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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Trump Holds White House Press Briefing; Trump Disputes CDC Director On Mask Effectiveness And Vaccine Availability; New Forecast: Sally's Pounding Rains Spreading North With Catastrophic Flooding; California Wildfires Kill At Least 25 People, Burn 3.3 Million Acres; Trump Repeatedly Promises A Health Care Plan That He Never Delivers. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 16, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But only because of what I've done with the FDA and other things can we come up with numbers like that. We're lucky that we don't have to, because that was considered fast.
If this were a -- an administration from the past -- and I think I can say far beyond Obama, if -- it was other administrations also -- you wouldn't have a vaccine for two and a half, three years. And we're going to have a vaccine within, at most, a couple of months.
QUESTION: Mr. President, if I could ask you about coronavirus relief: Do you support the Problem Solvers Caucus proposal that was put forward?
QUESTION: Are you comfortable with the...
TRUMP: ... something like that.
QUESTION: -- $500 billion for the states?
TRUMP: Something like that. Yes, I like the larger amount. I've said that, you know. Some of the Republicans disagree, but I think I can convince them to go along with it because I like the larger number.
I want to see people get money. I want to see -- it wasn't their fault that this happened. It was China's fault, you know? People say, Oh, maybe you shouldn't say that. That's not nice. It was China's fault.
So I'd like to see the larger number. Yes, I would like to see it. There are some things I disagree with, but I'm sure they can be negotiated.
QUESTION: On that point...
TRUMP: Now, I heard Nancy Pelosi said she doesn't want to leave until we have an agreement. She's come a long way. That's great. If she said that, she's come a long way.
I agree with her. We should have an agreement. People should be helped, and they should be helped as rapidly as possible. And I think it's going to happen. I think it's very important.
So the Problem Solvers came up with -- it's a group of people in Congress, as you know. You know them all. I know them all. They're very good people. I guess you'd consider them dead center. But in many cases, they're not. They're left. They're right. But they came up with this idea, and I think they're well on their way to suggesting some pretty good things.
QUESTION: So in terms of things...
TRUMP: I agree with a lot of it.
QUESTION: In terms of things that you don't agree, are you comfortable with the $500 billion?
TRUMP: I think the things I don't agree we can probably negotiate. But I think we've made some progress over the last week, and I think it was positive that they came out with that report.
QUESTION: So, just to button this up, would you endorse that proposal?
TRUMP: Well, not that proposal, but we're getting closer. We're getting closer.
I do like a lot of money getting sent to people that really were -- really were hurt unnecessarily by China, because they could have stopped it. They stopped it from going into their country. They could have stopped it from coming to our country and from going to Europe and from going to the rest of the world -- 188 different countries from all over the world.
QUESTION: Mr. President, the director of the CDC also testified today that a mask, in his estimation, is...
TRUMP: The mask.
QUESTION: -- is guaranteed to protect the American public more from the coronavirus than a vaccine. You have, as detailed, poured a lot of resources into a vaccine development. Why not devote your energy...
TRUMP: And to masks.
QUESTION: Then why not devote your energy now to a campaign to have all Americans wear a mask -- something that if -- if more effective than a vaccine, would also help schools and the economy?
TRUMP: OK, number one, it's not more effective, by any means, than a vaccine. And I called him about that. Those were the two things I -- I discussed with him. And I believe that if you ask him, he would
probably say that he didn't understand the question. Because I said to him -- I asked him those two questions: the one question which we covered and the mask question.
And -- and I was inaccurately covered, because I was on with George last night -- George Stephanopoulos. And I enjoyed it. I think people enjoyed it. I got -- you know, a lot of people said very good things about the show. I hope they did well. But they said a lot of good things about the show, but they always cut my sentences off. You know, they cut it off.
On masks -- masks have problems, too. And I talked about the masks about to be handled very gently, very carefully. I see that, in restaurants, they have people with masks and they're playing around with their mask, and they have it -- their fingers are in their mask and then they're serving with plates. I mean, I think there's a lot of problems with masks.
No, vaccine is much more effective than the masks. And if we get the vaccine, we have -- added to the fact that our numbers are going way down. You know, you see the numbers. I'm just reading you statistics that are from wherever they get them. But they're very highly qualified statistics.
But no, the mask is not as important as the vaccine. The mask, perhaps, helps. Don't forget: A lot of people didn't like the concept of masks initially. Dr. Fauci didn't like them, and a lot of people didn't. And I'm not knocking anybody, because I understand both sides of the argument.
But when I called up Robert today, I said to him, What's with the masks? He said, I think I answered that question incorrectly. I think maybe he misunderstood it. I mean you have two questions; maybe he misunderstood both of them. But the answer to the one is it's going to be a much faster distribution than he said. Maybe he's not aware of the distribution process. It's not really his thing as much as it would be, let's say, mine. But the distribution is going to be much faster.
As far as the mask is concerned, I hope that the vaccine is going to be a lot more beneficial than the masks because people have used the masks. But when I looked at that chart that we put up, if you look we write -- if you do the good job -- they had, I guess, 240,000. But if you do the good -- if it worked out well -- now, look, one death is too much. One death is too much; should have never happened. But the lower level was at that 240,000 -- between a hundred and something and 240,000.
