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Trump Defies Science and State Ban on Large Gatherings with Indoor Rally; Deadly Wildfires Ravage U.S. West Coast; Trump to Woodward, Nothing More Could Have Been Done on Pandemic. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 07:00   ET



ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: So congratulations to the team.

And also here in Jacksonville, this is the only game on Sunday that allowed fans. They had just over 14,000 in the stadium. They all had to wear masks. I was in there. They were following protocols, separate or staying away from each other.

I'll tell you what though, the tailgate, a little bit of a different story. They had people park every other parking space, but it looked like a normal tailgate. We'll certainly have to wait and see how that goes.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: Yes, understood. Okay, Andy, thank you very much.

And New Day continues right now.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day.

Coronavirus has killed more than 194,000 Americans and doctors are bracing for an uptick around Henderson, Nevada, after President Trump insisted on holding a crowded rally indoors last night. Thousands of people packed together, most not wearing masks.

The rally was in open defiance of a state ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, who we will hear from in a moment, calls the rally, quote, negligent homicide.

President Trump's last indoor rally was in June, in Tulsa. You'll remember that Trump supporter Herman Cain went to that without a mask and died weeks later from coronavirus.

The Trump rally was in stark contrast to scenes at sporting events across the country Sunday as the NFL began its season with teams playing in large empty stadiums.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: All right. Happening now, historic wildfires ravaging the west coast have claimed at least 35 lives in California, Oregon and Washington. Dozens of people this morning are missing.

Also evacuation orders underway right now in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, as Tropical Storm Sally intensifies. It is expected to be a hurricane by the time it makes landfall tonight.

We're going to begin this morning with the pandemic. Joining us now is the aforementioned CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He's a professor of medicine at George Washington University and the cardiologist for former Vice President Dick Cheney.

And, Dr. Reiner, you called at what the president did last night at this indoor rally with thousands of people, most, if not, many, not wearing masks, you call it negligent homicide. Why?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, that's what you call the actions of somebody who, through their negligence, causes the death of other people.

We're in a pandemic. And Clark County, Nevada, has a lot of virus. So, with thousands of people, there is complete certainty that there are people in that crowd, probably asymptomatic carriers of the virus, who will spread the virus.

So, what is the purpose of this, of this mass gathering? It's not in the interest of the public health. And I would respectfully suggest to the president that if he thinks it's safe to gather thousands of people in a pandemic without masks, then he should go down to the rope line and vigorously shake some hands at the end of the event. If he thinks there's very little risk to his attendees, then he should have no problem shaking some hands at the end of the event.

CAMEROTA: That's really interesting.

REINER: You won't see that.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that's interesting, Doctor, because what we did see was much of his staff wearing masks. And, you know, I mean, of course, the president took prophylactic hydroxychloroquine for two weeks. We know he's worried about catching coronavirus, but then these actions just fly in the face of what any, you know, considerate person would do for others.

Here is where the numbers are for Nevada. I don't know if we have Clark County specifically, but in Nevada, you see it bouncing around. This is the seven-day positivity rate. So you can see it bouncing around. It hit a spike on September 9th.

So, statewide, Johns Hopkins says that, yesterday, it was 8.5 percent positivity rate. I mean, just to give some context, New York is 0.9 percent, you know, after being so high, obviously, in March and April. So New York has brought it down to that but Nevada has not.

REINER: Right. And if you were trying to somehow increase the amount of virus in the community, what you would do is you would gather thousands of people shoulder to shoulder without masks and have them scream and yell and laugh for a few hours. That's what you would do. And that's what the president did.

Look, he has been trying to create a narrative that runs counter to what we know is true, which is that this virus is rampant in this country and has killed now almost 200,000 people. And he does that by continually saying things like, we're turning the corner, we're just about done, we need to open up widely, we're not going to close down, and then having these mass events. So he's trying to create a reality that doesn't exist.

So -- and this is exactly what he's been doing since he was warned on January 28th of the lethality of this virus.


He's been playing it down. And now, with these rallies, he's really ramped up this kind of alternate kind of universe for him.

