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THE SITUATION ROOM

Austin Mayor Would Consider New Shutdown As Last Resort; NYT: Trump Administration Rushed To Abandon Leadership On COVID Response; Interview With Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ); Rep. John Lewis, Titan Of Civil Rights, Dies At Age 80; Florida Reports 10K New Cases, 90 Deaths Today; Poll: 60 Percent Disapprove Of Trump's Handling Of Coronavirus Pandemic; Trump Cites Freedom As Reason To Not Mandate Masks. Aired 8- 9p ET

Aired July 18, 2020 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to viewers here in United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we begin with alarming new numbers of the coronavirus pandemic, coming out right now out of the state of Florida, the latest from state health officials today, more than 10,300 new infections. Even worse news also reported today, 90 Florida residents died of the virus, again, that in just one day. Texas also reporting very alarming numbers, more than 10,000 people tested positive in Texas, that for the 5th day in a row.

Globally, the number of new coronavirus infections is also on the rise. The World Health Organization is reporting more than a quarter million new cases. And on your screen right now, you can see how many people have lost their lives around the world, and just in the United States, because of the coronavirus. You see those numbers on the screen.

Let's go straight to the current epicenter of the crisis in the US, CNN's Rosa Flores is on the scene for us in Miami. Rosa, tell us about the ICUs in Florida, how stretched they are right now, we're told, to capacity?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here in Miami-Dade County, the ICU capacity is at 122 percent. The goal for the county is not to exceed 70 percent. Well, they've exceeded 100 percent for the past few days. Here are the numbers.

In Miami-Dade County today, there are 484 COVID-19 patients, but there are only 496 beds available. Now, the good news is that the county said that they have more than 400 beds available that they can transfer over to ICU beds.

Look, in Miami-Dade County, this is the epicenter of the crisis in the state of Florida, accounting for 24 percent of the now nearly 340,000 cases. Ventilator use in the past two weeks has increased by 64 percent.

I wish I could give you a full report on the positivity rate in Miami- Dade County, but today, when I went to go look for the data, that information was missing. It was not reported by the county. I asked the county about it and they sent us this statement saying, "County officials are meeting with state DOH, Department of Health Statisticians, on Monday to go over discrepancies in the way the state and the county collect and report testing data. Once all agree on the appropriate parameters, Miami-Dade County will be updating the daily dashboard to ensure as much of an accurate measure as is statistically possible."

Look, the state of Florida has had issues with transparency of data, now, apparently, also quality of data. What I can tell you about the positivity rate here in Miami-Dade County is, what was reported yesterday. It was a 27 percent positivity rate according to Miami-Dade County data. And for the past 14 days, the county had exceeded 22 percent. And, Wolf, the goal for the county is not to exceed 10 percent. Wolf.

BLITZER: Rosa Flores doing excellent reporting for us from Miami. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, the situation in Texas today is not so different from Florida. An equally disturbing, coronavirus cases in Texas have topped the 10,000 mark for the 5th day in a row. Let's bring in the mayor of Austin, Texas, Steve Adler. Mayor Adler, thank you for joining us.

When you hear that Texas now is more than 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in a single day, actually every day for nearly a week, what's your reaction?

MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D), AUSTIN, TEXAS: Well, there's a little frustration, a lot of anger that we're in this place. The overwhelming urge is to redouble efforts to get the community to be disciplined and to wear masks, because we're finding that is enabling our city with hospitalizations to actually plateau.

We shouldn't have been in this position. We're here now. We were late getting to overall state mask ban. But we are the example of why masks are important.

[20:05:00]

We plateaued here in the last few days, but that's a trailing indicator. The people that have gotten sick more than three weeks ago, before we did the masking, are now passing away in my hospitals. Fully, a third of my total deaths in my city have happened over the last two weeks.

BLITZER: That's very, very depressing. I want to play for you and for viewers, mayor, what the Texas Governor Greg Abbott said. He is refusing, at least for now, to consider another shutdown in Texas. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: People are panicking thinking I'm about to shut down Texas again. The answer is no. That is not the goal.

