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Civil Rights Icon and U.S. Lawmaker John Lewis Dies; U.S. Fails to Get Pandemic under Control; Poll: 64 Percent Distrust Trump on COVID-19; At Least 27 States Pause or Roll Back Reopening; Some Latin American Countries Breaking COVID-19 Records; China is Feeling Empowered by Trump. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired July 18, 2020 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone, thank you for your company, I'm Michael Holmes.
We are following breaking news on CNN. The civil rights icon, U.S. lawmaker John Lewis, has passed away. He was 80 years old. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s, later becoming the congressman for a Georgia district that includes much of Atlanta. As Martin Savidge tells us, whatever the role, Lewis was steadfast in one thing.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Throughout his life, John Lewis stood for people's rights. Born on an Alabama cotton farm into a segregated America, he would not only live to see an African American elected president, but he would be a major part of making it happen.
JOHN LEWIS, CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: Tonight, we gather here in this magnificent state in Denver, because we still have a dream. We still have a dream.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Lewis, growing up, was angered by the unfairness of the Jim Crow South. He credited Martin Luther King Jr. for inspiring him to join the civil rights movement. Eventually, Lewis would become one of its most prominent leaders.
As a student, he organized sit-ins at lunch counters. In the early '60s, he was a freedom rider, challenging segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. The embodiment of nonviolence, he frequently suffered beatings by angry mobs.
Lewis, 23 years old at the time, was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.
LEWIS: We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Then two years later, led a march for voting rights in Selma.
On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he and many other marchers were met by heavily armed state and local police. They were set upon and beaten, Lewis suffering a fractured skull. It would be forever remembered as Bloody Sunday.
The images of brutality shocked the nation, galvanizing support for the Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
Lewis never lost his young activist spirit, taking it from protest to politics. Standing up for what he believed was right, Lewis was arrested more than 40 times by police, according to his congressional office.
LEWIS: I'm on my way and we're going to win this race.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): He was elected to city council in Atlanta, then to Congress in Washington, representing Georgia's 5th District, fighting against poverty and for health care, while working to help younger generations by improving education.
He reached out to young people in other ways, co-writing a series of graphic novels about the civil rights movement, winning him a national book award.
In a life of so many moments and great achievements, it was the achievement of another in 2008 that perhaps meant the most, the election of President Barack Obama.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): A dream, Lewis admits, was too impossible to consider decades before, even as he fought to forge his foundation.
LEWIS: This is an unbelievable period in our history. Martin Luther King Jr. would be very pleased to see what is happening in America. This is a long way from the march on Washington. It's a great distance from marching across the bridge in Selma in 1965 for the right to vote.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): In 2011, after more than 50 years on the front lines of civil rights, Lewis received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, placed around his neck, by America's first black president.
Lewis wasn't content to just making history, he was also dedicated to preserving it. Considered the impetus of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
And he never stop stirring up "good trouble," as he liked to call it, boycotting the inaugurations of George W. Bush after the contested 2000 election and vocally opposing Donald Trump in 2017, citing suspicions of Russian election meddling.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): At a protest against President Trump's immigration policy, the congressman, by then an elder statesman of the Democratic Party, riled up the crowd, with words he had lived by as an activist, as a lawmaker, as a leader.
LEWIS: We must never, ever, give up. We must be brave, bold and courageous.
HOLMES: John Lewis' family has released a statement about his death, in part, saying, "He was a stalwart champion in the ongoing struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being.
"He dedicated his entire life to nonviolent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice. He will be deeply missed."
Within the last half hour, former U.S. President Barack Obama also releasing a statement on the death of John Lewis and here is part of it.
"Not many of us get to see our own legacy play out in such a remarkable, meaningful way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders: to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise."
Let's talk more about John Lewis' accomplishments, his influence, his legacy. CNN legal analyst, Areva Martin, joining us now from Los Angeles. She is also a civil rights attorney.
I appreciate you coming on. It was interesting, the former president, Barack Obama comment there, saying not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful way.
It was a very rich legacy and he lived it, did he not?
AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely Michael. It's hard to put into words the impact that someone like John Lewis has had on this country, particularly on individuals like me. Africans Americans, civil rights attorneys. His legacy is just so enormous.