BERMAN: It's a really good point. And Dr. Anthony Fauci has had to correct the president, albeit, gingerly, because that's how Dr. Fauci does it. He says, I respectfully have to disagree with the idea that we've turned the corner. Dr. Fauci doesn't think we've turned the corner at all. He thinks the number of daily cases is still way too high, over 30,000 a day, if not, close to 40,000 a day. He thinks it now needs to be down to 10,000 a day.

Dr. Peter Hotez, who we had on earlier, called the president's rally, anti-science, deliberately, probably, anti-science, trying to create this narrative that you just brought up, and I think that's an interesting way to look at it. He is trying to really warp discussion now.

And we see another example of that in part of this new sound that we heard from Bob Woodward's interview on 60 Minutes last night, where you hear Scott Pelley's voice here first, but you also hear the president talk about what could have been done differently. Listen.


SCOTT PELLEY, CBS HOST: By the time of their final interviews in August, Mr. Trump had become the leader of the one nation suffering the most from the virus. The president came to this conclusion.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Nothing more could have been done. Nothing more could have been done.


BERMAN: Nothing more could have been done. We spent a lot of time looking backwards at what could have been done in February, March and April, Dr. Reiner, but the idea of the president saying that in August that nothing more could have been done gives you a sense of his mindset as we head into the fall.

REINER: Right, that everything was going to be done, and that somehow he's miraculously prevented the U.S. from having millions of deaths, whereas other countries have seen a fraction of the carnage that this president pledged to avoid during his inauguration speech.

Look, look at the most successful states in the U.S. What have they done differently? Look at Vermont. Vermont has had days where there have been no deaths in that state. What's the difference in Vermont? Everyone wears a mask in Vermont. You know, they've also -- they stayed in shutdown longer, they opened up very, very slowly.

We heard last night at the event, the president essentially mocking Biden, because he said that if his medical adviser suggested shutting down, he would shut down. The president mocked him for that. That's what a leader should do. That's what they're doing now in Israel when they're seeing a spike. They're shutting down again. That's a scientific response to a pandemic.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, not to mention contact tracing, that I suppose President Trump just didn't have the energy or know-how to do. That's what other successful countries, you know, such as South Korea, et cetera, have done to shut it down also. But I guess this is how he sleeps at night. I guess that he gave us a little window into his psyche, saying, nothing more can be done, nothing more can be done, that that must be what he tells himself.

REINER: Right. The president brags about shutting down travel from China. Every president in the United States should have done that, and also shut down travel effectively from Europe, not just closed the front door, close the back door, also. That wasn't some sort of extraordinary move. That was a standard move with an evolving pandemic like this, to limit travel into the country.

But that's the only thing he talks about. Our testing was abysmal, still is abysmal, right? No universal mandate. We opened states way too soon. And now, he's done with it. We turned the corner. You know, we have almost a thousand people dying every day in this country. I don't think their families think that we've quite turned the corner yet.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you very much. Always good to talk to you.

REINER: My pleasure.

CAMEROTA: Developing right now, the death toll rising to 35 overnight from the historic wildfires in California, Washington State and Oregon. President Trump travels to California today after weeks of being silent about those raging fires.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is live in Arcadia, California, with more. So what's happening at this hour?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, right now, where we are, Alisyn, we're in the midst of Bobcat fire, which is in a suburb of Los Angeles, we're watching it above the ridge there. We're seeing some firefighters making their way around here. This area is evacuated, but this is just one small fire.

If you look at how many acres have burned overall throughout California, we have some 3.3 million acres that have burned so far in 2020 here. If you look at all of the western states, we've seen almost 5 million acres that have burned from almost 100 fires that we're dealing with.

When you talk and listen to some of the officials here in California, from the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, up to the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, it is very clear that the issue here in their minds is the climate crisis.



MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI (D-LOS ANGELES, CA): Well, I listen to fire professionals, not the president of the United States or a politician when it comes to actually what causes these fires. It's been very clear that years of drought, as we're seeing, whether it's too much water and too much rain in parts of our country run or too little, this is climate change.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Mother nature is physics, biology and chemistry. She bats last and she bats a thousand. That's the reality we're facing. The smash mouth reality, this perfect storm, the debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California.