I have been abundantly clear. I've been saying exactly what the head of CDC said today. What the head of CDC said today and that is, everyone can adopt the practice of wearing a face mask for the next four weeks. We will be able to get COVID-19 under control.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, mayor, what's your response?

ADLER: I think that there are parts of the state that are seeing so many cases with intensive care units that are so stressed, that are asking for the ability to exert some local control to make choices that are the right choices for their city. And I wish my governor would give that to them.

But I will tell you that wearing masks, that having a mandatory mask order has a tremendous impact, has had a tremendous impact in my community. We have been able to plateau off. There are some indications that maybe some of the other cities are seeing that as well. But the local control ability to be able to make local decisions I think is the right thing.

BLITZER: I know you've asked the governor for permission if needed to shutdown Austin, Texas once again for more than a month, as a last resort. How close are you, mayor, to that point?

ADLER: Well, we're on the edge. We're not as close as we were three weeks ago. We had a trajectory three weeks ago that was screaming so fast, that all of the predictions had us overwhelming. Our ICUs about right now, but about three weeks ago, we finally got the ability to be able to do mandatory masking, directly with the people that lived here.

The community adopted that. The messaging becomes very clear when it becomes mandatory. So we have been able to see a slowing of trajectory in our city. So, us having a shutdown, is not needed right at this moment, so long as my community stays disciplined.

But, Wolf, I'll tell you, a lot of people are doing that on their own. You know, they see the fear in the eyes of our emergency room physicians that have gone public, talking about what happens next if we're not disciplined. And the community starts reacting to it. So I probably have a lot of my community staying home more now even without an order.

BLITZER: Well, that's extremely prudent as you know. You were here with me last Saturday night in "The Situation Room." We were talking about that massive field hospital that's set to open over at the Austin Convention Center, what, next week. I'm told it can handle 1,500 patients. How much will that ease the burden on your hospitals? ADLER: Well, if we need it, it will, and we're ready to stand that up on the 21st as we talked about last week. You have to make that decision four weeks ago, so it's available when you need it.

You know, we're getting really close to having difficulties in our ICUs, and a field hospital like that enables you to take some of the less severe cases in the hospital and move them, so as to create space in the hospital itself. That's part of our surge plan. You don't want to do it, but it has to be available just in case.

BLITZER: You said this week that more than 10 percent of your COVID patients are in ICUs right now. Will this field hospital help with that potential ICU load?

ADLER: It could, because what the field hospital would do if we actually have to use it, we take some of the patients that are in the hospital, in the hospital beds right now, that are not -- lower acuity patients. We can take them out of the hospital.

They can get really good care in the field hospital. That opens up and frees more beds in the hospital. It's sort of like other people in the hospital can move to the opened up hospital beds, and that frees up more space for the ICU behavior. And those are the numbers we're juggling right now.

My big concern in my hospital isn't the bed, it's the staffing. It's having enough physicians and critical care nurses, and special skilled technicians that can handle that work. Because right now, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and the Valley, everybody is trying to get greater resources, personnel than they have. And that's really the limiting factor right now.

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BLITZER: Well, good luck, Mayor Adler. I know these are really, really, very, very tough times for you, for everyone. Thanks so much for joining us.

ADLER: Thank you, Wolf. Be safe.

BLITZER: You too. We'll have more on the pandemic in a moment. First, I want to mention our nation's incredible, very sad loss yesterday. John Lewis, one of the most important civil rights leaders in American history, unfortunately, is dead at the age of 80. John Lewis passed away yesterday.

In his lifetime, he carved a legacy that may never actually be equaled. At just 23 years old, spoke at the March on Washington, was known as one of the big six civil rights leaders. His impact grew as a US congressman, serving 33 years in the House of Representatives. I'm going to have much more on John Lewis and his legacy later tonight here in "The Situation Room." Among others, I'll speak with Senator Cory Booker. That's coming up.