As far as the mask is concerned, he made a mistake.
QUESTION: But on the masks, I mean, perhaps they are a part of the role for the decrease in cases because they are effective, as you just said. So I know you've worn it a few... TRUMP: No, they may be effective.
QUESTION: Right, sure.
TRUMP: And I wear them when I'm in a hospital or when I'm in a setting with a lot of...
QUESTION: But my question is: Why not wear it more often or have the White House staff wear it more often to set an example for the country?
TRUMP: Well, I'm tested, and I'm sometimes surprised when I see somebody sitting and -- like, with Joe. Joe feels very safe in a mask. I don't know, maybe he doesn't want to expose his face. I don't know what's going on. He'll be way away from people, nowhere near people -- there will be nobody with him. He doesn't draw any crowds. He'll have circles. These big circles. They'll be way far away. There's no reason for him to have masks on.
We get tested -- I'm tested; I have people tested. When people come into the Oval Office, it's like a big deal. No matter who they are -- if they're heads of countries, they all get tested. So I'm in sort of a different position. And maybe if I wasn't in that position, I'd be wearing it more. But I've worn masks. And especially I like to wear them when I'm in hospital. Not for me so much as for other people. OK? Thanks.
QUESTION: I have two questions, Mr. President. One is for Dr. Atlas. Dr. Atlas, you mentioned minorities would be the first focus of the distribution. How would that exactly work in practice when it's being distributed specifically to minorities?
And then, secondly, for you, Mr....
TRUMP: Well, he didn't say minorities; he said minorities and senior citizens.
QUESTION: Well, he said the focus...
QUESTION: Sure. Sure. But can you talk us through a bit more on the focus on distributing to minorities and how that would work?
And then for you, Mr. President, you mentioned the drop in the poverty rate. Specifically, we noticed at -- just the news that the poverty rate for African Americans hit historic lows, that the household wealth increased historically for African Americans. What was driving that increase in wealth for African Americans?
And now, in 2020, with the coronavirus, with unemployment spiking, what would be your plan for the second term to improve lives for African Americans? TRUMP: Well, I will go first, because of your question -- I appreciate
your question. And yeah, we've had a tremendous drop in poverty for all people in our nation, but in particular for African Americans. And that statistic came in. And it's because the African American community, the black community has had the lowest -- the best employment numbers that we've ever had -- both employment and unemployment, depending on how you want to define it.
But we've had the best employment numbers we've ever had. Now, we had the greatest employment in the country ever -- almost 160 million people. We've never been close to that number, but we were just six months ago.
And yeah, the -- I'm very proud of the numbers. African Americans, Hispanic Americans -- they had the best numbers they've ever had, by far -- both employment and unemployment, depending on definition.
Thank you very much for that question. Scott, do you want to answer that too?
DR. SCOTT ATLAS, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS ADVISER: OK. Yes, so what I -- to clarify, I said that the first prioritization is the high-risk people and frontline health care workers.
But just to reiterate, what I said, there are 51,000 outlets for distribution for vaccination, and there's over 14,000 federally qualified health centers that are particularly targeted to minority and low-income areas. So that's a focus.
And I want to point out two other things. We're also prioritizing testing historically black colleges and universities and we're in the process of getting that finalized because we know that there's high -- there's a higher morbidity with -- in certain ethnic groups.
And last thing I would say is it's particularly heinous -- an egregious abuse of the media to instill fear into people about taking a vaccine, because there is no shortcut here. Everything is safe. Everything is effective. And for people who have particularly an influence on minority communities to instill fear and doubt is a particularly outrageous abuse of public policy and of leadership. These are people that have higher risk.
And so I implore everyone who is in a high-risk category that when we get a safe, effective vaccine, they should take the vaccine.
TRUMP: I will say, this is a phenomena that only happened when they realized that we may very well have the vaccine prior to a certain very important date, namely November 3. Once they heard that, the Democrats started -- just to show you how bad the intention is, they started knocking the vaccine. Had nothing to do with a vaccine, it was totally made up. It's all disinformation.
Just like they put an ad in about football. Just like they put -- with respect to me. I'm the one that got football back. And I was always against them going out. It was ridiculous that Big Ten -- and now, hopefully, Pac-10 goes back. And I say that, just like -- even worse, they put out a totally fake
ad, totally made-up story. It was a made-up story by a third-rate magazine, where the head guy -- I guess, the head person -- I have no idea who he is; I don't know him, but he's friends with Obama and Clinton. So they made up this horrible story, and then they did ads. Well, they made up this story too.
This story is very simple: They started knocking the vaccine as soon as they heard that this actually may come out prior to election. Now, it may or may not, but it'll be within a matter of weeks. It will be within a matter of weeks from November. It's ready to go and it's ready to -- for massive distribution to everybody -- with a focus, again, on seniors.
And I will say, also, the historically black colleges and universities, we are doing, at my suggestion -- because they have had a difficult problem there -- we are doing more testing there and finer testing. We have our -- our great apparatus there.
