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Birx: Positivity Rate Is Most Sensitive Indicator for How States Are Doing; Dr. Peter Hotez Discusses Positivity Rates as Warning; Trump Announces Federal Officer "Surge"; Trump Promises Surge of Officers into Chicago & Albuquerque; Trump Uses Law & Order Message to Distract from Failed Virus Response; Michael Cohen to be Released to Home Confinement & Judge Says Government Acted in Retaliatory Manner Over Future Book; Mark Zandi, Chief Economist, Moody's Analytics, Discusses 1.4 Million More Filing for Unemployment Last Week, Need for Congress to Act. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 23, 2020 - 11:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: If you saw a fire starting, you'd put it out, right, or pull the alarm. Well, apply that to the summer coronavirus surge. If the experts saw it coming, they surely would try to stop, it, right? Well, we know they saw it coming from tracking the positivity rate in coronavirus testing.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: It only has to go up a tiny bit. So let's say you had 3 percent test positive and then, the next week, you have 3.3 percent. That is when to really start watching. We think that's the earliest indicator.

That's why we show that at county level, at metro level, at small cities and large metro areas as well as the state level, so that every governor and every mayor and every health commissioner can really understand what we're seeing in their state. And so that we can really provide recommendations to the states on how best to control this virus.


KING: That sounds pretty smart, right, like they are right on top of it. Dr. Birx says the White House task force gives the governors and mayors a detailed report every Monday.

Well, that raises a giant question for the White House and for the governors and anyone else seeing those reports, especially in the hard-hit states. If they saw the fire starting, and they clearly did, then why at any time they do more to put it out?

Let's walk through this and look at the data. Number one, let's start with our new case trends and the summer surge. Back on Memorial Day, 19,000 cases, the seven-day average of moving cases, just shy of 19,000. You see where we are now, 70,000 cases being reported across the United States. We're going up.

Could we see any evidence they saw it was coming? Let's walk through and we'll get there.

The total cases, April 28th a million, took until June 10th, two million, July 8th, three million. And 15 days, today, we'll hit four million.

Again, any way to see that coming and stop it?

Well, let's go back and take a look. This is the positivity rate nationally. People are taking coronavirus tests. They take all that data.

What's the national positivity rate? It was dipping a little bit. Still way above -- Dr. Birx says if it's about 3 percent, you have a problem. It's here. It's been above that for a long time. Then it starts going up like this nationally.

So if you think about every Monday, every Monday throughout June and into July, this rate is going up. Certainly not going down. They should be pulling the fire alarm, right?

Well, let's look at some is the hardest-hit states. And look at Arizona. If you go back in May, it's -- she says it's about 3 percent is a problem, 3.5 percent more so. It's been above that -- here's your marker over here -- for quite a long time.

But go through the Mondays. The governor gets a report here. It's 6.5 percent at the beginning of June. Come forward, June 8th, that's another Monday. It's going up. The 15th, it's still going up and so on and so forth.

July 6th, another Monday. On June 1st, it was 6.5, 25 percent there. It keeps going up. They keep getting reports. Why aren't they doing anything to stop it?

Let's look at Florida as well, just to look at the same idea. Again, Dr. Birx says if you've above 3 percent, you should have the warning lights going on.

Back on June 1st, Florida is right around where she was talking about, is 3.5 percent. Not great but not bad. Look at this. Just look and count the Mondays in here. June 10th and 17th and all the way to July 6th and beyond, the rate going up and up and up.

So why not do something about it? Well, let me ask.

With me is Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine.

The data is there, doctor. You heard Dr. Birx at the beginning. That's what is frustrating from me when you heart experts. She lays it out so clearly. We have the reports and give them to the governors and mayors.

If they had all this data and they saw the fire starting, why didn't they do more to stop it?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR & DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY: Yes, and, remember, John, it's not only the positivity rates, they were going up, but it was also parallel by an increase in the number of cases, which the White House was just throwing off as increased testing. And we knew the hospitalizations are going up and knew the ICU admissions were going up.

The only thing we didn't have were the deaths because that takes a few weeks of people on ventilator before you start seeing the deaths go up. And we're all, you know, shouting as loudly as we could, the deaths are going to come, the deaths are going to come.

Now they are here. We had 200 deaths in Texas yesterday. And this is happening in Florida and Arizona. So everything was predicted and predictable.

Look, here was the problem. The problem was we've never had a federally led road map and plan.

It was always to leave it to the states, put the states in the lead, and the U.S. government will provide some backup data when requested. The U.S. government will provide FEMA support when requested. The U.S. government will provide the manufacturing, the ventilators, the supply chain management. But the states have to be in the lead.


