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Trump Contradicts CDC Chief's Testimony on Masks and Vaccines; Attorney General Bill Barr Likens Virus Lockdown to Slavery; Torrential Rain Causes Flooding in Alabama & Florida Panhandle. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired September 17, 2020 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think we may well be within a month or so of having the first safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's shown efficacious in November or in December, we don't have enough vaccine doses.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The idea of getting the entire population that wants to get vaccinated, vaccinated in a month or two, that's going to be very, very difficult to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are continued threats here in this area posed by some of the damage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just can't believe what I'm seeing out here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house was shaking. It was shaking. It really was. I was concerned about the roof coming off the house.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, September 17. How did that happen?
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I know.
CAMEROTA: Six o'clock here in New York.
President Trump escalating his war on facts and science after the CDC director testified on Capitol Hill that wearing a mask is more effective protection than any vaccine and that a coronavirus vaccine will not be wildly available until next summer.
President Trump then undermined Dr. Robert Redfield by saying he was, quote, "confused" and misunderstood the questions. The CDC is trying to walk back Dr. Redfield's comments, seemingly to back up the president.
Mr. Trump is also blaming blue states for the U.S. having the highest death toll in the world, as though we're no longer the United States.
Nearly 200,000 Americans have been killed across the country. Cases are rising this morning in 23 states, and deaths are on the rise in 25 states. Nearly 1,000 Americans died just yesterday from the virus.
BERMAN: What you're seeing on the screen here is some context for the differing voices on vaccines and masks. In terms of scientific credentials, Dr. Redfield has a medical degree from Georgetown. He's a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He served on an advisory council on HIV/AIDS under George W. Bush. He served in the Army Medical Corps for 20 years. He's been CDC director since 2018.
As for Donald Trump, his uncle taught at MIT. He also lies about everything from crowd sizes to injecting disinfectant, so there's that.
This morning, we have new developments in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally. A season's worth of rain fell on the Gulf Coast in a matter of hours. Serious flooding, you can see right there. The storm washed out a section of the Three Mile Bridge in Pensacola, Florida, and it's not done yet.
Let's begin with the latest, though, on the pandemic. CNN's Nick Valencia, who's got sources up and down inside the CDC, has the very latest on Dr. Redfield clearly laying out a timeline on vaccines, clearly laying out the medical advocacy for masks, and then being directly undermined by the president.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, John.
We've seen this play out before: President Trump criticizing his own CDC director, the man he appointed to run the world's leading health agency.
And while Dr. Robert Redfield has been criticized in the past for being an ineffective communicator, even some in his own agency have said that he's unwilling to stand up to the president, it's this latest round of comments from President Trump that have left senior leaders at the CDC feeling demoralized and further chipped away at the public's trust and the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
VALENCIA (voice-over): President Trump undermining his own CDC director, claiming Dr. Robert Redfield's timeline for a vaccine is incorrect.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he made a mistake when he said that. It's just incorrect information. And I called him, and he didn't tell me that. And I think he got the message maybe confused. Maybe it was stated incorrectly. No, we're ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced.
VALENCIA: But Redfield was very clear when he testified under oath in a Senate hearing Wednesday, and his vaccine timeline is consistent with most health experts'.
DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: I think there will be a vaccine that initially will be available sometime between November and December. 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.
VALENCIA: A CDC spokesman declining to comment on Trump's contradiction to CNN, but one senior official calling Redfield a convenient punching bag for the president.
After Trump's comments, the CDC releasing a statement seeming to back his claims, writing Redfield was referring to, quote, "the time period in which all Americans would have completed their COVID vaccination. He was not referring to the time period when COVID-19 vaccine doses would be made available to all Americans."
The inconsistent messaging coming from the White House only adding to the lack of trust in the vaccine process. Joe Biden making clear, he's putting his faith in the science.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Let me be clear. I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don't trust Donald Trump.
VALENCIA: Still, the president continues to claim a vaccine is likely to be approved next month or soon after and will be made available to the general public almost immediately, something even one of his top health advisers disputes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I said, the high-priority people will have, sure, some time, no later than January. Of course, it depends on when things are approved. And then it's anticipated that there will be 700 million doses by end of Q1.
VALENCIA: The president claiming Redfield was also confused when discussing the efficacy of masks.
REDFIELD: Face masks -- These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have.
