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Record Virus Deaths in Latin America; Military Sees Uptick in Virus Cases; Delta Posts Loss; South Carolina Draws Back Reopening Plans; Sessions Battles for Senate Runoff; Judge Hears Harvard Lawsuit. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired July 14, 2020 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Someone who, like President Trump, denied the extent of this outbreak early on, has his own infection changed his view of this?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not -- not so -- not so far, Jim. In fact, he said today he's going to get a second coronavirus test because he feels great. Those around him have the antibodies and he's anxious to get out of the presidential palace and get back to work.

This is a small protest here in front of the Brazilian congress. Folks who are coming here in support of indigenous rights and just a general mix of folks who are upset with the president's handling of this -- of this. There have been bigger protests in Rio and Sao Paulo over the last week.

So -- and what's interesting is the disparity in the deaths between Latin American and North America may speak to the -- the health care systems really. Brazil has one of the more sophisticated ones in Latin America and yet the numbers are just overwhelming. So waits that would have been maybe a day or two before the pandemic are now endless here.

And another interesting story that's happening, there was a recording of a meeting between Bolsonaro and his ministers in which his environmental minister was heard saying the pandemic would be a great time because no one's paying attention to roll back environmental protects and indigenous protections for folks and then the environment in the Amazon. Well, yesterday, a woman from Brazilian Space Agency released new data, satellite data, to show that deforestation is happening at an even bigger, more record rate and Bolsonaro fired her.

Jim. Poppy.


SCIUTTO: Goodness. Incredible.

Bill Weir, sad for the country, sad for the planet, thanks very much.

Well, U.S. troops are getting hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The military has reported roughly 4,000 new cases so far just in July. That's a 60 percent jump.

HARLOW: In Japan alone, nearly 100 American military personnel and their families at six different bases have been diagnosed with it in the past week.

Let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon with more.

It was striking, Barbara, when I was just looking at sort of the broad overall number, but I guess it makes sense because the military members are so engaged in the communities where they are stationed.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That appears to be what is happening indeed. And as you say, a 60 percent increase already during the month of July, 1,700 positive cases just since last week. So the total in the military force of how many positive cases according to the latest data, over 10,000 positive cases right now in the force.

And what is happening now is some bases are going back and reinstituting stronger restrictions. At least five Air Force bases in the south have done this. And these are in the areas where we are seeing the uptick in civilian society, Florida, Texas, California, Arizona. It is, of course, they believe, because so many military people live in America's communities.

Their families live there. They go back and forth between the base and town. And this is becoming, you know, not an insignificant concern for the military, not a risk to national security. They feel they have it under control. But they do want to have a better handle and see what else needs to be done.

Jim. Poppy.

HARLOW: Barbara Starr, thank you for that reporting, very much.

Also new this morning, just the economic toll that Covid is also taking on companies. A crushing blow to the travel industry. You heard from Delta Air Lines CEO on this show on Friday. Well, now this morning, Jim, they posted their biggest loss ever since 2007.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean debilitating for these companies.

CNN's aviation correspondent Pete Muntean joins us now with more on the numbers.

At the end of the day, Pete, people just aren't flying as much.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Jim and Poppy, this really shows just how bad this crisis is for major airlines. Remember that Delta was one of the better off airlines leading into this pandemic. It was the most financially well healed. It was able to cap capacity on its flights while other airlines have not been able to. Now it's reporting its worst loss since 2007, burning $27 million in cash each and every day.

What is so interesting here is that we're finding out that airlines had really planned on a smoother recovery after travel bottomed out earlier this spring. Now that we're finding out that as coronavirus cases surged across the country, demand for flying really started to level off. Delta was planning to add 1,000 flights in August. Now it has scaled that plan to adding only 500 flights in August. Still an add.

Even still, this will have a real impact on real people. Seventeen thousand at Delta have already taken early outs or early retirements. The financial cliff is coming for airlines. The CARES Act, the financial bailout for airlines, restrictions on that expire September 30th. That is when airlines can start furloughing employees.

Delta's CEO Ed Bastian has said that he thinks he may be able to avoid that at Delta. Other airlines not so lucky. United Airlines says it will send warnings to 36,000 employees that they could be furloughed come September 30th.


Jim. Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Yes, close to half their entire workforce.


SCIUTTO: Pete Muntean, thanks very much.

Right now, one in five tests are coming back positive in the state of South Carolina. We're going to go there right after this.


SCIUTTO: South Carolina is drawing back its reopening plans as cases surge across that state. That spike has forced more hospitals to halt elective surgeries to free up space for Covid-19 patients.

HARLOW: So, right now, South Carolina is among the hardest hit states in the country. It joins states like Florida, Arizona, Louisiana. State officials have reported at least a 20 percent positivity rate each of the last three days.