There's more troubling news coming into "The Situation Room." Right now, we have details how the President and his administration rushed to shift the responsibility to states from the federal government. One of the reporters who broke the story, The New York Times, is standing by live. We'll have all of the latest information when we come back.

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[20:15:22]

BLITZER: As the number of coronavirus cases hospitalizations, deaths continue to climb across the United States. The New York Times is now reporting a truly blistering account of failures at the highest levels of the US government. It suggests that the Trump administration allowed a mix of optimism and patience, and politics to influence its response leading to the crisis that is still playing out across the country, with hundreds of Americans dying every single day.

Joining us now, one of the reporters who contributed to the story, David Sanger is with us. He is the National Security Correspondent for New York Times. He is also a CNN National Security and Political Analyst.

David, this amazing article, truly great reporting, starts with a White House meeting that took place in April, in the relatively early days of the pandemic, when much of the responsibility was actually handed off to the states. What was the rationale for doing that instead of coordinating a full national response?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, thanks for having me on. I worked on this with some great times colleagues, and you'll see it on the Times' website. What we found was that the decision to turn this over to the states was a real pivot by the Trump administration.

You'll remember that in early April, the President said that it would be the most important decision of his presidency, whether to go about doing the reopening. And instead of make that decision, they decided in mid-April to basically look to make sure that they had provided the states with ventilators and protective equipment and so forth. And then said to the states, it's up to you.

And you'll remember, we all reported it at the time, that they turned out some recommended standards that each state should meet before they reopen. But of course, the President quickly discovered that those were boxing him in. That the states weren't going to be able to meet that standard. Some were reopening already.

So he simply said liberate the states, open them up. He never repeated his own administration standards. And that set of decisions paved the way for resurgence we're seeing to this very day.

BLITZER: Your article in the New York Times is very lengthy, extremely detailed. And among other things, it paints, Dr. Deborah Birx, as someone that told the President what he wanted to hear. You report that in mid-April, for example, she told the White House team, and I'm quoting now from the article, "We're behind the worst of it." How damaging was her optimism, has her optimism been, David? SANGER: I think one of the most interesting things about our reporting

here was that, the discovery that Dr. Birx was not in the same place as her mentor, Dr. Anthony Fauci who we had on the show many times. Dr. Birx believed that the United States would follow the Italian model, which you remember went up steeply, and then down steeply. New York City did, but the rest of the country did not.

She had a series of projections that were done by University of Washington. I think we have run some of those on CNN. And while she showed some of those in the President's presence to the press in mid- April, of course, they were all based on an assumption that full social distancing would remain until June 1st. And it didn't.

Most of the states that broke away and started reopening did so later on in April, some early April, certainly by May. And so, all of the assumptions at the end of those charts, which were that there should be very few infections and deaths right now, turned out to be wrong because people reopened too early. It took this White House a long time to even recognize that, and many in this White House still won't admit it.

BLITZER: We're all familiar with President Trump's aversion to testing, as repeated insistence that the more we test, his words, the more cases we'll find. Do you think he's always viewed the pandemic response through the prism, the prism of his re-election campaign?

SANGER: Absolutely, and he's tried to figure out what will bring jobs back, what will bring the economy back before that time. And that's a very reasonable discussion to have and many of the people we interviewed made the point that it's not just coronavirus that kills. If you have high unemployment rate, you're going to likely have a lot of people who get sick, and for other reasons, you're going to have suicides. You'll have, you know, a lot of other health effects.

[20:20:05]

But the President never seemed to internalize the thought that the best balm for the economy was to make the virus go away. That until the virus goes away, people will not be willing to go to restaurants, it won't be willing to shop in stores. And they won't be willing to send their kids back to school. And that, of course, what were playing out this summer.

BLITZER: David Sanger, you and your team did an excellent job. That very lengthy article of the New York Times, I recommend our viewers, read it. Thank you so much for joining us.

SANGER: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit more about all of this. Joining us Dr. Patrice Harris, former President of the American Medical Association and Professor Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University, the Director of O'Neal Institute for National and Global Health Law. Thanks to you both for joining us.