I had the good fortune, just a couple of weeks ago, of interviewing a producer who actually produced a documentary about John Lewis called "Good Trouble." That was one of the phrases he liked to use to say that he was getting into good trouble.
I asked this filmmaker to tell me something that we wouldn't know about John Lewis just by looking him up on Google or reading history books about him. And what she shared was that, despite all of his amazing accomplishments, that he was just a gentle giant, that when she traveled with him, his biggest concern was always, how was she doing and making sure that he was protecting her.
And she said that when she was in his presence, she just felt so much love and admiration and I think that every when you hear talking about, John, talks about not just him as a civil rights leader but John who was the man and what an amazing individual.
HOLMES: I keep hearing people would go angry into his office and leave happy, because he could calm anyone down. He was there to see the Voting Rights Act come into being in the '60s but I suppose, sadly for him, he was around to see it gutted more recently. He achieved so much but I imagine he felt there was so much to do. I remember him saying about Barack Obama's election, saying, it was just the down payment on what was yet to be done.
MARTIN: You are right, Michael. You're talking about someone who was involved in civil rights and the fight for civil rights, over six decades. With that, came many triumphs but also, I would say he would say many failures of our American system.
He refused to attend the inauguration of Donald Trump and George Bush, Donald Trump in particular, because he said he had been elected with the help of Russians.
You talk about the gutting of the Civil Rights Act, an act which he literally shed blood for that bill to be passed into law. I think though, for him, one of his greatest accomplishments -- and it was said in the opening package -- was being able to witness the inauguration of the first African American president.
Then I look back, not too long ago, just a couple weeks ago, he stood outside, in Washington, D.C., with the mayor of D.C., on the big mural of Black Lives Matter.
And I think how significant it was for him to see young activists and protesters, all over the globe, taking to the streets in the tradition of John Lewis, fighting for equity, fighting for civil rights, fighting for police reform.
So I cannot help but think that a life of being able to witness so many of the things that he lived for and stood for and seeing that embodied in a younger generation, must have been really important for him.
HOLMES: Yes, Areva Martin, I really appreciate you taking the time tonight. A great loss but a life well lived and a life that achieved so much. Thank you so much, Areva.
MARTIN: Thank you, Michael.
HOLMES: Civil rights icon and U.S. Congress man, John Lewis dead at 80.
We will be right back after a short break. You are watching CNN.
HOLMES: Welcome back.
The U.S. saw fewer new coronavirus cases and deaths on Friday than the day before but it is a stretch to call that good news. Johns Hopkins University says more than 71,500 new cases were reported on Friday, 908 deaths. Florida is now leading the nation in new cases per capita and the Miami area is considered the epicenter of the virus, even forced part of Florida's emergency operation center to close after a dozen employees tested positive.
More cities like Miami and Oklahoma City are requiring people to wear masks and public. Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging local leaders to be as forceful as possible, getting people to do so. He talked Friday with Judy Woodruff from PBS about what needs to be done to reverse the surge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: What we've got to do is reset. You may need to pull back a bit on a phase.
You do not necessarily need to lock down but got to do need to do 3, 4 or 5 things that are absolutely critical, Judy, because we know they work and that is universal wearing of masks. Stay away from crowds. Close the bars. If we do that for a couple of weeks in a row, Judy, I think we are going to see a turnaround.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: But President Trump, resisting a national mandate on face coverings and there has been speculations, as we've been reporting, about Dr. Fauci's future after members of the Trump administration spent the past week trying to discredit him.
On Friday, Fauci's boss called him "a national treasure" and said he would refuse to fire Fauci if he were asked to do so.
More now on how states are dealing with the pandemic from CNN's Nick Watt.
NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are three global hotspots right now, India, Brazil and, here, the United States.
FAUCI: People keep talking about the possibility of a second wave in the fall. When you're having up to 70,000 new infections in certain areas of the country, that's something you need to focus on right now, as opposed to looking ahead and what's going to happen in September or in October.
WATT: Florida now leads the nation in cases per capita, the main floor of their emergency operations center now closed, after 12 workers tested positive. But Miami-Dade schools are supposed to reopen in just weeks.
ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: It certainly is becoming very difficult to argue for a regular reopening of schools, considering the data right here in Miami-Dade, which, by the way, is comparable to the data and the circumstances that Wuhan, China, faced about six months ago.
