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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Trump Holds Press Briefing; Interview With Former Acting CDC Director Dr. Richard Besser; Trump Says We're Doing Well, Even As Death Toll Tops 155,000 In U.S.; Dr. Fauci: New Phase Of Coronavirus Refers To Insidious Community Spread; Isaias Expected To Hit Land As A Hurricane Tonight, More Than 100 Million At Risk On East Coast. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 3, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's terrible, and we'll be in contact with the families. A thing like that is terrible.

QUESTION: Secondly, in New York today, there's a city prosecutor that confirmed a criminal investigation into the Trump Organization.

Do you have any reaction to that?

TRUMP: Well, I just heard about it.

This is just a continuation of the witch-hunt. It's Democrat stuff. They failed with Mueller. They failed with everything. They failed with Congress. They failed at every stage of the game.

This has been going on for three-and-a-half, four years. Even before I got in, this was starting with the Mueller deal. Mueller started a little bit after. But it started with some of the people that you know very well the names, Strzok and Page and all of the different people, Comey.

This has been going on. This is a continuation of the worst witch-hunt in American history, and there's nothing that I know even about it.

I had seen that today just a little while ago. And I said, what's this all about? I know nothing about it. But it's just a continuation of the witch-hunt. Didn't work out for Congress, didn't work out for Mueller, didn't work out for anybody.

So what they're doing is, they send them around to all over the country, I guess maybe. But it's a terrible thing that they do. It's really a terrible thing. The witch-hunt has gone on long enough. What else?

QUESTION: Just one on COVID.

You mentioned the vaccine development program. Could you assure the American people that politics and considerations around the election will not interfere with the science?

TRUMP: Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Do you plan on playing a role in determining how the vaccine, if there is one, will be distributed across the country?

Is that something that you will be...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: It's possible that I get involved.

But, no, it won't have anything to do with -- we want to make people better. We want to send them to the areas that most need it, and I think we're going to have something very soon.

It's going good.

Jeff (ph)?

QUESTION: Mr. President, you said today in a tweet that Dr. Birx was taking bait from Speaker Pelosi.

What did you mean by that, considering that she was just describing the facts about the case of the pandemic right now across the country?

TRUMP: Well, I think we're doing very well.

And I think that we have done as well as any nation, if you really look, if you take a look at what's going on, especially now with all these flare-ups in nations that they were talking about. And don't forget, we're much bigger, other than India and China.

China's having a massive flare-up right down. India has a tremendous problem. Other countries have problems. And I noticed that, in the news, in the evening news, I never read about that. In any of the news, I don't read about the other countries.

You're starting to see that other countries are having very big flare- ups, countries that thought they were over it, like we thought we might be over it in Florida, and then, all of a sudden, it comes back. They do come back. But I think we're doing very well.

I told Dr. Birx, I think we're doing very well. She was in my office a little while ago. She's a person I have a lot of respect for. I think Nancy Pelosi's treated her very badly, very, very badly, very nasty.

And I'm just referring to the fact that I thought that really they should say the job we've done, whether it's on ventilators or testing -- we've tested now over 60 million people. No other country is even close to that. We've tested 60 million people with great -- in many cases, about 50 percent now rapid fire, meaning 5- to 15- to 20-minute tests, where you get the result almost immediately.

Nobody has anything like that, nobody. And I think we're just doing very well. (CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to follow up just quickly.

TRUMP: Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Does that mean you disagree with her characterization, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. President.

I wanted to follow up on two things that you had said earlier in the Cabinet Room. The first was on TikTok, and the second was on coronavirus.

On TikTok, you said that you wanted money for the U.S. Treasury from the sale.

TRUMP: Yes.

QUESTION: Does that mean you expect the Chinese company to pay the U.S. Treasury directly? Or are you talking about...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Either way, whether it's Microsoft or somebody else, or it was the Chinese. What the price is, the United States should get a very large percentage of that price, because we're making it possible.

Without us -- I use the expression, it's like the landlord and the tenant. And without the lease, the tenant doesn't have the value.

Well, we're, in a certain way, the lease. We make it possible to have this great success. TikTok's a tremendous success, but a big portion of it's in this country.

QUESTION: From the sale directly...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: It would come from the sale, yes, whatever the number is. It would come from the sale.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Which nobody else would be thinking about but me. But that's the way I think. And I think it's a -- I think it's very fair.

QUESTION: And you mentioned...

(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: But we want no security problems with China. It's got to be an American company. It's got to be American security. It's got to be owned here. We don't want to have any problems with security, et cetera.

And something could come out. I will tell you, there's a lot of excitement, not only by Microsoft, but by other companies, in terms of buying it. So, we'll see what happens.

But we want and we think we deserve to have a big percentage of that price coming to America, coming to the Treasury.

QUESTION: Then, on the negotiation on Capitol Hill, you have expressed some frustration and said you might take executive action to address...

(CROSSTALK)

[18:05:03]

TRUMP: I might do that, yes.

QUESTION: So I was wondering if you could talk about both how you might prevent evictions through executive action, and then also...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Yes, I could do that if I wanted. And I want to do that. I don't want people to be evicted.

And when they're evicted, when they're thrown out of their -- whatever the place may be, in many cases, they go to big shelters.

And if you talk about pandemic, this is a pandemic, and they go to shelters. Number one, they're thrown out viciously. It's not their fault. It's China's fault. It's not anybody's fault. It's China's fault.

But, number two, and if they are thrown out, they oftentimes will go to a shelter with tremendous numbers of other people, and the virus will spread. And we don't want that.

QUESTION: Are you considering suspending payroll -- the collection of payroll taxes?

TRUMP: Well, I can do that also through an executive order. So, we'll be talking about that.