Dr. Harris, can you think of any reason why the White House would be so certain that the virus' spread would peak in April, that dramatically almost effectively go away?

DR. PATRICE HARRIS, FORMER PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Well, you know, Wolf, I think from the very beginning, we've all been clear that this is a new coronavirus. And we're not sure as to how this new, this novel coronavirus would act.

We had hoped that it would act like other coronaviruses, but scientists have always been clear that we need to make sure that we are following the data as it came in, that we need to make sure we had transparent access to the data. And then from that data, we would make the best decisions.

The other thing that has been true, it is true now and it is true from the very beginning, is that we absolutely have to follow the science, and that we need a national coordinated strategy. We are losing the battle and we won't be as effective unless we have access to transparent data and we follow the science.

BLITZER: And Professor Gostin, are you surprised that health experts like Dr. Birx, for example, would be so optimistic when so many other experts warned this pandemic could last a whole lot longer?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN, UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, I think, Wolf, that this pandemic was clear. We saw it in china, through Asia and Europe. And while most countries got it reasonably under control, we didn't take it seriously.

The science really is pretty clear now. We know what we need to do. First of all, we needed to close down and not open up too soon, and the science is telling us that if we did that, we would get a resurgence. We have a resurgence.

In addition now, we're not all using masks. We're not physically distancing from one another. We have a paucity of testing, contact tracing and isolation facilities. So, in fact, you know, all of the ingredients that other countries have used to bring this under reasonable control, the United States simply hasn't.

BLITZER: Yes, it's been a tremendous, tremendous failure over these months. If you take a look at the number, almost a thousand Americans have died each day over the past four days, for example. The numbers are going up. And if you listen to the latest CDC assessment, you know, maybe another 30,000 or so could die over the next few weeks alone.

Dr. Harris, how much did that messaging that we had to open up again hurt the public health message that we needed to remain vigilant in the face of the deadly threat?

HARRIS: Wolf, you know, unfortunately early on, there was this false choice, right, either the economy or public health. And that has never been accurate. Certainly, if we had the virus under control, we would be able to safely open the economy and get back to our new normal. So it's always been very frustrating that the false choice has been presented. We have always said as we open, we need to be mindful of the data, and it was also not when we opened but what we opened. And so, clearly, a lot of states and local jurisdictions opened too soon, but also they opened bars and other high contact, high touch businesses. And so we are where we are today.

So hopefully, going forward again, we have clear evidence that masks, wearing masks save lives. We are not helpless as long as we follow the science, and of course, wearing masks is a critical piece of getting to the other side of this pandemic.

BLITZER: It certainly is, and it's not hard to do. Just put on a mask. If everyone did that, lives would be saved.

[20:25:08]

Professor Gostin, the White House apparently wanted to shift the burden for fighting the pandemic to the states. Do you think that was a huge mistake? Because every other country that has dealt with this, they've dealt on a national basis, not necessarily delegating responsibility to local communities, to cities and local districts.

GOSTIN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is a national problem, in fact, it's a global problem. You can't ask a state to take measures on its own when the neighboring state is being lax, and that people will travel from state to state. That's a recipe for disaster.

Even federalist countries which have very, you know, substantial devolved powers like Germany, have done well and have done it with a national response. You've got to do that.

So this has been a double whammy really. You know, the first one is we've not just ignored the science, we actually undermined the science. We so distrust with our public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And then, we just, you know, send it off to 50 different states, you know, additional territories, Indian reservations. And we say, you do it yourself, but that is literally impossible. You need a consistent, uniform, national, rigorous approach following the science, and we simply haven't done that.

BLITZER: Yes. Professor Gostin, thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Harris, thanks to you as well. We always appreciate you being here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I appreciate it very much.

GOSTIN: Thanks, Wolf.

HARRIS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We're also following another big story tonight. A titan of the civil rights movement here in the United States is gone. The Georgia Congressman John Lewis has lost his battle to pancreatic cancer. Senator Cory Booker is standing by live. We'll discuss when we come back.

