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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Defends Handling of Coronavirus Crisis as Cases Surge in the U.S.; Florida Reports More Than 12,000 New COVID-19 Cases in Single Day; Interview with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez about Florida's Coronavirus Cases; New York City Enters Last Stage of Reopening Plan Monday; Millions of Americans' Extra Unemployment Benefit Set to Expire; Major League Baseball Attempts Comeback on Thursday; Israel Imposes New Lockdown Restrictions as Cases Surge. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired July 19, 2020 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:12]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

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

Every night seems to bring another grim statistic, another sign our country's crisis is not only far from over but is in fact getting worse. The death toll, as you can see from the numbers besides me, almost beyond comprehension. Over 600,000 people dead around the world, over 140,000 of these people here at home. All of that, in only five months. And the situation across the country right now underscores just how bad this has become.

Both Georgia and North Carolina are now reporting record highs for coronavirus cases from yesterday. And in Los Angeles, that city has seen the highest number of hospitalizations in a single day. And while all of that is very disturbing the headlines coming out of Florida and Arizona right now are even worse. Arizona reached a new record for deaths yesterday. 147 people -- 147 people losing their lives to the virus.

And in Florida, dozens of hospitals right now find themselves completely out of ICU beds, a very grim sign of what could be next.

At the same time, in a new interview, the president is strongly defending how he has handled the crisis. Let's go to the White House right now, CNN's Jeremy Diamond is on the scene for us.

Jeremy, the president today appearing on FOX News which usually is pretty friendly territory for him. But Chris Wallace to his credit did a tough interview with the president today, pressing him on several sensitive issues, and the president made many claims about his handling of the pandemic. Some of them very defensive, others were just patently false.

So tell us about what the president said, update our viewers. JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it really

is remarkable. You know, we have seen cases surging, of coronavirus, across the United States for the last month and a half, and yet the president still seems to deny the reality that this surge in cases is indeed a real surge in cases in the United States and a very serious situation.

The president today focused more on trying to spin a more positive version of reality defending his administration's handling of this pandemic and continuing to make this false claim that has repeatedly debunked that testing is responsible for the rise in cases. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Do you still talk about it as, quote, "burning embers"? But I want to put up a chart that shows where we are with the illness over the last four months. As you can see, we hit a peak here in April, 36,000 cases.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's cases.

WALLACE: -- a day.

TRUMP: Yes. Cases.

WALLACE: Then it went down. And now since June it has gone up more than double. One day this week 75,000 new cases.

TRUMP: That's right.

WALLACE: More than double.

TRUMP: Chris, that's because we have great testing. Because we have the best testing in the world. If we didn't test, you wouldn't be able to show that chart. If we tested half as much those numbers would be down. We tested --

WALLACE: But this isn't burning embers, sir. This is a forest fire.

TRUMP: No, no. But I don't say -- I say flames. We'll put out the flames and we'll put out in some cases just burning embers. We also have burning embers. We have embers and we do have flames.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: And now, Wolf, here are some facts. Testing has been up about 37 percent but coronavirus cases in the United States have been rising by 194 percent. So a much faster rate of growth of those cases versus the testing that is happening which shows that the president's claim here is completely false.

The president also tried to compare the United States and the European Union. It's not a favorable comparison, though, Wolf. The United States is experiencing the surge in cases that Europe has not been experiencing over the last month, month and a half. And while the United States' positivity test rate for coronavirus is nearly 9 percent, in the European Union, most countries are under the recommended 5 percent threshold -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeremy, thanks very much. We'll get back to you.

But I want to go to Florida right now, where President Trump acknowledged the virus surge is like a flame, his words. Florida's health officials today reporting more than 12,000 new cases of COVID- 19, bringing the total number of cases past 350,000. 87 new Florida resident deaths were reported just today. Meanwhile, more than 9,000 people are filling up Florida hospital beds.

Randi Kaye is joining us from West Palm Beach right now.

Randi, this is the fourth time this month that the state has seen more than 12,000 coronavirus cases in a single day. So what is the state's response?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they are trying. But it doesn't look like they're doing enough. If you look at the numbers. I mean, dozens of hospitals around the state are at capacity. At last check, 49 hospitals across the state of Florida have officially run out of ICU beds. They have nothing left to give.

