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President Trump Contradicts Statements from CDC Director on Coronavirus Vaccine and Efficacy of Mask-Wearing to Combat Coronavirus Spread; Hurricane Sally Causes Massive Flooding in Alabama and Florida; Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) is Interviewed About AG Barr Likening Virus Lockdown to Slavery; Smoke From West Coast Fires Reaches Europe, 4+ Million Acres Burn. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 08:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Arising this morning in 23 states. and deaths are on the rise in 25 states. Nearly 1,000 Americans died just yesterday from this virus.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So this morning we also 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. We're seeing pictures this morning of serious flooding. The storm washed out a section of the Three Mile Bridge in Pensacola. We're going to go live there in just a few minutes.

We want to begin, though, with the pandemic. Nearly 1,000 Americans reported dead in the last 24 hours alone. Joining us, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and he's the author of the new book "Preventable" which comes out in the spring.

Sanjay, what we saw yesterday, I'm not sure it's about whiplash as it's about being told about science from the scientist, and having it contradicted by a politician. You say you have never seen anything like it.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. What Dr. Redfield was saying yesterday was -- I listened to it. It wasn't shocking. It's what a lot of other people have already said. I think Andy Slavitt and I were on this show back in July at that point saying the solution is right under our nose, or over our nose. The mask should be over your nose. If we did that for just three to four weeks along with physical distancing and staying out of bars and things like that we could be looking at the backside of the curb. We said that months ago. It's been the right answer for some time.

And this that the vaccine is going to immediately flip a switch is not true. There's not enough vaccines immediately available. We know that that's true, and we can talk about that. Even after you get it, depending on how effective it is, we may still need to abide by some of these public health measures for some time to come. So what was shocking was not what Dr. Redfield said. What was shocking, I think, was the way that the president responded to it, basically arguing with the evidence, the science that we have been talking about for months.

CAMEROTA: But Andy, wasn't it also shocking then how the spokesperson for the CDC responded to what President Trump said. President Trump is on a different timeline than anybody else that we've ever spoken to, and yet, yesterday the spokesperson for the CDC had to kind of do these back bends, these rhetorical back bends to somehow conform with President Trump's timeline by saying, well, he meant when it would be completed for the general public, not when it would be available to the general public. I know that -- I have read your notes that say all of this just sows doubt in these institutions, the CDC, the FDA, that we're going to need when the vaccine comes out.

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER ACTING ADMINISTRATOR FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES: I hope everybody keeps in mind what's important, which is, first of all, it will be great news and very fast to get a vaccine over the course of the next year. So I know everybody is impatient and that we want it now. But we're better off having a safe vaccine that everyone can trust, that goes through the scientific process. And with the distribution it takes, next year is still very, very speedy.

The second thing that's important is that even if Mr. Trump plays politics with the vaccine, we shouldn't lose our faith that vaccines will be part of the answer. But Sanjay said it exactly right. It's part of the answer, because a vaccine is going to be -- it's going to be somewhat effective in some people for some period of time. What those somes are we don't know, and we can't possibly know. So it will be a big help, it will be a big part of our arsenal, but so will masks, so will some of our behavior changes, so will some of the new therapies.

And all those things together are going to get us on the right path. But I urge us to be patient and I would urge us not to lose confidence in science even with all this politics going on.

BERMAN: And it's going on right in front of our faces here, Sanjay. And I know the other day when the president tried to undermine mask- wearing at the ABC town hall and said that he looks at waiters and that's somehow -- waiters as in people who serve food, as if he communicate with him, and suggested that tell him that masks don't work. You said that was a sideshow. I'm not sure anymore that it's a sideshow because of what we've heard now repeatedly from the president over the last few days. Why did he call Dr. Redfield and tell him you're wrong about masks? Why is he making fun of Joe Biden in the White House for wearing masks? It seems to me that undermining mask- wearing is part of his new strategy.

GUPTA: Yes. I think what I meant by sideshow is I watched that town hall, and I think he was making up a reason. People are asking, why aren't you behind masks, and his answer was some version of, well, waiters don't like them. That obviously is a terrible answer, and most of the country is behind mask wearing. All of his public health officials are behind mask wearing. There are people around him to protect him who will wear masks, also be tested, do all those things. So I don't know. I guess it's a very clear, concise wedge issue that has developed because he has politicized masks.


