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Trump Undermines His CDC as More States See Rise in Cases; Moderna CEO Says, Hope to Know by November if Vaccine Works; Barr Says, COVID Lockdowns Greatest Intrusion of Liberties Since Slavery. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 13:00   ET


CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: But to go for football as opposed to being correct and sitting back and watching some of the problems elsewhere and saying, hey, we made the right decision, we did not roll the dice in health and safety of our student athletes.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Christine Brennan, I appreciate your insight. It's top of the hour. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now. Have a great day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Brianna Keilar, and I want to welcome viewers here in the United States and around the world.

The president is undermining his own CDC chief over the use of masks and the timeline for a vaccine. We'll have more on how he's contradicting Dr. Robert Redfield here in a moment.

And this new saga is the president's latest attack on science as health officials try to get this pandemic under control. After several days of downward trends in more than half the country, this map is turning orange and red, which is an indication that 23 states are seeing a rising trend of new cases. This includes five states that are experiencing 50 percent more new infections compared to just last week.

And then unlike previous increases, this rise is happening as the weather is getting colder, driving people indoors where coronavirus is at a much higher risk of spreading, plus, flu season is weeks away and the U.S. is still stuck at nearly 40,000 cases a day.

There is encouraging news on this race for the vaccine though. Moderna's CEO saying that his team could know by November if his vaccine candidate works. He is now the second CEO, the other one being Pfizer's, to suggest a target date before the year is over.


STEPHANIE BANCEL, CEO, MODERNA: Our base plan, our most critical (ph) plan is November. That's what we have been saying for many months. Our best possible outcome would be October.

Calculate how many people will get the disease with a vaccine, how many people get the disease on placebo to calculate the efficacy. And the FDA said they want at least 50 percent efficacy in the vaccines to consider the application for approval.


KEILAR: There are now more than 196,000 deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. And while you and I see that as the loss of nearly 200,000 mothers, sons, teachers, doctors taken too early from the families, the president is indicating that he sees the deaths along party lines. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So we are down on this territory, and that's despite the fact that the blue states had tremendous death rates. If you take the blue states out, we're at a level that -- I don't think anybody in the world would be at. We are really at a very low level. And some of the states, they were blue states and blue state managed. By the way, we would recommend they open up their states.


KEILAR: I want to talk about this now with CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

I mean, Gloria, it's the word to describe that description of if you just exclude blue states.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, to me it's inhumane, you know, very basically. I mean, this is a president of the United States who is talking about the death of American citizens. And he says, well, if you disregard those in some states that I happen not to like because they didn't vote for me, we'd be a lot better off. So not only is it inhumane, it is un-American, it is unpatriotic, and it -- quite frankly, it's despicable.

And, by the way, if you were to take a look at the cases of COVID, not deaths from COVID, cases of COVID, you will see that a large majority of the top states who have COVID cases are red states.

But the president here is deciding to divide the country by death and by death rates and how certain states have been affected and certain states have been unaffected, as if he would like to toss out those deaths in those blue states and not pay any attention to them? I mean, to me, it was one of the most remarkable things he said yesterday. And as you know, he said an awful lot of remarkable things.

KEILAR: Yes. And it's like that it's essentially what he's saying is they don't matter --

BORGER: Right.

KEILAR: -- because they aren't Republican or maybe they are less likely to support me. And this is also a president -- I mean, this isn't someone who lived in a blue or in a red city or a red state, right? He is from New York. He is talking about his own town.

BORGER: right. And what he -- former town, I guess. What he is trying to do is say that, look, these blue state governors, they were inefficient. I told them what they ought to be doing, they didn't listen to me. And now, as they're talking about negotiations for the stimulus package, by the way, what he is saying is that these folks don't deserve the money because they mismanaged themselves.


And it's just remarkable.

Look, we know -- Brianna, you know this, you have been covering politics for a long time. We know that unlike any other president, this is a president who has not been interested in enlarging his base, whatsoever. He has been appealing to a certain amount of people that have been very loyal to him and that stick with him.

Most presidents, when they get into the Oval Office, they decide that they become American presidents. They don't become presidents for one part of the country or another part of the country or a red state or a blue state. They become American presidents. This president has made a decision. He is not an American president, nor does he want to be. He wants to be a president for those people who like him and who vote for him and who will support him in the next election.