WATT: The daily death toll is now rising in half our states, a record daily death toll in South Carolina, but the governor wants schools to offer five-days-a-week in-person teaching, the same page as the president.
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The science is on our side here.
WATT: No, it's inconclusive. And look at what happened in Israel after schools reopened May 17.
Make no mistake, we have the means to control this.
DR. MURTAZA AKHTER, VALLEYWISE HEALTH MEDICAL CENTER: I have got a really great drug. It's a blockbuster drug. It's called masks. Masks work.
WATT: And they are now really issuing fines in West Hollywood.
GARY WALTERS, CALIFORNIA: It's nice to see the regulations being enforced, even if it's being enforced on me.
WATT: Washington State, that very early hot spot, on the rise once more, so they are outlawing live entertainment again.
In Florida, a current hot spot, the governor says he won't close gyms. Here's why.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): If you're in good shape, you know, you have a very, very low likelihood of ending up in significant condition as a result of the coronavirus.
WATT: In Texas, a current hot spot, record death tolls reported four days in a row., But apparently, the governor has no plans for more pausing or rolling back on reopening.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): The last thing that any of us want is to lock Texas back down again.
WATT: Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.
HOLMES: A U.S. House committee will not be hearing from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House blocking the director from testifying on how to safely reopen schools. And as CNN's Jim Acosta reports, that's not the only message the White House is holding back from Americans.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even with coronavirus cases soaring across the U.S. and parents becoming nervous about sending their children back to classes in the fall, the White House is now blocking officials from the Centers for Disease Control from appearing at a hearing next week on reopening schools.
The chairman of the committee said in a tweet: "It is alarming that the Trump administration is preventing the CDC from appearing before the committee, at a time when its expertise and guidance is so critical to the health and safety of students, parents and educators."
The move comes as the CDC has postponed its plan to release proposals for reopening classrooms. Earlier this week, the CDC director was touting mask use as critical to opening schools.
DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: To me, face coverings are the key. You know, if you really look at it, the data's really clear. They work.
ACOSTA: The administration's push to reopen schools is flying in the face of stunning spikes in cases across the U.S. Dr. Anthony Fauci said part of the problem is that some states simply opened up too quickly.
FAUCI: We put out guidelines from the Coronavirus Task Force that had what's called a gateway. If you pass that gateway, you would then go to phase one. And if you were there a certain amount of time and the cases were steady and going down, you could go to phase two and phase three.
So, when you look at that, clearly, there are some states that actually skipped over one or more of those what you call benchmarks or checkpoints.
ACOSTA: An undisclosed document drafted by the Coronavirus Task Force and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity recommended that 18 states roll back their reopening plans.
But that would mean going against the president, who said he's determined to keep those kinds of rollbacks from happening.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And now we're open. And we want to stay open and we will stay open. We're not closing. We will put out the fires as they come out.
ACOSTA: A new ABC "Washington Post" poll found only 38 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Trump's handling of the virus, down from where that number stood in May. And nearly two-thirds now say they don't really trust what he says about the pandemic.
ACOSTA (voice-over): And that has White House officials wondering out loud whether the president should appear more engaged.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: His approval rating on the pandemic was higher when he was at the podium. It was 51 percent in March. And I think people want to hear from the president of the United States. He still addresses it. He still talks about vaccine and therapeutics development.
ACOSTA: But the president appears to have moved on, holding events that aren't related to the virus and sticking to topics that score points with his base.
TRUMP: Dishwashers, you didn't have any water, so the people that do the dishes, you press it and it goes again and you do it again and again. So you might as well give them the water because you will end up using less water.
ACOSTA: And the public may be seeing more Dr. Anthony Fauci over the coming days. After blocking Fauci from appearing in television interviews over the last several weeks, administration officials say they are allowing the doctor to appear more regularly on the television networks -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.
HOLMES: We will take a quick break on the program. When we come back, the U.S. continues to struggle, fighting COVID-19, months into this pandemic.
What went wrong?
Is there time to turn around?
We will discuss when we come back.
HOLMES: Back to the coronavirus pandemic, there is more news on the mask front on the U.S. Officials in Oklahoma City voting on Friday to require face coverings in indoor public places, effective immediately.
The commander in chief?