We have seen so many countries around the world, and we can show see the graph again, which we have shown on your program before, but if you look at the U.S. versus Italy, versus South Korea, and you look at the trend lines, the trend lines in many of these other places have improved dramatically. The United States has stayed up high. As we know the overall case count is still plateauing at a very high number. Why? They don't have a vaccine. They don't have some magic therapeutic. They wore masks. They tested early. They did all the things we could have done as well.

So why the president is so against masks I think is because it's easy to basically drive a wedge with this issue. Vaccines are harder to explain. Therapeutics harder to explain. This mask thing is just bizarre to me. So I meant sideshow is I just don't think he has a reason as to why he's so against masks.

CAMEROTA: Andy, I want to play what Dr. Redfield of the CDC said about masks yesterday, because it helped me see it in a totally new and more optimistic light. So listen to what he said.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: These facemasks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. If we did it for six, eight, 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 the COVID than when I take the COVID a vaccine, because immunogenicity may be 70 percent. And if I don't get a immune response the vaccine is not going to protect me. This facemask will.


CAMEROTA: Andy, it was like we already have the power. I was telling John, it reminds me of "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy, you have had the power all along. We don't have to wait for this silver bullet of the vaccine, whenever that's available. We already have the power that, he says, might be even more protective.

SLAVITT: Alisyn, you look at the continent of Africa -- 1.3 billion people. They have had fewer than 30,000 deaths in the continent of Africa. They don't have all the technology and all the resources. They don't have the expectation that our government going to solve this for them. This is low tech. And for a continent that is used to dealing with public health crises, this is a slow pitch. This is not that hard to understand.

Which is why what Sanjay said is very important here. If we had a consistent message, a consistent message about masks that they're not controversial, that they work, and that indeed six to eight weeks, and Dr. Redfield is correct. The virus does go away. Now he's got to stop freelancing. That bit at the end more powerful than a vaccine -- why would the head of the CDC sow any concern about vaccine that he doesn't need to. That's not his point. But his point about masks is right, and there's evidence that it's right. BERMAN: I thought when you were bringing up "The Wizard of Oz" you were just trying to make me feel better about wearing ruby slippers.


BERMAN: Sanjay, you spoke to Moncef Slaoui, who is running Operation Warp Speed, and just to be clear, his timeline for vaccine availability to the general public is very much what Dr. Redfield said yesterday. And on the subject of vaccines writ large, something Andy said just there, we did hear from Dr. Anthony Fauci yesterday on when they do become available, what's really important. So listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would happen if only a third or -- sorry, two-thirds or a half of the public get vaccinated, would that be enough?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I don't think it would be at all. And I think that's important for the public to appreciate, and that's why I appreciate the opportunity of having this interview with you. One of the things you need to understand, it's the combination of how effective a vaccine is and how many people use it.


BERMAN: You thought that sound was really important, Sanjay. Why?

GUPTA: Well, we always talk about a vaccine being safe and effective as the two criteria, which they are. But safe, effective, and trusted, we have to add in that third criteria here. And we now know that the number of people who say, the percentage of people who say they would not take this vaccine if authorized in the fall but not approved is over half the country said they would not do it. And that number actually went up since May.

That's got to change. I understand that we have been reporting on the concerns about the FDA for some months because of the emergency use authorization given to hydroxychloroquine, the exaggerating of data around convalescent plasma. But I think -- and I have talked to several people about this, been reporting on it for some time -- there is a necessary and deliberate safety process, regulatory process when it comes to vaccines. You're giving it to healthy people, not sick people, and there is an independent body. So people have got to take this vaccine in order to get to that mass immunity that we've been talking about.


CAMEROTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Andy Slavitt, thank you both very much for the expertise.