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[20:30:28]

BLITZER: We'll get back to our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here in the United States in just a few moments.

But we're also following other important news, the nation is mourning the loss of John Lewis, a true civil rights icon and never stopped fighting for equality. Lewis, who was arrested more than 40 times in his life.

In 1965, he suffered a fractured skull after being beaten by a white police officer while marching simply for the right to vote.

For Lewis, it was all about getting into what he called good trouble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN LEWIS (D), FORMER REPRESENTATIVE OF GEORGIA: My mother, my father, my grandparents, my great grandparents always said to me, when asked him questions about the science of say, white waiting, colored waiting, white men, colored men, white women, colored women, they said don't get in trouble, don't get in the way. But I was inspired to get in the way. I was inspired to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives back in 1986, served there until his death and never, never shying away from speaking his mind and fighting for what he believed in.

I want to discuss his legacy with the New Jersey senator, Cory Booker. Senator Booker, thanks so much for joining us. How great of an impact did Congressman John Lewis have on our country?

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): I think he is probably one of the more greater Titans over the last century, really. And the powerful thing about him is his career, his age was 80. But he was -- since he was a teenager, he was on the frontlines of the fight for justice in America. The youngest person to speak on the March on Washington, leading a major protest from freedom rights to pivotal marches like the fall on Bloody Sunday on the pediment Edmund Pettus Bridge.

But even in his senior years, he was there at the center of the well of the House of Representatives, fighting for just about every major issue from immigration reform to the rights of LGBTQ Americans. He's got an extraordinary career and he did it in a way and a society that can often being too materialistic, too much about possessions and position.

He showed you that in this country, you have true power which comes from your capacity to love, your dignity, your grace, and your unrelenting commitment to make true the virtues of this country put down on our founding documents, but yet to be achieved in a reality for all. BLITZER: He's truly an amazing American. I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing him on many occasions, and he was always, always wonderful. You told the Atlantic, Senator, earlier today, and I'm quoting you now, there are lots of ways to honor him, and I will be very frustrated if we stop it with words and not with real legislative action. So how do you want to see him honored?

BOOKER: Well, you know, I'm scrolling through Instagram and Twitter today and seeing lots of people post niceties to him, and we all should I have, but the reality is, is John was insistent on so much more, and I don't think he wants his legacy to be the words people say about him in his death, but how we choose to live like him while we have our remaining years here.

And so there is unfinished business. I can't imagine the sting that he must have felt to literally bleed the southern soil read for voting rights, than to watch those voting rights to be eroded with the Shelby decision and with state law after state law, as one state North Carolina federal judge said that they were now designing laws with surgical-like precision to disenfranchise African-Americans, and so there's a lot more work to be done.

[20:35:18]

And I think that the beauty and the power of Congressman Lewis was that he held a sense of redemption, redemptive opportunity to the bull Connor's, to the man that fractured his skull. But what he was really often challenging was those of us that are comfortable, those of us that are bystanders. He said, and you said it in your tape, he challenged us to get in the way. He challenged us to be about good trouble, not to just be witnesses to history, but to get out there and make it happen.

BLITZER: In December, as you know, the House of Representatives passed a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act. Congressman Lewis gambled in the final vote and it was very, very moving. But that bill, as you know, is now stalled in the U.S. Senate. Do you have any hope that his passing might lead to any movement on this legislation?

BOOKER: Well, you know, Mitch McConnell calls himself the Grim Reaper, and he uses that because he says he takes pride in stopping a lot of bipartisan bills that come from the House. They get stopped in the United States Senate. And when it comes to voting rights, I don't have confidence that this is something that he's going to prioritize in his remaining months as majority leader.

Where my confidence comes is our ability to perhaps a shift the Senate and the White House. And if that happens, I know there are people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle who understand that this is an error shouldn't be restricting the franchise, but making it more fair, equal, and open. And so, I have a lot of hope that by January, with a growing movement, with the loss of titans from Vivian to the Lewis and others, people who led the way for us for so long, but a rising generation taking to the streets now.