He is still not much of a mask person, despite the advice of his own health experts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: No, I want people to have a certain freedom and I don't believe in that. No. And I don't agree with the statement that if everybody wore a mask, everything would disappear.
Hey, Dr. Fauci said don't wear a mask. Our surgeon general, terrific guy, said don't wear a mask. Everybody was saying don't wear a mask, all of a sudden, everyone has got to wear a mask. And as you know, masks cause problems, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: With me now from Los Angeles, Dr. Neha Nanda, she's medical director of infection prevention at Keck Medicine at USC.
Good to see you, Doctor. I wanted to get you to speak to the rise in case numbers. Three times where the country was, just a month ago, I think the U.S. is now the only high-income country in the world where the virus is still rapidly spreading.
What can be done to curb this?
What is being done right and wrong?
DR. NEHA NANDA, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MEDICAL SCHOOL: Michael, thank you for having me on the show.
I think at this time, it is best to look back and see what we have done well, like you said, and what we can learn from our mistakes and do better next time around. So we know our priorities were right, in terms of testing, making sure we are keeping an eye on our hospital capacity, making sure we have adequate quarantining and isolation as in contact tracing.
There were multiple triggers that were set forth by the CDC and by the White House task force. What we did not do well was we did not comply well at the time of reopening states, we didn't comply well with these triggers.
In fact, some numbers, as you look at them, there were 5 triggers. And 7 states met 4 of those 5 triggers. Of those 7 states, today, 90 percent of those states that met at least 4 of those 5 triggers today either have their numbers decreasing or their numbers are not rising.
HOLMES: This is the debate about states reopening before meeting benchmarks and reopening too soon, too rapidly, and so on. It brings us to this whole debate over masks. What is interesting is we see corporations, giant corporations, doing what some state governors will not do and that is mandate the use of masks.
In Georgia, the governor is even suing the mayor to block her mandate for masks.
What does that say to you as a health professional?
NANDA: What it tells me is that science and evidence has not to reached everyone's ears like it should. We have to follow evidence. There are no two ways about it. Let's not think about masking as anything other -- it's nothing else. It's just science. Let's do it. And masking is a way as an avenue, that will help us reopen in synchrony.
And synchrony is very important. I say that because if one county is not doing what others are or the state is not doing what the next state is doing, sooner or later, you will bear the ramifications. You just have to function like a school of fish.
HOLMES: You mentioned the states reopening without having that benchmarks. Dr. Fauci said, we do need to look at places that have turned the virus around. He specifically mentioned New York, which, of course, went through a horrific period but has turned the numbers around and downward.
You can also look at other places, like South Korea, which had its first case the same day as the U.S. and has had maybe 300 deaths overall. So when it comes to those states reopening and reopening quickly, there does not seem to be an appetite to roll that back very much.
NANDA: That's true. New York is one of the states have met 4 of the 5 criteria and you are talking about countries like South Korea, Taiwan. And they did well but I also think we can learn from them. But it's very difficult to compare the Alaska (ph) in the United States, with South Korea, given the size, given the difference and diversity.
But there are lessons to be learned. These areas, these countries, their administration of their government and their experts aligned. They worked together. They made an emphasis on all the same things. But I think the resources that were put towards those tools was more than what we have done thus far.
HOLMES: Right. Before we go, I just wanted to ask you, because testing still seems incredible at the moment, you can have, A, it's not easy to get one and, B, when you, do you can weigh 1 to 2 weeks for the result.
That kind of defeats the purpose of slowing the spread, doesn't it?
If you've had it a week or 2 weeks, you've already spread it.
What would you like to see done in terms of that?
NANDA: To your point, Michael, if I'm going to get a result in one week, that test is equivalent to no test really. It has very little value at a population health level. Ideally you want a test when your turnaround is 24 hours, then you have a proactive approach, as in, you know this person is getting tested.
And if you test positive, this is what we will do thereafter. We know every index case on average, there are 10 contacts. We need to have a very strong network or framework, of contact tracing, that we leverage. If testing in contact tracing don't go hand in hand, we will not be able to contain the virus like we want to.
HOLMES: Yes, it has been a problem from the start and the lack of federal coordination and strategy. Dr. Neha Nanda, appreciate, it let's leave it there, thank you so much.