Now to the aftermath of hurricane Sally. The remnants are still drenching Georgia and the Carolinas right now. Up to a foot of rain is forecast today. And you are looking at live pictures from a drone above the catastrophic flooding caused by the hurricane. This is in Gulf Shores, Alabama. That's where Sally made landfall yesterday morning. Look at how widespread that is. The storm surge and torrential rain has much of this coastal city under water. The worst flooding may be in Pensacola, Florida, where Sally dumped two feet of rain in just four hours. CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Pensacola with more. Tell us what it looks around you, Rosa.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, good morning. The water has receded, but the signs of the force of hurricane Sally are all around me. Let me show you around because you'll see that the blacktop on this road peeled away, and it's stacked up almost like a layered cake. Behind that, you'll see that there's still some ponding, there's still some debris and some cars underwater.

Here's a fascinating thing that I've got to show you, because officials here were telling me that there was so much water that soaked this area that the trees normally during a hurricane, we see how the branches just snap. And if you can see all around here, the trees are not completely snapped. The roots are uprooted, which is different. We normally don't see that.

Beyond that, you'll also see that a boat went ashore. Now, there were very dramatic moments at the height of this hurricane. I talked to Commissioner Robert Bender. He is a commissioner here for Escambia County, and he said that the officials were watching this crane, this barge that had a crane that hit the Three Mile Bridge. Now, locals call it the Three Mile Bridge. It really connects Pensacola where I am to Gulf Breeze. Well, that barge hit the Three Mile Bridge, removed a piece of that bridge, and then headed towards the I-10 bridge. So that is the main thoroughfare. If you have ever been to Pensacola, you have probably been on that interstate. Officials say that there were very dramatic moments because the barge was headed straight to I-10. About a half-mile before that, that barge went aground. The U.S. Coast Guard was then called in and was able to secure that barge.

But, Alisyn, a lot of tense moments. We have talked to folks here who say that they didn't think it was going to be as bad, and then they started experiencing the bands and the rain. I should add that Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to survey the damage today, which more state resources coming into this area to continue to survey the damage and to help whoever needs help in this area impacted by hurricane Sally. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Rosa Flores, thank you very much for being on the ground for us.

So Attorney General Bill Barr thinks that stay-at-home orders to keep people safe during the pandemic are akin to slavery. What does Congressman James Clyburn think about that? We ask him next.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Developing this morning, to be clear there was no national coronavirus lockdown. That's just one thing wrong with what the Attorney General William Barr says here.

So, listen to this.


WILLIAM BARR, 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.



BERMAN: Joining me now is House majority whip, Democratic Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

As I said there was no national lockdown, but even comparing some of the state restrictions for coronavirus to human bondage, what's your reaction to that?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, thank you very much for having me.

You know, I think that statement by Mr. Barr was the most ridiculous, tone deaf, god-awful things I have ever heard. It is incredible the chief law enforcement officer in this country would equate human bondage to expert advice to save lives.

Slavery was not about saving lives, it was about devaluing lives. This pandemic is a threat to human life. And the experts, the medical experts, the scientists are telling us what it takes to respond successfully to this pandemic.

And if this administration -- this god-awful duo of Trump and Barr are going about the business of doing what is necessary to protect the people of this great country, we would be beyond this pandemic by now. Those countries that did it they are beyond it. Those of us who ignored it, it would be great -- it would have been great if we had a national lockdown so that people's lives would be saved and our children would be going on with their lives today as they should be.

But that is just what we're up against here. Two people in charge of running the law enforcement of this country absolutely tone deaf to what it takes to be great leaders. They're driving this country into a direction no one thought they would see in our lifetimes.

BERMAN: I will note, there are many areas in the world now seeing a resurgence of the coronavirus cases no matter what actions they took. The United States is much worse off, clearly, than almost anywhere else in the world.

I do want to ask you. You are leading the House committee investigating the coronavirus response, and one of the things you have done in recent weeks is launching an investigation into Michael Caputo, who was the HHS communications director. Whether or not he was using pressure to alter the scientific reports, some of the most revered scientific reports. Caputo has since stepped aside from his position.

But what have you found largely speaking about political influence on science as part of this investigation?

CLYBURN: We're troubled by what we're finding.


I'm not going to get into specifics because we're doing the investigation. I don't want to be out in front of my staff. But just let me say this, I'm very troubled by what the administration is doing and many of the people who are mouthing this foolishness.

