addressed whether he was weighing in to push them one way or the other, and the answer was no, that he was neutral on that.

KEILAR: All right. I want to listen to something the president said in 2015.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As a Republican presidential candidate whether or not you think the Confederate flag should be flying above the state House in South Carolina. Do you think it needs to go?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it probably does. And I think they should put it in the museum. Let it go. Respect whatever it is that you have to respect because it was a point in time, put it in a museum, but I would take it down, yes.


KEILAR: "I would take it down, yes." How do you square that?

CUCCINELLI: Well, he was asked about South Carolina.

Let's jump over to a state that's actually addressing this question in Mississippi.

They're doing it the way they ought to be doing it. Their state has used the St. Andrews Cross, the Confederate battle flag, on their state flag, and they're addressing in their legislature with their governor inside their state, what they ought to do going forward there.

And you heard what the president said in 2015 about South Carolina, but he wasn't saying I'm going to do that as president. That is a decision that has to be made within those states. At least one of those states is addressing that actively now as we speak.

KEILAR: It sounded like he was speaking about it generally. And then what you have him doing more recently is criticizing NASCAR's decision to ban the Confederate flag and Confederate flag imagery.

You're saying that the administration position is to be neutral on this. Look where that dial is moving. So he's actually moving to be in more support of the Confederate flag.

What is the point of doing that, other than political opportunism in his eyes?

CUCCINELLI: No. He was asked -- he was asked in 2015 essentially, if you were here in South Carolina, do you think this should be addressed --


KEILAR: I didn't hear essentially.

CUCCINELLI: You heard what you wanted to hear. So --

KEILAR: I heard words that I'm following.

CUCCINELLI: No, you're the one taking liberties with it. He hasn't changed any position that I'm aware of in terms of this.

And, basically, as I view it, he hasn't taken a position about what the federal government should do about whether it's NASCAR, South Carolina, or any other states' display or use of the Confederate flag.

And I think he has been pretty consistent in keeping the federal government out of those questions.


KEILAR: This is about the federal government.


KEILAR: This strikes at the very heart of the federal government. That's the whole point of the Confederate flag.

CUCCINELLI: No, it does not.

KEILAR: As a Virginian, you know that.

CUCCINELLI: No, it does not. The Confederate flag --

KEILAR: Explain that.

CUCCINELLI: -- is a piece of history.

Well, it's not a flag anymore. It's a piece of history from the 1861 to '65. People display it. They use it. It means different things to different people.

It is not part of anything that the federal government does with the -- you do see it in some state flags. That's why you see those debates arising and being handled in legislatures, which is what part of legislatures are for, to debate those questions and address them within that state. And I think that that's a healthy thing.

I think the president thinks that's a healthy thing, but he isn't going to start trying to order people what to do in one place or another.


KEILAR: I'm not talking about ordering.

CUCCINELLI: As a president of the federal government.

KEILAR: I'm not talking about him ordering anything, just taking a position as to whether he personally agrees with it. And he can't.

CUCCINELLI: Well, you're asking me to -- I'm a lawyer -- to commit hearsay. You want me to tell me his personal position.


KEILAR: I asked you what you thought and you also would not commit.

CUCCINELLI: Let me finish. Let me finish.

He gave a personal position in the answer to the 2015 question that you played.

I'm not aware of him addressing his personal view other than that anywhere else. I'll let his answer stand. It's not for me to, you know, say anything else about his personal views.

KEILAR: What about yours?

CUCCINELLI: You played the only version of it that I've heard.

I work for an administration right now that has kept the federal government out of these questions and respected the states' ability and the position to address these questions.

And people who know my history know I respect the state's role vis-a- vis the federal government. So there's no reason that I would take any issue with leaving these things to the states.

KEILAR: I know your position on Birtherism, which is why I'm particularly curious about your position on the Confederate flag.

You've spoken around using --


CUCCINELLI: You can have all the curiosity you like. My position is that states and local governments, where this is an issue, ought to address it inside their policy at their level. This is not for the federal government to tell others how to deal with that issue in their state or in their city.

KEILAR: All right. Sir, thank you for joining us. Ken Cuccinelli, we really appreciate it.

CUCCINELLI: My pleasure.

KEILAR: We have some breaking news today in Brazil, where the president just revealed he has coronavirus, after months of downplaying the virus in one of the world's hardest-hit countries.

Plus, one of the first celebrities to publicly reveal that they had COVID, Actor Tom Hanks is speaking out now about wearing a mask.



KEILAR: The biggest movie chains say they are being singled out by New Jersey that will not let them get back into business after other COVID closures have been lifted and now there's a lawsuit.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has details.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brynn Gingras, in Hoboken, New Jersey, where a group of movie theater, including AMC, Regal Cinemas, are now suing the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, for his decision to not allow movie theaters to reopen.

They take issue with the fact that the state has allowed places of worship, indoor malls, museums to open up at a limited capacity. The movie theater industry feels like, why are they any different.

Movie theaters are the part of the next phase of reopening in this state but the state hasn't announced plans or date for when that next phase will begin.

On Monday, the state says that it wasn't going to reopen anything any time soon, considering the fact that the COVID-19 rate of transmission is at a level in this state that hasn't seen in a couple of months.

Now we reached out to the governor's office about this suit and they had no comments.


KEILAR: Brynn, thank you for that report.

There's a stunning new figure from the CDC that more than 16,000 COVID cases have now been linked to meat plants and nearly 90 percent of the workers infected are minorities.



KEILAR: After months of downplaying the coronavirus, Brazil President Bolsonaro has it. He's called it a little flu. He continued to hold large in-person rallies despite skyrocketing cases in his country. His press office said he was already taking Hydroxychloroquine as he awaits results. Today, he was feeling well.

For more international headlines, let's check in with our correspondents around the world, starting in Dubai, as John Defterios reopening Dubai is opening to tourists but only if they have a negative COVID test.


JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR & ANCHOR: In this new normal, there's nothing without risk. But the Dubai government believes this is a calculated one. It has introduced four testing protocols on the ground at Dubai airport and increased hygiene in the air.

Tourism represents about 11 percent of GDP and the government wants to protect his role in the Middle East and as a bridge between Asia, Europe and beyond. Emirates Airlines is flying to about a third of the pre-pandemic level.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matt Rivers, in Mexico City, where today the president told reporters he's tested negative for the coronavirus and will move forward as planned with his trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Trump on Wednesday.

He's going to talk about the new free-trade deal that is just been put in effect between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Now, the Mexican president is flying to Washington, D.C., commercial.

He's not taking the private presidential plane because he said it is an example of government excess.

This, despite the fact that he puts both his own security and the security of other passengers at risk by flying commercial. The Mexican president is set to arrive this evening in Washington, D.C.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Oren Liebermann, in Jerusalem, where Benjamin Netanyahu has re-imposed a number of strict limitations on public life to contain a surge in new coronavirus cases.

He announced that gyms, pools, event halls and pubs will be closed. And there will be limitations on the number of people allowed in houses of worships and restaurants.

Back in May, they were down to 20 cases a day and that has jumped 40 or 50-fold. Yesterday, there were more than a thousand new cases.

Yet, Netanyahu doesn't want to impose a closure again because he's worried about the economy where unemployment stands at just over 20 percent.


KEILAR: Thank you all for those reports.

And just ahead, Florida's governor said he's adding dozens of ICU beds and sending 100 nurses to the Miami area, but is it a enough in a state seeing cases skyrocket?