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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Continues to Ignore COVID-19 Science. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 15, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks so much for being with me. We will see you back here tomorrow.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin today with the 2020 lead, President Trump this afternoon celebrating a foreign policy triumph, leading a White House ceremony with a historic signing of agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, normalizing Israel's diplomatic relations with those two Arab nations.

We will have much more coverage of this agreement brokered with the help of the Trump administration in moments.

But the ceremony also highlights our health lead today and the major health crisis that the United States continues to suffer through, with empirical evidence of massive government failure, what philanthropist Bill Gates just called -- quote -- "a mismanaged situation every step of the way. It's shocking. It's unbelievable, the fact that would we would be among the worst in the world" -- unquote.

And, on that note, today's ceremony showcased the president's continued defiance of the very coronavirus guidelines his White House recommends in the midst of this brutal pandemic, holding the event with hundreds of people gathered, packed in pretty tight, hundreds not wearing masks, some top administration officials among them, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump presided over a signing ceremony at the White House today, as Israel established formal ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be peace in the Middle East. COLLINS: But the signing of the accords that Trump hailed as historic

also drew attention because hundreds of guests were packed on the South Lawn with little social distancing and optional masks.

Among the hundreds of guests were top officials who flouted COVID-19 precautions, including Attorney General Bill Barr, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Scott Atlas, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who removed his mask at times and then put it back on.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I did wear it earlier.

COLLINS (on camera): We saw you not wearing it earlier.

(voice-over): The U.S. is on the cusp of surpassing 200,000 deaths from COVID-19., though you wouldn't know it from the president's comments on FOX News today.

TRUMP: I will say it right now. We're rounding the turn of the pandemic. We're rounding the turn.

COLLINS: Trump's medical experts have said Americans should brace for difficult months ahead.

But, today, Trump defended holding an indoor rally with thousands of people in Nevada and attempted to blame the state's governor.

TRUMP: The governor of the state tried to make it impossible for us to have a rally, a Democrat, rather liberal Democrat, and a political hack. And he tried to make it difficult.

COLLINS: Trump didn't mention that he also held a crowded indoor event in another state the next day.

His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, says it's up to the supporters to decide what is safe.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Look, again, we have to figure out how to live our lives to some degree as well. President Trump is not part of this let's lock down for perpetuity. People want to live their lives. They want to do what they want to do.

COLLINS: Only a month ago, Trump said he wouldn't hold rallies out of safety concerns that he now seems to have abandoned.

TRUMP: I'd love to do the rallies. We can't because of the COVID.

COLLINS: The president is still dealing with the fallout from Bob Woodward's new book, where he acknowledged that he purposely downplayed the pandemic, despite knowing the dangers. He now says he's read the book.

TRUMP: Woodward's book, to me, was a very boring -- it was a very boring -- it was inaccurate. Let's put it this way. No matter what you did, it was going to be negative, but I wanted to give it a shot. I didn't devote much time, but I wanted to devote time. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, of those hundreds of guests that you saw here at the White House today, we are told that the foreign delegations, the three of them, were tested beforehand.

And even the foreign reporters were tested at a hotel outside the White House this morning around 6:30 a.m. The American guests that were invited by the White House, however, did not have to get tested before coming into this event. American reporters, like myself, we were not tested before going in either.

And we're told that the scattershot approach there was actually something of a concern to the Israeli delegation, given their country is about to enter their second lockdown and for three weeks where you can't even go within 150 feet or 1,500 feet of your home.

And so those are matters that were of concern to them, as it really seemed like the precautions were half in, half out here at the White House today.

TAPPER: And, as of right now, the death toll in the United States 195,386.

Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Right now, Joe Biden is visiting Florida for the first time as the Democratic nominee, first attending a roundtable with veterans. And in just a few hours, he will host a Hispanic Heritage Month event, as he continues to court that key group of voters in that crucial swing state.

CNN's Arlette Saenz joins me now live from Kissimmee, Florida.

And, Arlette, even at this event for Veterans Day, the former vice president was trying to make this appeal to Latino voters that he trails with, according to some polls in Florida.

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ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, Joe Biden talked about the impact of COVID-19 on Latino communities, as that is a critical bloc of voters here in Florida.

Florida is going to be an incredibly close race to begin with. But when you take a look at those numbers among the Latino community, Joe Biden has acknowledged that he has some work to do.

