Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI); Will Trump Supreme Court Nominee End Obamacare?; Biden Heads To Texas And Ohio; Trump Campaigns In Florida As Coronavirus Pandemic Escalates. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired October 12, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: That is good news.

Bianna Golodryga, thank you so much.

Our special coverage continues now with Jake Tapper.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with the 2020 lead.

It is, on its face, shocking. President Trump, a week after his release from the hospital where he battled coronavirus, days after seemingly acknowledging that he could have died from coronavirus, is not rethinking his approach to this deadly pandemic or his own behavior as the leader of the nation.

Instead, he is continuing to do exactly what health officials advise against, bringing together crowds of people for campaign rallies with no mask requirements, no distancing, rallies that we know have already led to his supporters getting infected, or even worse, this as the spread of the virus is also getting worse, more than 50,000 new cases daily four days in a row, the worst such stretch in two months.

North Dakota is already sending COVID patients out of state, a public health official there warning that there are only 20 hospital beds available in the entire state right now.

Next hour, President Trump will leave the White House on his way to the rally in Florida. These will be followed by rallies in Pennsylvania, Iowa and North Carolina, all four states where coronavirus cases are sharply rising.

Dr. Anthony Fauci will join me here on THE LEAD to discuss the dire coronavirus situation in the U.S. momentarily.

But let's begin with CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

And, Kaitlan Kaitlan, I guess it's not surprising, but it's still shocking. Nothing seems to have changed, even though the president has now seen up close how dangerous this virus is. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, there were

a few days where White House aides seemed unsettled now, but it seems that things are slipping back into their old pattern, with the president going back on the campaign trail.

And you just pointed out the several states that he's already got on his agenda for this week, starting today in Florida. But we're told by campaign officials that, after this, they expect it to be back to those two to three events per day that we saw in the lead-up to the 2018 midterms and, of course, in 2016, the president's first time running.

And so they say that they're not going to be changing the practices that they're doing at these rallies to let people inside. Mostly, they have been outdoors, though there have been several events by the president and by his surrogates that have been indoors and pretty crowded without masks.

But at these events that you see the president holding even outdoors, there is little social distancing. And though they encourage people to wear masks, you don't actually see that many people wearing masks when you're actually there seeing them, Jake.

So it doesn't seem that the president's diagnosis or that of many of his campaign aides and West Wing staff has really changed the calculus on that, even though it was an outdoor event that so many of those positive cases are now linked to.


And the White House said they would announce when the president tests negative. That has not happened yet, although his doctor says he's not contagious. They still haven't told the public when he last tested negative before he got infected, which the states he traveled to need to know.

COLLINS: Yes, there are still so many unanswered questions about the president's health.

But one of the biggest is whether or not he's tested negative yet. And we were told on Friday that he was expected to take a test then. The president says that he has. And we were told that they would let us know when he did test negative. So, of course, Jake, because they have not told us that, it leads us to believe that he has not in fact tested negative, though they're pointing to CDC guidance that says that you can get back around other people if you have tested positive for coronavirus 10 days after your first symptoms.

But they are still withholding so many questions about the president's health, and instead letting him go out there and spin it as he's immune and he's not transmissible, without us actually being able to hear from the president's doctor in person.

You pointed to last -- it's been one week since he got back to the White House. It's also been one week since we have seen Dr. Conley and actually had the chance to ask him questions about the president's condition.

And it doesn't appear that we will see him again any time soon either, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, we will see you in the later show.

Team Biden is making major plays in four states that went solidly for Donald Trump in 2016. With 22 days until the election, Joe Biden is spending his time in Ohio today. His wife is in the Republican stronghold of Georgia. And, tomorrow, Biden moves to Florida, while she will campaign in Texas.

I want to bring in CNN's Arlette Saenz who covers the Biden campaign for us.

Arlette, do they actually think that they have a -- I mean, obviously, Florida he's been campaigning for a while, but Texas and Ohio and Georgia?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Jake, they're certainly trying to make a run for some of these states that were typically reliably red states for the president heading into this election year.

And Joe Biden taking that message straight to Ohio today. President Trump won Ohio by eight points back in 2016, after President Obama and Joe Biden won that state in both 2008 and 2012.

And Biden was taking his pitch to the auto industry, talking about the way that his economic plans could help rebuild the economic industry -- or the auto industry, as well as bring back manufacturing jobs, Biden trying to appeal to those white working-class voters who might be disaffected from President Trump after the past four years.


And take a listen to some of the criticism that he lobbed towards the president a little bit earlier today in Toledo, Ohio.