[20:05:03]

And in Miami-Dade, one of the hardest hit counties, they are at 127 percent capacity when it comes to ICUs. So they are converting regular hospital beds to those ICU beds. But you asked what the state response is. They are certainly trying, here's a couple of things that they are trying to do. They have instituted a self-swab testing, Wolf. So that means that once those tests are done, they won't go to a commercial lab which has been taking weeks to get the results back.

This would take 24 to 36 hours. It's limited but they have introduced that. They also have special testing lanes for symptomatic people. They are trying to get them through, get their results back faster. There's also 30,000 vials of Remdesivir, which is on its way to the state of Florida. We know that's a proven treatment for COVID-19. The governor saw the need, he went to the White House, he said he asked for a greater supply. And that will go directly to the hospitals. So the state won't even be involved.

And Wolf, they're also testing staff at the nursing homes and the long-term care facilities. 4,000 facilities, 200,000 staff. They are doing it every two weeks to try and stop the spread in those facilities. And then on the local level, the county level, there's also some work being done in Miami starting tomorrow. They are no longer going to be issuing warnings if you're not wearing a mask. You get an immediate fan.

And in other counties like Miami-Dade and Broward, both very hard hit. They have these overnight curfews now in place. They don't want people on the streets after 11:00 p.m. They don't want young people gathering and going out. Certainly they're numbers are very disturbing here in the state, Wolf. So they're doing all they can to try and stop the spread.

BLITZER: Which they should. Randi Kaye, in West Palm Beach, thanks very much.

So let's take a closer look at Florida's current epicenter of the pandemic. We're talking about Miami-Dade County. It alone accounts for more than 2,000 of the state's 9,000 hospitalizations. And today, we are learning that intensive care units in that county are at 127 percent capacity. And COVID-19 ventilator use is up 64 percent in just the past two weeks.

The Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is joining us now live.

Mayor Suarez, thank you so much for joining us. What are the biggest factors contributing to this pretty dire situation we're seeing in Miami unfold right now?

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MIAMI: The biggest factor is that since we got out of the stay-at-home order in April, we've seen just an incredible growth in terms of the virus. You know, people have essentially behaved as if the virus didn't exist and one other thing that this virus has proven is that it is incredibly efficient at spreading and so at our peak we were growing at a rate of 125 new cases per day.

Based on some of the remediation measures that we put into place over the last week, we've flattened that curve a little bit. We're down to about 50 new cases a day as of Friday. And we're starting to see our hospital system stabilize as of Friday. We had a pretty flat admissions rate over a five-day period. But it is worrisome that we have gone beyond the regular ICU capacity and are now converting our non-ICU beds to ICU beds.

BLITZER: Yes. That is very, very worrisome. I know as you correctly point out you have to follow the data very closely to see whether a new stay-at-home order for example might be necessary and as you point out with intensive care units at 127 percent in Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami is part of Miami-Dade County, of course. What do you say to folks out there who think it's past time right now for more serious action?

SUAREZ: What I would say to them is look, it's a very, very difficult situation. We're in a situation where we talk every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with our epidemiologist, with our virus statisticians. We talk with hospital administrators who also guide us. And all of them have, you know, uniformly said that we need to stay the course right now, and let the remediation measures that we've implemented as of about a week ago work and they have been working.

So we are seeing like the percent positive which was last Friday or a week from Friday it was, growing at a rate of 1 percent per day which is incredibly fast, has also flattened as well. So we are seeing some improvements. You know, we're monitoring it every single day. And we're really looking at our hospital capacity as one of the major factors. Obviously death is another major factor. And the fact that our ventilators continue to go up is extremely worrisome.

BLITZER: I know you have a curfew in place for the city of Miami. What time are folks supposed to be off the streets? SUAREZ: So there's two curfews. There's actually one for Miami-Date

County which is all 34 municipalities. That's 10:00 p.m. and that's to stop, you know, some of the things that we were seeing, where people congregating late at night. Restaurants that were converting into nightclubs. The other one that is in place is at 8:00 p.m., and that's in South Beach. And, you know, unfortunately South Beach, or fortunately most of the time, South Beach is a place where people love to visit, congregate and have a good time. Unfortunately in moments like this that's exactly the worst possible thing that can happen. So, you know, I give kudos to my good friend Mayor Dan Gelber and his city manager Jimmy Morales for implementing an 8:00 p.m. curfew to get the situation under control.

