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Civil Rights Icon and U.S. Lawmaker John Lewis Dies; Back to School in the Age of COVID-19; White House Blocks CDC from Testifying on Schools Reopening; China is Feeling Empowered by Trump; John Lewis Remembers Bloody Sunday. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired July 18, 2020 - 03:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and thanks for joining us, I'm Michael Holmes. Breaking news on CNN: the civil rights icon and U.S. lawmaker John Lewis has died. He was 80 years old.

Lewis marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s, later becoming a congressman for a Georgia district that includes much of Atlanta. But as Martin Savidge now tells us, whatever the role, Lewis was steadfast in one thing.

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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.

At a protest against President Trump's immigration policy, the congressman, by then an elder statesman of the Democratic Party --

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SAVIDGE (voice-over): -- 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.

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HOLMES: Growing up in the home of a civil rights icon herself, one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughters, the reverend Bernice King, knew John Lewis well and she spoke about what his passing means to the nation.

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REV. BERNICE KING, CEO, MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. CENTER: This morning, we're having (INAUDIBLE).

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

KING: Tonight, Congressman John Lewis, who my family affectionately called Uncle John. And you know as I think about it, I think it is sending a very loud message to this nation that we've got to get it right with the Voting Rights Act and with voting in general.

You know, my hope and prayer is that this will send a signal to Congress that it's time to restore the Voting Rights Act. These two men literally sacrificed their lives for preserving voting rights. And most of them beat on the head in Selma, Alabama, one of the steps of the courthouse by Sheriff Jim Clark and the other one on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

So it's a time for us to get that right and the time for those who have been indifferent and cynical about voting in this nation to really understand that people sacrificed and suffered and died.

Many people died, some people died. But these men, these gentlemen sacrificed their very lives, almost lost their lives, for the right to vote and so that's our citizenship right and it's a right we should exercise with dignity.

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HOLMES: The Reverend Bernice King there, reflecting on John Lewis' passing.

There has been an outpouring of tributes to John Lewis coming in. The basketball star, LeBron James tweeting, quote, "Rest in paradise, John Lewis #CivilRightsIcon, thank you." California senator Kamala Harris wrote, quote, "John Lewis was an icon

that who fought with every ounce of his being to advance the cause of civil rights for all Americans. I'm devastated for his family, friends, staff and all those whose lives he touched. My friend, thank you for showing the world what good trouble looks like."

And former U.S. president Bill Clinton tweeting, "John Lewis gave all he had to redeem America's unmet promise of equality and justice for all and to create a place for us to build a more perfect union together.

"In doing so, he became the conscience of the nation."

Turning our attention now to the coronavirus pandemic, Johns Hopkins University says more than 71,500 new cases were reported Friday in the U.S., 908 deaths, slightly lower than Thursday, which saw a new record for the ninth time in a month and cases rising in 38 of 50 states.

South Florida seems to be the American epicenter for new infections at the moment. Texas reporting record death tolls. In fact, the City of San Antonio has brought in refrigerated trucks to relieve overcrowding of morgues.

In a disturbing development in Southeast Texas, officials in one county say 85 babies tested positive for COVID-19 -- 85 babies.

Starting Monday, if you are not wearing a mask in public in Miami, you won't get a warning; you will get a fine.

And officials in Oklahoma City voting Friday to require face coverings in indoor public places, effective immediately.

And the U.S. Army posted Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, issued a similar order to all personnel. But don't expect the commander in chief to make the nation mask up. FOX News asked President Trump about that.

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CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Do you regret not wearing a mask in public from the start and would you consider, do you consider a national mandate that people need to wear masks?

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 disappears.

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.

That said, I believe in masks, masks are good.

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[03:10:00] HOLMES: Whether it's in a few weeks are a few months, the classroom will look very different when students return to school. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta shows us how much has changed.

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DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So you looking forward to the first day of school?

KEITH EVANS, HEADMASTER, THE WESTMINSTER SCHOOLS: I am. We have a group of students out there that are eager to get back, to see one another.

GUPTA (voice-over): I don't relish the decisions that headmasters like Keith Evans have to make about his 535 faculty and staff members and nearly 1,900 students at this school which includes my three daughters.