KEILAR: Yes. And he could have been something different, right? We have seen him in the moments of crisis. There are actually opportunities for presidents to do what is right and that often is what is best politically for them but not in this case.

Gloria, thank you so much. It's great to see you.

BORGER: Thanks a lot, Bri. Good to see you.

KEILAR: The World Health Organization's top emergency expert is taking issue with the coronavirus confusion that's created by President Trump, one of the president's latest moves undermining the head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CDC: 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.

TRUMP: I said to him, what's with the mask? He said, I think I answered that question incorrectly. I think maybe he misunderstood it. I mean, we have two questions, maybe misunderstood both of them.


KEILAR: The president also went on to say the CDC director was confused when Dr. Redfield said a vaccine wouldn't be ready until next year.

During a WHO in Geneva this morning, Dr. Mike Ryan stressed that top officials worldwide though seem to be on the same page.


DR. MIKE RYAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WHO HEALTH EMERGENCIES PROGRAM: It is important that we have consistent messaging from all levels.

There's a process of transferring knowledge to people. It's not just shouting at them. It's communicating with them. It's engaging with them. It's understanding the confusions, it's understanding their concerns, it's understanding their apprehension and not laughing at us and not turning that into some kind of a political football.


KEILAR: I want to bring in the former acting director of the CDC, Dr. Richard Besser is with us. Thank you, Doctor, for being with us.

When you heard the president contradicting Dr. Redfield, what was your reaction?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: Well, first reaction was it shouldn't take a congressional hearing to get to hear from the head of the CDC. The head of the CDC should be out there leading the messaging and helping us as a nation understand the current situation and what we can do to protect our health.

And I think what Dr. Redfield was stressing was that a vaccine is not going to come riding in to save the day, and that we need to do those things that have worked around the globe, we need to wear masks, we need to practice social distancing, we need to wash our hands, all of these things that have allowed for control in other countries would work here.

When you see a political leader discounting and undermining the head of our nation's public health agency, it leads to confusion and it leads to the wiggle room that so many people feel that a mask is something that should be a personal decision and optional. It isn't. In every state that has mandated masks and even those states that haven't done at that state level but have allowed counties to do it, we have seen cases go down and that's the way to control this.

KEILAR: What should Dr. Redfield do in this situation knowing, right, he has -- it's a tough choice. You stay because there's an argument that he's a voice of reason in a time of crisis or you resign because you are involved in an administration that is being motivated by an anti-science pandemic response. What should he do here?

BESSER: Well, I think every leader has to have their line in the sand and decide for themselves what they won't cross. What the CDC director is responsible for doing is supporting the agency and supporting the scientists. And so hearing him speak out about the importance of masks and social distancing and public health control measures, speaking truth about vaccines and when they may be available, that's critically important. That's an important role to do. And you wouldn't want to see him shying away from that. You would like him to have more platforms to be able to do it on a daily basis but that's something that this administration has not allowed.

KEILAR: On the vaccine, Dr. Fauci says, if the majority of Americans don't take it, then the nation can't be protected. Do you have a percentage where it would then provide protection to most of the country?


BESSER: Well, you know, one of the things I have heard others say and I think it's really important is that vaccines don't save lives, vaccination does. And so anything that takes place that undercuts people's faith that a vaccine that is approved and is recommended, that those steps were done based on science and that politics had nothing to do with it. If you're not able to ensure that process, we could have a vaccine and people don't want to get that. And that would be incredibly unfortunate.

What we need to see now is work done at the community level, with every community, in particular, with communities that have suffered under previous public health measures, communities of color, lower income communities, to ensure that any vaccine that comes forward is one that there's faith, it is truly safe and it's effective.

KEILAR: We have heard Joe Biden say that he will trust science rather than President Trump when it comes to a vaccine. I am curious what you think, because we are hearing some of this fall along political lines. What we know that there are just a lot of people out there who wouldn't even consider themselves anti-vaccination but they are having some skepticism because polls show a lot of Americans are worried that the president can pressure his administration to fast track this vaccine.