[20:10:07]

BLITZER: Yes, Miami Beach has an 8:00 p.m. curfew. You and Miami -- city of Miami with 10:00 p.m. curfew. You've mandated masks in the city of Miami but you say there are members of your community who will only listen to the president of the United States, the governor of Florida on this issue. Is their approach, maybe the president's and the governor's, taken as license by some of your Miami residents to simply not wear a mask?

SUAREZ: I'm sure it is. And I've said that publicly. And I mentioned that to the governor as well. And I commend him because he did come to Miami just last week and say that we need to -- you know, everyone in Miami needs to follow the local rules. I think we benefit really from having a mask in public rules statewide and nationally because I think that, you know, it's about setting the example.

And I think, you know, public officials and leaders should set the example and people will follow. And there are some people that follow the president blindly and are very loyal to him. And I think, you know, whatever segment of our city that is that population, we need those people on board. Unfortunately this week we're going to go into a massive enforcement, you know, campaign on the mask in public and we're going to be fining people $50, $150, and $500 for a first, second and third offense.

It's not something we want to do. But it's something we feel is necessary to make sure that we continue to see the gains that we're seeing from these remediation measures that we put into place.

BLITZER: Very quickly because we're almost out of time, Mayor Suarez. What's the latest on schools reopening in the city of Miami?

SUAREZ: The latest is that our superintendent has committed to protecting our children. And that if, you know, the health conditions are not such that they can go into classrooms beginning in August, then there will be distance learning only in August as long as they can do that legally under the, you know, Department of Education standards that have been promulgated by the state.

BLITZER: Well, good luck, Mayor Suarez. Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Miami and Miami-Dade in Florida. It's a rough situation. We're all watching right now. Thank you so much for joining us. SUAREZ: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami.

There's breaking news coming in from the sports world. The golf legend Jack Nicklaus revealed today that he and his wife Barbara both tested positive for coronavirus back in March. The 18-time major champion known as Golden Bear said he had a sore throat and a cough while his wife was asymptomatic. Nicklaus says it didn't last very long and we were very, very fortunate, very lucky. Barbara and I are both of the age that this is an at-risk age. The couple has since tested negative and they've recovered. Nicklaus this week even hosted the memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio.

Hospitals across many states meanwhile are overwhelmed, overwhelmed right now. The death toll in Arizona as we've pointed out is reaching a new daily record. So why is the president falsely claiming that the increase in cases is due simply to more testing.

Our doctors are standing by. We'll discuss when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:17:03]

BLITZER: Amid surging coronavirus cases and continued concerns over testing delays here in the United States, President Trump had continued to push the false claims about testing. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They're having surges --

WALLACE: -- are 6,000 in the whole European Union.

TRUMP: They don't test. They don't test like we do.

WALLACE: Is it possible that they don't have the virus as badly as we do?

TRUMP: It's possible that they don't test, that's what's possible. We find cases and many of those cases heal automatically. We're finding, in a way we're creating trouble. Certainly we are creating trouble for the fake news to come along and say, oh, we have more cases.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: With me now, the former assistant commissioner of health in New York City and host of the epidemic podcast, Dr. Celine Gounder, and former U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Dr. Murthy, we're, what, five months into this crisis right now. How concerned are you to hear the president of the United States repeat this false claim about testing?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, thanks, Wolf, it's good to be here with you today. I will say that this claim that we've heard from President Trump about the rise in cases being due entirely to an increase in testing is false. It has been refuted by many public health leaders, by scientists, and one of the simple things we can look at is the fact that if this was all just due to testing and the test positivity rate, the percentage of people tested who are actually positive, should be the same or decreasing.

What we see is in fact that test positivity rate has surged to levels that we weren't even seeing earlier in the spring. So that's a false statement and the truth is that where we are right now is in a very dangerous phase of this epidemic. Case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths have all surged. We've recorded more than 70,000 cases per day twice in the last week. And we've lost more than 140,000 lives.

But we're also seeing a replay of this spring in terms of testing being strained, hospital systems and our health care workers being under severe strain, except we're seeing that play out now and it meant many states. A key thing that we've got to remember is that there is also a point at which our limitations and testing capacity are going to put a ceiling on the number of cases we find. Because right now people are waiting in long lines. They're being turned away for a test.