But we're having a very good discussion with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. The problem is, they want to do bailouts of their various Democrat-run states and cities. And they want a lot of money. They want a trillion dollars for that. And so they want to do much more than COVID-related.

They want to do -- they want to bail out cities and states that have been in trouble for years of bad management, in all cases, Democrat- run cities, and we don't think that's fair. You understand that. You've heard it before.

Yes, please. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. President.

I wanted to ask you about the Justice Department sending federal agents into cities like Chicago as part of Operation LeGend.

How exactly do you envision these federal forces working alongside local police departments to help stop violent crime?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: It's not a mass send, but it's sending very talented people to help them with the drugs and the shootings and the guns and the things that are happening.

It's not like sending in the National Guard and stopping it cold, which, as an example, a lot of progress has been made in Portland. But frankly, sending in the National Guard like we did in Minneapolis, it stopped it cold.

From the time we sent that National Guard, they walked down the street, it was over in Minneapolis. And now it may be starting up again. This is -- these are Democrat-run cities and states. And it hasn't been a pretty picture to watch.

We will help Chicago. We'll help New York, if they request. They have to request the help. But we want to stop the drugs. We want to stop the guns. A lot of Chicago is guns. And -- but what it is, is drug- related, gang-related, largely gang-related.

With ICE, we send out thousands of MS-13. Thousands and thousands of MS-13, we send them back or in some cases have to put them in prison. They're too violent. They're truly violent. So, we're helping out.

When you look at what's happening in Chicago and some other cities, with the shootings and the killings, they need help. And we haven't met with resistance, I have to be honest with you. I think it's good that we haven't. We're only looking to help them. We're only looking to help.

OAN. OAN.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

In our nation's 243-year history, there has never been a stronger push for mail-in ballots to determine a national election.

TRUMP: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you considering at any point issuing an executive order addressing mail-in ballots? And why do you think some people are pushing it so hard?

TRUMP: Well, there's never been a push like this for mail-in ballots. And if you look at the New York congressional race, which is a disaster -- Carolyn -- it's been a total disaster. They have -- they're six weeks into it now. They have no clue what's going on.

And, I mean, I think I can say right here and now I think you have to rerun that race, because it's a mess. Nobody knows what's happening with the ballots and the lost ballots and the fraudulent ballots, I guess.

I think you've probably have to take the Carolyn Maloney race and run it over again. How can you do this? This is a small race with literally thousands of people, small thousands, and it's all messed up. You look at Paterson, New Jersey, it's all messed up.

Almost every one of these -- and these are small, easy to control. They should be able to do this easy.

Now you're talking about like Nevada, where last -- two nights ago, they went out, and in the darkness of night, without people, without having any meetings of the public, without having anything, they approved a ridiculous -- you don't have to look at signatures. You don't have to approve anything. You can have double mailings.

You can have all sorts of things. Nobody's ever seen anything like it. It's a disgrace. I mean, honestly, it's a disgrace.

So, it's a very good question. I mean, the mail-in ballots, if you look at just some of the small -- the small places the small races, congressional race in New York, should be very easy. Normally, that would have been announced at 7:00, and it would have been down to the wire, and everybody would have loved it.

If it was at all complex, it would have taken an extra 45 minutes or an hour. They would have announced it a little bit later.

[18:10:01]

They have no clue. This was about six weeks ago, and they have no clue what's going on. They've lost ballots. There's fraudulent ballots. It's -- how are you going to do you do that for an entire nation? They're using COVID to try and get the mail-in ballots.

Now, absentee ballots are great. Absentee ballots, they have to request them. They go through a process. They get them. But the universal mail-in ballots have turned out to be a disaster.

And what Nevada has been doing, if you look over the last few days, you have to look at what they've done. You can have two ballots. You can harvest. It's harvesting. So you can take thousands of ballots, put them together, and just dump them down on somebody's desk after a certain period of time.

They have something where if you vote, the vote can count up to seven days later. Well, if the vote is going to count seven days later, that means you -- if it depends on the one state, like Nevada, that would mean simply that you can't have -- supposing it's down to that one state. It could be. It's a great state.

But supposing it's down to that one state. That means you have to wait seven days. But they won't have it there. This is something that's so messed up.

And, by the way, I have to say, the post office for many, many years, has been run in a fashion that hasn't been great. Great workers and everything, but they have old equipment, very old equipment. And I don't think the post office is prepared for a thing like this.

You will have to ask the people at the post office, but how can the post office be expected to handle -- they have regular mailing, and then now, on top of that, they have the Internet, where you have Amazon and these companies doing all the buying. Instead of going to a department store, they go buy through mail.

So, you have massive numbers of purchases now going through the post office, purchases of items and gifts. And that's a tremendous strain on the post office. The post office loses a fortune. And it has been for many, many years, for decades.

So now, on top of it, it has this. And the Amazons of the world and the others they pay very, very little money. They lose money on every -- the post office loses money, which is ridiculous, on every package it delivers.

But now, on top of that -- and I'm not just referring to Amazon. I'm talking about all of the competitors, if there is such a thing, to Amazon. There will be, but if there is such a thing.

But now, on top of that, you'll have somebody like the governor of Nevada come out with this massive plan out of nowhere to take millions of ballots and send them all over the place. You'll never know who won that state. It'll get messed up, just like New York and just like Paterson, New Jersey, and just like many other places.

In West Virginia, they indicted a postman for doing something very bad. You know that. And -- but there are many cases all over the country. If you look, you'll be able to find -- there's a list of them all over the country. And that has to do with universal mail-in.

