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Trump Administration Continues to Question COVID-19 Science; Interview with Author Tony Schwartz; Interview with Town Hall Attendee Ellesia Blaque. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 14:00   ET




NONA YEHIA, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, VERTICAL HARVEST: Everybody here is a champion and everybody here is dedicated to change. And everyone here has shown their ability to change things profoundly in our community.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST, NEWSROOM: We will continue to share these inspirational stories all week, and be sure to watch the "CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE" one-hour special this Saturday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

It is the top of the hour, I am Brianna Keilar. And while Hurricane Sally made landfall early this morning, it is still pounding the Gulf Coast. The system has dumped up to two feet of water in some areas, and it is far from finished.

We're also seeing some of the largest reported damage to date. Part of the Three Mile Bridge, which connects Pensacola to Gulf Breeze, Florida, is missing. In Alabama, there is widespread damage and flooding. The state is experiencing the most significant outages from Hurricane Sally with more than a quarter million people without power.

The Category One hurricane is moving right now at such a slow pace and it is forecasted to last until early tomorrow morning before it fully moves on.

We have crews spread out all along the Gulf Coast here at CNN. He have our national correspondent Ed Lavandera near Gulf Shores, Alabama, riding out the storm overnight. Ed, you and your producer are trying to make progress here and get to Gulf Shores. Tell us what the roads have been like.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's about what you would expect. We are in a little town called Foley, Alabama, which is in the heart of Baldwin County, which is just that part of southeast Alabama that is on the east side of Mobile Bay.

And we have been trying to make our way through some of these streets to get down toward Gulf Shores, but this is very typical of the kinds of things we're witnessing here in these neighborhoods, in these streets here throughout the day, where, we are told by county officials, that there are a number of water rescues going on throughout this particular county in southeast Alabama.

And this is where the eye of the storm and the intense areas around that eyewall came ashore just before daybreak -- in the hours just before daybreak today, and we have seen hundreds of trees toppled over, power lines down, some trees landing on top of homes. I mean, you can just see the force of the winds. I mean, this is just one of thousands of trees that are down here in this particular county, and just how massive it is.

There's an inlet that comes in from Mobile Bay just at the end of this street, but this is very typical, Brianna, of what we're seeing throughout the region here in southeast Alabama.

KEILAR: All right, Ed, thank you so much for showing us that, we do appreciate it. Very serious situation there in the Gulf Coast.

I want to turn now to the pandemic. The U.S. is seeing its biggest one-day spike in new cases and deaths here in a month. If you take a look at the numbers, there are more than 52,000 new cases that were added just yesterday, and 1,422 more Americans dying from the virus.

As you can see there on the right side of your screen, the nation is now nearing the tragic milestone of 200,000 Americans dead to this virus.

And as the president dismisses and mocks masks, the CDC director is pleading with America to wear them.


ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: -- CDC director that face masks, these face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans -- all individuals in our country -- to embrace these face coverings. I've said it, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, we'd bring this pandemic under control.

These actually -- we have clear scientific evidence they work and they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent. And if I don't get an immune response, the vaccine's not going to protect me. This face mask will.

So I do want to keep asking the American public to take the responsibility -- particularly the 18-to-25-year-olds, where we're seeing the outbreak in America continue to go like this because we haven't got the acceptance, the personal responsibility that we need for all Americans to embrace this face mask.


KEILAR: I want to go now to CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who just attended the White House briefing. Kaitlan, I want to play an exchange that you had with Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany about masks.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- said, quote, "There are people that don't think masks are good." That's clearly not what the CDC director things, since he said today that masks are important, powerful public health tool we have. They could be even more protective against COVID than a vaccine.

So have any medical experts told the president that masks aren't good, or is he only citing non-medical experts like he did last night?


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's referring to the fact that when used appropriately, they can have unintended consequences, much like what Dr. Fauci said. It's not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is, and oftentimes there are unintended consequences.