And even the president himself -- this is just a bit much for the country to take. But the investigations are ongoing and I put an "S" on investigations because there are several that are taking place and several need to take place because they are on many fronts doing stuff that put the lives and livelihoods of the American people at great risk.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about the status of coronavirus relief in the House of Representatives now. A group of -- a bipartisan group known as the Problem Solvers Caucus has put together a plan for about $1.5 trillion. The president has now said, while not endorsing that specific plan, that he's in favor of a higher end and spending much higher than Republicans in the Senate are.

So what hope do you have this morning that you may be able to sit down and negotiate an agreement?

CLYBURN: Well, as you know, I grew up in the parsonage and I learned at the very early age that it's the deeds, not their words that we should be guided by.

And so, I'm waiting for the president to put forth some deeds, tell the leadership of the Senate, because Mitch McConnell has told us that he's not going to put anything on the floor unless it's got the support of the president.

So tell him what it is that you support. Not these generalities about a high end number. Give him the number and give him how you ought to spend or allocate the numbers and then let's go forward. The problem solvers, they're doing good work. I'm pleased to see that they are really improving upon their initial proposals.

Now, remember the Problem Solvers is bipartisan, almost 50/50, Democrats and Republicans. I think about 21 to 22 on either side so it's a bipartisan approach. So this president should follow what is taking place with them and I think they're getting close to what is a realistic number.

BERMAN: Well, what about Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House? Should she also listen to the Problem Solvers here because she doesn't appear to be in discussions either at this point?

CLYBURN: Well, that's not true. She is absolutely listening to them. They are part of our caucus and she talks with them.

She hasn't met with them. I know she has and we discussed the meetings. So sure, she's listening to them.

But just because you're listening doesn't mean you are capitulating. She knows exactly what we need to do and I support the proposal she's laid out and that's why I think the problem-solvers are getting closer to where we need to be. I don't think they're there yet.

BERMAN: Can I ask about a parochial concern now and that's the state of South Carolina. You may very well be one of the most -- if not be the most influential Democratic politician in South Carolina. At least right now, there is a Senate race in South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, running for re-election and Jamie Harrison running against him. There is a brand-new poll out which shows this race neck and neck.

Do you believe it? What do you think is going to happen here?

CLYBURN: Yes, the race is neck and neck. And I do believe that Jamie Harrison will be on November the 4th, the biggest -- one of the biggest political surprises this country has ever seen.

Jamie has a great story. I met him when he was an 11th grader. He has been in my life ever since and he has been in the lives of the people of South Carolina ever since as well. He's a young man who has his feet squarely planted in South Carolina soil. He loves the people of his great state.

He went away to school, Yale University. And when he graduated from Yale, he came back and taught school there at the Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School where he grew up. He gave back to his grandparents, went to work, bought his grandparents a house, symbolic of the fact that the shyster had taken the trailer home that his grandparents owned away from them unfairly.

This is the kind of guy he is and the people of South Carolina are finding that out and they're responding to him in such a way that I think it's going to be a surprise to the country, and it will be a great honor to the people of South Carolina, I think, for him to represent them.

BERMAN: I'm glad to hear you're not holding Yale against him too much.

Congressman James Clyburn, thanks so much for being with us this morning. We do appreciate your time.

CLYBURN: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, this morning, at least a dozen people missing in the deadly wildfires in the West.

[08:25:02] Among them, a well known environmental activist. We're going to speak to a long-time friend to give us the very latest on the search.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Smoke from wildfires on the West Coast drifting more than 5,000 miles all the way to Europe. This morning, firefighters are still battling nearly 80 fires.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is live in California with more.

What's the situation at this hour, Stephanie?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's incredible, Alisyn. Even in the International Space Station, they're able to see the smoke from all of the wildfires on the West Coast. Those 79 fires burning in ten western states, including Idaho, Oregon, obviously, California, having the most with 22. I'm at the Bobcat Fire which you can see is still burning here behind me, burning more than 46,000 acres, still at 3 percent containment at last update here.

But the good news is that neighborhood where I was yesterday, they were able to save that. They're mopping it up now, but still, they're -- overnight, there was another neighborhood back behind that did get an evacuation order. Just to give you an idea of what it is like here, this is the situation here in California.

In Oregon, they are still looking for people. We do know that there are eight people that have been confirmed dead, but 12 more.