Again, absentee is great. It works. Like, in Florida, they'll do absentee. It really works. But universal mail-in ballots is going to be a great embarrassment to our country.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Well, I have the right to do it. We haven't gotten there yet, but we'll see what happens. We will be suing in Nevada. And that's already been taken care of. We'll probably file something tomorrow.

I do want to say that we're going to be introducing a tremendous health care plan sometime prior, hopefully prior to the end of the month. It's just about completed now.

In addition, next month we'll be doing the immigration plan. So, we'll be doing that in September. We'll be doing, sometime during this month, the health care plan. And I think that'll be before the end of the month. And I think it will be very impressive to a lot of people.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, so the president answering reporters' questions for about 15 minutes or so, 14 or 15 minutes.

At the very end, he did say that this month, the month of August, he will be releasing a new health care plan. Two weeks ago, two weeks and a day ago, though, he said it would be released within two weeks. We will see if this new health care plan that he wants to replace the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, will be released this month.

He says next month, a brand-new immigration plan will be released. He's been promising a brand-new immigration plan for the last few years. He's been promising a new health care plan for the last few years. We will see if any of those commitments are actually made.

Dana Bash is with us. Sanjay is with us, Daniel Dale, Jim Acosta.

Let's talk a little bit about the president, what he said about Dr. Birx.

And I want to refer specifically, Dana, to your interview with Dr. Birx. She was very forceful in saying, we're entering a new, much more dangerous situation right now as far as coronavirus is concerned.

And he said that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, treated her very badly, Dr. Birx. He says he has a very good relationship with her. He just met with her.

[18:15:06]

But he treated her very badly too in a tweet earlier in the day. He said: "So, crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combating the China virus, including vaccines and therapeutics. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait and hit us. Pathetic."

He's basically calling -- he's calling Dr. Birx pathetic, and he was saying that Nancy Pelosi treated her very badly. He's treated her very badly in this tweet today as well.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And regardless of who is treating whom badly or not, we are in the middle of a major, major crisis. And what we just saw from the president of the United States is come out and try once again to try to whitewash it.

Before his Q&A, he talked about -- touched a little bit on the areas that matter the most, because they're the ones that are exploding with cases across the country, especially the Midwest. But he said, you know, for the most part, the virus is receding. It's not true. And that is why Dr. Birx said what she said to me

yesterday, and that caused the president to call her pathetic.

And it's why the president clearly wanted to come out today to have another one of his attempts to bend reality to the way he sees it, but that's just not going to work when you have millions of people at this point whose lives have been -- have come to a crashing halt because this pandemic is not only not in control, but it is completely out of control.

One quick thing, just to kind of drill down on a specific. So he said, in response to the question about Dr. Birx, well, if you look at our nation compared to other nations, we're doing great.

Well, we looked up some stats, which I didn't even have to use in the interview I did with Dr. Birx yesterday, because she didn't say that the notion of the U.S. doing poorly -- she didn't dispute it at all. It is.

So just, for example, the U.S., as of last week, 7,982 deaths. Italy was the one that even came close with 44, Germany, 30, Spain 13, South Korea, 3. Now, I realize that the U.S. is a much bigger country, a much bigger population.

But even if you factor that in, the other countries don't even come close. Those are the facts. Those are the statistics, and that is why even his White House coordinator didn't even want to go there and to try to dispute that.

But the president is still trying to do that. He's still trying to will this away, and it's not going to work when it comes to the virus, and it's certainly not going to work when it comes to his politics and his reelection.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point.

Jim Acosta, you're there in the Briefing Room. I assume you were trying to get a question to the president. He didn't call on you to answer a question. But let's talk a little bit about that.

The president says, I think we're doing very well. Then he says, China, they're not doing so great, India not doing so great. He says, I think we're doing very well -- 155,000-plus Americans have died over the past five months.

Almost 1,000 Americans almost every single day are still dying. The numbers are going up. On what basis is the president saying, I think we're doing very well?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he rattled off some numbers where he says, in some states, there are cases that are receding.

But, Wolf, I mean, that just flies in the face, and Dana was talking about this a few moments ago, with what Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the Coronavirus Task Force, said over the weekend, that it is extraordinarily widespread, this virus in this country, and that it is seeping now into all parts of the United States, not just in urban areas, but in rural areas as well.

Didn't get a question to the president during this very short briefing that he had here, but I was able to ask him about some of this earlier today.

You know, there is sort of a back-and-forth that goes on the president seems to enjoy, because he thinks he can talk his way out of it when it comes to the subject of cases. Why are there more cases in the U.S. vs. other parts of the world? He likes to say it's because the U.S. does more testing.

But you can't escape the number of deaths. And I tried to ask the president about that earlier today. Why is it that the U.S. has so many deaths from the coronavirus, compared to other countries around the world?

And the president just doesn't have a good answer about that when it comes to that. He tries to say, well, other states, they're seeing a resurgence of the virus. They're not seeing any kind of resurgence of the virus that compares in any way to what's happening in the United States right now. So he's just not dealing with the facts.

And, Wolf, one other thing we need to point out, right at the end of that press conference, the president was just telling one whopper another -- after another about mail-in voting, at one point saying that he doesn't believe that the U.S. Postal Service has the ability to deal with mail-in balloting at election time.

[18:20:00]

We just need to point out the U.S. Postal Service put out a statement late this afternoon that says: "The Postal Service has ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected election and political mail volume, including any additional volume that may result as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic."

And so, as we have seen so many times with this president, Wolf, the subject at hand for so many Americans around the country is this pandemic. But he likes to throw out these distractions.

One of his favorite distractions -- and it was teed up by a report with OAN, one of the president's favorite propaganda outlets -- the subject of mail-in voting was brought up. The president tried to say over and over again that the post office, the Postal Service, can't deal with this, the situation, when it comes to mail-in balloting at election time.