So the president agrees with Dr. Fauci that mask-wearing is good, it's recommended. The president's continually recommended it from this podium, but he was just pointing out some of the unintended consequences, if not used appropriately.

COLLINS: He didn't say that, he just said there are people who --


MCENANY: No, he did. Do you have his whole exchange, would you like to read it out?

COLLINS: There -- I mean, I watched it last night.


MCENANY: He (ph) talked about --

COLLINS: -- there are people who don't think masks are good, he didn't say in appropriately or anything like that.

MCENANY: Kaitlan, he went on in a very -- unfortunately, a bunch of you are very key on doing selective editing of the president's quotes, and not referring to the second half. Directly under that statement, he talked about a waiter touching the mask then touching a plate, and that being an unintended effect of wearing a mask. That is an example of a mask not being used appropriately.


COLLINS: -- waiters don't think masks are good, but he didn't cite --


MCENANY: He -- he describes the exact scenario in which a mask can have an unintended consequence if not used appropriately, and we can send you the clip, we'll put it up on Twitter for you.



KEILAR: Kaitlan, good for you fact-checking her. I mean, she was not telling the truth and you had the facts to back it up.

COLLINS: Well, it's not selectively editing the president to simply repeat what he said and ask who it is that has told the president that.

Because last night, he was asked by George Stephanopoulos who it is that has said that masks aren't good, and the only group the president cited was not -- no medical experts, he just cited a situation in which he was interacting with a waiter who he said was messing with his mask.

And it is true, Dr. Fauci did talk about this in the early months, that he was worried about people wearing masks improperly or touching the mask and then somehow, you know, playing a part in the spread of COVID-19.

But that is not what the president was saying last night, he was saying that some people do not think masks are good because he was asked why he's been holding these rallies where people are not wearing masks, why he often has not worn a mask at events where he is not socially distanced from people, something that a lot of medical experts have said could set an example for people.

So that is not what -- we're not taking the president out of context by simply just quoting him on what he said about masks. And that's what we did there. You saw what the CDC director said today, he believed that if everyone was wearing a mask we could get the pandemic under control in six to 12 weeks. That's pretty remarkable, and that is coming from a medical expert in this administration who advises the president.

So that is something we did not get a clear answer on, on what it was that the president has said. But I mean, that is how the briefings go these days.

KEILAR: Yes. And look, the president makes fun of his opponent for wearing a mask, he repeated asks reporters to take off masks, saying that he can't understand them. I think we know where the president is on masks, right? His words tell us very clearly.

I want to ask you also, Kaitlan, about this breaking news coming from HHS involving the spokesman who was peddling conspiracy theories about the nation's doctors and scientists. Tell us what has happened with Michael Caputo.

COLLINS: Yes, Michael Caputo is the top public affairs official at HHS. He was brought in to help with coronavirus, and now he is leaving well through the election, taking a leave of absence from his role for the next 60 days. They say it's a health-related issue, but this comes after, of course,

video surfaced of Michael Caputo on his Facebook page on Sunday, accusing government scientists of sedition, and saying that they are actively working against the president to thwart efforts to get a vaccine, get therapeutics and get this pandemic under control.

Those are comments that the CDC director said today had saddened him deeply because he talked about the professional nature of the people who are working in this administration. And the CDC director was close with Michael Caputo, so we should note that comment coming from him. And he is no longer going to be at HHS through the election at least. We'll see what happens after that, depending on the outcome of the election.

But another key departure that's happening is Dr. Paul Alexander. That's an ally of Caputo's who was also brought on to HHS around the same time that he was, he's leaving the department entirely. And he was the one who was also -- along with Michael Caputo -- accused of attempting to interfere with those weekly reports that are produced by the CDC that give you a really accurate read internally of what's going on with coronavirus.

And because of all the uproar over this, we are now seeing that Michael Caputo is going to be leaving, and we are told that comes after he had an abruptly scheduled meeting with staff yesterday, and a conversation with HHS Secretary Alex Azar. So we have to assume it does have the blessing of the HHS secretary, for his to be taking this temporary departure.

KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much -- and for your good questioning at the briefing.

In the race for a vaccine, the Trump administration saying today that once a vaccine receives emergency use authorization or approval from the FDA, Operation Warp Speed aims to have vaccines moving to administration sites within 24 hours. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield says vaccination for the general public likely will not be available until next summer.


I'm joined now by Dr. Richina Bicette, she's medical director and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Bicette, takeaways from Redfield's comments? He said there's -- essentially the mask could protect you more than a vaccine, right? Let's talk about that because he's warning that a vaccine is not a silver bullet, that there may only be a certain percentage of people who it triggers an immune response in. And this is really significant. Explain this to us.

RICHINA BICETTE, MEDICAL DIRECTOR AND ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: It's highly significant. And I think it's important to note that one is not more important than the other. We need both to be able to win this war against COVID-19.

Wearing masks are going to prevent you from catching, you know, disease that's in the air, when you interact with people. The vaccine is going to help contribute to the population developing what we call herd immunity.

However, what we do know is that the FDA has stated that any vaccine they approve only has to have a 50 percent efficacy in order for it to receive approval. That means that one out of every two people will be protected from COVID-19.

So it's not a 100 percent guarantee that just because we have a vaccine, everyone is going to be protected. We are still going to have to employ those mitigation strategies including social distancing and wearing masks.

KEILAR: I mean, that is really -- I think -- I don't know that everyone has kind of wrapped their head around that, so it's very important to discuss that.

I want to talk to you about this HHS spokesman, Michael Caputo, who we now know is leaving. One of his conspiracy theories was that the CDC doctors and scientists were out to get President Trump, and that they want Americans to suffer from the virus, which is obviously ridiculous. What does that do for morale in the medical community, and specifically at the CDC?

BICETTE: Well, that rhetoric sounds oddly familiar. Just last month, we saw Donald Trump get on Twitter and accuse the FDA of having deep state agents because they wouldn't approve convalescent plasma as a treatment. So it's not something that we haven't heard before, it's just something that's being continually repeated.

Now, the Department of Health and Human Services, their whole purpose is to protect the health of the American public. How can we as the American people trust that they're going to effectively do their job when we have one of their lead spokesperson touting conspiracy theories? It just doesn't make sense.

This whole pandemic has been politicized, and COVID-19 is not a partisan issue. I guarantee you, COVID doesn't care if you are an independent, a Republican or a Democratic voter, it affects us all the same. It's high time that we start putting people over the politics.

KEILAR: It's very important. Dr. Bicette, thank you so much. It's great to see you.

We are getting right now a clearer picture of the president's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. And less than two months until the election, it's becoming a political sore point for President Trump.

We can see that, right? The president's former fixer, saying that everything Trump is telling Americans is a lie. And a journalist who has covered many presidents -- Bob Woodward -- came to his own damning assessment. Let's listen.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO TRUMP: You know, the biggest problem is that Trump is a con man. And I talk about that in "Disloyal," I talk about it in "Mea Culpa." Everything is a con, including the way that he's behaving as it relates to coronavirus.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "RAGE": I don't know, to be honest, whether he's got it straight in his head, what is real and what is unreal. That is why, at the end of the book, I say in totality, my judgment is this is the wrong man for the job.


KEILAR: Tony Schwartz is with us now. He was the coauthor -- with Donald Trump -- on "The Art of the Deal," and he is also the author of the new book, "Dealing With the Devil: My Mother, Trump and Me."

So you've worked -- look, you spent a lot of time with then-Donald Trump, working on "The Art of the Deal." So you had some insight into how his mind worked long before he was ever in the running for the presidency.

What sounds right to you? This description by Michael Cohen that he's a con man, or Bob Woodward saying maybe he doesn't know the difference between basically truth and fiction.