NANDA: Thank you, Michael.
Some say we are drifting into a new cold war and we are taking an in- depth look at what is fueling the rising tensions between the U.S. and China. Stay with us for more on that.
HOLMES: Returning to breaking news, U.S. civil rights icon and lawmaker John Lewis has died. He was 80 years old. CNN congressional reporter Lauren Fox looks back on his legacy, resonating far beyond the world of politics.
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is devastating news for Capitol Hill. He was often viewed by many people at the conscience of the Congress. He was someone that Democrats and Republicans alike looked to for guidance.
In tough moments, when it came to tough votes, when it came to moments in the country's history, he was a legend on Capitol Hill. He was such an important and seminal part of the civil rights movement.
We just got a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and I want to read a short bit of it.
She said, "John Lewis was a titan of the civil rights movement, whose goodness, faith and bravery transformed our nation."
You can just tell the outpouring we expect to come as folks really remember their friend and their colleague and someone that many went for with advice and guidance in tough moments when it came to this country's legacy with race and a legacy that the country is still struggling with.
I talked to his staff many times over the years and spoke with a staffer of his today. Just a few hours, ago this morning and she said, he was the bridge that connected what happened during the civil rights movement with the moment that we're living in now. And members of Congress are going to miss him dearly, the country is going to miss him dearly and he is just really, as Nancy Pelosi said, a titan.
HOLMES: Congressional reporter Lauren Fox there for us.
Let's return to our other main story. At least 38 states are seeing a rise in coronavirus cases and on Friday, the World Health Organization reported a record of 238,000 new cases globally. In 24 hours, the surge in U.S. infections, obviously, pushing that number up.
Florida, now leading the nation in infections per capita and the Miami area is considered the U.S. Epicenter. More cities like Miami and Oklahoma City are starting to require that people wear masks in public.
The coronavirus curve in many Latin American countries keeps spiking upwards as well. Brazil remains the most affected area in the region by far. Even leaders, presidents and government officials are falling ill. CNN's Matt Rivers with that.
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 3.5 million total cases, roughly 150,000 deaths and counting. Many outbreaks across Latin America and the Caribbean are improving and top regional health officials are not mincing words.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We witness another record-breaking week as regional hotspots reported their highest ever daily case counts.
RIVERS (voice-over): Hotspots like Brazil, which now has surpassed 2 million cases for the first time, among those, its president and coronavirus skeptic, Jair Bolsonaro, who twice tested positive this week.
He says he is feeling fine and wants to get back to work. The more than 75,000 Brazilians who have died from this virus do not have that opportunity.
Meanwhile, Mexico, with more than 37,000 deaths, trails only the U.S., Brazil and the U.K. in total deaths worldwide. But this graph shows a clear trend. Mexico likely set to overtake the U.K.'s death toll in just a matter of weeks.
Plus, troubling signs in smaller countries throughout the region. In Guatemala, where cases are 6 times taller than they were six weeks ago, doctors told the IFP they fear hospitals could collapse, amidst calls for greater help from the government.
This doctor says what is killing us is not the virus; it is the indifference of the state. It is the indifference of the health authorities.
And in Bolivia, the number of cases is more than five times higher than it was on June 1st, the Bolivian president announced she and at least 7 cabinet ministers have the virus as videos like this continue to circulate, overwhelmed authorities are unable to collect the bodies of suspected COVID victims.
This neighbor says, "We are asking the authorities, please, you cannot leave a body here. More than 12 hours have passed, and this is a risk for the families that live nearby." Coronavirus tragedy is something that South American neighbor, Chile,
is familiar with. Its more than 320,000 cases among the highest in the world but this week it reported less than 2,000 new cases in a day, twice, for the first time since mid-May. It's good news in a region that could use some-- Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.
HOLMES: We have been reporting on the rising tensions between the U.S. and China, ahead of the U.S. presidential election and we are going to get some perspective on what is happening.
First, let's have a look back. The coronavirus pandemic has been a flashpoint, of course, since first reports came out of Wuhan back in December. There is conflict over the strict Hong Kong national security law Beijing passed on June 30th. Tensions continue over the disputed South China Sea. That is ongoing but heated up again this month.