But the Postal Service, which is run, we should point out, by one of his own supporters, put out a statement saying that they will be just fine when it comes to election time.

So, Wolf, when it comes to -- when this president comes out here and talks about the coronavirus, he not only is not dealing with the facts. He is putting out distractions that aren't in line with the facts. And we saw that once again this evening.

BLITZER: Yes, he's clearly trying to change the subject, because the subject of the coronavirus is a total failure here.

Sanjay is with us as well.

At one point, as far as a failure -- and the U.S. has failed to deal with this certainly compared to a lot of other countries, like South Korea, for example. You have often made that point, Sanjay. He says, it's not any -- he said, at one point: It's not anybody's fault. It's China's fault. The only one who should be blamed, it's China's fault. It's China's fault.

He keeps saying that. I'm anxious to get your thoughts.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, there's a bad virus that's circumnavigating the globe. We know that.

But you can see how most of the rest of the world has dealt with it. We're all human beings living together on this planet, and how we behaved early on, February, March, that time frame, makes a big difference in terms of where we are now. It's as simple as that.

It's the -- the virus exists. That is true, and that's a constant for all of us. But how we responded is entirely up to us. And you look at the right side of the screen, you see that we're 20 percent to 25 percent of the world's deaths and we're not even 5 percent of the world's population.

There's not a lot of calculus that needs to go into this to figure out how badly we have failed here. And we're still failing. That's the shocking thing to me, is that at one point do we say, OK, gosh, these are really bad numbers?

And, by the way, it's not that hard to turn this around. Five things. Wear a mask. Physically distance. Don't go to crowded bars and restaurants. Avoid large gatherings. And wash your hands a lot. How hard is this?

And if you did this for three weeks as a nation, we could be looking at the backside of this curve. He talked about a new health care plan. He talked about a new immigration plan. We need a coronavirus plan for the country. And it doesn't have to be that complicated. But, you know, we're still not doing it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes.

And when he says, you know what, he says we're doing a pretty good job, a very good job in dealing with it, he says -- the exact quote -- and I wrote it down -- "I think we're doing very well."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sanjay, says that in the next three weeks alone, maybe 20,000 Americans will die from coronavirus.

And then, if you take a look at some of the other models, some of the other projections, it could be up to 200,000 total in the next couple or three months.

GUPTA: I mean, they're saying, as you said, Wolf, 1,000 people a day are still dying of this.

And, you know, as the numbers have gone up in various places, even as they -- if they come down, but the number of new infections goes up in other places around the country, we know that a couple weeks after that, hospitalizations go up.

And we know a couple weeks after that, deaths go up. So we're always looking at things on a lag time. Right now, Wolf, the deaths are likely to keep going up because they're sort of tracking behind the numbers having gone up a few weeks ago.

So we will see, Wolf. Obviously, this is tough to talk about. And I hate it. I hate this. I was at the hospital a good chunk of the day today. This is -- all we talk about in the hospital is just how did we get into this mess?

But, Wolf, if you do the calculations, you could have 150,000 more people more die by the end of the year.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean, it's 155,000 already.

Daniel Dale is with us, our CNN reporter and fact-checker.

So, tell us some of the facts that you were looking at, or maybe they weren't really facts.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: They weren't.

Wolf, I think you, Dana, Jim, and Sanjay covered a bunch of it. But there's more.

Trump again claimed a vaccine might be available well before, he said far advance of the end of the year. Look, we're in August here and that timeline is more optimistic than we're hearing from Dr. Fauci and others, who say maybe the end of this year, but more likely 2021.

He again tried to make a distinction between absentee ballots and other mail-in voting. Many states, including Florida, where he himself voted by mail, make no such distinction.

[18:25:03]

On that same subject, he also suggested that New York's slow vote counting is in its primary is evidence of voter fraud. He said there may have been fraudulent ballots. We don't have evidence of that. There are clearly problems in New York, but no evidence of voter fraud at this point.

He again touted a decline in prescription drug prices. He keeps saying that happened last year. Wolf, it's now two years ago. It was a 0.3 percent decline by one specific measure. And then, actually, last year in 2019, there was a 3 percent increase. So those prices are not declining. And he said something possibly too bizarre to fact-check, but he said

lockdowns don't prevent infections in the future because the virus comes back. The fact that the virus may have a resurgence after restrictions are lifted does not mean that the lockdowns themselves are not effective in preventing infections.

So that's a strange claim, but I think it's clearly wrong, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. You make excellent points.

Dana, let's talk a little bit about the president. He says he's -- the government is going to be suing the state of Nevada tomorrow because he wants to make it easier for people to vote -- because the state of Nevada wants to make it easier for people, especially during a time of coronavirus, when a lot of folks, especially elderly folks, people with underlying conditions, don't want to wait in line and show up at a polling station.

He says they're going to file a lawsuit tomorrow against the state of Nevada. We will see if that actually happens. He makes a lot of threats like that, but they don't actually pan out, as we all know.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: And he doesn't realize -- maybe he doesn't even know -- that there are five states that for a long time have had only universal mail-in, including Utah, including Colorado. Everybody votes by mail in those states, in Oregon and Washington state. And they have had no problems of fraud.

BASH: That's right. There are a few things here.

One, let's just talk about New York, because the president was really zeroing in on New York, claiming that the problems that they are having there -- and they are having problems -- and this is about the Democratic primary, which has a couple of elections still ongoing.

And there were real issues with the mail-in voting there. But even though there were issues, there is no evidence -- and a lot of independent observers and even people in both parties are looking at this -- think that they were criminal, that they were fraudulent.