I have a lot of hope for our country, but it's not naive hope, it's bloodied hope, it's better hope, it's catalyst hope that that's willing to work. Hope is indeed a muscle. That's going to be a part of that work to make sure that the memory and the legacy of John Lewis is the legislation we pass in the coming Congress.

BLITZER: All right. Senator, thank you so much for joining us. I wish we're meeting under different circumstances. You and I, and I think almost everyone agrees, he was truly, truly an amazing leader, a great, great American. Thanks, as usual, for joining us.

BOOKER: Thank you, and thank you for recognizing his deep kindness and gentility showing that the best of our -- we show our best of ourselves when we're decent to each other and I just appreciate that, that you recognize that and often show that yourself, so thank you.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to have a lot more on his legacy coming up here in "The Situation Room," including some interviews that I was privileged to do with him over the years. That's coming up later.

Senator Booker, thanks, as usual. We'll, of course, continue this conversation. Appreciate it very, very much.

BOOKER: Appreciate you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Now, the U.S. sees yet more surging numbers of new coronavirus cases. A new poll finds a majority of Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic, and now, the president's campaign is making an about face on their plans for campaign rallies. Stay with us, we have new details.

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[20:40:44]

BLITZER: As coronavirus numbers surge across the United States, the Trump campaign has decided to dial back its rally plans in a stunning about-face. During what was described as President Trump's first tele rally, Friday night. He told supporters that until the pandemic get solved, in-person rallies will be, in his word, tough, so I'll be doing what are described as telephonic campaign rallies.

CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, is joining us right now. Ron, is this an admission that the Trump campaign, from Tulsa, Oklahoma forward as badly misplayed these events and is starting to come to terms with the administration's broader failure when it comes to the pandemic?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'd say the former, but not necessarily the latter, Wolf. I mean, you know, holding these events in the -- in the teeth of the upsurge of cases in these communities, basically ensured only one thing. I mean, the story would be fundamentally about the events themselves, rather than anything he said at them.

And, in fact, holding these events kind of reconfirmed the majority of the public that has consistently said in polls that they're worried that he's not paying enough attention to experts. But I don't think it signals a broader shift in direction. I mean, he has put all of his chips on opening at any cost to, despite polls showing that by about two to one Americans are -- would rather prioritize public health and those numbers have only grown as we've had this resurgence of the virus, particularly across the Sun Belt in June and July.

BLITZER: A recent poll is, you know, found what about 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the President's handling of this pandemic. And now, some White House aides are actually thinking about bringing back the daily coronavirus media briefings. They think maybe that would boost the president's standing. Do you think those appearances would restore public confidence in the President's handling of the coronavirus?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, they cancelled them because they were undermining confidence in his handling of the virus. They are right about one thing. Look, races involve a reelection race for an incumbent president is first and foremost. And second, and even third, a referendum on that President.

And as you noted, the ABC-Washington Post poll this week as well as national polls this week by Quinnipiac and the NBC-Wall Street Journal, all found around 60 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the virus. That is the core fact that he is dealing with in his re-election.

[20:45:06]

He can move perceptions around -- about Joe Biden, he can raise doubts about Joe Biden, and maybe win back a few voters that way. But, you know, I had -- I had the folks at NBC-Wall Street Journal and Quinnipiac, both run the numbers for me. And the President is winning in the horse race, only 10 percent or less of the people who disapprove of the way he's handling the virus. He is not running against Joe Biden, at this point, he is running against the virus and he is losing.

BLITZER: Yes, the numbers from his perspective are pretty awful right now.

The President, this week, was given another chance to depoliticize the issue of masks in very clear terms, instead. Here's what he said on Fox News. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 have everybody wear a mask, everything just appears.

