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Anthony Fauci, Top Health Experts to Testify on U.S. Virus Response. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 31, 2020 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We would like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

The breaking news this morning, three of the nation's top health officials are testifying today on Capitol Hill as coronavirus cases and deaths spike across the country. Dr. Anthony Fauci, CDC director Robert Redfield and U.S. testing czar Admiral Brett Giroir are all expected to face very significant questions in just moments on the administration's response to this pandemic, on the race for a vaccine, on inadequate testing, mask mandates and school reopening plans.

All of those key issues on the table today. Now, this comes one day after Dr. Fauci said it is impossible to predict how much longer this crisis will last, especially if Americans do not significantly change their behavior. And this could add to the pain in Florida. Hurricane ISAIAS barreling toward the state right now. That is forcing Florida's testing sites to temporarily close.

We'll get to that in a moment, but we do begin this hour with our Lauren Fox. She joins us on Capitol Hill.

Good morning, Lauren. It's an incredibly significant hearing the Democrats have been trying to secure for quite some time. What should we expect?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Poppy, this is a big deal in part because this is a subcommittee, this is a committee that is charged with looking over the Trump administration's response to coronavirus. You know, they asked for these witnesses earlier this month. Then they had to send a letter following up. Re- requesting these individuals come before their committee. So it's a big deal that they're here this morning.

But, you know, the message from these individuals is going to be that we need to get back to basics. We have to be wearing face masks, we need to be keeping our social distance and we expect that Dr. Fauci is going to say this morning that we don't know when this pandemic is going to end.

It could go on for quite a while. And you know one of the messages we expect is that it is more important than ever for Americans to get their flu vaccine because with the coupling of coronavirus and influenza this fall which doctors across the country expect, that could put an immense amount of strain on hospitals across this nation.

So, Poppy, very simple messages this morning but you can expect that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are going to be pushing for answers, specifically like you said about where the country is when it comes to reopening schools. That has been one of the biggest questions going into the fall. Some school districts are already making their decisions now, but it really is the question because if we want to get restarted with our economy, kids have to be in school. Kids have to some kind of care throughout the day so that parents can get back to work.

So you can expect questions on that issue, as well as what the administration is going to do to ramp up testing. We know across the country there are lag times in terms of when someone gets tested and when they get results. Democrats arguing that's a major problem -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Thank you, Lauren. We're waiting. This is going to begin in just a few moments. You will see it all live right here on CNN.

As we wait for the hearing to get under way let's talk about this with our chief political correspondent Dana Bash. Also with us this morning, Dr. Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer for Harbor UCLA Medical Center.

Good morning to you both. I'd like you to listen to this from Dr. Fauci last night just about where this country is and what needs to change. Here he was.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We need to put out all the stops to get it down to baseline and to keep it there by doing the things that we've been talking about and that I have been talking about consistently. If we do that, Sanjay, I think we're well towards seeing this under control. If we don't, then we really can't make a prediction about how long this is going to last.


HARLOW: Dana, that's really important. A candid response there. It's impossible to tell at this point unless our prediction changes when this is going to subside until a vaccine. Should we expect more straight talk today from Dr. Fauci, but what about from Admiral Giroir and the CDC director, Dr. Redfield?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's hope so. I mean, they are under oath and they are going to be doing what -- it's very clear all three of them understand is their really important duty to participate in the oversight process from Congress. You know, we've heard a lot from all of them, but particularly from Admiral Giroir the question that I have is about why we are where we are right now. I mean, it is August tomorrow.


Why are we not so much further along on testing which is such a key tool to reopening society, schools, the economy, everything? And there have been so many recommendations that we've even seen from several medical associations just this week, Poppy. Basic ideas on how to do that with regard to expanding testing, expediting testing which is the most important thing. It's really the speed or the lack of speed that this is happening across the country.

So that is really where he is going to be I think pressed in addition to so many other issues that are still unanswered and it's really remarkable that we are at the end of the summer, Poppy, and this all started in March. And we're really no better off and in some ways it's worse.

HARLOW: You're completely right as we look at the death toll on the screen, 152,075 Americans perishing from a disease that the administration, the president in the early days dismissed as something that was just going to vanish.

Doctor, to you, as we look at the ranking member, Steve Scalise there, the chairman of this select committee, James Clyburn. They're going to get started in a moment.

But, Doctor, the fact that we heard Admiral Giroir, who is the testing czar and who is, you know, the front person on improving the testing crisis in this country, the fact that yesterday he said it's not acceptable where we are, the delays. He said that should not be acceptable. How significant is that given how much he has defended testing in this country?

DR. ANISH MAHAJAN, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, HARBOR UCLA MEDICAL CENTER: It's very significant. Dana is exactly right, that in the absence of timely testing and testing results, we will not be in a position to reopen businesses and certainly not safely reopen schools, particularly in places where there's a whole lot of virus in the community which is broadly across the United States. So I'm very heartened, many of us in the medical community are looking to today's hearing to see the truth be told yet again.

