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Pentagon Issues New Policy on Display of Flags at Bases; Trump Tries to Sway Suburban Voters by Stoking Racial Divisions; Poll: Majority of Americans Disapprove of Trump's Handling of Coronavirus; Dr. Harry Heiman Discusses Georgia Battle Over Masks and the Virus. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 17, 2020 - 11:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Important news just into us. The Pentagon now out with a new policy that lists what flags will be allowed at U.S. military bases. The Confederate flag not on that list.

CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon for us.

Barbara, this is a big move.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is, John. And what you said is the perfect way to put it. Defense Secretary Mark Esper issuing a memo this morning that specifies what is allowed on U.S. military bases. Confederate battle flag not on that list.

What is on that list is the American flag, flags of state, authorized military unit flags, flags of military commanders. By not putting the Confederate flag on that list, it does essentially bar it.

Now what we know is that the secretary's gotten legal advice essentially. Let the services take care of it. That will help with any legal challenges to so-called freedom of speech arguments about the Confederate flag or any other legal arguments that someone may make.

Esper already endorsing the Marine Corps move to ban the flag. He's well aware, of course, that the entire Joint Chiefs want to see that flag off of military bases.

And the secretary is not opposing that, but he wants to have a policy that is much forward looking, that will stand the test of time.

Let me read a little bit of what he says about it. He says, quote, "I'm am committed to fielding the most powerful military force the world has known by strengthening the bonds of our most valuable resource, our people. That is why we honor the American flag, which is the principal flag we're authorized and encouraged to display."

"The flags we fly must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect and rejecting divisive symbols." So what the secretary is doing here is speaking to American military history in the years to come. He is putting into the military record why this is so important.

What he's trying to do is to stay out of the Trump world of political fire and the president's crosshairs.

Still to be decided, of course, what will happen with those military bases named after Confederate generals -- John?

KING: As you say stay, out of Trump world. But the president the other day say a lot of people like that flag. We shall see if the commander- in-chief reacts. Strong words from the defense secretary.

Barbara, appreciate the important reporting from the Pentagon.

Up next for us, President Trump at an event on deregulation yesterday. But he wanted to talk instead about Joe Biden and the suburbs.



KING: The president's official White House events are sounding more and more like campaign rallies the coronavirus is preventing or limiting.

Yesterday's promised focus at the White House was deregulation. But the president again went off script, at times went way off script, and went after Joe Biden. This time, with an eye on a glaring Trump weakness, traditionally Republican suburban voters who have revolted against this president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your home will go down in value and crime rates will rapidly rise. Joe Biden and his bosses from the radical left want to significantly multiply what they are doing now. And what will be the end result is they will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs. Suburbia will be no longer as we know it.

People have worked all their lives to get into a community and now they will watch it going to hell. Not going to happen. Not while I'm here.


KING: With me now the senior editor at "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein, and CNN political correspondent, Abby Phillip.

Ron, you're more of a geek than me when it comes to tracking the data in the suburbs. This is not a new argument for Republicans. The Willie Horton ad back in 1988, George H.W. Bush going after suburban voters by scaring them about crime. But suburban voters have revolted against this president. This is why

Nancy Pelosi is speaker. This is why the electoral map currently tilts so much in Joe Biden's favor. Because the suburbs, which is how you win close elections in the big states, has said no to this president.

Is that going to get them back?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Look, first of all, these are not Richard Nixon suburbs, and these are not Ronald Reagan's suburbs. They are a lot more racially diverse than they were 30 and 40 and 50 years ago this. There are a lot more college graduates than there were decades ago in the suburbs.

And the pattern is unmistakable under Trump. In 2016, he lost 87 out of the 100 largest counties in America by a combined margin of 15 million votes, including not only the center cities but many of the big suburban counties around the country.

In 2018, those places moved further away from the Republicans, not only in the places that had already been trending toward the Democrats, like northern Virginia and New Jersey, but new terrain, Richmond, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Charleston, Salt Lake City.


And I think all evidence, John, is that 2020 is looking even worse at the moment for the president in the suburbs.

His numbers among college-educated white voters, his deficit is larger, I think, in most polls than in any data source that you can look at for 2016.

And to me, one of the key findings is that many of these white-collar voters in the suburbs, who might have believed that Richard Nixon could have delivered law and order to them as he promised, are looking at Trump and saying he is making the situation worse.

One Quinnipiac poll, college educated whites, by 2-1, said they feel less safe rather than more with Trump as president.