Our next guest says if South Carolina were a country, the data shows, quote, it would be experiencing the third worst outbreak in the world.

We're joined now by Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin.

And, Mayor, it's very, very good to have you here. We appreciate it.

And you have instituted a mask mandate. However, the governor, Governor McMaster, although he has encouraged, I should note, people to wear a mask, he says you can't enforce it. He questioned the constitutionality of it. He says it gives people a false sense of security. Is that a mistake that's making things worse in your state?

MAYOR STEVE BENJAMIN (D), COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA: I believe it's a huge mistake, Poppy. And the reality is that we -- we pass ordinances and laws every single day that might seem difficult to enforce. The governor's passed a series of executive orders that require local enforcement and -- and we have actually been doing that consistent with our responsibilities.

Mask ordinances or a mask executive order from the governor would be easy to enforce. We're doing it in dozens of cities all across South Carolina. At last count, over 40 percent of our population has been covered in some type of an order or ordinance because of the leadership of our local leaders.

A mask is a very simple effort that does not affect anyone's constitutional rights that could significantly slow the spread of this virus. We know it. It's proven. It's a fact. And it should be very easy lift (ph) for the governor. We hope and pray that he considers that.

SCIUTTO: The economic damage from this crisis, I don't have to describe it to you, I'm sure you're speaking to your constituents every day about that, and they're -- and they're scared. There are a number of mayors in 11 cities that are working on an innovative response, which is a universal basic income to help those in poverty impacted by this.

Particularly as we come to the end, possibly the end of congressional stimulus, do you think that's a good and necessary way forward and how do you pay for it?

BENJAMIN: Well, it's a creative way. You know, I mean and our -- our challenge here is that on the local level, state and national, we're dealing with 1918, 1932, and 1968 all wrapped up into the few months in 2020. So I think every effort we can -- we can make to be creative in how we meet the needs of our citizens is important.

I am a part of a coalition of a number of mayors who are guaranteed income that our effort here locally in Columbia will be funded philanthropically. And it's an important effort that -- to really for me to take a look at the lessons we actually learned over the last several months with the $1,200 cash payments from the federal government to -- to families that have helped them as a bridge over troubled water.

We led from the front here in Columbia with a -- with a Resilient Columbia plan that put money into the pockets of families and small businesses to help over troubled water. And I think it's something we need to be spending a whole lot more time studying.

I'm a big believer in good -- running good tests, getting good data and to making informed policy decisions. So I'm excited about being a part of this coalition and I think we need to start thinking much more creativity as we try to get past this economic crisis that's created by the public health crisis and the pandemic.

HARLOW: No question former presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, is happy to hear you guys talking about this and experimenting with it in real time -- BENJAMIN: He is.

HARLOW: In 11 different cities across America to see what the impact is.

I'd like to talk about the disproportionately adverse impact that Covid has had on black and Latino communities. We knew it was happening from the outset and we knew largely why, but now the data actually show us from the CDC that black and Latino people across the country three times as likely to be infected by Covid than their white neighbors and nearly twice as likely to die from it than white people.

Looking at the -- the census data from -- from your city, 45 percent if you add it together, are black or Latino residents. So what specifically is being done to help them? I'm sure you're seeing this play out right before your very eyes.

BENJAMIN: Oh, absolutely. We started out very early and I established a (INAUDIBLE) coronavirus task force here in the center part of our state, gosh, the last week of February, first week of March, and not long thereafter put the disparity task force and tried to basically address what we know is an Achilles heel of America, our healthcare system. We focused on access to care, access to services in people's neighborhoods where we're trying to get more and more testing done, making sure people got good information.

The amount of disinformation early on that was just bad information but now we see intentional disinformation put out there, it's a -- it's -- it's such a challenge because prior to the pandemic, we had been aggressively studying in partnership with Howard University and Harvard University the future of work and the impact of folks who are black and brown, who are in a significant number of jobs that would be changed by automation. Well, those very same jobs are the jobs now that we, obviously, know people cannot socially distance, people may not have access to PPE.


It's something we need to spend even more time on.

But, locally, we have worked very closely with our state, our department of health and environmental control, our hospitals and others, to make sure that adequate testing is there. We passed out tens of thousands of masks last week. We will pass out hundreds of thousands of masks, make sure people have access to PPE and continue to pass policies that are not only smart, but also courageous and compassionate --


BENJAMIN: That -- that guide us towards our true north, protecting human life.

SCIUTTO: Mayor Steve Benjamin, we wish you and your community the best of luck going forward.

BENJAMIN: Thank you. God bless you.

HARLOW: Thank you, Mayor.

SCIUTTO: Well, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is looking for a political comeback today, but he's facing a candidate who has the full throated support of the president. We're going to take a look at this heated Republican runoff in the state of Alabama.