Dr. Fauci has consistently told the truth in his entire career and throughout this coronavirus pandemic. We need to heed what he is saying.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Dana, how important that we're seeing everyone that I have seen on camera so far in that room wearing a mask. Obviously, being mandated there in the House, but it's very, very significant and sends such an important message to the American public.

Before this gets under way I would like to play also for you something else that Dr. Fauci said because the head of Operation Warp Speed, of course working toward a vaccine, Moncef Slaoui said just a few days ago, yesterday, he would not be surprised if it turned out that a vaccine is 90 percent effective on this virus. Here's Dr. Fauci on that.


FAUCI: I mean, that's obviously a very optimistic estimate. We all hope it's going to be that way. But I'm not sure it will be 90 percent. But I think it's going to be reasonably good.


HARLOW: Doctor, to you, just what should people think? Is there any guarantee a vaccine will be 90 percent effective?

MAHAJAN: It is very optimistic. We don't yet know. What we know so far about vaccines with phase one and phase two trials is encouraging. We are seeing that the vaccines have largely been safe in a limited amount of time in which they've been tested. They've mostly been tested on healthy people under the age of 55. All of that said, they have had antibody responses and other immune responses.

We have seen the vaccine work in monkeys. Monkeys have been able to clear the virus from their lung passages who received some of these vaccines. But the real question will be answered, how effective is this as we start these phase three trials which have started this week. We will have tens of thousands of people around the world enrolled in these trials and it will take months to see how many of those people who actually got the vaccine were protected from it compared to the group that got the placebo.

Only after those data are in can we even begin to say how effective the vaccine is going to be. No one knows yet.

HARLOW: Dana, I think I'd be remiss not to note the fact that this critical hearing on the health of Americans comes on the same day that Congress has failed. Failed to come to an agreement on something to aid the tens of millions of people that today will lose their increased unemployment benefits, that today will have to figure out what bill they might pay or how they will feed their family. That today may face eviction because that moratorium has also not been expended.

Is it anything other than an abject failure from Congress to do its job?

BASH: No. I mean, this is the coronavirus completely running smack into the realities of a very, very divided Congress, just a couple of months before an election and that's what that is about. Full stop.


I mean, they overcame that division for the first big round and then a couple of subsequent rounds of stimulus funding. But now the dynamics have changed so much, just one example is the president's approval ratings and poll numbers going down across the country. And a lot of Republicans who, you know, 10 years ago got to Congress by saying we're going to stop government spending are starting to, as one Republican put it to me, see blood in the water. And maybe go back to those basics of that Republican credo and they

are saying, no way are we going to support any other spending. And that is the heart of the division right now. It's between Republicans. There are big differences also with Democrats. But it starts there.

And that is the backdrop that people are looking through and looking towards as they see their checks disappear starting today and as they potentially are, as you said, evicted because those protections are no longer there because Congress cannot get its act together. It's too mired in politics and in some cases real philosophical differences.

HARLOW: And they knew this day was coming for months and months. Looks like we're going to get under way here. Let's listen in. This is the chair of the committee, Congressman James Clyburn.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Today, our select subcommittee is holding a hybrid hearing where some members will appear in person and others will appear remotely via WebEx. Since some members are appearing in person, let me first remind everyone pursuant to the latest guidelines from the House attending physician, all individuals attending this hearing in person must wear a face covering. Members who are not wearing a face covering are not permitted to remain in the hearing room and will not be recognized to speak.

Let me also make a few reminders about hybrid hearings. For those members appearing in person, you will be able to see members appearing remotely on the two monitors in front of you. On one monitor, you will see all the members appearing remotely at once. And what is known as WebEx as grid view mode. On the other monitor, you will see each person speaking during the hearing when they are speaking, including members who are appearing remotely.

For those members appearing remotely, you can also see each person speaking during the hearing whether they are in person or remote, as long as you have your WebEx set to active speaker mode. If you have any questions about this, please contact committee staff immediately.

Let me also remind everyone of the House procedures that apply to hybrid hearings. For members appearing in person, a timer is visible in the room directly in front of you. For those who may be remote, we have a timer that should be visible on your screen when you're in the active speaker with thumb nail mode and you have the timer pinned.

For members who may be appearing remotely, a few other reminders. The House rules require that we see you, so please have your cameras turned on at all times. Not just when you are speaking. Members who are not recognized should remain muted to minimize background noise and feedback.