There are things that need to be fixed, but there aren't -- nothing nefarious that -- or at least nothing widespread.

I talked yesterday to the governor of Arkansas. I can't think of a state that is as red or more red than the state of Arkansas. He's fine with mail-in voting. They're going to try to expand it, and they are working on it in his state. He doesn't think there's anything fraudulent about it.

They're going to make sure that that is the case, because, remember, elections are run statewide. And so it is up to the governors to try to control it. So that's point number two.

Point number three is the Postal Service. Jim Acosta talked about the fact that the Postal Service says, we're fine. We can handle this. But even if there were issues, why trash them? Why not say, I'm the president of the United States, I'm going to give you more resources, because the best thing we can do for our democracy is to engage as many people as possible?

That's not what he's doing. And I can tell you, a lot of Republicans I talk to are worried that he's depressing his own vote, not just Democrats, but Republicans, who might want to mail-in-vote, but they say the president says, it's not safe.

BLITZER: Yes, Utah is a pretty Republican state. They only have mail- in voting in the state of Utah, as we -- as I pointed out.

Everybody, stand by. I want to bring in Dr. Richard Besser, the former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Besser, you were listening to the president. I'm anxious to get your thoughts. What jumped out at you?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Well, I think what jumps out at me is that we are in a crisis situation in America, and we're hearing a narrative that doesn't recognize that.

You know, as we're going forward, I'm here in New Jersey, and the numbers have been very good in New Jersey. But they're creeping up. And they're creeping up because of young people and the behavior of young people in communities.

And if we're not hearing a unified message that what young people do doesn't just affect them, but it affects the workers that they're exposing, it affects the people in their homes, we're going to see these numbers continue to go up.

And, you know, Sanjay laid out what needs to take place, what we could do to turn this around. But if we're not hearing that from the top, as well as from all of public health, we're not going to make that happen.

BLITZER: What is the president referring to, Dr. Besser, when he says, "I think we're doing very well" in dealing with this pandemic? What do you think he's referring to?

BESSER: Well, he may be referring to the massive investments on vaccines.

I think that is terrific, because it may lead us to have a vaccine in record time. That's not going to improve the health outcome this fall. It's not going to improve what happens as schools reopen, as communities of color get hit harder and harder.

But there is a mass investment in vaccine, and hopefully that will lead to something that in the future will have a big impact on this pandemic.

[18:30:03] BLITZER: When -- and Dr. Deborah Birx of the coronavirus task force

yesterday suggested things are getting worse and you've got to be really carefully, it's spreading from urban areas to rural areas. The president today said what she said -- she took the bait because Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, had earlier criticized her and the president effectively called Dr. Birx pathetic.

This is a woman who spent 40 years of her life dealing with these kinds of issues, and he's referring to her as pathetic. And he constantly tries to undermine Dr. Fauci.

BESSER: You know, early on, we were seeing hot spots in just a few places. We were seeing New York, and we were seeing Seattle, Los Angeles being hit hard. But now, hot spots are everywhere. And so what we're seeing is that the behavior of people in every community really makes a difference.

Back in April, May, if you were in an area where there wasn't much disease, it didn't really matter what you did. But now it does. There's enough disease that, as children try and go back to school, as businesses reopen, if everyone isn't wearing a mask and social distancing and hand washing, if we're not able to do testing in a way that's effective for contact tracing and for isolation, we're going to continue to see the numbers going up all across the country.

BLITZER: What do we need to do right now? What would you have liked to have heard directly from the president at this news conference over at the White House? What does he need to tell the American people in order to start saving thousands of lives?

BESSER: You know, what we need to hear is that what we've done to date is not working. What we've done to date is leaving -- is leaving millions and millions of people at risk. It's hitting low-income people, communities of color so incredibly hard. It's hitting every country.

We have to try something new, and we have to try what's worked in countries all around the globe, high-income and low-income countries. We need to wear masks, social distance, wash our hands, avoid crowded places. We've learned things that you can do. You can be outside six feet away from people very safely. We didn't know that early on.

So there are things that we do know that we can do differently than we did early on. But we have to come together as a nation and everyone do this. It can't be split by party because all it takes is 30 percent of people to not wear masks, and you're going to continue to see widespread transmission.

BLITZER: All right. Dr. Besser, as usual, thank you so much for your expertise. We'll continue this conversation down the road. I appreciate it very much.

BESSER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We're joined now by The New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman. He's the author of the book, Thank You for Being Late, an Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. Tom, thanks very much for joining us.

The president just said he has a lot of respect for Dr. Deborah Birx, but over the weekend, she became the most recent member of the White House coronavirus task force to draw the president's ire. We saw that tweet in which he suggested these pathetic simply because she was telling the truth how this virus is spreading, going from urban areas to rural areas. I wonder what you think of that.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, you know, Wolf, it's just another day of disturbed and aberrant behaviorally the president. But I've been listening to the show. I listened to the president's news conference.

And it just reminds you, Wolf, there's really just one thing. It's the virus. If you get the virus under control, the economy will bounce back, people will go to restaurants, school will start again, we won't need the bailouts we need. And the problem is the president, from the very beginning, Wolf, we've been talking about this, He's actually never had a plan for the virus.

And that's what's so not only maddening as a citizen, but it's also so crazy from the point of view of his own self-interest. Because you can denounce Dr. Birx, and you can denounce Dr. Fauci, you can tell people that we're not going to give you federal money for your school, you can tell people you don't need to wear a mask, and you should go out to a restaurant. You can tell people all those things.

But parents, Wolf, are not going to send their kids to school if they think they're going to get sick, and teachers aren't going to teach. And people aren't going to go into restaurants if they think they're going to get sick. It's always been about the virus, stupid. And, unfortunately, the president has been about everything but that.