Beijing, lashing out at the U.S. for pressuring allies to reject the Chinese tech giant, Huawei. Now reports that the U.S. is considering a travel ban on members of the Chinese Communist Party, all 90 million of them.
Sam Vinograd knows all about these sorts of things, she is a CNN national security analyst, joining me now from New York City.
You spent a lot of time in the White House, you saw a lot of what went on in terms of relations and the U.S.-China relationship is pretty fraught at the moment.
What is your general take on the state of relations and where they are headed?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's important to remember, China did not wake up in January 2017 and it all of a sudden decided to start threatening the United States. I served under two presidents, Republican and a Democrat, and I can tell you, the U.S.- China relations have been complex for a long time.
What changed in January 2017 is that the president himself, in many ways, became one of the biggest liabilities to a coherent U.S. foreign policy toward China. Since January 2017, we've had a bifurcated approach to China.
We've had, on one hand, members of the administration who have wanted to be more hawkish toward China and who have wanted to hold China accountable for a multi theater assault on core U.S. values and on U.S. national security.
Unfortunately, President Trump has undermined those efforts with his personal rhetoric and, really, his decision to serve as a surrogate for many of the Chinese Communist Party's own designs around the world. That bifurcated policy has really laid the groundwork for China to ramp up its aggression in a number of areas. HOLMES: I was just going to ask you that speak to how China is taking
advantage of U.S. political discord. Also how coronavirus plays into this as well. We've seen the quick move when it comes to control over Hong Kong.
But we're seeing a lot more activity in the South China Sea. China is menacing vessels fro Malaysia, Vietnam and so on; clashes on the border with India; even territorial claims on Bhutan.
Is China feeling emboldened in this moment?
VINOGRAD: It is clear that China feels incredibly empowered under President Trump. Frankly, I don't blame them. Up until a few weeks ago, President Trump has served as a surrogate for the Chinese Communist Party when it comes to a host of malign behavior.
VINOGRAD: Whether it's Hong Kong's economy, human rights and more. President Trump gave China a free pass on so many fronts because he had put all of his eggs in one basket, namely, the trade agreement with China.
That trade agreement and Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural goods has not come to fruition. And now the president is really changing his tune in light of the election. But it is worth noting, it takes two to tango.
President Trump's behavior has laid the groundwork for China to feel more empowered but we also have domestic events within China. Xi Jinping has centralized power and launched much more aggressive foreign policy around the world.
We see this with the territorial ambitions that you've described, we see this even in the rhetoric that China is using about COVID-19 and other issues. What we see, right now, is a president, Xi Jinping, taking advantage of both the leadership vacuum created by COVID-19, distraction created by COVID-19 and, again, the conditions that Trump helped ripen with respect to allowing China or condoning China or supporting China, in really moving forward with this aggressive foreign policy.
HOLMES: It seems to be coming apparent, if I'm reading the tea leaves right, that the administration is going to have a, quote, "tough on China" mantra as part of the election campaign, a bogeyman, if you like, for voters.
But what are the risks of campaign rhetoric or even politically motivated action having real-world lasting, impacts, unintended consequences -- and Trump's going to say I've been tougher on China than anyone. But he hasn't.
VINOGRAD: Well, no, Donald Trump is not a student of history but he certainly likes to try to rewrite it with respect to his personal record on China. The problem here is, I don't see an off ramp when it comes to the
ratcheting up of tensions between the United States and China. We have two militarized powers, engaged in not just a war of words but militarization in key theaters, like the South China Sea and elsewhere around the world.
Absent an offramp, we are likely to see continued tit-for-tat retaliation, whether sanctions, militarization and more. And this president doesn't play the long game. He is so myopic and shortsighted that he is right now focused on looking tough on China, rolling out punitive measures against the Chinese Communist Party, to try to prove that he's tough on China.
But there is no off button. There is no end goal here. There is no set of strategic negotiations that are set up to figure out how the United States can effectively try to adjust China's behavior, such that Americans are not at risk. We risk ongoing escalation, with no off ramp in sight.
HOLMES: Throughout all of what we have discussed, President Trump still does not criticize President Xi directly. Samantha Vinograd, always a pleasure, great to have your expertise.
VINOGRAD: Thank you.
I'm Michael Holmes, I will be back with more news in about 15 minutes or so. In the meantime, stay tuned for "MARKETPLACE AFRICA."