Now, a Monmouth poll released today showed Biden up over President Trump by 26 points among registered Latino voters here in Florida. That's about running on par with where Hillary Clinton was back in 2016, when she won Latino voters here in the state by 27 points, despite slightly losing the state to President Trump.

But two other polls of likely voters paint a much closer picture of this race. An NBC poll released last week showed that Trump and Biden were running nearly even among Latino voters. Now, Biden yesterday, before heading here to Florida, acknowledge that he needs to work like the devil to earn support from Latino and Hispanic voters here in the state.

And, as you know, Jake, the Latino community is not a monolith. There are very diverse communities here in Florida. Now, Biden in a short while will be in Kissimmee. He will be holding a Hispanic Heritage Month event. This is an area that has a significant Puerto Rican population.

You have seen the Biden campaign kind of tailor their outreach to different communities. They're releasing a Puerto Rican plan today. They tailor their ads to the Puerto Rican vs. Cuban communities, different types of ads running there.

But the Biden campaign clearly aware that they have work to do with the Latino community, as it's going to be a critical voting bloc heading into November -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Arlette in Florida, thank you so much.

Let's discuss all this with our panel.

And, Abby, let me start with you.

So, the images and the substance from the White House today, they were really powerful and presidential. But I have to say, President Trump started today by retweeting a deranged and disgusting lie about Joe Biden, just the absolute worst kind of smear someone could ever make.

That's also part of his legacy today.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Jake.

I think that this is one of those cases where the president once again is simply retweeting things that he thinks are in his favor, and that oppose his opponent, without looking at the substance of it or not caring about the substance of it.

And in this case, this was a vile conspiracy theory lie that is actually pretty dangerous. And his own government says that it's dangerous. A couple of days ago, I said the Republicans are kind of flirting with this whole QAnon conspiracy theory, which is part of what the president retweeted today.

But, honestly, it seems as if they are full-fledged holding hands, going study with this conspiracy theory, because the president does not want to offend the people who believe in it who might support him.

And I think that's pretty irresponsible going into this election cycle.

TAPPER: It's just amazing.

And when you think about all the times that Republicans ask for the record to be corrected when "The New York Times" or whoever makes a mistake, it's just astounding that this gets no comment from them at all.

Jackie, let's turn to these agreements between Israel and the UAE and Israel and Bahrain. Good news for the Middle East. Good news globally. The timing, of course, also interesting, just seven weeks before the election.

But do you think that this could have an impact?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's hard for me to think that this has an impact. And there's lots of reasons, to nearly 200,000 people dead from a virus that the president knowingly downplayed the seriousness of to the American people.

The effects of climate change the president denies is happening is hitting both the West Coast and the Gulf Coast. There are just so many things. And, of course, so many people are unemployed, and there's no relief coming that we can see from Congress. There are just so many things happening domestically, that a signing ceremony and good news from the Middle East, it's hard to think that that's going to break through.

TAPPER: Yes, although credit where credit is due. I mean, this is obviously a positive.

KUCINICH: Yes.

TAPPER: Abby, this event might also be overshadowed for some by the fact that it was celebrated with a huge crowd during a pandemic, no distancing, no mask requirement.

These behaviors will extend how long we have to deal with this pandemic. But do you think voters care about that, about the example the president is setting or failing to set?

PHILLIP: Well, it depends on who you're talking about.

I mean, if you're -- if you, like President Trump, care mostly about how Republican voters feel, I don't think that Republican voters care about images like that. In fact, they might like it.

The polls show Republican voters are much more likely to say that they're not worried about the coronavirus, that they want to just go back to normal. But when you look at the rest of the country, whether it's Democrats or independents, you see that they want the president to take this more seriously.

And every time these images show up that are incongruence with the lives that people are living, where they're taking precautions, they are teaching their kids or their kids or going to school remotely at home, and then, at the White House, you see a completely different picture, I just don't think that that resonates with people.

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And the polls consistently show they want the president to do more to protect the American people. TAPPER: Jackie, Politico is reporting that some down-ballot

candidates, such as Sara Gideon, who's running for Senate in Maine, Steve Bullock, who's running for Senate in Montana, they're now resuming door-knocking, even though we are in this pandemic.