But we -- when you look at what we've done on testing, in terms of the technology and the amount, it's been really amazing. In fact, I think we're going to crack 100 million tests very soon, in the very near future. We're going to be cracking 100 million tests.
Now what that does do is it shows up more cases. If we didn't test, we wouldn't have cases. You would have no cases. Other countries, they don't test; they don't have cases. And then they say, Oh, the United States... Well -- but we're proud of it because it shows where there may be a problem, and it helps people. But we're doing tremendous testing at the historically black colleges and universities. And that was a suggestion I made, and I think it's a good -- I think it's a good suggestion.
Yes, please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you.
TRUMP: Go ahead.
QUESTION: The core of Vice President Biden's argument is that you don't trust the scientists; you don't listen to them. And here, up on the podium today, you're twice contradicting the director of your own CDC on the science, who testified before Congress today.
TRUMP: No, he's contradicting himself.
QUESTION: Why should the American people...
TRUMP: I think he misunderstood the questions.
QUESTION: Well, he was testifying under oath. Why should...
TRUMP: You know what I think?
QUESTION: -- the American people...
TRUMP: I think he misunderstood -- I told you, I don't have to go through this. I think he misunderstood the questions. But I'm telling you, here's the bottom line: Distribution is going to be very rapid. He may not know that. Maybe he's not aware of that, and maybe he's not dealing with the military, et cetera, like I do. Distribution is going to be very rapid. And the vaccine is going to be very powerful. It's going to solve a tremendous problem. It's going to be very powerful.
QUESTION: But how -- the broader question is: How can the American people trust you on the pandemic when you're contradicting the head of the CDC in your own administration?
TRUMP: Because of the great job we've done. Because of the great things we've done in other fields, also.
Because of the fact that we created ventilators. We built ventilators by the thousands and now we're supplying to the world.
Because of all of the incredible work we've done for governors, who are, on every call, saying, This is incredible. This is great. This is great. Sometimes they're not quite as friendly at a news conference when you have people covering it.
But we have done a phenomenal job on COVID-19, as they like to call it; I call it other things. But we have done a phenomenal job.
I get calls from other people in other countries. They can't believe the job we've done. And then they'll say, Is there any way that you could get us ventilators? I say, How many do you need? One thousand ventilators. I said, We'll be able to take care of it.
We're making thousands of ventilators -- very complex, very expensive, very difficult thing to make. We're making thousands a month. The cupboard was bare when I got here.
And I will tell you, our distribution is going to be very rapid and very -- it's going to be all-encompassing. We are going to have a focus on certain groups that have problems -- senior citizens, et cetera -- but it's a very powerful -- it's a -- it's going to be very powerful distribution. It's going to cover everybody, and it's going to cover them rapidly.
I don't know whether or not the doctor knows that, how much he covers. But I called him because I said, Why did you say that long? He wasn't that aware of it. And the other one was the mask. The vaccine is going to have tremendous power. It's going to be extremely strong. It's going to be extremely successful. We're not going to have a problem.
And the mask may help, and I hope it helps, and I think it probably does. But again, the mask is a mixed bag. There are some people -- professionals -- Scott, you would know a lot of them -- but there are some people that don't like the mask, because of the touchiness and the touching and then you're touching everything else. They have -- they feel that masks have problems.
So anyway, go ahead, in the back, please.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you have confidence -- Mr. President, do you have confidence in Dr. Redfield? Having listening to you...
TRUMP: Yes, I do. I do. I do.
QUESTION: Well, you've just said he keeps getting the answers wrong...
TRUMP: Well, he gave you some answers...
QUESTION: -- he misunderstands questions.
TRUMP: He, sort of, I think, maybe misunderstood a question. But we're beyond that now. We're really in final stages of vaccines. We're getting ready to go phase one on distribution. And I think it may come out even sooner than you think.
I think the vaccine is going to be even better than people thought originally. I think people are going to be really surprised at the success of the vaccine. I think it's going to be a tremendous success. And we're fighting a very powerful party -- with a poor candidate, in my opinion -- but we're fighting a very, very powerful party, and they're partners with the media, and -- because they're working together very closely.
And they only started hitting on the vaccine -- when they hit on the vaccine, they only hit on it when they realized that, Wow, this is amazing. They may have it even before the election. All of a sudden, they didn't like the vaccine so much.
QUESTION: Mr. President, one other thing...
TRUMP: Yes, in the back, please. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Mr. President. Were you informed about positive coronavirus cases in the White House today?
TRUMP: You're going to -- I cannot hear you, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Were you informed about coronavirus cases -- positive cases -- in the White House today?
TRUMP: About today?
QUESTION: On your staff.
QUESTION: Just -- any positive cases today, sir?
TRUMP: Say it.
QUESTION: Are there cases at the White House?
QUESTION: Were there positives cases today, sir? 7
QUESTION: There are reports of White House staff members testing positive for coronavirus today.
TRUMP: Oh, I see. About staff? You mean about...
TRUMP: I heard about it this morning, at a very small level. Yes. I heard about this morning.
QUESTION: How many people?
QUESTION: How many?