KING: Abby, the challenge of the moment for many Americans, if not most Americans, is the coronavirus. We know, particularly among of suburban women, a lot of them are the driving force in their household. They have to get their kids to school, if they can get them to school, and run the finances. And they see a president out of touch.

The president is giving the argument, he has 108 days. But right now, from a position of weakness. This is the "Washington Post"/ABC poll. Disapprove of the president's handling of the coronavirus. It was 45 percent at the end of march and 60 percent now. Six in 10 Americans. That means a lot of Republicans.

This is more stunning. Do you trust what Trump says about the coronavirus? One-third of Americans say yes. Two-thirds, just shy of that, 64 percent, Abby, say no. The question is: Will these voters who have turned on him listen now?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Even within that disapproval number, the number of people who strongly disapprove of the president's handling of coronavirus is over 50 percent in this poll.

It really suggests that the president has a very deep problem here with trust, a deep problem here with voters' perception of him as a competent leader.

And -- and I -- one of the interesting things about this whole suburban appeal, to me, is that it is so explicit in its aim to scare a certain segment of white suburban voters about the prospect of -- in this case, what he's referring to in that clip, are regulations aimed at desegregating the suburb, making them more equitable, a fair housing regulation.

But one of the things about these suburban voters, as Ron knows, is they are very sensitive to these types of racial appeals on the president's part. They have not been satisfied with his handling not just of the coronavirus over the summer but also of the issue of race in this country.

And so I have a lot of questions about this strategy because it is almost like taking a sledgehammer to this electoral problem that they have in the suburbs.

And I'm not sure that it really is subtle enough to make some of these suburban voters feel like they are not actually being sold some kind of bigoted policy appeal.

I think it's really a tricky strategy. And I'm not really sure it's going to work.

KING: Subtle is not usually this president's thing. And sometimes blunt has worked for him, let's be clear.

But to the subtle part, Bill Stepien, his new campaign manager, helped Chris Christie get elected in New Jersey. A lot of Republicans are hoping with the same of kind of idea, get suburban votes as Chris Christie did in a blue state. But Chris Christie and Donald Trump are two very different politicians.

To that point, Ron, the "Cook Political Report" just today, moving 20 House races towards the Democrats, not all in the suburbs, but a good number of them in the suburbs. Again, you see this shift.

And the "Cook Political Reports" says never have we moved so many races in one day at one time the Democrat's way. So the climate looks very good.

And we know this not just from the data but the focus groups after 2018, the suburban voters see the president tweeting every day, they see his grievances, they see his anger. They see him focusing on things that they don't think are relevant

issues, in the middle of the pandemic, when the voters have to juggle life and school and everything else.

This is part of the president yesterday. If he wants to focus in the final 100 days, he has had a chance. But you get this instead.


TRUMP: My hair, I don't know about you, but it has to be perfect.


TRUMP: Perfect.


TRUMP: Our entire economy and our very way of life are threatened by Biden's plans to transform our nation.

The American dream would be sniffed out so quickly and replaced with a Socialist disaster.

They just want to destroy our country.


KING: It's -- it's a question. I mean, it as an open question. The vice president today has a speech planned in Wisconsin where he hits hard on the Socialist thing. Can they sell it?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, before the pandemic, you know, you looked at the suburbs, and those voters were doing well economically.

But Trumpet was still underperforming. He was underperforming at that point because so many of them felt that he offended their values, the way he talked about minorities, the way he talked about women, the volatility, the belligerence.

What's happened, though, this year, is all of those -- all of the characteristics -- about characteristics about Trump that they didn't like, now have an enormous and very tangible consequence.


And, you know, the -- the core reality of this election -- again, in the "Washington Post" poll today, as Abby was alluding to -- 60 percent of the country or more say he's failed on the coronavirus. And 60 percent of the country or more says he's failed on handling race relations.

Those numbers are at least that high among college-educated whites. They're at least that high among suburban voters. And I think it's very hard for him to regain the ground that he's got by amplifying doubts about Biden. The polls that came out this week that showed Biden with double-digit

leads, in both of them, his personal favorability is net negative. And that underscores the limits of the ability of the president to regain ground solely by trying to, you know, stick labels on the former vice president.

He has to change the perception of how he is handling his job. And that requires him -- that's reality, John. I mean, ultimately, his reality is he's running against the virus at this point and he's losing.

KING: And the psychology of an election when you're an incumbent for the voter is very, very different. The president sometimes, I think, hasn't quite grasped that.

Abby Phillip and Ron Brownstein, appreciate your insights. We'll continue the conversation.