TRUMP: I think there's a lot of problems with masks. Now, vaccine is much more effective than the masks.
VALENCIA: Dr. Redfield attempted to clarify his comments, but he didn't back down from his testimony, reiterating in a tweet that a vaccine is the closest that America will have, the best chance at getting back to a sense of normalcy.
And we should be clear, Alisyn, the White House, according to officials at the CDC, are preparing for four different scenarios. One that brings a vaccine as late as 2021.
You know, this latest saga of missed mess [SIC] -- missed mex [SIC] -- mixed messaging, I should say, is just a latest reminder in what we were told very early on in this pandemic from sources at the CDC, that they have become accustomed to working with the White House that asks for something, and then chaos ensues -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Nick, thank you very much for all of that reporting.
VALENCIA: You bet.
CAMEROTA: Also developing overnight, stunning comments from President Trump's attorney general, William Barr. He thinks that asking Americans to stay home and shutting down businesses at the height of the pandemic was akin to slavery.
CNN's Boris Sanchez is live at the White House with the latest. So what did he say, Boris?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
Yes, Attorney General William Barr critical of governors who locked down their states in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. As you noted, he said that lockdowns were akin to slavery.
He ignored the clear advice of health experts, not just in the United States, but around the world and the fact that we've seen that lockdowns save lives.
The attorney general speaking at Hillsdale College yesterday. Listen to more of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders is like house arrest. It's -- it's -- you know, other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: A different kind of restraint. You hear the applause there.
Yesterday, the attorney general also made some interesting comments about officials that he oversees at the Department of Justice, calling junior prosecutors somewhat like Montessori preschoolers.
This tracks with recent comments from the attorney general. He's been very critical of lockdowns, of officials at the Department of Justice, of the Mueller investigation, of mail-in voting. It is yet another instance of the attorney general parroting what we're hearing here at White House directly from President Trump -- John. BERMAN: It's also -- There was no national stay-at-home order. He's got a false choice there. The attorney general of the United States, who knows better, is creating a false choice.
And by the way, Japanese internment camps, sodomy laws, mixed marriages, everyone who had their civil liberties infringed over decades and decades, they may have something to say to the attorney general of the United States on that. So Boris, thank you very much.
SANCHEZ: Of course.
CAMEROTA: -- lockdown.
BERMAN: There was no national lockdown.
CAMEROTA: Not -- Forget just even calls for it.
BERMAN: Calls and otherwise. He is -- it's a false choice there. He's creating a false choice and then making an offensive comparison.
All right. The remnants of Hurricane Sally are forecast to dump up to a foot of rain today in Georgia and the Carolinas. Parts of southern Alabama and Florida, the Florida Panhandle, were inundated with more than 2 feet of water. Pennsylvania [SIC] got four months of rain in just four hours. That's Pensacola, right there. We're seeing incredible images of the hurricane's widespread destruction.
Ed Lavandera is live in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where the hurricane made landfall.
Ed, what are you seeing?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
Well, the eye of Hurricane Sally came ashore on this stretch of beach on the Alabama coastline. And residents we've talked to over the last day, who emerge from their homes after the storm, all share kind of the same theme. They were stunned at the amount of force and power this storm brought.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Hurricane Sally barreled into the Gulf Coast, leaving behind potentially life-threatening floodwaters and a devastating path of destruction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house was shaking. It was shaking. It really was. The winds were high. It was whistling like I've never heard anything before.
LAVANDERA: In Alabama, a dollhouse view inside this hotel in Gulf Shores. The storm ripped off its side, showing beds and sheets blowing in the wind.
Sally's strength left these homes destroyed, bringing down trees and power lines. And even leaving this boat shipwrecked on what was once land, several miles away from where it was originally docked. Its owners say they rode out the storm onboard.
ZACH HOOD, DIRECTOR, BALDWIN COUNTY, ALABAMA, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: The biggest thing that was catastrophic for us was how slow Hurricane Sally moved across our community, and it had very devastating consequences.
LAVANDERA: Some cities like Orange Beach, Alabama, are enforcing curfews until further notice.
MAYOR TONY KENNON, ORANGE BEACH, ALABAMA: It was an unbelievably freaky right turn of a storm that none of us ever expected. We're going to attack this thing, and we're going to get our city back running just like it should be.
