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Robert Redfield and President Trump Disagree on Vaccine Timeline; FBI Director Wray Testifies Domestic Terrorism Is Up; Interview with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and the Family of Lorne Breen. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 14:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST, NEWSROOM: It is the top of the hour, I'm Brianna Keilar. And the president is contradicting his own CDC director over some of the most important defenses that we have against the coronavirus: masks and a vaccine -- an expected vaccine, an anticipated vaccine.

This, as 23 states are experiencing a spike in cases compared to last week. And as the U.S. averages just under 40,000 new cases a day, a number that health experts say is way too high as the flu season is quickly approaching and cooler temperatures will move more folks inside, where the coronavirus is severely more transmissible.

First though, to the very public contradictions between President Trump and the head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield.


ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: 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.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said to him, what's with the mask? He said, I think I answered that question incorrectly, I think maybe he had misunderstood it. I mean, you know, he had two questions, maybe he misunderstood both of them.


KEILAR: Or maybe he didn't. The president went on to say the CDC director was, quote, "confused" when Dr. Redfield said a vaccine wouldn't be ready until next year.

I want to bring in Dr. Peter Hotez. He is a professor and dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and he's involved in this race for the vaccine.

What do you think about what the president has said here, that perhaps -- let's start just with the vaccine and the timetable for that. Do you think that Redfield is confused about the timetable for a vaccine?

PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: No. You know, Brianna, we've been talking now for, I don't know, six, seven months about timelines, and I've always said I think Q3, quarter three of 2021 is the time period when a significant percentage of the American public will be vaccinated. And sure enough, that's what Dr. Redfield said in his testimony, maybe as early as quarter two. So I think he's spot on.

Look, I mean, we don't even know if any of these Operation Warp Speed vaccines work yet. We won't know that until the end of the year, and then there's going to have to be a rollout.

And remember also, the first vaccines that we may know that for -- something like the Moderna vaccine -- that requires a deep freeze, so we still have to work out the logistics for how we're going to send that vaccine around the country. It's going to be extremely complicated.

So I think Dr. Redfield gave a very appropriate, very conservative timeline. The problem is, it doesn't meet with what the president needs to score a re-election victory.

He needs to have that vaccine -- he feels -- out sooner than that because he's -- the entire COVID national response has been so disastrous, he has nothing to really show for it. So this is -- the vaccine may be the only part that's working. But even then, he's trying to undermine it by insisting it should be out prematurely.


KEILAR: So you have Dr. Redfield, who is a career scientist, in this important role. And I wonder what you think about where the line should be for someone like Dr. Redfield about saying, look, I'm going to stay and try to provide a clear-minded counterweight to the misinformation that is coming from the president. Or enough is enough, I'm out of here? What do you think?

HOTEZ: Yes. You know, this is a tough call, Brianna. I think all of these guys -- you know, Dr. Redfield, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Collins -- you know, they want to do what's in the best interests of the American people.

And it's -- I know it must be really tough for them to work with this White House, not only the president but the people the president surrounds himself with, who are ideologues and put ideology and anti- science rhetoric and anti-science disinformation out in front of everything.

So I'm sure the easier course would be to resign, but I think they want to do it because they are genuinely concerned about the welfare of the American people, so they're holding the line. That's my interpretation.

KEILAR: We've been hearing from Democrats including the vice -- the -- I should say the presidential candidate Joe Biden. We've head this from the vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, we've heard this in senatorial races. People saying, look, they will trust science, they're not going to trust President Trump when it comes to a vaccine.

You have the president blasting Biden and Harris for what he is calling anti-vaccine rhetoric, that is the argument coming back from Trump's side on this. How do you see this and also, you know, how the president and Republicans should be navigating this, how Democrats should be navigating this discussion of whether they would take a vaccine to make sure that they're in the service of public health and not in the service of politics?

HOTEZ: You know, Brianna, the irony here is extraordinary. Let's flash back to 2015, when the president announced his -- his campaign. He campaigned in part on an anti-vaccine, anti-science platform. He made bold statements, which were not true, about vaccines, falsely linking them to autism.