TRUMP: I don't know. We can have a report to you if you feel it's necessary.
QUESTION: Were they yesterday at the event?
TRUMP: But it's a small -- it's -- last night, I heard about it for the first time. And it's a small number of cases. Maybe it's not even cases.
Do you know if -- do you have any idea if there's...
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes.
TRUMP: What is it?
MCENANY: There -- yes, but we're not going to confirm the identities of the individuals.
TRUMP: Yes, that's OK.
MCENANY: Yes, but it did not affect the event and press was not around the individual.
QUESTION: How many?
TRUMP: And it's not anybody that was near me.
QUESTION: How many?
QUESTION: Mr. President, how many people?
QUESTION: Was it at the event last night?
TRUMP: A very -- from what I heard, a very small number. I think you can probably give the number out later on when you find out what it might be.
MCENANY: Yes, it's one person.
TRUMP: One person?
QUESTION: One person?
TRUMP: It was one person. OK.
QUESTION: In Philadelphia? In Philadelphia? Was the...
TRUMP: It was one person. That's -- I mean, so not too much. Not a person that I was associated with.
Thank you very much everybody. Thank you. Thank you very much.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A truly extraordinary moment there at the White House, the president of the United States not on one issue, but on two issues, saying the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, didn't understand a question as he was testifying today before Congress, didn't know what he was saying, was simply wrong on two very critically important issues, a potential vaccine that could save lives here in the United States, indeed, around the world, and on the effectiveness of masks.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us right now.
Sanjay, we need to go at length and discuss this. I have been a reporter for a long time. I don't know about you, but I don't remember a time where the president of the United States comes out to a briefing and basically suggests that the head of the CDC doesn't know what he is talking about.
It was a pretty remarkable moment, indeed. And I want to just start off on the vaccine development.
I'm going to play the clip.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BLITZER: Here is the exchange that Dr. Redfield had in Congress today, the question he was asked and his answer. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): Tell me when -- when you think we will have a vaccine, as best you can, ready to administer to the public, Dr. Redfield.
DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: Well, I think, as Dr. Kadlec said, I think there will be a vaccine that initially will be available sometime between November and December, but very limited supply, and will have to be prioritized.
If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at third -- late second quarter, third quarter 2021.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: So, Sanjay, it sounded like he fully understood the question.
He had a specific answer.
The president of the United States says, "He gave incorrect information, I believe he was confused" and basically suggested he didn't know what he was talking about.
And he said he called Dr. Redfield earlier today and told him that.
But what -- you know Dr. Redfield and you understand what's going on. What do you think?
GUPTA: Well, I mean, yes, the president directly contradicted Dr. Redfield.
I can tell you I also spoke to Moncef Slaoui, who is the head of Operation Warp Speed, the chief adviser of Operation Warp Speed. And the numbers -- and this is from their documents. We can put up some of these numbers.
This is, again, directly from Operation Warp Speed in terms of when the vaccine is likely to be available. And what Moncef Slaoui says and what Dr. Redfield say are much more in line.
So, here is a vaccine, vaccine A, vaccine B. They are not naming them here. We have a pretty good idea that they're referring to the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines. Those are the two trials that are further along.
And, Wolf, you can read that there. It might be a little small to read. Basically, they say, by the end of the year, potentially 20 to 30 million doses of the one, 15 million doses of the other, so 30 to 45 million doses.
Then they say they would scale up from there, potentially 300 million doses within a few months after that, and potentially 800 million doses by August.
Now, one thing I should remind people of is that both of those vaccines require two doses. Right? So if you're talking about 300 million doses by the first quarter of 2021, that is for 150 million people.
And we know -- and I was just doing the calculations here -- that there's essentially 25 million essential workers in this country and 79 million people who would be considered high-risk.
That is who would be covered in that sort of first large dose of vaccine by the first quarter of 2021. It is not the general public.
And, again, I'm not making this up. This is coming from Operation Warp Speed. This is the documents that were released to the states in terms of vaccine distribution. And those are the numbers that they're sort of citing. So, again, 30 to 45 million doses potentially by the end of the year,
and you got to half that number, right, because it is two doses, so 15 to 20 million people potentially vaccinated by the end of the year and going up to 100 million or so by the first quarter of 2021.
The question Kaitlan Collins asked, other reporters asked, what does this mean for the general public? And it really does squarely put that in the second quarter of 2021 before the general public could start to really get vaccinated, if these vaccines are even approved.
BLITZER: Yes, and maybe by the summer.
So when the president said, "Dr. Redfield made a mistake, he provided incorrect information, I believe he was confused, the president clearly was wrong, right?
GUPTA: Well, I mean, so if what the president is saying is right, that means Dr. Redfield was wrong. That means Operation Warp Speed is wrong. That means the vaccine manufacturers are all wrong, because, again, this is their documentation, Wolf.
The documents, the numbers we just put up there are the numbers that are coming from the distribution plan for this vaccine from Operation Warp Speed, which is part of the federal government.
So, these are the -- it's a challenging process to create these vaccines. And then to go from 30 million doses to 300 million doses, to scale that up tenfold, is a laborious process. They anticipate they can do it quickly. And those are very rapid sort of calendar as it is.
