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U.S. Accuses China of Spying; Portland Protesters Push Back Against Agents; Arizona Teachers Protest Reopening; Broward County to Resume Classes Online; Republicans and White House Split over Stimulus. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired July 22, 2020 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning China is accusing the U.S. of violating international law after the State Department accused China of massive illegal spying and ordered China to close its consulate in Houston.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Beijing now says it will retaliate.

Our CNN senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt joins us now.

Alex, it seems -- I mean, obviously, there are a lot of questions, but, you know, asking the secretary of state, et cetera, this morning, it doesn't seem like there are a lot of answers yet.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. So this consulate, according to the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Marco Rubio, who we just heard from, was what he called the central node of a massive network of Chinese spies here in the United States. He said that they now have 72 hours to leave the U.S.

This move to shut down this consulate is the latest by the U.S. government to confront what has really become a rampant Chinese cyber espionage campaign against the United States so the U.S. has ordered this consulate in Houston to close. The U.S. State Department has said that China has engaged for years in massive illegal spying and influence operations throughout the United States against U.S. government officials and American citizens. Chinese officials have interfered in our domestic politics, stolen U.S. intellectual property, coerced our business leaders, threatened families of Chinese Americans residing in China and more.

Now, late last night, Jim and Poppy, the police did respond to reports of smoke coming from the consulate. Local media reported that it appeared that some documents were being burned. Police officers were not allowed inside.

And this does come as the U.S. is increasingly calling out China for hacking operations against research organizations, hospitals, companies looking into a vaccine for Covid-19. They have said that China is trying to get that intelligence related to a vaccine for the coronavirus. Just yesterday we heard from the Department of Justice. They named two Chinese hackers who work -- who have been working with Chinese intelligence to target biotech firms.

And this is part of a string of comments and actions by the U.S. government against China. We have heard strong speeches by the attorney general, by the national security adviser, by the director of the FBI, as the Trump administration significantly ratchets up the pressure against China.

Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: No question. Not unlike the Obama administration closing consulates after the 2016 election interference.

Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Well, in Portland, Oregon, overnight, more clashes between protesters and the federal agents. More than 1,000 demonstrators were on the street last night protesting racial injustice. More than 50 nights in a row this has been happening.

SCIUTTO: So earlier this month the Trump administration sent in federal agents, as you can see there, in military gear with military weapons. The president says to protect federal buildings there. Local officials say those federal forces have escalated the situation.

CNN security correspondent Josh Campbell is in Portland following these developments.

And, Josh, you even have a group of moms who have come out there to kind of protect these people.

Josh has the story.


JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another night of protests here in downtown Portland. We are here in the middle of the wall of moms, a group of mothers, local residents, people from outside of the city who have come to unite and to protest in support of racial justice, an end to the view of some here of police excessive use of force. This is the epicenter of so many of the protests that we have seen here in downtown Portland since the death of George Floyd.

I talked to one of the mothers here a moment ago who told me why they are out here.

JERIS HUNTINGTON, PROTESTER: What we can do as being the most empowered group of individuals is link arms and protect the -- the youth and the other members of our city because we have that privilege.

CAMPBELL: These are the moms, moms coming out here in support of justice. We have seen them come out time and time again. Obviously a big draw. One of the mothers saying that they're here to link arms with the people of Portland in support of racial justice. Something that they're going to continue to see here in their city.


HARLOW: Our Josh Campbell reporting on the ground there. Thank you, Josh.

Now to Chicago, where 14 people were injured in the shoot-out outside of a funeral home. Police say someone in a speeding car opened fire on people that were attending that funeral yesterday. Some of those people returned fire.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Just the latest violence incident in that city.

Homicides up nearly 50 percent from this same time last year. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot now says the city will cooperate when the Trump administration sends federal agents there to help fight violent crime.


She says she does not expect the situation like the one in Portland, Oregon. Officials will be vigilant they say about any potential abuses.

HARLOW: Well, the superintendent of one of the nation's largest school district says that young people are just collateral damage for the inability of many to take coronavirus seriously. He'll join me next.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

Today some teachers in Arizona plan to hold rallies in their cars as they protest the possible reopening of schools there. We're expecting an update from the Republican governor, Doug Ducey, later this week. He has said he'd likes students to return to classrooms beginning August 17th.


Educators have opposed the move so far.

Miguel Marquez has the latest from Phoenix.


Look, people are really starting to get focused in on this. The governor says that there is more information or some sort of announcement coming this week regarding schools. He set an aspirational date of the middle of August. But teachers across Maricopa County, Phoenix and in Pima County, down in Tucson, starting today are going to get together. They are going to do these motor marches, as they call them, get together and then drive through specific school districts in order to put pressure on the governor.