ELAM: And as you might expect to hear, the firefighters, the department are taxed. Even though the share firefighters where they needed to go, where they're most needed throughout the state, it's a very great system that they have here in California. There have still been so many fires that the firefighters are taxed. I've checked in with a few of them, everyone is depleted, but they're doing the best. They can to continue to fight this.

We do know that President Trump will be in California later today surveying what has happened in McClellan park, which is outside of Sacramento and meeting with Governor Newsom today and getting briefed from local and federal fire and emergency officials to get an idea of what's happening here on the ground. But, obviously, this has been a difficult year, the mask for two reasons, Alisyn, for the smoke and for the coronavirus.

CAMEROTA: Yes, the dueling crises. I mean, it's just a horrible public health crisis. Thank you very much, Stephanie.

All right, joining us now is Roy Wright, he is a former FEMA official and disaster safety expert. Mr. Wright, great to have you here. You know -- I mean, you have so many connections to this, being from California, your family, I understand, lost their house in the Paradise fires. And then, of course, you've worked for FEMA.

So you're the perfect person to talk to, and you have described this as apocalyptic.

ROY WRIGHT, FORMER FEMA OFFICIAL: It really is. You know, it has some of the visual effects of that, as you saw the orange hues, but apocalyptic in the destruction is so widespread, as you see that in communities, from Southern California and Northern California, the entire range of the state of Oregon and Washington, it keeps coming through in this insidious way and destroying communities.

CAMEROTA: You've also described that there are these cascading disasters. So there's a heat wave, and then that leads to a drought, and then that leads to a wildfire, and then that leads to toxic air, and then that leads to contaminated water. I mean, it's all so complicated.

WRIGHT: It really is. And you see those kinds of elements of that cascade that really spreads the effect. So it's not just the people who live right up against the wooded area or the grassland who are seeing the flame. It's those who are seeing the embers from the wildfire that are maybe the size of a thumbnail or thumb, sometimes the size of the palm of your hand, that picks up and flies for a half mile or more, piercing into the community.

Then we see the smoke that billows out and then the ash. You know, at one point last week, there were millions of people that had that ash falling down on them, almost like soot-based snow.

CAMEROTA: This video what we're seeing on the other side of the screen is a hellscape. I mean, it looks like Earth is on fire, and it is.

WRIGHT: It is.

CAMEROTA: And so President Trump thinks that he knows the explanation for this. And he says that it's basically poor upkeep of the forests. So let me play this for you, what he said.


TRUMP: Tonight, we're also praying for everyone throughout the west affected by the devastating wildfires. We want, really, forest management. We want forest management. My administration is closely coordinating with the state and local leaders, with the governor, and we thank the more than 28,000 firefighters and first responders courageously braving the danger and their lives.


CAMEROTA: Okay. So, basically, in a different part of the speech, what he said was, that you have to sweep the forest floors. I think he thinks that it's dead leaves and fallen branches that make this so flammable. Is that accurate?

WRIGHT: Well, I'll leave it to someone else to parse the president's words. What we do know is these fires are igniting and in the United States forest service lands, on state lands, and on private lands. And, yes, there needs to be forest management, but there needs to be more attention on the issues that drive the climate and we need to be taking action inside communities and near people's homes.


I think, in so many ways, it's too easy just to wring our hands or admire this problem. We need to be doing something, not just trading barbs and words back and forth.

CAMEROTA: And, I mean, you have said that this is a clarion call. But what is it? What's it a call for? What action do you want Californians or west coasters to do?

WRIGHT: So, clearly, work needs to be done and a large-scale public policy on issues of climate. But there are ways to change the built environment. Our homes and communities, so they are far less hospitable to wildfire, that they can fend off these embers that come. It's things like whether or not there's wood shingles on your roof or on your siding, your vinyl siding. It has to do with ensuring that the first five feet of landscaping around your house, it needs to be pushed back so it's not flammable.