But it still takes time. And I think that is why they're saying sort of first quarter to get to the 300 million number, which, again, would mean probably 150 million people because of the two doses -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Sanjay, on the other issue where he said that Dr. Redfield, the head of the CDC, was confused, didn't know what he was talking about, was on the issue of masks.
I'm going to play the clip of what Dr. Redfield testified today before Congress on why he says wearing a mask may actually be more important in saving Americans' lives than getting a potential vaccine.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): He's rejecting this emphatic advice that you give repeatedly and you, yourself, demonstrate.
Dr. Redfield, your comment?
REDFIELD: I'm not going to comment directly about the president.
But I am going to comment, as the 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 have 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And the president of the United States said, the masks, they are a mixed bag. He said that, take a look at waiters who are wearing them. They may be touching them and touching a plate and giving some food to some people.
The president said he was confused again, didn't understand the question, and was effectively making things up. He is referring to the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sanjay.
GUPTA: Yes, again, the president directly contradicting what the head of the CDC said. I have never seen anything like it, Wolf.
You know, when it comes to mask, I think the point that Dr. Redfield is making -- he sort of made three points in there, but this idea overall that a face mask, if you had near universal compliance, would dramatically bring down the trajectory of this viral spread, I think is pretty well shown by evidence.
We can show this, Wolf. You have seen this before. Look at countries around the world. Compare them to the United States in terms of what's happened with the overall viral spread.
If we have that, we can show. Again, what did these countries have, such as South Korea, such as Italy, that we didn't have? They had no vaccine, obviously. They don't have therapeutics that we don't have.
They wore masks and they tested people, the two issues that we're really talking about here. It obviously made a significant difference.
And, you know, I think these numbers sort of speak for themselves. I should also point out, Wolf, that the vaccine that may get authorized this fall, the FDA may only require that it be 50 percent effective, 50 percent effective.
If you had near universal mask compliance, that means everybody would be getting some protection. So I think that is what Dr. Redfield is trying to say, but, again, completely contradicted by the president.
BLITZER: Yes, because Dr. Redfield was saying what Dr. Fauci told me last week when he was here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM, that if it is 70 percent or even 75 percent effective, that means 25 percent or 30 percent of those who get a shot, get the vaccine, two shots, probably going to be necessary, they're not going to have -- they're going to have a serious problem still potentially coming down with coronavirus.
Whereas Dr. Redfield said today, if you wear a mask, if everybody is wearing a mask, it is going to be 95 percent or 100 percent effective in preventing individuals from coming down with coronavirus and potentially getting very, very sick and dying.
I want to get Dana Bash into this conversation.
Dana, it was a pretty extraordinary moment -- and I am being polite right now -- to hear the president of the United States suggest, on these two very critical, important issues, that the head of the CDC effectively is wrong.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we just saw and heard from the president of the United States was propaganda.
There is really no other way to say it. It was propaganda, plain and simple. He wants things to be a certain way for his own political agenda, and he is saying, science be damned.
And on both of those issues, it was remarkable to see him throw his CDC director under the bus, the CDC director, who was testifying under oath earlier in the day. He clearly wasn't happy with him. He admitted that he called and chastised Dr. Redfield.
But it is really remarkable. And the way I see it right now is, the CDC director has two options, number one, to fall on the sword and try to find a way out of it, or, two, to defend science, to defend reality, and say: I'm not working for you anymore. I can't work under these circumstances.
And that would send a big signal. I don't know what he is going to do. Maybe he will come out and say: I misspoke.
But it is hard to imagine that, because, if you watch him, like we did today -- and you just played the clips again -- he really understood the questions. And he knew what he was doing, holding up that mask. He knew that he was intentionally trying to fact-check and correct the president of the United States after, last night, he made some misleading comments, very misleading comments about masks, which the president again repeated today.
He is out there saying that he doesn't believe that masks are effective. Well, he is not a doctor. Why don't you listen to the scientists who say so? And if he does believe that people aren't using masks well, use that podium, use your bully pulpit to explain how to do that, don't touch your face, things like that.
And it is -- it's -- we have seen so many of these events now, unfortunately, Wolf, and had to comment on them afterwards. And this was something that really took my breath away. And I know you probably feel the same way.
BLITZER: Yes. And it's -- it was unbelievable.
And, once again, the president -- Dana, you heard the president make fun of Joe Biden for wearing a mask.
BLITZER: Why is he wearing a mask? He comes out. Nobody is near him. He is still wearing a mask.
Well, maybe Joe Biden wants to wear a mask to set an example to the American people.
BASH: That is exactly why he is doing it.
BLITZER: It is critically important, not just for yourself, but everybody you come into contact with. You could save lives by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, if you wear a mask.
I want to bring in Jim Acosta, our chief White House correspondent.
Jim, the president was also very upbeat, what a great job he's done and the administration has done over these past six months in dealing with this coronavirus, as we now approach 200,000 deaths here in the United States over these past six months.
And he was saying, no one has done it better. It's fabulous, for all practical purposes.