Many are deciding not to get tested because turnaround times are now exceeding one week in many places to get your results at which point they're of little use. And so we've got to keep that in mind as we look at these numbers that the worst our testing woes are, the harder it is for us to see accurately what's going on in terms of the burden of disease.

BLITZER: Yes, what the president doesn't seem to appreciate, hundreds, hundreds of Americans are dying every single day. I just checked yesterday according to Johns Hopkins University, 853 Americans died from coronavirus.

Dr. Gounder, here's what the president's response was when Chris Wallace pointed out that the president himself had made mistakes in his comments when it comes to coronavirus. Listen to this.

[20:20:05]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I will be right eventually. I will be right eventually.

WALLACE: I understand.

TRUMP: You know, I said, it's going to disappear. I'll say it again. It's going to disappear.

WALLACE: But does that discredit you?

TRUMP: And I'll be right. I don't think so.

WALLACE: Why?

TRUMP: I don't think so. You know why it doesn't -- because I have been right probably more than anybody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, he's made plenty of mistakes as we all know. There's been a learning curve for everyone to be fair to respond to this crisis, Dr. Gounder. But does the president need to put his ego aside right now to get this situation here in the United States under control and implement a national plan beginning with a mandate for masks?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, FORMER NYC ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER OF HEALTH: Look, Wolf, everybody has made some mistakes along the way. We've all been in the process of learning all of us. But at the same time, is that process of learning and making mistakes and learning from your mistakes a scientific one or is it a politicalized process? And I fear that, you know, the scientific approach is to say OK, we reevaluated our assumptions, we are moving forward because we've learned from that. This is what we understand now.

A political approach is to dig your heels in and insists that what you've been saying is right and continues to be right even in the face of opposing evidence. I think wearing masks, you know, that's the least of the things the president and all of his administration should be doing right now. They should all be wearing masks whenever on camera and whenever out in public and around other people.

BLITZER: Dr. Murthy, let me play something else that the president said in this interview. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: One of your closest aides, one of your right-hand man, Daniel Scavino, put out this -- have you seen this?

TRUMP: Well, Doctor -- look.

WALLACE: Dr. Faucet, which shows him as a leaker and an alarmist.

TRUMP: Well, I don't know that he's a leaker.

WALLACE: Why would he do that?

TRUMP: He's a little bit of an alarmist. That's OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dr. Murthy, is Dr. Fauci, a man you know well, a little bit of an alarmist when 140,000 Americans are now dead from coronavirus in only a few months?

MURTHY: Well, I do know Dr. Fauci. I've had the privilege of working with him on Zika, on Ebola, and other public health matters. And what he is, is a scientist, a realist, a truth teller. And the honest truth is that we need more truth tellers in positions of power who are willing to say what is happening and who are willing to talk about and advocate for a strategy to make things better even if that's unpopular.

And that's what you hope you would have in your political leaders as well. But we seem to be lacking that. You know, what hurts most about this, Wolf, is that so much of the death and disease and despair that we have experienced could have been avoided had our political leaders heeded the warnings of scientists and public health experts and we've seen and we are seeing right before our eyes that just having the best scientists and hospitals and medical professionals in the world isn't enough.

We also need strong leadership to mount a strong response of the pandemic really demands. And finally let me just say this, you know, Wolf, we lost John Lewis, an extraordinary and towering figure in American life and somebody who deeply inspired me. And one of the things that he reminded me of and all of us of was that each of us can lead and each of us can contribute in our own ways because there's a basic social contract that makes society work.

And it's that government takes care of people, but people take care of each other. And even if our government isn't living up to its responsibility when it comes to COVID-19, that doesn't mean that we as individuals can't live up to ours, and that's why we have to look out for our friends, check on our neighbors, and wear a mask to help protect others because we have the power to impact the spread of COVID-19 and to protect ourselves and others.

BLITZER: We certainly do. And it's not very difficult to just put on a mask.

Dr. Murthy, thank you. Dr. Gounder, thanks to you as well.

There's a lot more we're working on right now including a worrying reality for millions of unemployed Americans right now. The $600 federal benefit that they've been getting will come to an end this week, putting a lot of strain on so many families across the country.

We have details of what lawmakers are planning to do. We'll update you on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:28:46]

BLITZER: Once the epicenter of COVID here in the United States, New York is on the verge of a really significant giant step. Phase four, reopening begins tomorrow. But the going will be slow. Indoor restaurants, bars museums, malls will stay closed at least for now. Across the state, coronavirus numbers keep falling and hospitalizations related to the virus are down to 722 patients. That's the lowest number in New York in four months.