We need to take these kinds actions and ask individuals to do the right thing. And then ask communities to make the investments to thin out their local parks and make sure the local parks aren't hospitable. And then we need to be really careful about where we are building new construction along the west. We need to be avoiding those high-risk areas.

CAMEROTA: Roy Wright, thank you very much for all of the expertise. Obviously, we're covering this throughout the day. It's so horrible for everyone who lives up and down the west coast. Thank you for your suggestions. John?

BERMAN: Right. So, across the country, Tropical Storm Sally is gaining strength and bearing down on the Gulf Coast. So where will it hit?

CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers with us with the latest forecast. Chad, what are you seeing?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, John. I mean, the storm kind of flared up a little bit overnight, but it's still a 60-mile-per-hour storm. Hurricane hunters on the way in. It is forecast by noon tomorrow to be very close into Plaquemines Parish, maybe even missing Louisiana and turning to the right and really aiming toward Mississippi and Alabama, and maybe a little bit to the left of there, you see the cone.

The cone then goes all the way across Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. And flash flooding will be a huge threat here. There will be places with 15 to 20 inches of rain, even Atlanta could pick up six inches of rain. And in an urban corridor, that could cause flash flooding. We're going to see 7 to 11 foot storm surge.

Now, that's not what Katrina had at 20 to 30 feet there, but still, 7 to 11 is a life-threatening storm surge if you live very close to the water there. Keep that in mind, today, really, this morning, your final chance to get preps or to get out of there. Winds will be somewhere between 74 and 100. This is a graphic that I want you to see. This is Paulette, out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The people of Bermuda this morning looked up and saw blue sky. Why? Because they were in the middle of an eye of a hurricane, Paulette directly over Bermuda.

Now, the rest of the mouseketeers out here, Rene, Teddy, this will Vicky, and this will eventually be Wilfred. It is very busy out there in the Atlantic, John.

BERMAN: Wow. W and it's not even mid-September yet. A lot of storms, Chad, thank you very much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: So, President Trump openly flouting coronavirus rules in Nevada, proudly breaking the regulation. So we'll discuss the purpose and the consequences, next.




PELLEY: By the time of their final interviews in August, Mr. Trump had become the leader of the one nation suffering the most from the virus. The president came to this conclusion.

TRUMP: Nothing more could have been done. Nothing more could have been done.


CAMEROTA: That was President Trump telling Bob Woodward that nothing more could be done to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This morning, more than 14,000 Americans are dead.

Joining us now, CNN Political Analyst, David Gregory, and Anna Palmer, she's a Senior Washington Correspondent for Politico. Great to see both of you.

David Gregory, I guess that's what he tells himself. I guess that President Trump must have to tell himself that nothing more could be done, because he didn't have the energy or the know-how to do testing, which is what other countries did to rein it in, contact tracing, which is other countries did to rein it in, modeling good behavior, which is other leaders did to rein it in, and no one has the numbers that we do in the U.S. We are the biggest failure for how to deal with coronavirus.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and President Trump doesn't own all of that. I mean, it wasn't his fault that the CDC was so slow out of the gate with a diagnostic test, but the critical failure, and I think the critical tragedy was what he expressed to Bob Woodward, which is that he always wanted to downplay it. If that's your starting point, then you're not rallying the nation, you're not galvanizing both the public health community, but the country at large, to have a knowing response to the pandemic. And what he did, instead, was to minimize, as he said, to downplay it, so in his mind, people wouldn't panic. Well, that didn't do the trick.

And as a result, he didn't put the country and the government on a war footing to ramp up testing, to make sure people were wearing masks, and in the absence of that, created a political division around masks that you even see in a psychology of fear that affects the reopening of schools.

Some states reopening too quickly and recklessly. And other states doing it on their own. So a patchwork approach, political divisiveness and failing to level with the American people. And we are where we are.

BERMAN: Yes. It's not even a past tense thing though. I think that's one of the important things to focus on now.


Yes, that happened over the last eight months, but it's happening today before our very eyes, Ana. We saw in this rally last night, the president spoke indoors, that thousands of people, many of whom were not wearing masks. Dr. Jonathan Reiner called that negligent homicide. This is bad science and bad medicine.