BLITZER: Yes. There are millions of Americans now, Tom, as you know, who are unemployed. They are trying to make ends meet, to pay their rent. That $600 weekly supplement that they've been getting, that has gone away. Let's see if it comes back. But people are suffering right now, and the economy is hurting so badly. We've seen these horrendous collapses.

FRIEDMAN: You know, we're at such a fulcrum point because the first round of support money both to workers and businesses, you know, it got people basically from that period from December through April, May, but now that money is running out.

[18:35:05]

And, Wolf, you see it around where we live here in Bethesda, places that were holding on, now you see for sale signs out there, restaurants closing. People are going to throw in the towel. And Lord knows, you know, what will happen to people who are renters and don't have the income to pay their rent. I mean, these people have to be supported. You need a plan. But it goes back to the virus.

And rather than criticizing Dr. Birx and criticizing Dr. Fauci and looking to blame somebody else, if he just would have come up with what Sanjay said, a simple plan, wear a mask, practice social distancing, don't be with a group inside anywhere, under any conditions. And if we did that seriously for the next three weeks, we could still break the back of this thing.

BLITZER: Yes. Who would have thought that simply wearing a mask, which could save a lot of lives, if everyone did it when they were outside, when they were walking around, that would become politicized, that there are folks who say, you know what, we're not going to listen to that. Who would have thought that simply wearing a mask has become such a political issue, Tom?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, Wolf, and you can -- and it's one of the terrible things that's happened to American society. We've politicized everything. Politics has to be about real things, okay? It has to be about -- masks are real things.

When you politicize masks, well, you can politicize physics. You can politicize gravity. You can politicize rainfall, okay? When everything becomes politics, and there's no reference point to anything, you're in a really bad place.

You know, the president, Wolf, has told us we're at war. We're at war, but I'm going golfing. We're at war, but don't listen to those generals like Birx and Fauci. We're at war, but don't wear a helmet, the equivalent of a helmet, a mask. We're at war, but don't trouble yourself if you want to go to a restaurant or go to church, no problem. Thank God, if he had been in charge of D-day, we'd all be speaking German right now.

BLITZER: I mean, it's a sad situation what's going on right now, and I don't see any end in sight. Hopefully there will be a therapeutic that comes out that can prevent people from getting really sick and dying. Hopefully, there will be a vaccine at some point that will ease this. But right now, it doesn't seem to have any end in sight. Do you see an end in sight right now?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, I do see an end in sight. It's in November, Wolf. And let me be very clear about this with all this business about, you know, voting and mail-in voting. Wolf, I will walk, I will crawl, I will slither, I will bike, I will hike, but I will be going to the polls to vote for Joe Biden. Because until and unless we replace this president and this administration, we're going to be having this same conversation every day, all right?

That is what this is about. This is about power. It's about removing this man who has no business being president, who is incapable of navigating us out of this crisis. And there is only one thing to do, and that is vote for Joe Biden, drive someone to the polls to vote for Joe Biden, raise money for Joe Biden, do a call for Joe Biden. But unless we change this administration, Wolf, we're going to be having the same conversation every night, and I repeat, I will walk, I will slither, I will hike, I will bike, I will do whatever I can to change this administration.

BLITZER: Why do you think he's so afraid of mail-in voting, mail-in ballots? It's only going to discourage his fellow Republicans from doing so, and that might discourage -- might hurt them politically, especially if they're afraid to go wait in line in a polling station in the midst of a coronavirus.

FRIEDMAN: Wolf, it's really just the strategy of the week. You know, first, he tried division, you know, divide us. That didn't seem to work. Then he tried dementia. Don't vote for Biden. He doesn't even know his name. That didn't work, you know. Now he's trying to delegitimize the election.

He seemed to have forgotten that -- it doesn't matter by the way whether there's an election or not. On January 20, his time in office comes to an end. He doesn't get to stay if there's no election. Actually the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, takes over. This is just the distraction du jour.

And, again, I go back, Wolf, to what is crazy, is that if he actually did the right thing on the virus, so many good things would flow from that. But if you don't do the right thing, then nothing good will flow from that. People will not be back to work, and people will not be back to school.

And I tell you, Wolf, the next month could get really crazy because when parents come to terms with the fact that there is no school and they've got their kids at home. That's going to be so devastating for them, and it's going to coincide with these declines in the economy. It could coincide with the end of a lot of the sports that we've been looking for as some kind of distraction.

[18:40:04]

And I think, you know, the next month, things could get really tense as so many parents across the country come to terms with the fact that their kids are not back in school. If Trump thinks he has a problem now, imagine when that hits. And I fear when that hits, he's just going to get crazier and crazier and look for more and more distractions.

BLITZER: Yes, these are really, really very worrisome developments all across the board. We're going to watch it obviously together with you, Tom, very closely. Tom Friedman of The New York Times, thanks very much for joining us.

FRIEDMAN: Always a pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And just ahead, we're going to have much more on all the breaking news involving this coronavirus crisis. Dr. Anthony Fauci now speaking out about the new and widespread phase of the pandemic.

And we'll also get an update on the hurricane threat along the east coast of the United States tonight. More than 100 million people potentially right now in harm's way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:17]

BLITZER: We have more now on the breaking news involving the coronavirus crisis. As the U.S. death toll now tops 155,000 and the total number of cases nears 4.7 million here in the United States.

Let's go to our national correspondent Sara Sidner. She's in Los Angeles for us.