HARLOW: Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is really in a fight for his political future today. The Alabama Republican trying to reclaim his old Senate seat.

SCIUTTO: But, first, he must defeat former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville in today's Republican runoff to see who will face the Democratic Senator Doug Jones in November.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, he is on the story today.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Jeff Sessions has never lost a political race.

JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: What I'm saying to the people of Alabama is, I can represent you best.

ZELENY: Yet in the fight to get his old job back as senator from Alabama, he's the clear underdog. A Republican primary against former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville would be hard enough.

TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: Jeff Sessions quit on the president, and he failed Alabama.

ZELENY: But it's made even harder when the real enemy is President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jeff Sessions was a disaster as attorney general.

Good luck.

ZELENY: The president still carries a grudge against Sessions for recusing himself from the Russian probe. He's been obsessively tweeting about the Senate race, including this weekend missive (ph) with the president fuming, we don't want him back in Washington.

The Alabama Senate race is all about Trump.

SESSIONS: And I'll keep fighting for President Trump and his agenda.

TUBERVILLE: God sent us Donald Trump because God knew we were in trouble.

ZELENY: In deep red Alabama, loyalty to Trump is paramount.

SESSIONS: Donald, welcome to my hometown.

ZELENY: And Sessions reminds voters that five years ago he was one of the only U.S. senators to take seriously Trump's White House bid.

But through more than $1 million in TV ads, Tuberville is blasting Sessions for being exiled from the administration and, in a bit of towel-snapping locker room talk, for being weak.

TUBERVILLE: You're either strong or you're not. And Jeff Sessions, he's not. He wasn't man enough to stand with President Trump when things got tough.

ZELENY: Sessions has returned fire.

SESSIONS: This is no fresh face. This is a 65-year-old former football coach who finished 4-8 at Cincinnati and was terminated. This person does not have a record of political conviction.

ZELENY: Watching it all is Democratic Senator Doug Jones, who narrowly won in a 2017 special election. In November, it's still an uphill battle for Democrats to hold the seat.

The Republican runoff will test Trump's ability to influence a race or show whether old loyalties hold more value.

SESSIONS: Donald Trump is not on the ballot this time. Tommy Tuberville is. The choice is between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville.


ZELENY: President Trump is not on the ballot, but he's injected himself squarely into this race. He had a phone call last night with some supporters of Tuberville and he said, look, Tommy Tuberville will have a direct line into the Oval Office.

But on that same phone call, he also waded into something else big in Alabama, football. He talked about Lou Saban, referring to Nick Saban, the coach of the Tide of Alabama. So a bit of a misstep there from President Trump.

The reality here, though, is, Jeff Sessions says the people in Alabama will decide this ration, not Washington. But, no question, it is a test of the president's strength and coattails.

Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: I didn't know -- I didn't know that winning football games and your record, you know, would -- would come down to the last minute here in this race, but it's interesting, Jeff, to hear Jeff Sessions bring that up for sure.

ZELENY: A little trash talk there.

HARLOW: There you go.


HARLOW: Thanks for the reporting. We'll watch very closely.

ZELENY: Thanks, guys.

HARLOW: Well, weeks before the new school year is maybe upon us, two of the nation's top universities are in court today. They're fighting the Trump administration over that new rule that could see thousands of international students, really up to a million, deported.



HARLOW: Well, two of the country's top most well-known universities are taking the Trump administration to court today over their new student visa policy. We're talking about Harvard and MIT, and they're challenging new rules issued last week that would deny visas for international students if their fall universities classes are only online.

SCIUTTO: Yes, this would be seen as a broader administration effort to limit immigration, even legal immigration to this country. It would mean thousands of college students could be deported.

CNN correspondent Shimon Prokupecz joins us now with more.

Shimon, court case, is this going to be able to block this? What do we expect to see this afternoon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean it's going to -- it's going to be interesting. And no doubt that this is probably going to wind up, like most things, with the Trump administration before an appeals court and then perhaps even the Supreme Court.

Schools like Harvard, behind me, say that this is going to have a profound effect on the education system. They say at least here it's 5,000 students who are here on student visas who would basically have to leave the country and go back home, which would present a lot of problems, some of it economic. But also think of it, the cultural experience for many of the students here that would have to leave for students who attend here and also just a broader education experience for everyone who attends Harvard.

The issue here is that ICE, the immigration system here, says that if you are only taking online courses, full-time, you cannot stay in this country and you have to leave. Harvard is one of those schools that has said that in the coming school year, because of the coronavirus, they're not going to have in-class presentations. So this is one of the schools affected. MIT here as well. They are suing the administration, hoping to get the policy reversed.


That's going to start. That court hearing takes place at 3:00. So we'll hear the arguments. The judge is not expected to rule today.