LAVANDERA: In Florida's Panhandle, 500 National Guard members are on the ground, helping with search-and-rescue efforts. The governor is urging people to stay out of any floodwaters.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): It is hazardous. Do not try to go out in there. There could be power lines down in the water. Don't try to drive your car through it.
LAVANDERA: After Sally, a section of the Three Mile Bridge in Pensacola is now missing, and murky waters surround the homes in this neighborhood. A flash flood emergency declared in Pensacola with most of downtown left underwater.
GINNY CRANOR, CHIEF, PENSACOLA FIRE DEPARTMENT: Flooding is bad. We have 30 inches of rain in Pensacola, which is four months of rain in four hours.
LAVANDERA: And even though storm is now over, local officials are sending this reminder for residents to be careful.
ROBERT BENDER, COMMISSIONER, ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA: I'm here to ask the public to please stay at home. Stay off the roads. We are still in an evaluation and life-saving recovery mission. And we need to be able to do that job.
LAVANDERA: And John, as you can see behind me, there's still some floodwaters that have not receded yet. So that will take some time.
Here in Gulf Shores, this place will remain closed to tourists for at least ten days, while city officials say they'll need that time to finish cleaning up the roads and begin the cleanup process and the reconstruction process of damaged buildings and businesses here on this island -- John.
BERMAN: A lot of work to do. And we've heard from officials all around the coast, they were surprised. They were surprised by how hard this storm hit them.
All right, Ed, thanks so much for being with us.
The death toll from coronavirus in the United States getting ever closer to 200,000. The CDC director, one of the nation's leading scientists, is pushing the importance of masks, and the president, for some reason, disagrees.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REDFIELD: These face masks are the most important powerful public health tool we have. If we did it for 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks, we'd bring this pandemic under control.
I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 7 percent, and if I don't get an immune response, the vaccine's not going to protect me. This face mask will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: CDC director Robert Redfield testifying under oath at a Senate hearing on the importance of wearing masks. The president, who is never under oath, in many ways, doesn't agree.
Joining us now, CNN political commentator Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, and CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem.
And Doctor, I want to start with you. And I want to start with what Dr. Redfield said, because I don't want to present this as a "two sides" thing, because there aren't two sides here. What there is, is a scientist, the head of the CDC, a doctor, a man with extensive medical training, telling Americans they should be wearing masks. Why is that important, and why should we listen to him?
DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A mask is the single greatest, most important tool that any one of us has to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from COVID-19, full stop.
Let's put this in context, though. The president has marginalized the CDC. He's -- he's pressured the FDA. He's marginalized Anthony Fauci. He has sought to put his political self-interest today or tomorrow or in the election, over what is sound public health in the midst of a pandemic that has taken nearly 200,000 lives.
This is in keeping with the fact that this president has consistently put his own self-interests over the self -- over the interests of -- of every American in this country. And here we see it again. He is trying to marginalize his CDC director, who is bringing the facts of the matter to the case, in front of the Senate, under oath, and it's shameful to watch.
CAMEROTA: Juliette, I thought that what Dr. Redfield said was actually very encouraging. It sort of gave me a whole different lens to look at it. We don't have to wait for a silver bullet.
He was saying, he was like, we have the power right now. It was sort of like, you've had the power all along, Dorothy.
CAMEROTA: And it was -- and he said this, right now, if we all wore it, we could bring down the -- the virus in six to eight to 12 weeks. I mean, that was such a hopeful note that he struck.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly.
CAMEROTA: There's -- you know, we don't know if there will be 70 percent herd immunity with the vaccine, but we have a way to take the power right now.
KAYYEM: Exactly. You know, chin up! You know, look, we know so much more than we did in March, between testing and tracing and treatments that we have, smarter social distancing, masking, of course. Working from home. I could name 20 tools that we now have that are not a vaccine that are going to limit or reduce our risk to getting COVID.
If only we had a national strategy to essentially adopt and embrace it. That's what we haven't had.
So I -- as someone who's not a doctor, I don't think about a vaccine. I think about, how do I get from day one, how do I plan from day one indefinitely, until further notice?
And there is good news there, if only we would mask and continue some of these safe and sound social distancing routines, we would get 80 to 90 percent of the way there.
The problem is, is we now have a president -- and it's so hard for me to say this -- who would rather contribute to increased fatalities of Americans than admit he was wrong. That is just simply where we are right now. The president wants to not have to change his mind about masking, not have to change his mind about the timing of the vaccine or admit a change in the timing of a vaccine.