And take a look at this, statewide, New York is reporting just 502 new cases and 13 deaths today. But amid all of this, a new video on social media is showing large crowds of people partying in New York City this weekend, many of them without a mask, and New York's mayor, Bill de Blasio, certainly isn't very happy about that. CNN's Polo Sandoval is joining us from New York right now.

So, Polo, tell us what the mayor is saying and tell us what he is seeing and what's going on that is so disturbing.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, some of these pictures that we saw over the weekend here showing large crowds of people, in this case, in the story of Queens, coming together after clearly violating those social distancing guidelines. You'd be hard pressed to find a mask in the crowd. The concern obviously is that this could potentially lead to more spreading.

[20:35:02]

So not only is the mayor call this unacceptable but also the state is certainly trying to crack down on these regulations especially as we hit that major milestone tomorrow of phase four reopening here in New York City. It is -- you can almost call it phase four light, though, because some of the indoor spaces that were originally scheduled to reopen like malls, movie theaters, indoor dining, that will remain close but you can expect things like zoos, botanical gardens to reopen as long as they reopened with limited capacity.

Movie production, TV production here in New York is expected to resume so the city look a little bit more like New York but ultimately those indoor places, Wolf, they will remain close because the concern is that that could lead to more spread.

BLITZER: Yes. There is a lot of concern right now.

All right, Polo. Thank you very much.

I want to bring back the former U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Dr. Murthy, when you hear about people simply reverting to old behaviors, young people partying on the streets, you saw there in New York City, right in the middle of this pandemic. Even if things are moving in the right direction in New York. How worried are you when you see these images?

MURTHY: I'm very worried, Wolf, because, this is a virus that spreads easily, and that is far more deadly than the flu or the common cold, and it's a virus that takes advantage of when we relax. And when he ease up on precautions.

We are in no way, shape or form out of the woods when it comes to this virus, even in places like New York which have seen a marked improvement since March and April. And what that means is that everybody has to wear masks, keep distance from each other. We shouldn't be going out and engaging, you know, in close interactions, I mean, more than we absolutely have to because this virus could come back.

And that's the lesson of other parts of the world. Other places that have done an incredible job, tamping down the first wave of the virus, are now seeing resurgences and spikes. So we have to look at that and learn from it, and not contribute really to a worsening of this epidemic in the country. But the final thing is this. When we see these videos in New York that you see, in some ways you can understand where they're coming from.

People have been cooped up for a long time. They want to get out there. They want to get back to their normal way of life and I understand that absolutely. But this is why it's so critical that leaders, political leaders, business leaders, faith leaders, are all communicating the same message with one voice and making sure people understand the precautions we need to take. It's why some of the shortcomings we've had and inconsistent and inaccurate communication from the federal government have been so damaging.

If we don't speak with one voice, people are not going to take the steps they need to take and we're going to see more resurgences in the future.

BLITZER: Yes. At least wear masks and engage in social distancing. And that potentially could be a life and death decision.

Dr. Murthy, as usual, thank you once again for joining us.

We're going to have much more coming up in the coronavirus pandemic. We're also following some other news in a new interview the president is equating those who support Confederate flags and statues -- he's actually comparing that to protesting for racial equality here in the United States. That's ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:37:24]

BLITZER: All right, so for so many Americans the money is about to run out. The added $600 weekly unemployment benefit pass is part of the Pandemic Relief Program is set to expire later this month which will leave more than 25 million Americans thousands of dollars poorer each month. And for now Republicans are opposed to extending that important benefit despite the fact that the coronavirus crisis continues to escalate to get worse here in the United States.

Our senior political commentator David Axelrod is joining us right now.

David, you would think that president right now, Democrat president, Republican president, extending unemployment relief as more than half the country halts reopening would be a given. So what are Republicans see as the political benefit of not extending this $600 weekly benefit to more than 20 million Americans who are unemployed?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I honestly don't know. Obviously there are fiscal implications, these are expensive programs but obviously the crisis continues and it's growing, and we see a resurgent virus.

I would be shocked, Wolf, if the president didn't pressure members of -- Republican members of the Congress to embrace an extension. I think it's absolutely imperative for whatever his chances are now. It would be a disaster for so many Americans if the Congress walked away just as the virus was ticking up again. So I expect that there will be some resolution to this.