And that's a break from what the Biden campaign is doing. They stopped the practice because of COVID-19.

What do you make of this? Do you think that the Biden campaign is making a mistake? I mean, door-knocking can be done safely, if you wear a mask and distance yourself from whoever answers the door.

KUCINICH: Yes, the Biden campaign is saying that they're finding other ways to make connections with voters in a safe way.

And whether that is a mistake, we will have to see, Jake. I mean, this is this is beta testing, right? This has never happened before, where a candidate has departed from this and not taken these traditional ways of campaigning. They seem to be very confident that it's still going to -- they're still going to be able to make the same connections.

And perhaps these other candidates feel safer doing it because of the state of the coronavirus in their particular -- in their particular region.

But that's the course that they're taking right now. And we will just have to wait and see whether that ends up hurting them at the end.

TAPPER: I know there are a lot of Democrats who are concerned that the Biden campaign is making a mistake by not doing this.

Abby, let me ask you. In North Carolina, there's a -- the Democratic Senate nominee is a guy named Cal Cunningham. He's a veteran. Last night, there was a debate. He's looking to unseat Thom Tillis. He said he would be hesitant to take a coronavirus vaccine during the Trump administration.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAL CUNNINGHAM (D), NORTH CAROLINA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I have got questions. And I think we have seen entirely too many times, and especially in recent years, politics intervening in what should be driven by health and science.

QUESTION: You would be hesitant to receive the vaccine if it were approved by the end of the year?

CUNNINGHAM: I'm going to -- yes, I would be hesitant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We should note that, obviously, there has been some politicization of the FDA and the CDC. But, as of right now, there's no evidence at all to think that any

vaccine will not be anything that is safe and according to science, and we have people like Dr. Anthony Fauci in there saying people should take the vaccine.

Republicans are now attacking people like Cal Cunningham is as anti- vaxxers, although Cunningham has since tried to walk that back. What do you make of it all?

PHILLIP: Yes, I think Democrats need to be really careful here. I mean, there's an important public health reason why they should not be feeding into anything that undermines the confidence in vaccines in general.

And we should be mindful, as you said, that Dr. Fauci laid out what he thought was a reasonable safe timeline for a vaccine. And that would be in line with a vaccine being developed by around the end of the year.

So, there's a difference between a vaccine that is available in a normal timeline and one that is pushed forward for political reasons, perhaps before the election, as President Trump repeatedly implies. But he's not alone in that view.

There was a recent poll that said 65 percent of Americans said that, if a vaccine became available before the election, that they would think that was a result of a rushed process. So there's a real need to reassure people that science is leading what is going on here.

TAPPER: Science is. All evidence indicates that science is leading the hunt for a vaccine.

Abby Phillip, Jackie Kucinich, thanks to both of you.

Tonight, journalist Bob Woodward sits down with Anderson Cooper to talk about his new book about President Trump, "Rage." Be the first to hear unreleased audio from Woodward's interviews with President Trump. That's only on CNN at 8:00 p.m. Eastern this evening.

Next, we're going to go inside this historic agreement brokered by the Trump administration. Could another powerhouse Arab nation be next? Plus, who's calling the deal a betrayal?

And Dr. Fauci calling one state a model for the rest of the country. What that state is doing to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TAPPER: In our world lead today, a historic day at the White House. The United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Bahrain signing diplomatic agreements to open up official relationships between the two Arab nations and the Jewish state, in part, brokered by the Trump administration. President Trump is heralding this as the dawn of a new Middle East.

The ceremony was witnessed by hundreds of people seated shoulder to shoulder on the White House lawn.

CNN's Alex Marquardt now takes a look at what is the landmark deal and how it happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Almost three decades since Israel last signed a peace deal with an Arab neighbor, today it signed diplomatic agreements with two.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These agreements will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region.

MARQUARDT: Joining President Trump, the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain, along with the Israeli prime minister signing the so-called Abraham Accords.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Let us rise above any political divide for long after the pandemic is gone, the peace we make today will endure.

MARQUARDT: It is without question a historic turning point for the political landscape of the Middle East, one that will see the establishment of normalized ties for Israel with more of the Arab world, where it has long been seen as an enemy. Ties that will include embassies, direct travel, security partnerships and increase business relations.