This ignited a re-energizing of the anti-vaccine movement. It also created a pivot to the far political right, following the president's remarks. This is when Rush Limbaugh started speaking out against vaccine, Alex Jones, that's when they brought RFK Jr., who is the lead -- one of the lead anti-vaxxers, the one who targets me all the time calling me the original gangster villain, the O.G. villain --


KEILAR: You wrote the book.

HOTEZ: -- brought him on Fox -- yes, right. So you know, I know. So he -- this created not only a massive vaccine misinformation campaign, it politicized it, brought it to the far right. And let's look at what's happened now. Those same anti-vaccine groups have now glommed on campaigns against masks, against contact tracing, against social distancing.

One of the major reasons why we have 200,000 American deaths is because of the anti-vaccine, anti-science initiative that the president helped launch in 2015, 2016. So for him to turn around and try to make any statement about Vice President Biden or Senator Harris as being anti-vaccine is absolutely ridiculous.

And let's face it, the only reason he's even speaking about vaccines now is because he sees this as a way to rescue his failed response to COVID-19 nationally. I guarantee you if he does get re-elected, that will be the last we'll hear about vaccines from the president. This is purely a transactional device to help poll numbers a few points, that's pretty much all he cares about at this point.

KEILAR: It's very sad. Dr. Hotez, it's important to hear though. Thank you so much, good to see you.

HOTEZ: Thank you. Good seeing you, Brianna.

KEILAR: FBI director Christopher Wray, on Capitol Hill today, giving his assessment about the threats currently facing the country. Wray testified about the national protests that are sweeping the country. And despite the president's attempts to paint the protestors as a whole as a major violent threat, Wray says that's simply not the case.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I think it's important for people to understand that although I do agree that the majority of the people out there protesting -- in general, across the country -- are peaceful protestors, there's no question that the big number -- the biggest number is peaceful protestors.

That should not diminish -- which I think is the point you're making -- from the fact that even though it might numerically be a smaller group, that's very dangerous activity that that smaller group is engaged in, and that's why the FBI is focused -- much as your question was -- we're focused on the violence.



KEILAR: CNN's senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt is joining us. And Alex, he said more about the threat of domestic terror. Tell us about it.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, terrorism is the biggest threat that the country is facing according to Director Wray, and he said they were less concerned about groups than they were about lone individuals who he says are radicalized online.

Now, when it comes to domestic terrorism, Wray said that the biggest bucket -- as he called it -- are those who are motivated by race. They carry out racially motivated extremism. And within that group, the majority of the people involved are white extremists. Wray said that there are around 1,000 domestic terrorism investigations a year normally. He said that number is much higher this year.

Now, Wray was repeatedly pressed -- mainly by Republicans -- about Antifa, which of course the president and his supporters have been pushing as what they call a terrorist organization. He said that they are not a group, that they are more an ideology or a movement. He says that they are a real thing, and that there are individuals who are being investigated -- and what he called "regional nodes."

But he cast Antifa as a movement that is part of the spectrum of anti- government movements on both the left and the right -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Very interesting. And I also want to play what Director Wray said about Russia's ongoing interference in the 2020 election. Let's listen.


WRAY: We certainly have seen very active -- very active -- efforts by the Russians to influence our election in 2020 through what I would call more the malign foreign influence side of things, social media, use of proxies, state media, online journals, et cetera in an effort to both sow divisiveness and discord and -- and I think the intelligence community has assessed this publicly -- to primarily to denigrate Vice President Biden and what the Russians see as kind of an anti-Russian establishment.


KEILAR: Alex, you watched that and it's a clear reference there, that the goal is to help Trump. And you can see almost the discomfort, because you know what comes along just with an official telling the truth about that.

MARQUARDT: Well, when you talk to election officials, to cyber- officials, to members of the intelligence community and Wray, what they really talk about is how active Russia is, and specifically how active Russia is on the influence side of things.