GUPTA (on camera): The cafeteria is going to feel very, very different as well.

EVANS: The cafeteria is going to absolutely feel different. And this will be -- students will come in and they'll grab lunch and go and eat in their classrooms and that kind of thing where we can maintain distance.

GUPTA (voice-over): No surprise, physical distancing a key part of the CDC guidance. Also recommended, wearing masks, teaching good hand hygiene and not sharing supplies, like books and pencils.

GUPTA (on camera): If you could have anything you wanted that you don't have right now, what would it be? What would you like to have?

EVANS: We are really blessed with some great buildings and square footage here. That is -- that is the constraining factor, I think, in every school space. If you can -- if you can get the social distancing right and fit your program into it, it feels more normal and it -- and it works better. But -- but no school was designed to have students six feet apart, you know, anywhere.

GUPTA: Right.

GUPTA (voice-over): Many other schools don't have that kind of space. And, truth is, that problem alone in classrooms, hallways, on buses, may prove too much for some schools to open this fall. But perhaps even more vexing is that more than six months after the first U.S. cases of coronavirus, we still can't definitively say what role do kids play in transition. One study found children carry just as much virus as adults and may be just as infectious.

But others have found differently. In one French study, a 9-year-old boy with symptoms of COVID-19 exposed over 80 classmates at three schools and none of those children contracted it. In New South Wales, nine infected students and nine staff across 15 schools exposed a total of 735 students and 128 staff to COVID-19. Only two secondary infections resulted. One possibly transmitted by an adult to a child. DR. BENJAMIN LEE, PEDIATRIC INFECTIOUS DISEASE, UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT: With this virus, we now have lots of evidence that suggests that children are not drivers of the pandemic. They are far less susceptible to getting infected with the virus. And when they are infected, they're less likely to pass it along.

GUPTA: Enough evidence to persuade pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Benjamin Lee to co-author this commentary in the journal "Pediatrics."

LEE: The likelihood of children spreading the virus or transmitting it are still relatively low. However, in areas where there is a lot of transmission in the community, that could potentially increase the likelihood that an infected adult could step into the school setting.

GUPTA: Exposure from wherever is a concern for many teachers. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, nearly a quarter of all teachers in the United States have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

EVANS: We're planning for all of that as opposed to staying focused on students who have a more narrow band of risk in this. And so what it has meant was that from the very beginning we maximized kind of the safety protocols. We said, we're going to -- we're going to do the absolute limit of distancing, masking, sanitizing and so forth.

GUPTA: There are plenty of examples around the world where schools appear to have reopened safely, Germany, Norway. But there's also reminders that when social distancing restrictions were lifted early, like in Israel, large outbreaks followed the return to class.

In the end, it is a balance. No doubt closing schools can help curb this pandemic. How much? One model said closing schools would reduce COVID related deaths by 2 percent to 4 percent in the U.K. That's a lot or a little depending on how much virus is already in the community.

LEE: We need to move the conversation not towards whether schools should open or not, but towards how can we open the schools to ensure that they can open and remain open.

GUPTA: How to do that is a challenge.

EVANS: We are planning. And we're moving toward a particular end, but we're also eyes wide open, ears wide open, understanding how this is evolving and we understand the -- you know, next week, everything could change.

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HOLMES: Well, some say they are drifting into a new cold war. We will take an in-depth look at what is fueling the rising tensions between the U.S. and China when we come back.

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HOLMES: As cases of the coronavirus spread like wildfire across the U.S., the White House is blocking the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from testifying on Capitol Hill about how to safely reopen schools.

Yes, you heard me right. The White House official says it is because Dr. Robert Redfield has testified four times over the last three months. The House Education Committee called the move, however, "alarming." Also, it comes as the CDC delayed releasing new recommendations for sending children back to classrooms.

And despite coronavirus related deaths also on the rise it has been days since President Trump has even addressed the pandemic head-on. CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports from the White House.