TONY SCHWARTZ, AUTHOR, "DEALING WITH THE DEVIL: MY MOTHER, TRUMP AND ME": It's become, Brianna, confusing even to me. I have never found, in all the years I've known Trump -- and especially the last four years of his presidency -- to be more frightening and more out of control and more out of touch with reality than he is today.

I mean, we are in a relentless gaslighting in which he does lie and deceive multiple times a day, much more often than he tells the truth. And he's just stopped pretending at all. Nearly everything he says now is untrue, and we now know that he knows that's untrue. He will say now, it's a lie that I tell a lie.


KEILAR: But what -- when you -- you know, being around him as you wrote this book, did you get the sense that he was trying to weaponize lies, or did you get the sense that truth just isn't even a value for him, that that's not what --


KEILAR: -- motivates him. What is it to you?

SCHWARTZ: What motivates him is the desire to dominate. This is true of psychopathic or sociopathic personalities -- they're the same, psychopathic, sociopathic -- and he is one. And what's the primary element of that? It's the absence of conscience and the absence of empathy.

If you have no conscience and you have no empathy and you want to dominate, it's as if you're going onto a football team and saying to the other team, yes, we're going to play the game but we're not going to observe any of the rules. That's the way he operates, and more so today than ever.

KEILAR: Have you seen this manipulated video -- or heard about it, this one that he shared of Joe Biden? It's got anti-police anthem by N.W.A., which is not the music that was playing during this moment. And it's been slapped with a manipulated media label by Twitter.

I wonder what you think -- you know, having had exposure to Donald Trump over some time, what do you think is the response that social media companies -- and Twitter in this case -- should be doing?

SCHWARTZ: Well, I think we're at a very dangerous moment. We need to push back. I listen (ph) to you say things that no anchorperson would have said four years ago, well, that's not true, he lied about this. This has become commonplace now, to call him out. It needs to become much more so.

You know, when I finished "The Art of the Deal" and it took off and was successful, Trump basically doubled down on the story that I shamefully helped create of who he is, and that story was all fiction. I discovered freedom in actually engaging the truth he could not, which is to see in myself both my best and my worst, and accept and acknowledge them such that I could make a choice about how I showed up in the world.

Trump's choice was, I'm going to simply continuously do what I think serves my greatest personal interest, which is -- the only interest he has ever had, only interest.

KEILAR: Tony, thank you for being with us. Tony Schwartz.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you.

KEILAR: Next, President Trump claims again that we are getting a vaccine within a matter of weeks. Well, we are going to fact-check that for you.

Plus, I'll speak to the woman who confronted the president about his plan -- or lack thereof -- on health care. Why she says his answer left her fuming.


And the Big Ten announces it will have a football season after all. We'll have details on what it will look like.


KEILAR: President Trump, taken to task at his town hall over whether he is going to protect pre-existing conditions in his still- unannounced health care plan.

An undecided voter who suffers from the chronic medical condition sarcoidosis, demanded to know if Trump would keep the same insurance protections as Obamacare. So she asked Trump point-blank, what was he going to do to protect people like her.


ELLESIA BLAQUE, SUFFERS FROM SARCOIDOSIS AND NEUROSARCOIDOSIS: Should pre-existing conditions -- which Obamacare brought into -- brought to fruition, be removed?


BLAQUE: Without -- please stop and let me finish my question, sir. Should that be removed? Within a 36- to 72-hour period without my medication, I will be dead. And I want to know what it is that you're going to do to assure that people like me -- who work hard, we do everything we're supposed to do -- can stay insured.

It's not my fault that I was born with this disease. It's not my fault that I'm a black woman, and in the medical community I'm minimized and not taken seriously. I want to know what you are going to do about that.

TRUMP: So first of all, I hope you are taken seriously, I hope you are.


KEILAR: Ellesia Blaque is joining us now to discuss this moment. She is an assistant professor of African literature at Kutztown University. You were obviously very firm there, and very clear in the question that you had to ask the president. Tell us what your reaction was to the answer that you got back.