Well, it is not fabulous; 1,200 Americans died yesterday.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
I mean, instead of doing fact-checking after these news conferences, you could almost do truth-checking, because it would take you less time to pull out the true statements from President Trump at these press conferences.
It was just falsehood after falsehood after half-truth after falsehood. That was a case, again, this evening. The president was saying just a few moments ago, to your point, Wolf, that by Election Day, the coronavirus will be very low in this country.
Wolf, as you just mentioned, we had almost 1,300 people died from the coronavirus in this country yesterday. It's hard to imagine how those numbers could get down to a very low level over the next couple of months, especially when you have all the experts projecting that perhaps we could double the number of dead in the United States by early next year.
And getting back to what you were saying about Dr. Redfield being contracted by the president, not only on a vaccine timeline but on masks, it is important to note this is not the first time the president has done this with his health experts. He's done this with Dr. Anthony Fauci in the past. He is, once again, throwing one of his top health experts under the bus. I mean, that is what he did with Dr. Robert Redfield. And we're just going to have to find out whether or not Dr. Redfield surfaces and confirms what the president said that he told the president that he misspoke earlier today. That will be news if he comes out and says that.
And the other thing, Wolf, we should point out, I mean, during this press conference, the president sort of has a go-to. And when he gets into trouble, he goes to a subject that sort of bails him out on the previous subject. And he did that again on mail-in voting.
And I know we've fact checked this so many times, but in recent weeks, Ben Ginsberg, who is a longtime Republican election lawyer for GOP campaigns going all the way back to Bush v. Gore, just recently put out an op-ed saying, there is no proof of widespread fraud. It bears repeating, Wolf, because as we air these news conferences, the president is not just coming up with new lies, he's recycling old ones, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, that was really -- we could go on several other issues came up as well, but when he publicly humiliates the head of the CDC on these two sensitive issues, that was an extraordinary moment.
Daniel Dale is with us, our CNN Reporter and fact checker. You were listening very closely, Daniel, as you always do. What did you think?
DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Just so much lying, Wolf. Again, over and over, we get this. The president said masks are a mixed bag with a lot of problems. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that masks are effective and critical.
Again, a flurry of false claims, you can call them lies on mail-in voting, wrongly saying Nevada's Democratic governor controls the ballots. The state's secretary of state is a Republican. Again, falsely saying there was fraud in the New York primary, featuring Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. He wrongly said the Iran deal would be practically expiring now.
Some provisions did sunset in 2025, 2030, but some go all the way to 2040. Others continue in perpetuity. He wrongly said there is a poll that shows 84 percent of black people want more police. In fact, in that poll, 20 percent said more police, 61 percent, they want the same.
He accused Biden of promoting anti-vaccine theories. Biden has not gone anti-vaxxer. He said he does not trust the word of Trump but would encourage people to take a vaccine approved by scientists. He repeated his usual false claim about, they left no ventilators. His own administration has admitted they inherited more than 16,000.
And he is -- I'll stop there, Wolf. It is, again, just so much. It's a flurry of falsehood every single time the president comes to that podium at the White House.
BLITZER: Well, it was a pretty amazing moment, I must say, indeed. Everybody stand by. We're going to have much more coming up on all the breaking news, major coronavirus developments. Also, we're going to have a live report from the frontline of some historic flooding out on the Gulf Coast along with a brand new forecast for Sally. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Much more coming up on the coronavirus developments, and they are very, very dramatic based on what the president just said about the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there's other breaking news we're following here in The Situation Room right now, the disaster being unleashed by Tropical Storm Sally.
A new forecast just out shows the storm's pounding rains are spreading north as flood emergencies in parts of Alabama and Florida grow more catastrophic.
Let's go to CNN's Polo Sandoval. He's on the scene for us in Alabama right now. Polo, what are the conditions there and the extent of the damage?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the sound of those whipping winds overnight have been replaced now with the sound of chain saws as those cleanup efforts have been under way since daybreak. We are seeing residents here in the city of Foley, home to about 20,000 residents. So those cleanup efforts do continue, that's because the combination of those torrential rains that Sally left behind combined with the winds left trees everywhere.
You're able to see over my shoulder. It's really just an example of many of the trees that we're seeing, not just on streets but also on properties, even in some cases on top of homes. The good news is that we don't have any reports of any serious injuries so far though, of course, officials do continue to assess the damage.
About 15 miles south of here, that's where authorities in a coastal town are reporting. But they are also seeing widespread power outages, which is really the big focus right now as you see utility crews and linemen fanning the area right now trying to get people online.
But, of course, the mayor in one of these nearby towns telling his residents that they can expect to be in the dark possibly into the weekend, so we are getting really this concern here from authorities that not only should people try to stay off the streets but also be as patient as they can because the next 24, 48 hours or possibly beyond are going to be perhaps really more the aftermath not just here in the city of Foley, Alabama, but also other areas here in Alabama, and also in the neighboring panhandle of the state of Florida. Wolf?
BLITZER: A real disaster unfolding over there. All right, Polo, thank you very much.