There may be some staring across the table. But I think at the end of the day, there's going to be an extension. I would be shocked if that weren't the case.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens because there's a lot at stake. There's a new FOX News poll that just came out today. It's showing President Trump trailing Joe Biden, this time by eight points. The FOX News poll, I see it here, 49 percent for Biden, 41 percent for Trump, among registered voters. That new ABC News-"Washington Post" poll, by the way, is worse for President Trump. 55 percent for Biden, 40 percent for Trump among registered voters.

There seems to be a consistent thread. You look at those polls, other polls. How worried should the president of the United States be right now that he might not get re-elected?

AXELROD: I think very worried. I mean, for an incumbent president to be trailing by these kinds of margins this late in a campaign would be very, very -- should be very, very worrisome, but those polls will also tell another story which is the corrosive effect on his chances of his handling of this coronavirus. In both polls he gets very low marks for that.

[20:40:03]

It's pretty clear that there's a correlation between the way he's handling the virus and his overall standing and what's stunning is that he continues to double down on this strategy of denial and delusion. And I think that the more people are seeing the reality in their lives of what this virus is doing and hearing from the president that it will just disappear as he repeated again today in that FOX News interview, I think it creates enormous problems for him and I'm wondering what the strategy is or if there is one behind that.

BLITZER: The president in that FOX News interview with Chris Wallace earlier today was also asked about his statements supporting the Confederate flag here in the United States. Watch this, David, watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Is the Confederate flag offensive?

TRUMP: It depends on who you're talking about, when you're talking about. When people probably had their Confederate flags, they're not talking about racism. They love their flag. It represents the South, they like the South. People right now like the South. I say it's freedom of many things, but it's freedom of speech.

WALLACE: So you're not offended by it?

TRUMP: Well, I'm not offended either by Black Lives Matter. That's freedom of speech.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What's your reaction to that, David?

AXELROD: Well, we're accustomed, Wolf, to politicians wrapping themselves in the flag in this country but not wrapping themselves in the Confederate flag. And that's what the president seems to be doing. He has this notion that somehow he can rally his base by standing up for the flags, standing up for Confederate generals and the names on these military -- you know, these military outlets and that is just not the case.

And you can see that as well. He's been badly hurt by his handling of race. He gets his -- his ratings on race are as low as his ratings on coronavirus. And you could see that after the George Floyd murder and the after math of that, his numbers started eroding further. So the combination of the two are a caustic mix. And yet he keeps doubling down on that. And he has this idea that there's a constituency out there that's large enough to get him re-elected, who have a strong affinity for the Confederate flag and Confederate generals, and the vast majority of Americans are sending a different message.

BLITZER: Yes. And his job approval numbers in all these recent polls are only in the high 30s right now. And if you take a look back over the years as I have many times, presidents incumbent --

AXELROD: Bad indication.

BLITZER: Incumbent presidents who have a job approval number in the high 30s almost always don't, don't get re-elected. He should worry about that jobs approval number.

AXELROD: At this stage absolutely.

BLITZER: Yes. Especially with only less than four months to go.

David Axelrod, thanks very much as usual for joining us.

AXELROD: Good to see you, Wolf.

BLITZER: This week, Major League Baseball here in the United States will try and make a comeback kicking off a shortened season. But can they really pull it off? I'll speak with Hall of Fame broadcaster, Bob Costas. He is standing by live. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:47:45]

BLITZER: As a baseball fan, I must say there's nothing like baseball's opening day. I can't wait for Thursday's first game when the world champion Washington Nationals, my team, face off against the New York Yankees right here in the nation's capital. Unfortunately there won't be spectators, there won't be fans there, but we will be able to see it on television. Can they actually -- Major League Baseball -- pull it off, finally

give sports fans what so many of us have been missing for months?

CNN contributor Bob Costas is joining us right now. He is a Hall of Fame broadcaster and an announcer for MLB and MLB Networks.

So what do you think, Bob? Can baseball figure out how to have this shortened 60-game season right in the middle of what seems to be a worsening pandemic?

BOB COSTAS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, as I have been saying all along, it's a series of needles to thread. They've got all their protocols and all the best possible medical expertise. But as we've seen with this virus, it's unpredictable. There are five teams, for example, in California where things are surging. There are two Major League teams in Florida. We know the situation there.

