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Dr. Birx Refutes Hydroxychloroquine Treatment; Herman Cain Dies After Contracting Coronavirus; Trump Floats Delaying Presidential Election. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 30, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar. And I want to welcome viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

On the day that America lays to rest a civil rights icon who made voting rights his life's work, the president of the United States suggests that the presidential election be delayed, as he yet again alleges mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud, which is a claim that has zero basis in reality.

We will fact-check that in a moment.

But, first, listen to how former President Barack Obama just addressed this during his eulogy for Congressman John Lewis.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting, by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive I.D. laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that's going to be dependent on mail-in ballots, so people don't get sick.


KEILAR: All day, Republicans have been asked to respond to the president's tweet, some of them condemning it, others not so much.

Senator John Cornyn says it was a joke. Yes, the joke defense that we have become so familiar with, like when allies of the president said that he was just joking when he called on foreign powers to investigate his political rivals, or when he considered buying Greenland, when he said Barack Obama was the founder of ISIS, or when he told a roomful of cops to rough up suspects, or when he talked about injecting humans with disinfectant as a coronavirus cure, or, recently, when he suggested slowing down coronavirus testing.

The White House said he was just kidding. And the next day, the president told us he doesn't kid, so maybe we should take his word for it. White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joining us now to talk about


How are White House aides trying to spin this, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they haven't commented on it yet.

And we do know we are going to hear from the president this afternoon at 5:30. So they're probably going to leave it to him to defend that tweet.

But what we are witnessing on Capitol Hill is something we actually really don't see that much, Brianna. And that's this rare rebuke from the president's own party, basically dismissing this idea, because, of course, one, it's not going to happen because the president does not have the power to move the election. That's up to Congress with something that is in the Constitution.

And that, the president is well aware of. But listen to what people that are normally very close allies of the president. And so, typically, when they're confronted with tweets that he's written that are controversial, they pretend like they didn't see them or say they don't comment on tweets or don't read Twitter.

But, today, you are seeing multiple Republicans come out and say they do not agree with what the president said. And just listen to the House speaker -- or to -- excuse me -- the House minority leader. Kevin McCarthy.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Never in the history of the federal elections have we ever not held an election, and we should go forward with our election.

But we should -- we should have absentee voting, but this mass just mailing out ballots without having any checks and balances, without people requesting, really brings concern in there. But no way should we ever not hold our election the day that we have it.


COLLINS: So, McCarthy was there toeing the line, saying that they're not going to move the election, but talking and trying to give credence to the president's claims that have been very inaccurate about mail-in ballots and voting that way.

And so it's notable to see what Republicans are saying and how people like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are pushing back on the president's suggestion Twitter this morning, the first time that he's actually openly suggested moving the election, though I do want to point you to two things, Brianna, that the president's two most -- two of his most powerful Cabinet secretaries have said this week about delaying the election. And Pompeo -- Secretary of State Pompeo was asked about it today. He said that would be up to the Justice Department. He did not say that the president cannot legally move the election. And when Bill Barr was testifying earlier this week, the attorney general said it's not a matter that he's looked into before.

So, if that gives you an indication of where the president's own officials are on this and where he stands now, I guess we will see what he says at 5:30. But we should note this tweet suggesting delaying it is still at the top of his Twitter feed right now.

KEILAR: Yes, it's like a hot potato, though. No one wants to catch it, Mike Pompeo shifting it to the Department of Justice, even though that's not under the DOJ's purview.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for that.

The president, as we have been discussing, citing baseless concerns about voter fraud involving mail-in ballots, and now he is raising this possibility of moving the date of the election, even though he doesn't have that constitutional authority.

So he cannot actually do this, but he's talking about it. So why is that?

Well, we know that he likes to sow doubt about elections in the event that he loses. We saw him do this in 2016, when he was zeroing in on a different kind of voting, in-person voting, not mail-in voting, when he expected to lose.


And after being elected, despite losing the popular vote, he even created a voter fraud commission to try to prove that his victory wasn't just one of the Electoral College.

Well, that commission was disbanded when they found nothing.

"The Washington Post" reports that, out of more than 135 million votes cast, there were a total of four documented cases of voter fraud.

The think tank Brookings found that nearly one-quarter of those 135 million votes cast in 2016 were mailed in. So, now we hear President Trump raising these doubts about the security of mail-in voting, even as he says absentee voting, which is also mail-in voting, is -- quote -- "good."

So let's look at the facts here. There is no widespread voter fraud in this country, period, right, period. There have been several prominent studies that take a look at this by Stanford, by the Justice Department under George W. Bush, by the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, among others.