Let's check in with our National Correspondent Ed Lavandera right now. He is also in Alabama for us. Ed, what are you seeing?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the section of Alabama in the southeast corner of the state in a small town called Alberta, Alabama. And this is where the eastern edge of the eye wall of Hurricane Sally came ashore just before daybreak this morning.
And it's an area that sustained hours and hours of heavy rain and windfall and that is why you're seeing scenes like this throughout much of the small roads that carve its way through this area of Southeast Alabama. This is between Mobile and Pensacola. And so now, what is left is the cleanup process in all of this.
And if you look here, you know, there are so many people who had close calls with what unfolded here. This is part of a busy intersection, these two -- actually I think it's three or four massive trees fell over. They fell over back away from these two homes that are just sitting here in this -- at the corner of this busy intersection. They fall the other way, this could have been a much more catastrophic scene here for the families that live in this area. Because, Wolf, there were many, many people who did not evacuate. They chose to ride this storm out.
And a lot of that, even in talking to people here today, there was so much uncertainty with the forecast and the way this storm wobbled back and forth and changed landfall locations multiple times in the last few days, that really almost like paralyzed people and not knowing exactly what to do. But most people say they don't regret not evacuating but it made for a very tense few days here, as they have now seen the worst of this storm barrel through here. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Ed, thank you, Ed Lavandera in Alabama for us as well.
I want to get up to the minute information on the flooding emergency in Florida right now. We're joined by the Pensacola Fire Department chief, Ginny Cranor. Chief, thanks so much for joining us. How bad is the situation where you are? How bad is the flooding?
CHIEF GINNY CRANOR, PENSACOLA, FLORIDA FIRE DEPARTMENT: The flooding is bad. We had 30 inches of rain in Pensacola, 30 plus inches of rain, which four months of rain in four hours at some point. So it is very bad, severe.
BLITZER: The sheriff, I understand, said thousands of your residents may need to be evacuated. How are you handling water rescues and other kinds of evacuations?
CRANOR: We have some National Guard assets in town with high-water rescue vehicles assisting our firefighters and rescue crews. There have been multiple rescues. People trapped in their homes and taking them to shelters, getting them out and taking them to shelters. We've also had many fire responses, utility hazards. So we are just ending our response mode and trying to get into recovery now.
BLITZER: How many residents are without power right now? When do you expect that to get restored?
CRANOR: The last word I had on it was 10,000, but I believe it is more than that now. And I'm hearing it may be until the weekend before we get some power areas restored.
BLITZER: And so, the folks there in Pensacola, I understand there is a curfew that is going into effect from dusk to dawn. Are you worried about people going out potentially getting stuck in all of the flooding and the water out there?
CRANOR: We are very concerned about that. When we have flooding like this, we have trees that get knocked over, disrupting underground utilities, and it is very hazardous. There's a lot of electrical hazards, a lot of hazards just with the instability of the road. So, we need people to stay off the roads and give us these three days to recover, assess the damage.
BLITZER: I understand that a section, a chunk of the Pensacola Bay Bridge was actually damaged in this storm. Tell us about that.
CRANOR: That's true. We had a -- in fact, our bridge is just being completed. So, unfortunately, I'm hearing now that this bridge may be closed for a month or more. But there is a chunk missing. A crane fell into the bridge. We had a few barges that came loose and also ran into the bottom of the bridge. So we'll have major repairs on the bridge and also some structural engineering work that will need to take place before it opens again.
BLITZER: Chief Ginny Cranor of the Pensacola Fire Department, hey, good luck, Chief. Good luck to everyone there. We'll stay in close touch with you. Thanks so much for joining us.
CRANOR: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And just ahead, we're going to take a closer look at President Trump's repeated promises to release a brand new health care plan, a plan that so far has not arrived despite all those promises.
And we'll also get an update on the deadly western wildfires which have burned millions and millions of acres and forced thousands, thousands of people from their homes.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Historic wildfires continuing to burn now nearly 5 million acres simply across California, Oregon, and Washington state, killing at least 34 people, forcing thousands and thousands to flee their homes.
In California, more than 17,000 firefighters are battling flames including the North Complex Fire. Now the fifth deadliest fire in the state's history, responsible for 15 lives lost.
Let's discuss with the CAL FIRE chief, Thom Porter. Chief Porter, thanks so much for joining us.
I know you're battling many fires including right now the largest fire in the state's history. Give us the latest update on what is going on, the situation there.
Is it getting better or worse?
CHIEF THOM PORTER, CAL FIRE: Well, thank you, Wolf.
It really is. We've had kind of a slack in the weather thankfully. So, the last couple of days, we've been able to put in some good line and work hard to work to start containing these fires. But we still have weeks and weeks of work to do.
BLITZER: So, it's still a huge, huge disaster. We're looking at these pictures coming in.
One of the fires, Chief, the North Complex Fire, is the fifth deadliest in California's history. How dangerous, how life threatening are these fires?
PORTER: Well, the ways the fires have been burning, particularly in the forested environment, is just something we've never seen before. The North Complex burned over 24 miles in a very short period of time, leaving very little time for mountain communities on very difficult road systems in smoky conditions to evacuate.