So if our fingers crossed, despite the best possible (INAUDIBLE) but I feel (INAUDIBLE), even without --

BLITZER: Let's hope. Let's hope that this all works out. I want to play a little clip from a star for the Atlanta Braves, Freddie Freeman, who caught the virus. Bob, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FREDDIE FREEMAN, ATLANTA BRAVES PLAYER HAD CORONAVIRUS: Friday night. That was the scariest night for me. I spiked to a 104.5 fever. I said a little prayer that night because, you know, I've never been that hot before and my body was really, really hot. So I said, please don't take me. I wasn't ready.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, does that, what we just heard, does it make it seem more real for a lot of his fellow players?

COSTAS: Yes, I guess it does. To put it in some kind of perspective they've had constant, ongoing testing, and somewhere around 1.5 percent of the players tested have tested positive and most of them have returned and are ready to play, and that includes Freddie Freeman. The Braves (INAUDIBLE) especially hard hit, and they are now, Cy Young Awardee Felix Hernandez, they've signed the (INAUDIBLE), that is contingent upon this (INAUDIBLE) who tested positive so they don't have (INAUDIBLE), so they've been particularly hard hit.

And that's going to be some (INAUDIBLE) injury. Well, in this case would be the one that virus situation (INAUDIBLE) for teams. Consistently or clearly across the board. And the number of players, significant players, former Cy Young winners, Buster Posey, Zimmerman, longest standing National, your team, they've all opted out for various reasons. Ten or 11 umpires over age of 55 can opt out with full pay (INAUDIBLE) have decided to opt out. So there's plenty of Minor League umpires available to step up and fill in. You know, there are no certainties (INAUDIBLE). BLITZER: All right. Hold on for a moment, Bob, we got a little

technical issue with the audio. We're going to try to fix that if we can. Stand by, we might be coming back to you if we can fix that technical problem. But we've got a lot more news coming up on all the coronavirus developments right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:57:08]

BLITZER: Talking baseball with Bob Costas, he's back with us on the phone right now.

Bob, one team, the Toronto Blue Jays, has been told it can't even use its own ballpark in Canada because of the risk from the virus. So how big of a problem is this overall for baseball?

COSTAS: Well, they're facing a variety of issues. They expected that. The Blue Jays will probably relocate to their AAA affiliate. There's no Minor League Baseball at all. So they'll go to Buffalo. They talked about that which is the spring training site but it doesn't make sense to go to Florida where the virus is surging and Buffalo puts them in closer proximity to most of the teams in their division in the American League East.

But all the things we were talking about before we had the audio problems, umps opting out, a handful of players opting out, 1.5 percent of players testing positive, all those issues along with the Toronto Blue Jays and a possibility of a surge and all the unknowns that surround the virus in all walks of life including sports, those were anticipated by baseball. They have the best possible protocols and the best possible medical expertise, but even then as I said repeatedly it's a series of needles to thread. It's a tightrope walk and we have our fingers crossed they make it all the way through.

BLITZER: I hope they do. Lot of us baseball fans would love to see that.

Bob Costas, we'll see you soon. Thank you so much for everything you do. Appreciate it very much.

There's more coronavirus news we're following right now. In Israel, a country that once had a very strong grip on the coronavirus and appeared to be an international model for how to contain it, but Israel is now facing a wave of new infections and the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is imposing new lockdown restrictions.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Israel imposed a set of sweeping restrictions on weekends in an attempt to contain what is very much a second wave of coronavirus infections. Museums, stores, malls, zoos, those and other places where people could gather indoors or outdoors will be closed on the weekends as Israel tries to contain this outbreak of coronavirus.

On Thursday the country set a new record of coronavirus cases within a day with 1,929 according to the Ministry of Health, breaking the record set just earlier in the week. Meanwhile, the number of serious cases in the country has more than quadrupled since the beginning of the month.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to avoid a general lockdown again during the week and on weekends because of the fragile state of Israel's economy with unemployment above 21 percent. It is because of the state of the economy perhaps we're seeing growing protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A combination of an anti- Netanyahu, anti-corruption sentiment as well as that growing frustration over the state of the economy and the falling public trust in the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis. Netanyahu dismissed the protest in Jerusalem as a leftist demonstration calling it a disgrace.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu's corruption trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust continued with its second day on Sunday.