We also spoke to a doctor who's organized a letter to the governor saying this is a doctor who has three kids of his own who gets how much kids want to be back in school and he wants his kids back in school, but he says if they open it now, that would be a mistake.


DR. STEPHEN KESSLER, ARIZONA DOCTOR AND PARENT: Our concern is, given the -- the kind of uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 in our community currently, opening the schools is potentially going to just add fuel to the fire and make a bad situation a lot worse. So our --

MARQUEZ: Create more spread?

KESSLER: Create more spread.


MARQUEZ: What they want is some sort of metric system. Some -- before they even consider opening the schools, where the state needs to be at with the pandemic. Right now the level of positivity is so high here, about a quarter of the people tested, like they're doing behind us, test positive for the virus. There is a massive amount of virus out there. So until that positivity rate comes down to say 5 percent, and the retransmission rate comes down and -- and -- and levels off, those sort of things they want to see before they even consider how they go back to school.

Back to you guys.

SCIUTTO: They're big question and every community wants to get those answers as best they can.

Miguel Marquez, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, let's go to south Florida now where the nation's sixth biggest school district, Broward County Public Schools, right now is preparing to start their school year 100 percent digitally. That's for some 270,000 students across 330 schools.

With me now is the district superintendent, Robert Runcie.

It's very good to have you, sir. Thanks for the time this morning.


HARLOW: So the plan starting August 19th, in a matter of weeks, is 100 percent completely digital. But, as you know, it's this executive order, right, from July 6th, from the governor and the head of the education department there saying you guys have to open physically and you have to do it five days a week.

You have continued to say, look, we're going to follow the advice of the health professionals, the local health professionals. Is your position that that exempts you from this executive order or are you defying the executive order?

RUNCIE: Well, I believe it does. I believe the executive order, if you read it in detail, tells us to make sure -- HARLOW: I did, yes.

RUNCIE: Yes, make sure that we consult with our public health officials, which we do. In fact, I'll tell you, just last Friday, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Florida chapter, which represents about 2,600 pediatricians, wrote a letter to the governor suggesting that you shouldn't open schools in area where the infection rate is above 5 percent. Essentially a safe zone, 5 percent or lower.

Right here in Broward County, we're over 16 percent. So we're just not in a position to do that. We need our community to change behavior, to get serious about this so that we can get the infection rate down so we can open schools.

HARLOW: Is the governor's office good with this or do they see it as defying the order and do you believe you're going to get federal funding if you don't open your doors physically?

RUNCIE: So we have spoken with the commissioner's office and the governor's office and so we are going to submit a plan to the state as other districts are required to do. We just recently looked at a district submitted a plan the other day, looks very similar to what we're planning to do.

So, yes, we're confident that we will be able to start the school year on August 19th. Yes, it's going to be virtual because that's our only option to keep our students and our staff as safe as possible. And we've got to let the science and the health experts guide us in how we do this.

HARLOW: What about this lawsuit that has been filed by the Florida teachers and the union are firing -- are rather suing the government with this filing. The president of the Florida Education Association calls the executive order reckless, unconscionable and unconstitutional. And they point to Article 9, Section 1 of the Florida constitution that says essentially you've got to have a safe school environment for your public schools.

Do you support that lawsuit and do you think the EO is unconstitutional?


RUNCIE: Well, I can't opine on whether it's unconstitutional or not. I will say that using common sense and recognizing that Florida is -- looks like almost the epicenter now of the coronavirus epidemic and it continues to spread here in south Florida. We have over 40,000 cases, probably another 1,200 each day, over 500 deaths, an infection rate that exceeds 16 percent. You cannot open schools in that type of environment. If you do, you will have to close your doors shortly thereafter and you're going to spread infection throughout your community.

So I think it's a wise thing to do to re-evaluate these executive orders. You know, things change rapidly in a week.


RUNCIE: We're in a whole different place than where we were last week and I think it's time to take a look at that again. I believe that using common sense and doing what's in the best interest of our kids, our teachers and our community, that we will be able to move forward on a plan that does that.

I will say this, though, that even though we're going to open our schools, we're going to open online e-learning, we've identified some populations that are extremely vulnerable that you just can't really deliver any type of educational services to them.

HARLOW: Right.

RUNCIE: And those are our special need students who are on self- contained classrooms and separate day schools. Our plan is to have them on campus.

HARLOW: Oh, great.

RUNCIE: For about three days a week.


RUNCIE: And we believe we can manage that because many schools, it may range from 30 students to 60 students, some more, some less, but we've got to be able to make sure that we're doing our very best to make sure that every kid is getting robust e-learning experience.