Millions of Americans vote by mail every year. And they do this without issue. And that's because there are multiple layers of protection, everything from smart bar codes that track your ballot, to the ability for you to drop off your ballot personally into a secure mailbox, like a ballot box, so that you don't even have to use snail mail.

In the history of this country, the presidential election has never been moved, not during the Civil War, during which soldiers voted by mail, not during the 1918 flu, when almost 200,000 people, 200,000 Americans died in October alone, just ahead of the midterm elections.

And we have the ability to vote safely in the U.S. now during a pandemic.

Trump's own CDC has published guidelines for how states and local officials can conduct these safe elections. The official recommendation is -- quote -- "Offer alternative voting methods that minimize direct contact and reduce crowd size at polling locations," like absentee voting, right, like mail-in voting, early voting.

But what about the president's previous claims that mail-in voting is a surefire way for foreign countries to infiltrate the election by printing off fake ballots? When Trump floated that idea last month, the most senior U.S. intel official on elections said that mail-in voting is not an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race.

And remember that it would be very uncharacteristic for President Trump to be concerned about foreign interference in elections. He took Vladimir Putin's word over his own intel agencies' assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Even Trump's Attorney General Bill Barr was clear this week on Russia's role in election interference. He said it happened and it should be assumed that it is still happening. And Barr admitted that he has been repeating the president's conspiracy theory about mail-in ballots, despite having zero evidence to back up those comments.


REP. MARY GAY SCANLON (D-PA): Last month, you echoed the president's conspiracy theory when you suggested in at least three interviews that -- quote -- "Foreign countries could manufacture counterfeit ballots" -- end quote -- to influence the presidential election, correct?

You did that in at least three interviews?



But, in fact, you have no evidence that foreign countries can successfully sway our elections with counterfeit ballots, do you?

BARR: No, I don't, but I have common sense.


KEILAR: Barr told Congress he himself has voted by mail, and so have many other Trump administration officials, including the president, Vice President Pence, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, also the president's press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who has voted by mail more than 10 times.

So, is this about stopping mail-in voting? No. This isn't about stopping mail-in voting. This is about stopping voting.

The harder it is to vote, the easier it is for Trump to win reelection. The more confusion there is around the legitimacy of the result, even months before the election, the more people are likely to think maybe their vote doesn't matter. Maybe there's no point in voting. It makes it easier for the president to question the outcome.

It is deeply cynical, and nothing brings that into relief more than a day like this, as Americans are saying goodbye to Congressman John Lewis, whose life was dedicated to fighting efforts to make voting harder.

I want to bring in former Republican presidential candidate and former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh. Jason Marisam, he is an assistant attorney general in Minnesota who researched the 1918 flu pandemic while a law professor. And we have CNN political commentator and former South Carolina Congressman Bakari Sellers.

Congressman, to you first.

And you are a Republican. Certainly, you are independent-minded when it comes to President Trump's opinions, especially lately, but just what is your reaction to what you hear going on with him talking about moving the election?


JOE WALSH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Brianna it's a scary reminder that there's no bottom with this president. He will do anything to get reelected.

And, more importantly, he will do anything to de legitimize this election. I mean, think about it. We're talking about a president, Brianna, who right now sent troops to an American city to incite violence. That's what he's doing here.

He wants his supporters not to accept the results of this election. He wants his supporters to get pissed off. And I think he's trying to incite violence with a tweet like this about not accepting -- or about delaying the result or delaying the election.

And I don't give a damn if he is joking. I don't give a damn if this is a distraction. He said it. It's wrong. It's un-American, but it's designed to piss off his voters to not accept the results of the election.

KEILAR: And, Jason, I mean, it seems, now that we're hearing from Republican leaders, there is no appetite to do this.

But I think it's also very important to talk about even why there's a discussion of this, because you have looked into how the 1918 flu pandemic affected politics, how it affected voting. And tell us what you found. There was no consideration of changing the midterms.


So, in 1918, it was a midterm election, but in the middle of the worst pandemic we have ever had as a nation. And I dug through the archives. This was about 12 years ago when I was doing the research on this, dug through all the archives, and could find no mention of any serious public discussion about postponing those elections anywhere.

KEILAR: And, Bakari -- and I want to let folks know, we're looking, if you see this little picture on your screen of the John Lewis motorcade, which is heading to the cemetery.

This has been several days now of honoring an icon who was an activist for voting rights and took that spirit into being a legislator. And I think it really provides this counterpoint to this suggestion by the president, Bakari, about changing the election date, because it's clearly designed, I think, to discourage people.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and I don't really want to sell you the day with talking about Donald Trump. I know that's the question you asked.