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KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump is ending the week without holding a single event dedicated to coronavirus as cases are soaring around the U.S. Instead, he held a roundtable on law enforcement Monday, gave a disjointed speech Tuesday, visited Atlanta on Wednesday but not the CDC and then talked deregulation yesterday where he briefly mentioned the pandemic.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My administration is also eliminated massive regulatory barriers in our battle against the China virus. COLLINS: Americans are taking notice that the president doesn't seem

to be paying attention. A new "Washington Post"/ABC poll shows 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump's response to coronavirus while only 38 percent approve. And more than half strongly disapprove.

Kellyanne Conway addressed Trump's sinking poll numbers and suggested he should resume his daily briefings.

CONWAY: The president's numbers were much higher when he was out there briefing everybody on a day by day basis about the coronavirus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did he stop?

CONWAY: Well, I think some people are encouraging him to stop.

TRUMP: Then I think the disinfectant where it knocks it out.

COLLINS: Trump largely stopped taking questions from reporters in the briefing room after he suggested that disinfectants like bleach could be used to treat COVID-19. And lately, he's focused on urging schools to reopen.

TRUMP: Schools should be opened. Schools should be opened. COLLINS: A newly uncovered document is raising questions about that push. An unpublished file prepared for the White House task force and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity recommends that 18 states in the COVID-19 red zone roll back their re-openings. The red zone is defined as areas with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week.

The report is dated July 14th and says bars and gyms in those areas should close, gatherings should be limited to ten people or fewer. And residents should wear a mask at all times when outside their homes.

Also missing from the Trump administration this week is that additional CDC guidance on re-opening schools that Vice President Mike Pence said would come out this week.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president said today we just don't want the guidance to be too tough. That's the reason why next week, CDC's going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that'll be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward.

COLLINS (voice-over): Overnight, a CDC spokesman confirmed to CNN those documents are, quote, "not ready to come out this week."

COLLINS: And the CDC spokesman said they don't know when that guidance will come out. They said hopefully it will be by the end of the month, which is certainly something that is concerning to teachers, who are scheduled to be back in classrooms in less than four weeks from now -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.

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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 this timeline. 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.

And tensions continue over the disputed South China Sea. That is ongoing but heated up again this month. Beijing, meanwhile, lashing out at the U.S. for pressuring allies to reject the Chinese tech giant, Huawei.

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HOLMES: Now reports say that the U.S. is considering a travel ban on members of the Chinese Communist Party.

Sam Vinograd knows all about this sort of thing, 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 multitheater 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.

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.

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HOLMES: When we come back on CNN NEWSROOM, the inspiring legacy of U.S. representative and civil rights icon John Lewis. Plus, the message he had for young civil rights activists. We'll be right back.

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HOLMES: And back to our breaking news coverage. U.S. civil rights icon and lawmaker John Lewis has passed away, he was 80 years old. Two years ago, CNN's Dana Bash went to Selma, Alabama, for the 53rd anniversary of Bloody Sunday and she spoke with the congressman.

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DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You marched across this bridge, in a peaceful protest and you were met with a billy club on your skull.

Do you have memory of that moment when you got beaten almost to death?

JOHN LEWIS, CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: I remember so well the moment that I was beaten and left the foot of the bridge. I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death. I thought it was the last march.

Fifty-three years later, I don't know how I made it back across this bridge but apparently a group of individuals literally took me across the bridge back to the church where we left home.

But I do remember then back at the church and then someone asked me and then says something to do with the audience. And I stood up and said something like, I don't understand it, how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam and cannot send troops to Selma, Alabama, to protect people whose only desire is to register to vote.

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HOLMES: Lewis often spoke about making America better for everyone, no matter their race, color or where they were born. He also called on young people to exercise their power, urging them to get into what he called "good trouble."

During the 53rd anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Selma march in 2018, Lewis had an inspiring answer for this 16-year-old with a question.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can we wrestle with our parents in a way that is respectful so that we can aid them in seeing that normal children can fight in the movement and fight for justice as well?

LEWIS: Tell them that you have been touched by the spirit of history.

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HOLMES: During that same event, Lewis told young civil rights protesters to be optimistic and never give up. Thank you for spending part of your day with me, I'm Michael Holmes,

this has been CNN NEWSROOM, there will be more news at the top of the hour.