I guess my question for you is, when Democrats are asked if they would take this vaccine, what do you think that their answer should be when it comes to tracking on the line of public health and not on politics. What should they be saying?

BESSER: Well, I think what all Americans should be saying, regardless of party, whether you're from a red or blue state, is that I have faith in the FDA and the CDC if they're left to do their business. And if there's any indication that there're of political fingerprints on the process, that's going to be a challenge in terms of my faith in whatever products come forward.

And we have seen to date numerous instances where there's been political interference in the FDA, political interference in CDC. And that undermines people's faith that these agencies, which are designed to protect and promote our health are able to do their jobs effectively.

For a vaccine approval, you want to make sure that there's an outside body that's reviewing the evidence, that's making a recommendation and that there's transparency so that you can see the deliberations, you can see the decision-making, and if there's any sign that there has been a reversal from a political appointee that people can understand that and that can be explained.

KEILAR: And it sounds like you perhaps sympathize or understand a little bit where some people have concerns. But do you want them to wait until it appears that they have a reason to be concerned? Are you saying that because we have seen the FDA and the CDC be pressured before that their reticence is understandable?

BESSER: Yes. The survey is showing the hesitancy really concerns me. I hope that the process that goes forward is one that will allow people to have restored faith in the process. One thing I would like people to do right now is go out and get their flu shots.

Because as we're coming into the winter, and we're going to see a number of respiratory viruses circulating, anything you can do to reduce the chances, you have to have contact with the health care system is a good thing. And getting your flu shot is one of the best measures you can do coming into the flu season to keep you and your family safe.

KEILAR: Yes, it is on the top of my to-do list. Dr. Richard Besser, thank you so much.

BESSER: It's a real pleasure.

KEILAR: Just ahead, a mom says that she and her two-year-old son were kicked off a Southwest Flight because he pulled down his mask to eat gum my bears. She will join us live.

Plus, Attorney General Bill Barr sparking controversy with a number of wild claims, including likening COVID lockdowns to slavery and blasting his own Justice Department, comparing officials there to preschoolers.

this is CNN's special live coverage.



KEILAR: Attorney General Bill Barr unleashed in a speech last night blasting his own Justice Department comparing career prosecutors there to preschoolers and also comparing coronavirus stay-at-home orders to slavery.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Putting a national lockdown stay-at- home orders is like house arrest. It's -- other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.


KEILAR: I am joined now by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Staff Writer for The New York Times Magazine, she is the creator of The New York Times' 1619 Project. And also with us is CNN Senior Legal Analyst and Former Federal Prosecutor Laura Coates. It's great to see both of you. I'm so glad you could join us for this discussion.

And, Nikole, what did you think about the A.G.'s comments?

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES, PULITZER PRIZE WINNING STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, where does one begin? They were cynical, they were ahistoric and they were, frankly, offensive. Slavery was a crime against humanity. It was amongst the most brutal institutions that existed in the United States

And to compare slavery to -- one, there is no national shutdown order, there never has been. But compare that to shutdown orders that are intended to save American lives is just -- it is not based at all in any type of factual understanding of American history, of slavery or what the shutdowns are supposed to do.

And it's just part of this administration's efforts, continuing efforts to downplay slavery and to politicize life-saving measures for America because of a failed coronavirus effort.


KEILAR: Laura, what did you think?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I have to say I was waiting on bated breath to hear from Nikole from her consummate 1619 Project. And I have to say, I agree with her completely about the ahistoric nature but also about the notion that the attorney general's role is to be the head of the Department of Justice, whose job it is to enforce laws. He knows full well that we don't cherry-pick the types of laws to prosecute nor do we make analogies to any comparisons such as things like slavery and a decision to try to protect the health and wellbeing of Americans.

And, frankly, it belies the history, not only from the slavery perspective, but about what's happened with the Alien Sedition Act, what happened with Japanese internment camps, what happened with the Jim Crow south, what's happened with any number of things, including the Chinese Inclusion Act, all bodies of law that had a profound impact on American history and contributed to the growing and continuing inequality.