Now, if you look back to 2016 they were also active in hacking. They hacked the DNC, they hacked the Clinton campaign, they tried to hack into state election infrastructure. They're not doing that so far this year, according to

Wray. But they are very active on the influence side of things, particularly to try to denigrate Biden. As Wray was saying, they're -- because he's seen as part of this anti-Russia establishment, much the same way that Hillary Clinton was seen in 2016. So they are working in favor of President Trump.

Now, President Trump and his supporters say, hey, look at what China's doing. And the intelligence community says yes, China has -- is very powerful. They are extremely competent, there's a huge potential for them to do something. But it is Russia -- according to the experts right now -- who are the most active, working against Biden in favor of Trump -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Alex, thank you for that report, really appreciate it.

And next, President Trump grotesquely splits the nearly 200,000 Americans dead from coronavirus into two piles, those from red states, those from blue states. We'll talk with Senator Tim Kaine about that.

And he'll also be joined by the family of an E.R. doctor who died by suicide during this pandemic, what they are doing to get critical mental health help out to first responders.


And then later, a whistleblower comes forward with claims that the D.C. National Guard wanted to use a heat ray device on protestors.


KEILAR: I want to talk today about the toll that this coronavirus pandemic is having on our frontline workers. Dr. Lorna Breen was a top emergency room physician in New York City. She was on the frontline for weeks when the city was the nation's epicenter, even contracting coronavirus herself. She recovered but then, just a few weeks later, Dr. Breen died by suicide. And it is stories like Dr. Breen's that show us the true cost of this pandemic.

And yet President Trump is politicizing. He continues to politicize what is a health care emergency that sees no political lines. Most recently, he blamed blue states, led by Democrats, for the rising death toll.


TRUMP: So we're down in 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're really at a very low level. But some of the states, they were blue states and blue state-managed. And by the way, we'd recommend they open up their states.


KEILAR: I'm joined now by Senator Tim Kaine, who has been working with Dr. Breen's family on a mental health bill. And we're joined as well by Jennifer and Corey Feist, who are Dr. Breen's sister and brother-in-law.

Jennifer and Corey, you know, we tracked when your sister passed away. It is an incredible loss. It was so clear that this was something beyond your sister, as we watch what our frontline workers are going through.

And Jennifer, you're taking this unimaginable loss and you're making action out of it. So tell us what happened to your sister and what you want to see done.

JENNIFER FEIST, SISTER OF LORNA BREEN: Hi, Brianna, thank you so much for having us.


I can start by saying it has been an unimaginable loss, it's completely unimaginable. And my sister was a fighter. She was super- smart, super-strong. She had been an emergency physician in Manhattan for 16 years. She had seen a lot. And this was overwhelming to her, it was -- it's overwhelming to the health care providers, our frontline heroes, who are still dealing with this, I should add, around the country.

And it's been such a shock and such an incredible loss for our family, that it made us realize that this has got to stop, and we need to build awareness about issues related to the stigma of mental health. It's an issue in our society, but it's even more of an issue in the health care profession.

We need to fund research and programs that will reduce health care professional burnout and improve wellbeing. We need to tell the story, as difficult as it is, because it's got to change.

KEILAR: And Senator, that's where you come in, which I want to talk about in just a moment. But you heard what the president said, and I want to ask you about that.

Because on this program, we've talked a lot about military suicide, and one of the things that we've discovered in our coverage is that actually one of the factors that can contribute to PTSD and suicide risk is when a conflict is politicized. And this fight against coronavirus is becoming politicized.

I think you're familiar with this, you're a Blue Star father. So what is your reaction when you hear the president making this distinction between blue states and red states?

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Well, I could hardly believe it, Brianna, when I heard it yesterday. And I thought of Abraham Lincoln's favorite quote -- one of his most powerful -- "A house divided against itself shall not stand," that he said on the eve of the Civil War. We can't be divided against one another.