RUNCIE: The final thing I'll say is, we're spending a lot of time, resources. Our biggest focus this summer is making sure that all of our teachers are trained in best practices, in online education, and that they're going to deliver a very different experience come this new school year. It will involve live chatting and video conferencing with our kids to make sure that they're getting that presence and it's going to be for a good amount of time each and every day.

Secondly, we're going to offer flexible schedules so that we'll have a morning schedule that may go from like 8:00 to 2:00. But we know that there are parents that may be working. They need to be there with their young kids when they get online. So we're going to actually offer an evening schedule with the same courses, same curriculum to accommodate those parents as well.

HARLOW: That's really good to hear because almost all the parents are working. Both parents in the home often working.

Thank you and good luck and thanks for paying extra attention to the venerable population and those special need students who will be able to come back. That's important.

Good luck, superintendent.

RUNCIE: Thank you so much. Have a great day.

HARLOW: You, too.


SCIUTTO: Yes, a lot of folks out there doing really important work.

Well, the clock is ticking. Millions of Americans set to lose that extra $600 unemployment benefit. With less than three weeks until a planned congressional recess, can Republicans see eye to -- see -- I even with the White House on a second stimulus?



HARLOW: A lot of talk but so far very little progress after a full day of negotiations on Tuesday. Senate Republicans, many of them remain at odds with the White House, interestingly, over several key components of what the phase four stimulus looks like.

SCIUTTO: This comes with just three weeks left until Congress is scheduled to break for August recess.

Manu Raju's on Capitol Hill with the latest on the talk.

So, of course, Manu, we're used to seeing disagreements between Republicans and Democrats on The Hill, but the dynamic here is Senate Republicans versus the White House. Well, what's the source of that disagreement?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are several key provisions that the White House is pushing that the Republicans in the Senate are not in favor of. You named one of them, the payroll tax break that the president is pushing. Senate Republicans, a number of them, even top leaders like Chuck Grassley, the top -- the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator John Cornyn, who sits on the leadership team, they don't think that it's going to be an effective way to stimulate the economy and it could really balloon the price tag of this proposal.

But also other things as well that the White House wants, like tying money to reopen schools and to force them to reopen, essentially. There are Republicans who don't believe that policy will actually work. Mitt Romney told me yesterday he does not think that will actually get included in the plan. And also a push for more testing, money for -- dollars for testing. The White House maintains that there's leftover money from the March stimulus law that could still be used for testing. Republicans say they want a lot more.

But you mentioned it, they have to get on the same page. They are trying to, at least, within their own conference. And then they're going to have to negotiate with Democrats and they're just $2 trillion apart between the $1 trillion Republican plan and the $3 trillion Democratic plan. And the goal is to get a deal by the end of next week. But a lot of questions about how they can get there and, in the meantime, millions of people are waiting to see what relief they can get and what will happen to those $600 a week jobless benefits that expire at the end of this week, guys.

HARLOW: Yes, I -- so many people are telling me they are so worried about that ending in just a matter of days.

Also a break within the Republican Party. House Republicans really laying into GOP conference chairwoman Liz Cheney during a meeting that they had yesterday morning. What happened?

RAJU: Yes, she, of course, is the highest ranking woman in the House Republican leadership, but a number of House conservatives were critical of some of the things she's done that broke with the president in recent weeks. Her tone about the reopening of the economy, concerns about -- after the president said that he has the power to force states to reopen, saying that the -- she said that the federal government does not have that power.


She voiced -- she voiced support for wearing masks. She voiced support for Anthony Fauci. And she has been critical of some of the things that the president has done, such as trying to pull back troops from Germany and Afghanistan. The Republican conservatives came after her in the meeting. She stood her ground, we are told. And I'm also told -- I also just spoke with Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican senator, who sparred with her frequently on foreign policy over the years, he just told me she's, quote, not good for the country.


RAJU: So you're seeing this really play out publicly and privately, guys.



HARLOW: All right, Manu, thanks. That's quite a thing to say.

RAJU: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you wonder if some Republicans are looking to the possibility of a post-Trump Republican Party.

Well, United Airlines will now require passengers to wear a face covering in all 360 airports it serves, not just during flights. The new requirements will be in place from check-in all the way to baggage claim. United says passengers who do not comply could be kept from boarding a flight or even banned from flying again. Since May, United only required that passengers wear masks on board a flight. This new policy goes into effect on Friday.

HARLOW: Well, more than 1,000 Americans died from Covid-19 just yesterday and now the president says things will get worse before they get better. We're back in a moment.