And for this particular attorney general, to represent the Department of Justice and pretend as if there is some way to conflate the two, to compare the two is mind-boggling, let alone his viewpoint that the department prosecutors are somehow preschoolers when they are attempting to simply enforce the law and make it the Department of Justice, not one of hypocrisy, not one of ahistoric references and certainly not one of injustice.

KEILAR: To me, that description of slavery is another kind of constraint. I just thought the sort of this clinical, sterile way of describing something so horrific was very surprising and appalling to me. He also dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing of African-Americans by police. Let's listen to this.


BARR: And that's why these so-called Black Lives Matter people -- now that as a proposition, who can quarrel with the proposition, Black Lives Matter, but they're not interested in black lives. They're interested in props, a small number of blacks who were killed by police during conflict with police, usually less than a dozen a year who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda.


KEILAR: Nikole, he goes on to say that black on black crime is a bigger problem and that prosperity and rule of law are the solution. What do you think?

HANNAH-JONES: Well, these arguments are two sides of the same coin. So on the one hand, you're going to compare wearing masks and other life- saving measures, such as shutdowns to the institution of slavery, and say that this is one of the greatest impingements of civil liberties in the history of our country, and then downplay the killing of citizens by armed agents of the state as something that's not a real issue to be concerned about.

So what the ultimate message is that actually black lives do not matter to this administration and we know that bringing -- any time someone brings up black on black crime, it is a racist trope because almost all crime is committed within a race. So, white people kill white people. Black people kill black people. You never hear the notion of white on white crime. And if the only time you're concerned about black people being killed is that the perpetrator is a black person, then I think that that gives up the game.

So these sentiments are actually reflective of each other.

KEILAR: And, Laura, you mentioned how Barr attacked his own department, right? He compared officials there to preschoolers for trying to make decisions above their pay grade. How do you think prosecutors at the department will react to this?

COATES: Well, the idea of the morale being lowered every time the attorney general not only makes statements like this but also gives misinformation, remember, it's only a few weeks ago when he couldn't express that he knew that it was a federal violation of law to vote twice. Now, you have a denial of systemic racism, the reduction of he's mentioned, what, about a dozen lives or so? Well, you know how many lives matter to people, about a dozen or so or maybe the hundreds if it happened.

The idea that he would just sort of minimize and sort of denigrate people in that fashion is not what the career prosecutors stand for. I have had the privilege of serving under multiple attorney generals over the course of my career. And the idea that their morale is at an all-time low would be an understatement of the year precisely for things like this. It's not above the pay grade to try in order to pursue justice, to make judgment calls that are apolitical, that do not concern themselves with who's in the president's orbit or simply say to themselves, this person is not quite important enough to prosecute as a victim of violence. We don't prosecute like that. Lady Justice is supposed to be blindfolded. But with the attorney general continuing antics, it's as if he is unapologetically and proudly removing that and daring people to question that judgment.


And that simply cannot be tolerated, and I'm certain that it's not among the career officials who do not serve at the pleasure of the president but the pleasure of their conscience and the Department of Justice and the American people.

KEILAR: Laura Coates --

HANNAH-JONES: I also think it's important to fact check.

KEILAR: Sorry, Nikole, go on.

HANNAH-JONES: I'm sorry. I just think it's important to fact check that as well. There are about 250 black Americans who are killed in law enforcement -- by law enforcement every year, not just 12 and that is a rate of three times that killed by white Americans. So, one, every one of those lives matters, but also we shouldn't allow the attorney general of the United States to spew untruths.

KEILAR: No, it's such a good point, Nikole. I'm so glad that you have those numbers at the ready. It's not acceptable. And he should know, right? He is the attorney general, so he should be very aware of these numbers that are so important at this moment in our history.

Nikole Hannah-Jones and Laura Coates, I could talk to you guys forever about this. I have so many more questions but we will leave it there today. Thank you to both of you.

HANNAH-JONES: Thank you.

COATES: Thank you.

KEILAR: A disturbing warning from the World Health Organization of a very serious COVID situation that's unfolding in Europe. We're going to take you there.

Plus, Fox News, again, peddles dangerous information to its millions of viewers about the pandemic.

And a mother who says that she and her toddler were kicked off a flight after he took down the mask to eat a gummy bear will join me live on what happened.