Sara, we're hearing more tonight about the coronavirus being in a very, very new and dangerous phase. What's the latest?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're hearing from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was making it clear that this new phase the United States finds itself in when it comes to coronavirus has to do with the insidious community spread, which is much more difficult to fight or contain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. BRETT GIROIR, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH, HHS: We are very concerned, and this is a very serious point, and deaths will continue to increase for the next few weeks.

SIDNER (voice-over): The coronavirus is still spreading out of control in parts of the United States, and death tolls are continuing to climb. The CDC predicting 19,000 Americans over the next 20 days could die if the current trajectory continues. One reason why, the U.S. is in a new phase according to the White House's point person on COVID response, Dr. Deborah Birx.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: What we're seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It's into the rural as equal urban areas, and to everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus.

SIDNER: The numbers back that up. July's total new cases more than double that of any other previous month. The hot spots mostly flaring up in the South and West. Mississippi now the highest percentage of positive COVID-19 cases in the country with a staggering 21 percent positivity rate. South Carolina follows with 18 percent as Isaias strengthens, threatening its shores. In Florida, the storm's winding forced some testing sites to close for a bit, creating a drop in confirmed cases. Those sites now back open.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We are encouraged by some of the trends we're seeing. We continue to see a downward trend in visits to the emergency department.

SIDNER: Still, Florida is on the verge of hitting 500,000 confirmed coronavirus infections.

California with nearly double Florida's population has already surpassed that terrible milestone. Despite that, in a state order shutting down bars three weeks ago in Los Angeles, dozens attended a party thrown for first responders without masks or physical distancing.

The county health department is investigating, saying this is exactly the situation that put our entire community at unnecessary risk.

In New York, which has now nearly conquered the virus, dozens were caught partying on a charter boat, ignoring the state's large crowd ban. The owners of that vessel arrested.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): I mean, it is just really reckless, rude, irresponsible, and illegal.

SIDNER: Across America, schools are beginning to open up now. Indiana and Georgia already seeing coronavirus infections, forcing some students to return to virtual learning next week.

Birx saying in-person learning should not occur in COVID-19 hot spots.

BIRX: We're asking people to distance learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control.

SIDNER: A special education teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, expressing fear of returning to the classroom and regret for voting for a president she believes has botched the pandemic response.

NANCY SHIVELY, SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER: Watching the failure of leadership in our country beginning with the president over the course of this pandemic, it's not just my death warrant I might have signed, but there's 150,000 Americans who are dead because of this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: And we are learning just how deadly the coronavirus has become worldwide with a top epidemiologist from the WHO saying that coronavirus now kills about 0.6 percent of those who get the virus.

Now, that might not seem like a very big number, but consider this. That number means the virus is six times deadlier than the seasonal flu -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much, Sara Sidner. Very disturbing number indeed.

And as the nation grapples with the coronavirus crisis, tropical storm Isaias barreling closer and closer and expected to hit the East Coast of the United States tonight.

Our meteorologist Tom Sater is over at the CNN weather center for us.

So, what's the latest forecast as you're tracking this horrible situation, just what we don't need in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic.

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, absolutely. Yesterday, Wolf, when we had our chat, I want everybody to take away the fact that -- do not focus on the title of tropical storm. This has been a name storm for five days. [18:50:01]

So, it came to the Caribbean, it is carrying with it boat loads of moisture and a tremendous amount of energy.

The problem is tonight already, occurring around Charleston. It's only about 50 miles from Charleston and 90 miles from Myrtle Beach. Then the problem overnight is the problem is the flooding in the Carolinas. But it really explodes tomorrow afternoon in the Northeast.

Tornado watch already in effect until 2:00 a.m. coastal areas of south North Carolina. Flooded roads already closed town in Charleston. High tide at 9:00 p.m. with a full moon. Surge is now lifted and increased 3 to 5 feet in the coastal area.

So, I'm leaning toward the high end of this. For the first time, we're something moisture wrap around the center. So, that means it is getting stronger and most likely will be a hurricane before landfall. Give or take an hour around midnight near the border of north and South Carolina.

But you're not going to know the difference between the 75-mile-per- hour tropical storm and the 74-mile-per-hour hurricane.

Here's the problem. Notice the rainfall out in the areas of the Midwest. A vigorous cold front is going to take this system and move it toward the Northeast. When that cold front meets up with Isaias in the New England area and these big cities we're looking at tremendous winds. These thunderstorms will grow in height, drop unbelievable amounts of rain, maybe not for New York City, more inland, but it's the winds.

We're looking at a forecast for Philadelphia tomorrow afternoon, 60 to 65-mile-per-hour winds. New York City, get this, 65- to 70-mile-per- hour winds. Widespread power outages, Wolf, this will be the greatest wind event New York City has seen since Super Storm Sandy almost eight years ago when JFK had a wind of 69 miles per hour.

For the first time since 1960, we've had watches and warnings for 1,500 miles from Florida to the border with Canada. It's going to be a long couple days.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. People have to be really, really careful.

Tom Sater, thanks very much.

Let's go to Charleston, South Carolina right now as that city faces the hurricane threat right in the midst of this pandemic. We're joined by the mayor of Charleston, John Tecklenburg.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.

A dual threat to your community tonight. So, how is the growing threat of this pandemic changed your preparations which have to be intense for this storm? MAYOR JOHN TECKLENBURG (D), CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, thank

you, Wolf. Always a pleasure to be with you. And welcome to beautiful and historic Charleston.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our preparation in the fact that all of our emergency preparedness teams have been meeting virtually rather than in person. A lot of thought went into what if we open shelters and had evacuations because then you would be congregating people and maybe spreading the disease, saving someone from the storm but exposing folks to COVID-19.