ABDULLATIF BIN RASHID AL-ZAYANI, BAHRAINI FOREIGN MINISTER: For too long, the Middle East has been set back by conflict and mistrust.

[16:20:07]

Now, I am convinced we have the opportunity to change that.

MARQUARDT: Until today, Israel only had diplomatic relations with two Arab countries, Jordan and Egypt. Now with the UAE and Bahrain, that number doubles, and others are expected to soon follow.

TRUMP: We'll have at least five or six countries coming along very quickly.

MARQUARDT: The actual details of the deals are still very much unclear, though we do know that the alliance against Iran is now stronger. The UAE could now be allowed to buy advanced American F-35 jets, something Israel has opposed surrounding countries acquiring. And Israel is expected to halt plans to annex Palestinian land in the West Bank that would be part of a future state at least for now.

The Palestinians have called today's agreements a betrayal. The peace effort with them led by Jared Kushner failed. Now they could find much of the Arab world moving on. Kushner and the president saying today they expect the Palestinians to reengage.

JARED KUSHNER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: The Palestinians have an offer on the table. At some point when they decide that they want to live better lives, I believe that they'll engage. But, you know, we can't want peace for them and for their people more than they want it for themselves.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And, Jake, it was not lost on anyone at the White House today that there is an election coming up. There is concern among many Gulf Arab countries that a Biden victory would mean more diplomatic outreach to Iran. So, the big question now is whether Saudi Arabia, which, of course, is Iran's sworn archenemy, will also now try to normalize its relationship with Israel -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.

When we do have a coronavirus vaccine, will there be enough to supply the world, thus, ending the global pandemic? The new concerns about that are next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TAPPER: In our health lead today, be more like Vermont. That's the advice Dr. Anthony Fauci is giving the rest of the United States as we approach flu season.

Vermont is among the states with the lowest number of cases per capita and the nation's top infectious disease expert said if Americans adopt the commonalities Vermont put in place to fight COVID-19 such as wearing masks, social distancing, refraining from indoor public activities, we could come out of this and out of the colder months better off than we're going in.

All of this very important because as CNN's Nick Watt reports, concerns over a vaccine timeline continue to grow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The national daily case count is falling, all rosy, right? Wrong.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We're still in this.

WATT: More new daily cases now than when we started going into lockdowns. On average, more new cases now even than during those dark days of April.

DR. ARABIA MOLLETTE, ER DOCTOR, BROOKDALE HOSPITAL: This is a war zone. It's a medical war zone.

WATT: New York crushed its curve, but 55 school staffers have now tested positive. The teachers union says there's still a lot of work to do.

MICHAEL MULGREW, PRESIDENT, UNITED FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: If you ask me if we were ready to open today, I would say we are not.

WATT: Case counts are falling nationwide. So is the positivity rate slowly. But you know what else is falling? The number of tests. Key to controlling the spread and we're also relaxing restrictions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so happy to be here.

WILLIAM HASELTINE, FORMER PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: You can't relax with this thing. It's relentless.

WATT: The U.K. relaxed. Look what happened to the case counts. They're now reintroducing restrictions. Israel relaxed, reopened schools, and that happened. Israel about to go back into lockdown, and a vaccine might not be a quick fix.

HASELTINE: Even if it's effective, it's going to take a year or two before everybody is protected.

WATT: And there is a strong possibility, according to the World Economic Forum, that current manufacturing capacity may not be enough to supply a global COVID-19 vaccination program.

There are success stories. No one has died from COVID in Vermont since early August, among the lowest positivity rates in the land.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: This should be the model for the country of how you've done it.

WATT: But he says not everywhere would accept a mask mandate, and the president himself re-tweeting praise of a federal court ruling that Pennsylvania's restrictions on some large gatherings were unconstitutional.

LT. GOV. JOHN PETTERMAN (D), PENNSYLVANNIA: A tragedy when we look back on this is that all these people didn't have to die, and it happened because we made each other the enemy, not this virus.

FAUCI: When you have a situation of a combination of inherent divisiveness in society, a lot of politicization during a climate such as an election year where it really brings out differences among groups, it makes it much more difficult.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: Now, again, this morning, the president saying that we might have a vaccine in a matter of weeks, four to eight weeks he says. That is something that most experts strongly disagree with. And, Jake, even if we had a vaccine, right now, there is no federal plan in place to distribute it -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick in California, thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

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