That was -- that was -- that was the strategy. And it was doomed to fail from the beginning because the states never had the scientific and epidemiological horsepower to do this, to understand how to really track this in detail. You can't just do this at a teleconference once a week. They didn't have the -- the intellectual horsepower to do this, the states.

And they needed the cover of the federal government because of the politics. The -- the governors, especially in the south, are in a tough position. They have all these constituents saying that we can't do this and that.

And they needed the cover of the federal government and the full force of the CDC to say, hey, look, I hear what you're saying, but if we don't do this, the CDC is telling me "X" number of Texans are going to die or "X" number of Floridians or people in Arizona or Californians.

And that conversation really never took place, as far as I -- I can tell. And -- and because we did not have that federal engagement, that federal-led initiative, this is why we're in this tragic situation where a quarter of the world's COVID-19 cases are now in the south.

KING: Dr. Peter Hotez, as always, appreciate your insight. The data was right there. The question, to your point, they did have, at one point, White House coronavirus reopenings in place that were pretty specific.

And if you had the positivity data and if you had those guidelines, you could have to the states, move back, go back, move forward. But the president said let's reopen and they never pushed to enforce their own guidelines, which they printed.

Dr. Hotez, appreciate your insights. The conversation will continue.

Up next, the president is sending the feds into Democratic-run cities to stop anarchy but mayors in those cities call it a shallow and dangerous election-year gimmick.



KING: President Trump says rising crime and disorder is behind his plan to surge federal agents into cities run by Democrats.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will never defund the police. We will hire more great police. We want to make law enforcement stronger, not weaker. My vision for America's cities could not be more different from the lawlessness being pushed by the extreme radical left.


KING: But the Democratic mayors worry that this is an election-year stunt. One of those mayors, right in the thick of it last night. This is Portland, Oregon. The city's mayor among those hit with tear gas as he spoke with protesters downtown.

The president also said he's sending federal agents to Albuquerque and Chicago. Chicago's mayor, Lori Lightfoot, would welcome a partnership but not a dictatorship.

CNN's senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, joins us, as with Margaret Talev, White House reporter for "Axios."

Nia, this is what makes it so fascinating. The president says I'm trying to help. A lot of mayors are saying, no, you're causing a problem.

NIA MALIKA-HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I think he is mostly trying to help his re-election chances. He's seeing a real fraying around the edges of folks in his base, white suburban voters, white working-class voters as well as rural voters.

This is aimed at them, squarely at them, pitting cities against suburbs, the kinds of people who live in cities, black and brown folks, much more integrated and liberal in cities, than white suburban voters who, by and large, often live in segregated spaces. And so I think that this is what he's doing with this. It's, in many ways, a replay of what he did in 2016. The danger in 2016 was, in Donald Trump's estimation, illegal

immigrants, as he dubs them, and he was there to protect folks, to build a wall. And now the new danger that he's creating in the minds of some of these voters is the violence and the violent people in some of these cities.

Listen, this might work for this president. Racism is a very powerful idea. It may be one of the most-powerful forces that we've seen operate in American politics. And we do know that Trump has wielded it masterfully. So I think that's what's going on.

I imagine, in the next, weeks we'll see this continue. And we'll likely see a tightening of polls.

This is a president trying to claw his way back into this race, take the focus off of COVID, which he's failed miserably at addressing, and go back to the basics of which, for this president, has really been race-baiting.

KING: Margaret, to that point, is it a distraction. We can go back in time. The Willie Horton ad, from the Bush campaign ad back in 1988, the George H.W. Bush campaign, was a race-baiting ad that tried to scare people in the suburbs, to try to promote a law-and-order message.

A lot of Democrats think that's what they see here, which is a distraction point, they say. The Democrats would argue the president wants you, if you live in the suburbs, especially if you're a suburban woman, who is thinking about voting for Joe Biden, to think about chaos in the cities.

And not remember things like this from the vice president.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): If you look at the trends today, that I think by Memorial Day weekend, we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us.



KING: KING: Didn't turn out that way, Margaret.

MARGARET TALEV, WHITE HOUSE & POLITICAL EDITOR, "AXIOS": Yes. John, but to be sure, there are people inside this White House who think, on the policy merits, this is the right approach and the cities get tough, crack down on protesters. But you can't -- you can't talk too much about the political implications and political strategy at work here.

One thing, as you said, is to turn the conversation away from an area where he's demonstrably doing poorly, and that's the management of the virus, and talk about ground where he should be doing better just by virtue of his party, and that's law and order elements. But second is a little more complicated. It's an attempt to sort of undercut Joe Biden's standing. And it's hard to do because Joe Biden is not actually the president right now, nor is Joe Biden the mayor of Portland or Chicago or Albuquerque.