And so, that certainly is something that we put a lot of thought into. Luckily, for this storm, we're still at the beginning of the season, relatively, but for this storm, it was not predicted to be bad enough that, to where we opened shelters and evacuated.

BLITZER: So --

TECKLENBURG: So the impact may be more for the next one.

BLITZER: Well, if there wouldn't have been a coronavirus pandemic, you would have opened up shelters, right?

TECKLENBURG: As it turns out, to be honest, maybe not. Because it was on that borderline of tropical storm and number one and I admit, there can be significant impacts as it heads up the East Coast, but I must tell you we're counting our blessings in Charleston tonight that it stayed offshore just enough, and we've seen some impacts, but not major to be honest with you.

BLITZER: All right. Well, good, that's good to hear that.

Over the weekend as you know, South Carolina's coronavirus positivity rate actually hit 18.5 percent, that's one of the highest in the nation. Your city of Charleston has been hit especially hard.

So, what steps are you taking right now, Mayor, to try to bring that rate down?

TECKLENBURG: Well, Charleston was one of the first cities in the state to pass a mandatory mask law on July 1st. And since that went into place, I must tell you, we've seen a significant difference here in the city with the number of cases just in the last two to three weeks have gone in half, and our hospitalizations over the last two weeks have come down.

So wearing a mask really makes a difference. We are a very hospitable place. We'd love to have you come -- have you come visit but when you come, you got to wear your mask.

BLITZER: We definitely will. Not expecting to go there any time soon but if I do I'll certainly wear a mask. I wear a mask all the time up here as well.

Mayor Tecklenburg, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in your great city of Charleston. Appreciate it very much.

TECKLENBURG: God bless. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good bless to you. Thank you. Stay safe.

And as the start of the new school year approaches, Dr. Anthony Fauci is weighing in on the debate over reopening schools for in-person classes.

[18:55:08]

Let's discuss this and more with Dr. David Rubin, director of policy lab at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He's a pediatrician.

Dr. Rubin, thanks so much for joining us.

Dr. Fauci says it should be the default position that schools should reopen, but, and this is important, but he adds the primary concern must be safety.

Do we know enough about this virus, Dr. Rubin, to confidently say that schools can safely reopen with in class teaching and learning?

DR. DAVID RUBIN, PEDIATRICIAN: Well, we've been learning a lot over the summer. Certainly, we saw some safe reopenings in Europe and Asia for example, but we also knew we were going to worry if community disease burden or case transmission was too high.

We've seen some very significant outbreaks in camps in Missouri and Georgia. So, you know, given what we're now seeing in our own country in terms of outbreaks among settings in which children are congregated, I think we can fairly say that if we can't get our community transmission down it's going to be difficult to open schools safely.

BLITZER: So, what questions should parents ask before they decide to send their kids back into a classroom?

RUBIN: Well, I think we -- I think there are a couple of things. First, I think parents need to understand, you know, what is the level of disease burden in their communities particularly among the community that may be in their school? And understanding how their community is going to make decisions about whether it is safe to reopen.

And then as they revisit -- as they look at the plans their school districts have prepared, I -- I think this is an issue of public confidence. I agreed with, you know, Tom Friedman, earlier. Parents are not going to send their kids to schools if they don't trust that they're going to be safe.

Teachers are going to be looking to see if school districts are cutting corners. You know, our center, for example, has been very focused on making sure we have adequate distancing within schools. (AUDIO GAP) wearing masks in the appropriate locations, that teachers that were protecting them as much as we can do and if we start to crowd kids into classrooms, if we start to cut corners, people will notice.

And so, I think it's very important that parents review these plans and feel comfortable that we're spacing kids out, that we're creating an environment where it can be safe for learning.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting because we've already seen some failed examples of schools trying to reopen, including one county in Georgia where 260 employees either contracted the virus or were exposed to it.

What should that outbreak teach us?

RUBIN: They're not ready. You know, and I fear that that is enough evidence to recognize that those schools are not ready to reopen for in school learning. The reality is what we've seen from places like Georgia and Florida is they continue to burst through the gates at the expense of the tragedy of loved ones who are going to get sick and die, and that -- that is going to be the reality if they don't get the transmission rates down.

They may keep the schools open but the next step is to hear of teachers or family members who become infected, and I don't any -- realistically any community wants to be in that place or any school district would want to be in that place in the next few weeks.

BLITZER: The president keeps saying these kids -- they've got strong immune systems. They're not going to get sick. But some of them will get sick and all of them potentially especially if they're 10 and older can transmit this virus to their parents and others, right?

RUBIN: Correct. I mean, I would agree the risk of severe infection in kids is lower but it's not zero. We've seen some, you know, a major inflammatory syndrome in children as case transmission has gone up, we're hearing more and more stories of children and adolescents in particular who have gotten really sick.

But the reality is, is that kids are foundational for their community. They don't exist in a bubble. They have parents and caregivers, many of whom are grandparents involved in their lives every day. We think of the teachers and staff that surrounds them in a school setting.

You just can't -- you can't do anything with regards to schools without considering the wider community in which children live.

BLITZER: Dr. David Rubin, appreciate it very much. Thanks for everything you're doing. We are grateful to you as well. Thank you.

RUBIN: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Finally tonight, our tribute to some of the Americans who died in this pandemic.

Mike Lauriente of Maryland was 97 years old, a proud navy and an engineer. His granddaughter says he was vibrant and active. And while he didn't achieve his goal of living past 100, he lived every day to its fullest. Dr. Sydney Mehl of New York was 73. He was a cardiologist who treated

his patients like family. His daughter says he made everyone, everyone feel special and his colleagues say his strong devotion to patient care during this coronavirus crisis wound up costing him his life.

May they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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