Hey, Dr. Fauci said don't wear a mask. Our Surgeon General, terrific guy, said don't wear a mask. Everybody who's saying don't wear a mask, all of a sudden, everybody's got to wear a mask. And as you know, mask has problems too. With that being said, I'm a believer in masks. I think masks are good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That interview with Chris Wallace from Fox News. We just saw the president changed his stance on rallies. But is he too entrenched politically, right now, around to fully promote the idea of everyone in the country wearing masks when they're outside or when they can't social distance, for example?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, first understand where he is standing in regard to public opinion. Again, in the Quinnipiac poll this week, 71 percent of Americans said they would support a nationwide mask mandate. So as is often the case, the President is speaking to a minority of the country and trying to energize and mobilize that minority, you know, behind him.

And I think this is a revealing of something. We often talk about how bonded President Trump's base is to him. But this is kind of an indication that his refusal to be more explicit in supporting masks. I think it's an indication that in some ways, he's a prisoner of that base as well. I mean, he is reluctant to get outside of the portions of his base and of the Fox News type audience that, you know, shows up at -- you know, without masks with automatic weapons at the state capitol in Michigan.

That prompts Brian Kemp, the governor of Georgia to sue major cities, including requiring to block them from requiring masks. The President, in some ways here, it's not only leading his base, I think he is being constrained by it.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, as usual, thank you very much for joining us, really appreciate it. We have an important note for our viewers. Please join CNN's Jake Tapper as he investigates what really happened in the beginning of the U.S. fight against COVID-19, and what could happen next.

The CNN special report, "The Pandemic and the President," airs later tonight, 10:00 P.M. Eastern, right after our special SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, an exclusive look inside a Russian lab where the Kremlin claims scientists could be close to finding a vaccine for the coronavirus, but some experts are skeptical. We have new information. That's next. We'll be right back.

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[20:50:48]

BLITZER: Russia is among the many countries racing right now to try to develop a coronavirus vaccine. But while Russia touts the pace of its program, it also faces serious accusations of stealing research.

CNN's Matthew Chance says more from Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Russia, the search for coronavirus vaccine is a global race, and this research lab in Moscow, where it hopes to win. Access to the Gamaleya Institute is tightly controlled. No CNN cameras were allowed through these doors.

But they did give us exclusive footage of the sensitive scientific work taking place inside, a unique glimpse of Russia's rapid push for a coronavirus vaccine.

They even sent recorded comments from their director, who controversially injected himself before human trials officially began.

ALEXANDER GINSBURG, DIRECTOR, GAMALEYA INSTITUTE (through translator): It has become a task of unprecedented complexity. In a very short time, we have to create a vaccine against this disease.

CHANCE: But that need for speed, in Russia, means corners may have been cut. Russian soldiers or volunteers, according to the defense ministry, were used in the first phase of human trials. And now, allegations denied by the Kremlin that Russian spies have been hacking U.S., British, and Canadian labs to steal their coronavirus secrets. Allegations we put the head of the organization funding much of Russia's coronavirus research.

CHANCE (on-camera): Russia desperately needs to develop and wants to develop a vaccine. Isn't that one reason why the Kremlin would try and get ahead by stealing other nation's vaccine secrets?

KIRILL DMITRIEV, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, RUSSIAN DIRECT INVESTMENT FUND: Well, first of all, Matthew, we are very surprised by timing of this, because basically it happens the next day after we announced that we expect approval of our vaccine in August.

CHANCE: Sure. But how do you explain that extraordinary speed? I mean, the other countries are working flat out. Why would Russia be so far ahead? I mean, there are allegations or concerns that this country's being cutting corners when it comes to its research?

DMITRIEV: We have lots of infrastructure for vaccine development. And once again, we will be the first ones because of our scientists, and because of the research group on to date.

[20:55:02]

CHANCE (voice-over): Lack of transparency and no access to the lab means it's hard to know where Moscow actually is with its vaccine. But with or without the help of its hackers, it seems Russia is going all out for quick results.

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BLITZER: Thanks to Matthew Chance in Moscow for that reporting.

Meanwhile, new dire numbers tonight from Texas, where for a fifth day in a row, it has now reported more than 10,000 new cases of the coronavirus. The mayor of San Antonio standing by live. We will discuss. Stay with us.

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