While we did have evacuation orders in place, the other problem is a lot of people don't evacuate. They've gotten tired of how many times we're asking them to evacuate, and then some cases, times that they didn't need to. This fire, the North Complex is now the fifth most deadly, is just across the river drainage from our most deadly, and that was the Camp Fire.
BLITZER: How did this compare to the previous wildfire seasons overall?
PORTER: This one dwarfs all previous seasons. We have surpassed 1910 when we had a very large and damaging fire season. And now we have 40 million people in California.
Back in 1910, we didn't have nearly the number of people living out in these areas. So, we're starting to see that the communities are very much in peril. And also, those 1910 fires really defined a century of firefighting technique and preplanning and everything that goes along with wild land firefighting.
What I believe we're seeing now is going to define the next hundred years of land use planning, preparedness, and wild land firefighting.
BLITZER: Do you have the resources, Chief, that you need to contain these fires? PORTER: We do. We do have the resources. We have resources from all
over to nation. We have resources from Canada, Mexico. We had -- we had some firefighters from Israel come to help us.
And we do have the resources, but we do need the weather to cooperate with us.
PORTER: And just around the corner, we'll probably have more north winds which will be difficult to deal with.
BLITZER: Chief Thom Porter, good luck to you. Good luck to the folks out there. I know you're going through a really awful, awful situation. Thank you so much for joining us.
PORTER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, we're going to take a closer look at President Trump's repeated, repeated promises to release a health care plan, a plan that never arrives. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: President Trump certainly has a long history of promising to reveal his overall health care plan, but with less than two months to go until Election Day, the president still has not released a proposal.
CNN's Brian Todd is looking into this for us.
Brian, what are you finding out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a lot of promises from the president over here since at least last June and still tonight, the president's health care plan is largely a ghost. He's also been criticized over misleading claims over who will be covered.
TODD (voice-over): It was an impassioned plea from a woman born with an inflammatory disease infecting many diseases in her body.
During ABC's town hall, Ellesia Blaque asked President Trump if his health care plan would protect her insurance, given her pre-existing condition. Blaque said without her medication, she'll die within 72 hours. And if she loses that insurance protection, she can't pay for the medication herself.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to be doing a health care plan strongly and protect people with pre-existing conditions. I will say this, they will not do that.
TODD: Both claims, analysts say, are false. Trump's administration is backing a lawsuit in front of the Supreme Court that if successful would strike down Obamacare, including its protection for people with pre-existing conditions.
SABRINA CORLETTE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY CENTER ON HEALTH INSURANCE REFORMS: All of his actions to date have been to roll back or repeal protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
TODD: As for Trump's claim Joe Biden wouldn't protect people with those conditions.
CORLETTE: Maybe he's confused. The Biden plan would preserve and in fact many ways strengthen the protections that currently exist under the Affordable Care Act for people who have health care needs, health care challenges.
TODD: Today, Ellesia Blaque is fuming over President Trump's answer.
ELLESIA BLAQUE, CONFRONTED TRUMP ABOUT COVERING PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS: He fluffed me off like soot on the bottom of his $3,000 pair of shoes and I resent it. He repeats himself redundantly about how Obamacare is a disaster, but he never talks specifics.
TODD: And critics say the president still hasn't unveiled a comprehensive health care plan of his own, even though he's been promising since at least June of last year on ABC that he's on the verge of it.
TRUMP: And we have a concept of a plan. We'll be announcing that in two months, maybe less.
TODD: In July of this year on Fox, Trump said the plan was imminent.
TRUMP: We're signing a health care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health care plan.
TODD: In early August, he promised a plan by the end of the month.
TRUMP: 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.
TODD: But now, in mid-September it still seems to be a phantom health care plan. Three of Trump's top officials dealing with the coronavirus pandemic were asked today by a Democratic senator if they knew of any Trump replacement plan for Obamacare.
ADMIRAL BRETT GIROIR, MD, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HEALTH, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: I'm not involved with the replacement plan. I don't know what that is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no awareness of that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not aware of one.
TODD: Today, White House officials promised the president's health care plan would be rolled out before Election Day in the form of executive actions. They say multiple people are working on it. But again, no specifics.
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to give you a read out of the health care plan and who's working on it.
TODD: But time is running out and health care analysts say the stakes are enormous, one analyst telling us the coronavirus pandemic has put the need for access to health care in the front of tens of millions of Americans' minds and many of them are going to be voting based on that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, such a -- such a critically important issue indeed, health care.
Brian Todd reporting for us -- thank you very much.
Finally, tonight, we want to honor some of the men and women we've lost to the coronavirus.
Judy Vogel of Florida was 81 years old. She taught 5th grade for more than 30 years before retiring. Her daughter describes her as an incredible mother and grandmother who had hoped to live long enough to vote in the 2020 election.
Sonny Puletapuai of Mississippi was 61. He was a U.S. Army veteran known for his love of fishing and cooking big meals. His daughter says he was a man of few words who had a tremendous work ethic and enormous, enormous character.
May they rest in peace, and may their memories be a blessing.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNsitroom.
Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.