BLAQUE: The answer that I received from the president actually broke my heart and made me extremely angry. In fact, when I -- when the event concluded and I left Constitution Hall, I sat on one of the walls and I broke down and I cried.

Because he did not address the question at all. What he did was, he took what I said about Obamacare, and flew with that in order to chop Barack Obama and the ACA to shreds, and to attempt to chop Joe Biden to shreds because he was one of the most important people in creating the Affordable Care Act.

For the record, I do not get the ACA. I'm insured by the State of Pennsylvania because I work for the State of Pennsylvania. And even though it is very expensive for me because I'm a single income, I have no children, but I have a single income and it's expensive to live where I live, with all the medications, the copays and the testing, et cetera -- and I get quite a bit.


That's not my complaint. My complaint and my problem is that as sick and disabled people who have diseases we cannot control, we were born with and are stuck with for life, we are thrown away like trash. We are treated like he treated me. He fluffed me off like soot on the bottom of his $3,000 pair of shoes, and I resent it.

We have a right to live, we have a right to life and we have a right to be treated equally within the medical community and among insurance companies.

Without the pre-existing condition rule, insurance companies are going to revert straight back to LOMA (ph) one through 10, and they're going to put a morbidity date on my life, which I have already passed. And I will be uninsured again.

KEILAR: Ellesia, you were there for this whole town hall, and you watched the president answer your question and others. Did you get the impression that he understands how health care works?

BLAQUE: No, not at all, not at all. He repeats himself redundantly about how Obamacare is a disaster. But he never talks specifics. Because I can tell over the last three and a half years that I've paid very close attention to this man, he does not read.

And he does -- if he does read, he's not reading thoroughly and he's not reading the way I read, with a notepad and a highlighter and taking notes so that I know what the little, persnickety details are about what it is that I do read, because that's where the most important information is. And he doesn't do that.

And he also comes from a position where he needs nothing. He can gain anything he wants at any given time from the day he was born. I was born into West Oak Lane, Philadelphia by a wonderful single mother who raised her kids without a welfare check or food stamp, and a grandmother who helped us out and told us we can be better than what -- into what we were born.

And I have done everything that I possibly can to do that. And people like that should not be thrown away. People with diabetes shouldn't be thrown away because they have diabetes.

KEILAR: No, certainly I think many people connect with you on that point.

I wonder, going into this, were you undecided? Obviously you have a lot of concerns with the president right now. Were you undecided, and where are you now?

BLAQUE: My indecision wasn't about whether to vote for Trump or Biden, that wasn't the indecision. The indecision was whether to vote or not. For the first time in my life, I did not -- since I was 18, I didn't vote in the primaries, I just sat in my car, disgusted. And so I didn't vote in the primaries.

And with everything that has taken place over the summer, I have just -- I've sat in my car and just cried because I can't believe all these people are dying, all these black people are being shot, all this disrespect between Americans on the street. It doesn't make sense to me.

And politicians, I don't care who they are -- Democrats, independents, Republicans -- they don't seem to, you know, really care about us on the block. They don't care about the people who are actually living it. They don't live it, they're beyond it because they're politicians, they get good paychecks, they have excellent health care, their jobs are secure.

That's not how it works where I live. I live right around the corner from Reading, Pennsylvania. I lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I'm from Philadelphia. That's not the way it works where we live. We have to struggle. We -- I become a professional to rob Peter and pay Paul because I'm so overtaxed because my tax bracket is in the middle, where I pay for the rich and I pay for the poor and there's nothing left for myself, OK?

And they don't care about that. They don't care that there are millions of people who are suffering, trying to figure out how they're going to pay rent or being evicted. It is of no fault of their own that they lost their job, and that they can't get another one in their field.


BLAQUE: These people should be considered (ph).

KEILAR: They should be considered. And you know, you talk about not being sure if you are going to vote.