But it is to try to chip away at how people believe what Joe Biden, vis-a-vis the Democrats, can do in terms of law and order and kind of security, whether it's in your home city or whether it's nationally.

And if you look at the recent polling -- that ABC poll from a few days ago with the "Washington Post" comes to mind. But I think it's been consistent across other polls as well.

Biden now holding an actual lead in terms of criminal justice and law enforcement relations. So a slimmer lead than it is on management of the virus or sort of overall loads.

But Joe Biden leading Trump in terms of Americans' perceptions of his ability to sort of keep the peace and manage law-and-order issues.

And that's a huge red flag for the Trump administration. And part of this is an effort to undercut that lead.

KING: We'll see how it plays out, especially as he tries to expand from Portland into other American cities.

Margaret and Nia-Malika Henderson, appreciate your time today.

Coming up for us, a very troubling snapshot of the U.S. economy. Another 1.4 million people file for new unemployment benefits.



KING: Some breaking news. A federal judge approving Michael Cohen's request to be immediately released from prison. President Trump's attorney had been put back behind bars earlier this month as prosecutors claimed he violated conditions of the release.

Cohen claims sending him back to prison was a retaliation because he plans to write a book about the president and release it in September.

Kara Scannell outside the courthouse for us.

Kara, take us inside that important hearing.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, John, so this hearing was over the telephone and lasted just about 45 minutes. Judge Alvin Hellerstein completely rejecting the government's argument that this was not in retaliation. He said, in fact, he could find no other inference and that it was retaliatory.

Prosecutors, as you said, had taken Cohen back in custody earlier this month after they said that he refused to agree a number of provisions in his home confinement agreement. Today, the judge finding with -- many of the conditions were fine. And

Cohen said, through his attorney, that he would agree to them.

The one wrinkle is still this issue of whether Cohen can communicate with the media. Cohen's attorney saying that they would negotiate with the government on this. Cohen is being allowed one week to negotiate the terms of this.

The judge pointing out that if you are at home confinement, that doesn't mean you can hold a press conference for a book you're writing. So they have to work out the terms of this deal.

But Cohen will be released tomorrow by 2:00 p.m. after he takes a test for the coronavirus -- John?

KING: Kara Scannell, important news there. I have a sneaking suspicion the lawyers will be back at this one even after he is released as this saga doesn't end.

Kara Scannell, appreciate the latest. Very important. Michael Cohen to be released from prison.

Now check the economy. An additional 1.4 million people filed for unemployment last week, a jump after 15 weeks of decline.

That adds new urgency in the debate on Capitol Hill as Senate Republicans put the finishing touches today on their version of a coronavirus stimulus package. It's expected to include $105 billion for schools, billions more for testing and vaccine development. But it will not include a top presidential priority, a payroll tax cut.

Mark Zandi is the chief economist at Moody's Analytics. He joins us now.

Mark, I was reading your analysis just yesterday. You say Congress better help or the economy will tip back into recession. What would help the most?

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: Two things, John. First is state and local government aid. State and local governments are hemorrhaging red ink. They're cutting programs and payrolls. And these are middle-income jobs, teachers, fire, police, emergency responders.

If they don't get additional support, those layoffs will continue. And that's every community in the country, coast to coast.

The second thing is income support for unemployed workers that are going to -- enhanced U.I. benefits that were put into place back with the fiscal rescue package in March. They expire next week.

And if unemployed workers don't get additional help, they will have no choice but to stop paying bills and cutting back on the other spending.

So those are the two thing key things that need to get done here. KING: When you see the weekly unemployment claims going up after 15

weeks of down -- that's still not at the horrific beginning of the pandemic levels.

But is that a warning sign? Is it a one-week blip or a warning sign? You had the summer surge and then you had the states shutting down again. Now you have unemployment going back up.

ZANDI: Yes. This is a clear warning sign. The pandemic has re- intensified. We opened up too quickly. The pandemic came back. That forced governors to shut down again. Made other states pause in their reopenings.

That mean layoffs are picking up. That's today's numbers. Layoffs are now starting to pick up. Hirings are abating. So that means job losses are going to resume.

And, John, I wouldn't be surprised, in the July jobs numbers, in the key July jobs numbers that we'll get next week, you might get a negative number. And that would be very discouraging.

That means the unemployment is going higher. We're already in double digits. And it means we have more problems unless Congress and the president get it together pretty quickly here.


KING: Sober details.

Mark Zandi, appreciate your insights. Let's hope the Congress understands the urgency of the issue.

Mark, thanks so much.

Up next for us, doctors from two of the nation's COVID hotspots join us live as the U.S. is now on the verge of hitting four million confirmed infections.



KING: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King, in Washington. Thank you for sharing this day with us.