I will recognize members verbally and members retain the right to seek recognition verbally. In regular order members will be recognized in seniority order for questions. If you are remote, and want to be recognized outside of regular order, you may identify that in several ways. You may use the chat function to send a request. You may send an e-mail to the majority staff or you may unmute your mic to seek recognition. Obviously, we do not want people talking over each other so my

preference is that members use the chat function or e-mail to facilitate formal verbal recognition. Committee staff will ensure that I am made aware of the request and I will recognize you.


As members of the committee are likely aware, we expect votes to be called in the middle of this hearing out of respect for members and witnesses at time, and because of the long duration of each vote during this public health emergency.

I do not plan to recess the hearing at any time. Committee members including those who are recognized for questions while their vote is ongoing will have sufficient time to step out of the hearing, cast their vote, and return to the hearing. We will begin this hearing in just a moment when they tell me they are ready to begin the live- stream.

HARLOW: All right. So this hearing is just getting under way. Obviously, having a consequential hearing like this during a pandemic means that there is different technology involved, so you just heard the chairman of the committee, James Clyburn there, say they're waiting for everything to get set technically and they'll officially begin when that happens.

Dana Bash, just still with me here. What are your thoughts as we prepare to hear from -- they're going to read this lengthy -- that I know you and I have read, but they're each going to read the three witnesses this lengthy sort of official statement and then get into the Q&A.

BASH: Yes, I mean, boy, where do we begin? I mean, let's just start as you and I, as parents of school-aged children just like, you know, the tens of thousands -- hundreds of thousands of people out there, millions really, who are waiting with bated breath to figure out what the right thing to do is. Many school districts have decided already, but they're operating in the dark.

And to be fair to these medical experts, they are too in some ways because this is a novel coronavirus. They are learning as they go. There are new studies coming up all the time giving information. Just today, we saw one about children under 5.

And what does that mean and there aren't a lot of answers which is why there's so much trepidation about sending kids back to school. Because it's not just the kids, it's their parents and their grandparents, and most importantly in the buildings, it's the teachers, administrators and other people who work in the schools. That's going to be a big topic, no question.

HARLOW: You bring up an important study, Dana, that Dr. Fauci said in the last -- you know, 48 hours that he is concerned about it, and that is the study that shows that children under 5 when infected with coronavirus have up to 100 times more genetic material from COVID in their noses than older children and adults too. So you know, the question becomes then, what does it indicate in terms of children being vectors of this disease? And I think it is important, Dana, because this comes as --

CLYBURN: Jen Maria(ph), having some problems with the live-stream --


CLYBURN: And we're trying to get that straightened out before we begin.

HARLOW: All right, so they're having some technical difficulties, hopefully, they'll get them sorted shortly. But Dana, the reason I say that, is because the administration from the president on down, any -- you know, surrogate you have on, you know, is insisting, well, children aren't vectors, right? Your interview with Betsy DeVos about sending kids to school, and the truth is Dr. Redfield said at the end of June, you know, we just don't know at this point.

CLYBURN: Stream it up. Ladies and gentlemen --

HARLOW: Here we go --

CLYBURN: Our nation is in the midst of a public health catastrophe. And as of this week, more than 150,000 Americans are dead from the coronavirus. By far, the most of any country in the world. As the virus is still spreading rapidly across our country, it took nearly three months for the United States to go from one infection to 1 million. Now, we have more than 4 million with at least a million Americans infected in just the last two weeks.

Hospitalizations and deaths are unacceptably high. Hospitals in some states are at risk of running out of beds and some hospitals have reported that they may be forced to choose which patient to treat and which to send home to die.

On our recent -- on our current course, experts predict another 150,000 Americans could lose their lives from the coronavirus by the end of this year. My goal today is simple. To hear from our nation's top public health experts on what steps we need to take to stop the unnecessary deaths of more Americans.


To improve our response, we need to identify and correct past failures, especially those that are ongoing. Regrettably, nearly six months after this virus claimed its first American life, the federal government has still not yet developed and implemented a national strategy to protect the American people. The administration has failed on testing. While they were given warnings including from this committee that millions more tests were needed.

At least 11 states including my home state of South Carolina are currently conducting less than 30 percent of the tests they need to control the virus. The state cases surging, states now face severe testing shortages, wait times for results are a week or longer in many places, and some states have been forced to ration scarce tests, limiting them to only the sickest patients.

Without widely available rapid testing, it is nearly impossible to control the spread of the virus and safely reopen our economy. Yesterday, it was reported that back in April, the administration considered implementing a national strategy to coordinate the distribution of test kits and contact tracing infrastructure, but it decided not to do so, because at the time the virus was primarily spreading in blue states.

Since the earliest days of this crisis, the Trump administration has also refused to call on Americans to take simple steps to stay safe, like wearing a mask and social distancing. Instead, the president has downplayed the severity of the crisis, claiming the virus will disappear, side-lining government experts who disagree and seek to legitimize discredited remedies.