But you had four presidents today, four former presidents today, who gave words remembering the legacy of John Lewis. You had Jimmy Carter, who had a statement that my good friend Raph Warnock spoke from the well of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Of course, you had Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and you had Barack Obama. So you actually had bipartisan support for who the man is. So, if we were to analyze who this man is, we would realize he's somebody who spoke the truth, and he's somebody who spoke for voting rights.

This is the complete antithesis to who Donald Trump is. And so -- and, Brianna, many people don't know this, but one of my good friends, Clementa Pinckney, his birthday is today.

And so when you think about Clementa Pinckney, the life he lived, you think about the fact that we're eulogizing and burying somebody like John Lewis, and you have someone like Donald Trump, who won't even mention their names, who does not belong in the same sentence as them, you realize that this country still has a long way to go in electing leaders that are representative of what we should be.

KEILAR: And I do want -- I think we have some of the sound. It was interesting to hear former presidents speak, including former President Barack Obama. Here is some of what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He knew from his own life that progress is fragile, that we have to be vigilant against the darker currents of this country's history, of our own history, that there are whirlpools of violence and hatred and despair that can always rise again. Bull Connor may be gone, but, today, we witness with our own eyes

police officers kneeling on the necks of black Americans. George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.


KEILAR: Bakari, Obama's seized this moment for a message against President Trump.

SELLERS: Yes, I mean, I think those TikTok generation, my daughter and them, would say that was a subtweet maybe.


But the president was so clear. I mean, what Donald Trump represents is the antithesis to what this country is and what it should be.

This country is not without its faults. It is not without his warts. But we deserve better than Donald Trump, was the message that the president put forth today. And there was a man who laid before that entire church who dedicated his entire life to the premise of what Abraham Lincoln said.

He believed in the better angels of our nature. And so it's so difficult here. And I appreciate my colleagues who are on this panel. I sincerely do. I appreciate George W. Bush. That's probably going to get me lambasted on Twitter. But I'm beyond that.

I appreciate everyone who's able to stand forth and stand on some level of conviction and say, Democrat or Republican, black or white, green, yellow, purple, it doesn't matter, that we are better than what we have.

And what Barack Obama was attempting to say today -- and he doesn't need me to translate or clarify, by any stretch -- but he was saying that we have to be motivated. We have to believe in what this country should be, and that there's no greater patriot, right, there's no greater patriot than John Lewis, someone who was beaten on a bridge because he believed black people should have the right to accommodations and the right to vote.

There's no greater patriot than John Lewis. And so we can go back to our own homes, we can go back to our own silos, and continue to regurgitate facts that are needless and do not matter, or we can all get on our horse to protect and build a better democracy.

And that's what Barack Obama was saying today. And I'm ready to run through a wall to make sure, November 3, we have a different outcome.

KEILAR: Well, let's talk about democracy in action, and that, of course, being Election Day.

I want to -- as the president has suggested moving Election Day, this is what the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, had to say moments ago: (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time. And we will find a way to do that again. That's November 3.


KEILAR: OK, so, Jason, take us back to -- he said it, look, Civil War, but also 1918. Take us back to those midterm elections and tell us how the pandemic affected what would be turnout and how it affected even the -- perhaps the shift in power and perhaps not.


So that election was right in the middle of the pandemic. Conditions were easing a little bit in the East Coast, but they were raging on the West Coast. San Francisco had a mask ordinance in place. Public gatherings were banned. I mean, candidates, like we see now -- I mean, they didn't have social media. They were left using newspapers and mailings to campaign.

They couldn't have these public gatherings where they were campaigning. Huge impact on the election. There was no discussion of postponing it. Voting was going to go ahead.

And looking at turnout, turnout was down about 10 points in 1918 compared to the previous midterm election from 1914. I'm not an empiricist, couldn't really slice exactly to isolate how much of it was due to the flu, but I think it's safe to say a significant chunk was due to pandemic conditions. You had lower turnout.

And you have to remember there really wasn't absentee and mail ballot infrastructure back then that we have now. So your choice was go to the polls during the pandemic or don't vote for the vast majority of voters then.

So turnout was down a little bit. Afterward, though, could not find any discussions about any legitimacy of the results. The public accepted the results. We held the election as usual. The results were accepted. It was a midterm election, with Woodrow Wilson as president, Democrat, six years into being president.

And there might have been a bit of a six-year itch against the incumbent, so the Republicans took control of the Senate in that midterm, voting against the party of the incumbent president at that time. And that was the outcome.

I don't think you can trace that really to the flu. I mean, I think that was just the outcome of that midterm election. But, certainly, the flu had a big impact on how campaigns -- what happened, how the candidates were campaigning, and had some impact on turnout.

KEILAR: Yes, some impact on turnout. You also -- as you have written about this, you also had a World War

going on, right? So there were many things, but clearly that impacted some turnout.