My question to you, Anna, because you and I both lack medical degrees, is isn't this bad politics? I just don't get it. He is at 35 percent. You can put the number up on the screen, there's a new ABC/Ipsos poll where he's got a 35 percent approval rating on coronavirus right now, 35 percent. So what do you do if you have a 35 percent approval? You do things that are even more unsafe? I just don't get it.

ANNA PALMER, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think that's been one of the big questions that a lot of political analysts and reporters and observers have been wondering over the last several months is the president clearly seems to be doubling down with his base, whether you look at how he's speaking at rallies, in terms of the politics about what he is saying, you know, it's very divisive, it's very apocalyptic. He doesn't have that unifier, right?

A lot of Americans, I do think, want to unify around this. There's a crises that's happening. They know somebody they might have themselves been infected by this, whether it's by their jobs, whether it's by their kids going to school. And the president really hasn't stepped up to the plate here. And I think those poll numbers reflect the fact that a lot of Americans are concerned about the future and don't feel like they can trust what's going to happen.

I do think the other thing that's very interesting in those numbers is Republicans are largely supportive of the president. But if you look at Independents and his numbers with Democrats, they are really dismal. CAMEROTA: David, the president is banking on his voters believing his version of this. And, you know, when we do interviews with them, in the crowds, before rallies like this, they do. So let me just play a portion of that for you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have any of the symptoms, and neither do they. And if they did, they wouldn't be here. We're not stupid people.

REPORTER: And you know the virus can be spread with people who don't have symptoms as well, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like that's my freedom as an American. If I catch COVID, that's -- my apologies -- that's the consequences of my actions. So I'm willing to take that risk and have a good time today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think people who are forced to wear masks, they're sensationalists. You're wearing a mask right now because you want to give off that vibe of doing something right. Doing something right is being here, being patriotic, cheering for my country and rooting for my president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And doesn't the science say that outside and in the sun kills the virus?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's what it says.

REPORTER: It doesn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's what they said.


CAMEROTA: Your thoughts, David?

GREGORY: Well, I mean, I think to Anna's point, the president is doing a few things, right? Yes, he's doubling down on his supporters. He's trying to move beyond the virus. He would like to talk about, say, the economy, which shows signs of rebound, which was before the pandemic was going to be his calling card and elements of recovery now. He wants to move beyond it. And he's got a base of people who will buy that and who will, act in their view, in a kind of defiance to say, no, let's get beyond the sensationalists and let's move on.

I don't see how he's expanding his coalition. Again, I think the most devastating part of the Woodward book is that if you think the president did a poor job of responding to the pandemic, him telling you that he played it down all along is only reinforcing that view. And I think that's the danger politically for the president right now. There's another piece of this, the president's response, which is present tense, downplay, denial, makes the effort to do what we all need to do, which is figure out how to live with the virus, reopen schools, get back to work in a way that can be safe, risk mitigation. We have to assume a certain level of risk, as we do with all kinds of things in our lives in the face of this virus. It makes it that much harder when you have such divisions among all of us, the citizens, because you have a president who has taken the position he's had.

He has an ability and the megaphone to drive response. And the response is divisive, as you see.

BERMAN: He broke the Nevada regulations. It was against -- talk about divisive. Nevada's got regulations in place. The president openly, proudly flouted them, they made fun of him. He makes fun of Joe Biden for wearing a mask.

And I'm going to burden you with my obsession over the last 24 hours, which is I watched a lot of football yesterday, which was really research for the show today. There were -- a lot of Joe Biden ads on football games on Sunday.

Now, I watched the Patriots play the Dolphins. The Patriots won. And then I watched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers --

CAMEROTA: And the Patriots won --

BERMAN: Well, they didn't, actually. Tom Brady lost that game. But the point is there were two Florida teams and I saw a lot of Joe Biden ads and they were on health care. So what did I see and what's the significance of what I saw yesterday?


PALMER: I think two things. One, it shows the money advantage that the Joe Biden campaign now has compared to the Trump campaign, which has really pulled back a lot of its advertising.