When the public health agencies contradicted the White House's political message, for example, when the CDC warned that fully reopening schools presented the highest risk for spreading the coronavirus, the White House pressured the agency to change their advice. The result of these decisions is that the virus has continued to rage out of control and our nation's economic misery has continued.

And that brings us to today -- to today's hearing. It is clear that the administration's approach of deferring to the states, side-lining the experts, and rushing to reopen has prolonged this virus and led to thousands of preventable deaths. In fact, the United States response stands out as among the worst of any country in the world. My question is where should we go from here?

Today, I am calling for the administration to finally give America a comprehensive national plan that prioritizes science over politics. That plan should include buying and distributing enough tests and protective gear for every American who needs them.

And it should include clear public health guidance to every American to help curb the spread of the virus. I am looking forward to hearing from our panel what common sense steps we can take as a country to control this virus and how the administration's plans to accomplish this goal.

Today's witnesses have long, distinguished careers under both Republican and Democratic presidents. Public health is not a partisan issue. And I hope that all members of the committee will join me in seeking the best health advice for the American people, not fighting partisan, political battles. We do not need to lose another 150,000 American lives. But if we do not make drastic changes now, this tragic outcome is well within the realm of possibility.


The chair now recognizes the distinguished ranking member for his opening statement.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank our witnesses for being here. Before I open, I do want to mention, Mr. Chairman, this is our first meeting that we've had since the passing of our dear friend and colleague, John Lewis. I know you personally were friends with him for roughly 60 years, and we all feel that loss, very fitting tributes yesterday, and he was a dear colleague, but he was also a key, important part of the movement that's made America an even greater nation.

It's very fitting that our country's been paying such great tribute to a dear friend and an icon in the civil rights movement, our friend, John Lewis. I thank you again, Mr. Chairman too, for having this hearing. I want to thank the witnesses, and I also want to thank your teams because you represent what is on the front lines of President Trump's plan to combat the coronavirus crisis.

For anybody to suggest that there's not a plan -- in fact, when you look at the title of today's hearing, urgent need for a plan, that's not the title of a hearing, that's a political narrative and a false political narrative at that. You wouldn't even be here today if there wasn't a plan, because you are the people tasked with carrying out the plan. In fact, if you were sidelined, you wouldn't be here either.

And I know some people want to suggest that, but maybe they haven't spent time reading different components of the plan. These are just a few by the way, a few of the documents your agencies have published to show states how to safely reopen, to show schools how to safely reopen.

To show nursing homes how to care for their patients, which by the way, if all governors would have followed those guidelines, thousands more seniors in nursing homes would be alive today if just five governors would have followed your plan that was developed by President Trump and is being carried out by you and your teams effectively every day.

So again, let me thank you on behalf of the millions of American people who are alive today that wouldn't be alive if you weren't carrying out President Trump's effective plan to keep Americans safe. As we learn about this virus, as we work to get a cure for this virus -- and by the way, the cure operation Warp Speed is part of President Trump's national plan, and I think we've all seen just how close we are to a vaccine which is revolutionary.

Revolutionary in modern time to be this close to a vaccine. We wouldn't be here, that close, to a vaccine without President Trump's leadership and without the work of you and your teams to carry out that plan. So again, I appreciate the work that you continue to do. Every day we learn more about a plan, like any plan, whether it's a military plan or a football plan. You start the first play with a plan and then the plan has to change as things change along the way and we're seeing that play out daily.

When you look at the work that's been done, I think we talk about different parts of the guidance. We have -- we have always not been in agreement on each part of them, but we've had a number of hearings where we talked through how to improve testing. In fact, one of the first hearings we had in this committee on testing was back when America was maybe conducting less than 200,000 tests a day. Today, because of the work that you all have been doing and because of

the president's plan, we're at over 800,000 tests per day, and that number continues to grow. Nobody's stopping. Nobody's resting on their laurels. But when you look at that trajectory, again, going from a virus that no one even knew about just six months ago, China lied about during that period, where we could have learned a lot more, where we could have saved more lives while China was lying -- I wish we would have hearings on that.

Because that is real fact, that's not a political talking point. We all know, not only did China lie, they corrupted the World Health Organization, and they were perpetuating that as well, and made it harder for us. I remember being in a meeting at the White House with Dr. Fauci months ago, before it was a global pandemic, and we were talking about the desire to get some of our medical experts in to China to find out what was really going on, and they wouldn't let you in.

The Chinese Communist Party wouldn't let you in. When President Trump wanted to send medical experts in to China before it spreads into the United States, and that cost lives. Why aren't we having a hearing about that? Clearly, we talk about some of the other different things that were done to stop the spread. This president actually did develop an early plan called 15 days to stop the spread. It was one of the first real organized plans to encourage states to pull back.

It wasn't an easy plan for the president to have to issue, but it was necessary. And in fact, there were meetings in the White House.