This tweet, Joe, from President Trump talking about delaying the election, it came just minutes after the federal government reported what was really the worst economic news, a contraction, in recorded history.

What do you think about the connection, potentially, of those two things?

WALSH: You know what, Brianna, he may be trying to distract from bad economic news, but it doesn't matter.

And I have got to tell you, about my former Republican colleagues in Congress, it's just not good enough for them to stand and publicly say, we're not delaying the election. It's not good enough to say that Donald Trump doesn't have the authority to do that.


I mean, Donald Trump does not have the authority to jail every registered Democrat in America. But, my God, what if he put that in a tweet?

No, Republicans need to condemn this. They need to condemn what the president did, because, again, Brianna, I say I believe the scary truth is, he does not want half of this country to accept the results of the election. That's frightening.

KEILAR: Joe, thank you so much.

Bakari, thank you so much.

And, Jason, thank you so much for giving us some important information, as we look for historical parallels here. We do appreciate seeing you as well.

Just in, a new study about children and coronavirus raising more questions about reopening schools.

Plus, the president's own task force doctor is publicly rejecting his promotion of the drug hydroxychloroquine.

And some sad news today, businessman Herman Cain, former presidential candidate, dying from coronavirus a month after attending the president's rally in Tulsa.



KEILAR: On this day, Herman Cain is now one of the more than 150,000 Americans killed by the coronavirus. The prominent businessman and one-time Republican presidential candidate was 74 years old. It is not known how he contracted coronavirus.

One of his last public appearances was at the president's campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June. He was the co-chair of Black Voices for Trump and posted this photo of himself there.

I want to bring in CNN medical analyst and deputy physician in chief of quality and safety at Memorial Sloan Kettering Dr. Kent Sepkowitz with us.

I mean, I think -- our hearts go out to Cain's family, of course. He's someone that we have seen, certainly, in the political sphere so many times. And I think, like a lot of people who have succumbed to COVID, he had preexisting conditions, right? He was a cancer survivor, which made him more vulnerable, certainly, to this disease.

What can we take away from this case?

DR. KENT SEPKOWITZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: As you say, it's a tragedy. He joins so many others who have died of this disease.

I think his cancer was many years ago. He's a survivor of 12, 14 years. I suspect that did not increase his risk. The overwhelming risk factor for him, as for the rest of the world, was his age. He was 74 years old. We don't know that much else about his medical history.

The lesson is the obvious lesson, which is that one must do everything one can do to keep from acquiring and to keep from transmitted an infection. And he was not a mask -- a believer in masks. I don't think now's the time to gang up on those decisions he made, but, clearly, that's relevant for the national discussion.

KEILAR: I also want to get your take, Dr. Sepkowitz, on this debate that's happening over hydroxychloroquine.

This is what Dr. Deborah Birx from the White House Task Force said about the drug:


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: That's why you do randomized clinical trials to actually be able to compare patient to patient.

We know, in the randomized controlled trials to date, and there's been several of them, that there's not evidence that it improves those patients' outcomes, whether they have mild, moderate disease or whether they're seriously ill in the hospital.

There also may be a specific subgroup that does benefit, but we can't see those in these randomized control trials.


KEILAR: Why is there still this question about hydroxychloroquine? It's almost like a deja vu back to, I don't know, May or June.

SEPKOWITZ: Yes, or March or April.

There's no debate among the -- in the medical community at all. There hasn't been a debate for a couple of months. There's an enormous political debate, because this has been politicized.

There is no evidence, period. It's not even close. It's like saying, if I eat Wonder Bread for a month, my diabetes will go away. There's just no evidence at all.

There are people who are believing in it, just as there are people who believe in the Earth being flat. There are people who believe lots of things. So, I have a hard time getting even that exercised as a physician over this. It is not a medical debate at all.

It's open and shut. I can't believe it's almost August, and here we are talking about that still.

KEILAR: When you hear her say that maybe there's a subset of people, but the trials don't show that, what do you make of her saying that, that we're giving life to the idea that there could be still a subset of people this is helping?

SEPKOWITZ: I'm disappointed she said that. That seemed like a minor backtrack. I think she was very clear up to that point.

There's always somebody with a story, no matter what, and they're real stories. We can't explain them. There's always someone who was the one in 1,000 who took a therapy that didn't work for anyone except that one person, maybe, or maybe there was another factor that we didn't know.

So, I think she just got a little nervous, because she went out on a very firm limb, from a medical perspective, but she's in a hot seat herself. And I wish she hadn't backtracked.


SEPKOWITZ: I don't think she meant it to be, therefore, we can ignore the science.

KEILAR: All right, Dr. Sepkowitz, thank you so much for breaking that down