Lorna Breen was a healer who was trying to heal us. And most presidents try to be healers, they try to make sure we're not divided, one against another. But when President Trump said basically, if you just didn't count all the deaths in blue states, we'd be doing great?

You cannot write off tens of thousands of deaths that easily. You cannot write off people getting sick and losing their jobs or worrying about the health of their spouse or children that easily. There's never been a president in the history of this country whose instinct at a time like this was not to try to bring us together -- with the exception of Donald J. Trump, who continually goes back and tries to divide us in the ways that Lincoln warned we should not fall for.

KEILAR: And so what is your effort going to be, Senator Kaine?

KAINE: Well, it's -- you know, on (ph) this one, now, here's something we can agree on. The -- I introduced the Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act after I heard this story about Lorna. And every time I hear it, I have the same emotional reaction as if I had heard it 30 seconds ago, this delightful, powerful, accomplished physician doing all she could to help people out, and then being confronted with death and illness at an unimaginable scale.

And yet what she was worried about -- second only to trying to take care of patients -- was what if my colleagues think I'm suffering from any kind of a mental illness or depression or anxiety? I could lose my job. I could lose my credentials to be able to practice medicine.

And it's just an unbelievable tragedy, that people who are doing this frontline work labor under stigma, and even under regulations and rules that might cost them their livelihood if they just acknowledged that they need help.

And so when Jennifer and Corey came to me and we started to talk -- because they're Virginians -- we decided that we had to do better. And the good news is, this is bipartisan: Bill Cassidy, a Republican physician, senator from Louisiana; Todd Young, Republican of Indiana; Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island. We've put together a bill in Lorna's honor to basically establish grants to train health professionals to allow hospitals to do training of their employees, to do research, to gather best practices and do a public education campaign so that we can start to break down the stigma around mental health issues within the profession so that we can take care of our healers.

We say they're our heroes, but we ought to treat them like heroes and care for them when they are in challenging circumstances like they are now.

KEILAR: Yes. And Jennifer and Corey, these are incredibly challenging circumstances. They're very much in sort of a war footing, and they are heroes, as the senator said. They're the walking wounded too, as they're going through all of this.

And it's -- I think with the whole nation in the middle of this, it might be kind of easy to underestimate or not fully grasp the trauma of what we are asking of our doctors and our health care workers. What do you think is going to be the long-term impact on the medical community?


COREY FEIST, BROTHER-IN-LAW OF LORNA BREEN: So we founded the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation to do two key things. One is to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health care, that's got to change.

The culture of medicine has to stop thinking that pushing down the difficulties that physicians observe and feel every day is a courageous act. And rather, they need to ask for help, and for that to be viewed as an act of courage in and of itself.

The second thing we're doing is, we're trying to fund research and other kinds of programs to help reduce the health care professional burnout and improve their wellbeing.

Folks can find out more about what we're doing at And today, we've launched the hashtag #StandWithLorna to try to help build this community of support for all of our health care heroes. Because before they were heroes, they were humans. And we need to remember that, first and foremost.

KEILAR: And Jennifer, I just -- I want to give a final word to you, as you're doing this in honor of your sister. What do you want the medical community to take away?

J. FEIST: Thank you, Brianna. I want the medical community to know that we see you, we hear you, we have been contacted by so many people who said this happened to me, and I had to hide it, had to keep it a secret and I was ashamed.

And we are here to say, there's no more shame, there's no embarrassment. You guys are out there saving us every day, and we are coming to help you and we stand with you, just like we stand with my sister. Thank you.

KEILAR: Jennifer, Corey, Senator, thank you so much to all of you.

KAINE: Thank you, Brianna. Honor to --


C. FEIST: Thank you.

KEILAR: I do want to remind our viewers, if you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. That is, 1-800-273- TALK, or you can text "home" to 741741.

Next, more than two dozen kids, forced to quarantine after one of their classmates knew that he was sick, and still went to school.


Plus, the University of Georgia under fire for allowing fans into their football stadium, but not having on-campus voting. Now the pressure appears to have changed minds.