Up next for us, Georgia is now among the top-five states in the country when it comes to new cases. A doctor there joins us live to talk about the battle over masks and the virus.



KING: Moments ago, the top infectious disease expert in the country, Dr. Anthony Fauci, giving his advice as the country goes through the summer coronavirus surge. And 38 states heading in the wrong direction. A new daily record yesterday for coronavirus cases, new infections.

Dr. Fauci says do this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I can say, as a public health official, that I would urge the leaders, the local political and other leaders in states and cities and towns, to be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks.


KING: Defining as forceful as possible as a fight in the country, including, in Georgia, the governor says wear a mask but he won't mandate it. He's now suing the city of Atlanta. The mayor there says I will require masks to be worn.

Let's go straight to Georgia. Dr. Harry Heiman, assistant professor at Georgia State's School of Public Health.

Doctor Heiman, welcome. Thank you for your time today.

You hear Dr. Fauci. We know that masks work. In your state, cases are heading up and the governor and the mayor are in a spat over a mandate. What is your take?

DR. HARRY HEIMAN, CLINICAL ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, DIVISION OF HEALTH MANAGEMENT AND POLICY, SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY: What's my take is that we are seeing very consistent behavior from our governor. I would say, at every step, he's failed to show the kind of leadership that we need to appropriately respond to this pandemic.

I think if you look at what's been going on in Georgia, candidly, it is not a lot different from what's going on nationally. There's been a failure of both the political and the public health leadership to do what needs to be done to address this pandemic.

So in Georgia, we were slow to close the state back in the spring. We were the first to open.

There was an opinion piece in the "Wall Street Journal" touting the Georgia model. And public health people warned at that time, if we do that, we can reasonably predict that in two to three months we will be looking at surging cases, surging hospitalizations and surging deaths. Guess what? Here we are.

I think, you know, it's hard to fathom that something as straightforward as mandating masks has become a political issue when the public health data about the importance of that is compelling.

KING: I want you to listen. This is just this morning, Kathleen Toomey, the Georgia public health commissioner, talking about -- you mentioned cases, hospitalizations, death rates -- she is also saying, when you do all the testing, the positivity rate is going up. Listen.


KATHLEEN TOOMEY, GEORGIA PUBLIC HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Our test positivity rate, on average, is 13.6 percent, which reflects community spread at this time. And hospitalizations have increased 39 percent over the past week.

We continue to see outbreaks in workplaces, in businesses, in congregate settings, daycares, camps, fraternity houses, many churches.


KING: It's the list. It is the list there. This is not a meat packing plant. This is not one church. It is everything. It's everywhere.

How do you bend that curve, sir?

HEIMAN: What's stunning, John, is that, in the face of this surging pandemic, there's a failure to adequately respond.

I mean, you know, there was narrative both in Georgia and across the country about, well, you know, we are doing more testing, that's why there are more cases. Oh, well, we have more cases but they're younger. They're not ending up in the hospital. Now the hospitalizations are surging. Well, they're not dying. Guess what? Now they're dying.

So there is this continued effort to change the narrative.

Again, the fact that our commissioner of public health can say, unequivocally, that this is out of control at a time where their own containment strategy and contact tracing is only reaching about a third of cases is just unbelievable.

The way you bend the curve is that you apply the policies that we know that work. Number one, you walk back the reopening. You know, if you think about the settings they just talked about, churches, we have amusement parks, camps, days cares. You know, we need to walk that back in a meaningful way.

We need to mandate masks and support local leaders to do what they need to do to protect their population.

Look, the number-one responsibility of government is to protect the safety and security of their population and we are utterly failing.


KING: Doctor Heiman, appreciate your time today. We'll keep in touch as Georgia and the rest of the country goes through this summer surge. And we hope, we hope very much the numbers change soon. Appreciate your time, sir.

More ahead for us, including the troubling national trends and the White House's response.

But first, we want to take a moment to give you an update on our 2016 "CNN Hero" of the year. He had to close his center for disabled youth in Columbia when the pandemic began. But quickly reorganizing his efforts now to ensure that children and their families get the support they desperately need.



JEISON ARISTIZABAL, CNN HERO (voice-over): This is their second home. And they really, really miss the foundation.


ARISTIZABAL: We're supporting the families and the children, first of all, with food.


ARISTIZABAL: We're providing in-home therapy, in-home medical attention.



ARISTIZABAL: We provide virtual classes.


ARISTIZABAL: The emotional and psychological part has really affected them. We have an entire team of professionals who give emotional support.