So instead, it is just, you know, telling lies from the podium, which is directly contributing to the death of Americans.
BERMAN: You know, it's interesting. We had Sanjay on, and we're going to have Sanjay on in a little bit. And from the town meeting, Sanjay's feeling initially was what the president was saying about masks, a bit of a side show.
But it's clear now, it's not a side show. It's clear that once again, he is trying to undermine mask wearing, that he's trying to raise questions about mask wearing. I can't figure out why. The mask wearing thing is absolutely inexplicable from the president of the United States at this point. The other aspect of this, Dr. El Sayed, was the vaccine timeline,
where Dr. Redfield said something, I think, incredibly noncontroversial, which was to merely state the numbers, as have been laid out by government scientists, by the CDC, by those at Operation Warp Speed, about when people will be able to get the vaccine, when a vaccine will be widely available to the general public.
And what Dr. Redfield said is that some time in the middle of next year, which is what we've been hearing all along, even if it's approved for first responders or high-risk groups before that. But it's a politically -- all I can think is that it's an inconvenient message somehow for the president.
EL-SAYED: That's right. I mean, this whole thing is about the president's conversation with his base. From the very beginning of this pandemic, instead of asking, What is it that we as Americans, all Americans, ought to do to take this pandemic on, he has asked, How can I turn this into political fodder for my base?
He's used racial epithets about this virus to blame it on -- on another country and another people. He has sought to talk about things like masks and lockdowns, which have saved lives, as being akin -- his attorney general said it just yesterday, akin to slavery, which is just absurd. He has sought to talk about this as if it was a challenge to your civil liberties.
And he knows that, to a certain group of people, when he keeps pushing this message, he can create the semblance of this two-sides issue, which then makes sure that those folks will be on his side and pulls them closer to him.
Although this is all paradoxical, because this is in the midst of a pandemic that -- that is not discriminating at skin level. It does not ask what -- where you come from, what part of the country you live from, whether you voted red or blue, if or when it enters your body.
And so the fact is, is that he's putting his political self-interest ahead of -- of our well-being as a country, and he's doing this to speak to a small minority of Americans, who he sees as the base, to try and rile them up. And not only is it making sure that this pandemic persists among us, but also, it is dividing our country. And so it's -- it's perpetuating, really, two diseases at the same time.
CAMEROTA: Speaking of dividing our country, Juliette, I mean, the president sees everything through that lens. Everything is red versus blue. Everything is conservative versus liberal. And so he sees the virus that way. And he -- he doesn't think that he's the president of the United States. Here's what he said yesterday about whose fault this is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Despite the fact that the blue states had -- 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: If you take the blue states out, you don't have the United States. One more thing, the red states also had tremendous death rates.
KAYYEM: Right. I hate to sort of, you know, address this in any way, but the truth is, of the ten top states in fatality, five of them are red, five of them are blue.
The other thing is, of course, there are red people in blue states and blue people in red states. I don't like talking like this, but this is what the president does, is that he actually divides us, thinks us -- has us think politically rather than strategically about how to minimize risk.
And the fact that he could even say that means that it is in his mind in terms of what the planning is like. And here's the sort of horrifying thing when we look back on the last nine months.
If there is any president who could have convinced red governors, Republican governors, to adopt masking, to adopt social distancing, to keep the number below 200,000, which we're going to hit in the next couple of days, it would have been Donald Trump. They would have listened to him.
But instead, he plays to what is such a marginalized base at this stage, as I've said on the stage before. The polling shows 80 percent of Americans are completely fine with masking. It is actually the small 20 percent that he sort of, you know, radicalizes in many ways.
But the president had the capacity to make us safer. He didn't do it, because he was looking at red and blue.
BERMAN: Look, it's ghoulish. You aren't less or more dead depending on what state you live in.
BERMAN: You're an American, and you're a human being. And there are nearly 200,000 human beings dead in this country from the pandemic. Like I said, it's just ghoulish.
Juliette, Dr. El-Sayed, thank you.
KAYYEM: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: We have to talk about this stunning statement by President Trump's attorney general. He thinks asking Americans to stay home to save lives at the height of the pandemic and shutting some businesses was akin to slavery. We discuss, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders is like house arrest. It's -- it's -- you know, other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: That was Attorney General Bill Barr speaking at a conservative college, likening calls for businesses to close.