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Erratic tweets and bluster that's only stiffed American workers and consumers, including farmers.

He's let you down. He's let us down.

First president I can ever remember, in the middle of a national economic crisis, did not try to call the parties together. He turned his back on you. I promise you I will never do that.



SAENZ: Those were some cars honking at a bit of a drive-in rally. And Biden also reminded Ohio voters of the work that he and President Obama did during -- in 2008 during the economic recovery. Now, Biden traveled to Toledo. Later today, he will be in Cincinnati, both of those counties typically Democratic strongholds.

But it's those red counties in the surrounding area where Biden is really trying to make appeals to white working-class voters, trying to persuade them to vote for him this time around, after potentially being upset or frustrated with the president's performance in the past four years.

TAPPER: Arlette, these states are reaches. And, obviously, what Biden is focused on more are Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, the states that Hillary Clinton is not president because she lost them to Trump.

Is there any reason to think that this is working, this play for states like Texas and Ohio and Georgia?

SAENZ: Well, you have seen the polls start to tighten in each of those states. And Joe Biden hasn't really traveled there himself. He had been in Ohio, did a stop in Alliance, Ohio, right after the debate, traveled there today. He still hasn't made his own imprint in Georgia or Texas.

But you have seen the campaign start to ramp up some of their advertising. They have a lot of money after those giant fund-raising hauls the former vice president has had. So that is one way that they can try to put these states in play, by placing more money in their ads.

TAPPER: It also theoretically helps with down-ballot races, House candidates in more Democratic parts of those generally Republican states.

Arlette, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's discuss this now with our experts.

President Trump, Nia-Malika, he only seems more defiant after being infected with coronavirus. He doesn't seem to have learned anything. He's more emboldened. He's holding these rallies, potentially exposing his own supporters to the virus, with just 22 days to go until the election.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: The president wants to get out there and feel good again. He's been isolated, obviously, in the White House.

And we know that being out there with all those supporters feeds his ego. The problem, of course, is that they are likely to not be wearing masks. We saw a gathering at the White House over this weekend. Some of those folks had masks on. There was really no social distancing.

So it is problematic. And if you're with people in those states, here he is having these big public rallies that could be super-spreader events in the way that White House event was, at least according to Dr. Fauci, the Amy Coney Barrett gathering there.

So this is problematic. And it doesn't make sense from a health point of view for the folks in that audience, for the president himself. It doesn't make sense politically either. What is dragging his approval ratings down and his standing among voters more generally is his handling of COVID.

And acting so irresponsibly in some of these states he's got to win, I think, only underscores the problems that voters see with his presidency already.

TAPPER: That's a smart observation, because, obviously, his base is with him. He needs suburban women and others who disapprove of how he's conducting himself.

Jackie, I asked Larry Kudlow, the White House chief economic adviser, yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION" to respond to the fact that these rallies are a risk to Trump's own supporters. Take a listen.


LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: There will be masks at these rallies. There will be social distancing at these rallies.


TAPPER: There hasn't been before.

I mean, do you really think that there are going to be not just masks present, but actually required and distancing required at these rallies?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, that was supposed to be the case at the White House this weekend. And we saw, of course, more attendees with masks, but there wasn't a lot of social distancing.

I mean, Kaitlan Collins just said that there haven't -- masks haven't been a priority at these rallies.

And that comes from the top, Jake. The president has made a big scene of taking off his mask when he's walking up the stairs, when he walks up to podiums. He's never been a fan of masks, and he's made that abundantly clear.

We have reporting in The Daily Beast today that, inside the White House, even some close advisers don't feel like they can wear masks inside the White House because the president really looks down upon it, and it's this kind of, I guess the opposite of virtue signaling.



TAPPER: Vice signaling, right.


KUCINICH: Vice signaling, is that a thing? I guess it can be.

And so I think that moment has passed, where the president could have said, OK, well, I had this, maybe we should start doing this for real this time. That's gone out the window, and he's going back to what he's most comfortable doing, which is going to those rallies and getting the applause from the people around him, and kind of their health be damned.

TAPPER: Yes. And you say that he's not a fan of masks. None of us are fans of masks.


TAPPER: They're awful.

KUCINICH: No one like masks.

TAPPER: But we wear them because it's responsible.

But, Nia-Malika, look at this. The president's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, he's been with the president in recent days, although he has said he's tested negative, but he was with the president at the hospital, inside the Oval Office with him within that 10 day period.

And yet Meadows on Capitol Hill today refused to keep his mask on when he was talking to reporters, and it resulted in this. Take a look.


MARK MEADOWS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: That way, I can take this off to talk.


MEADOWS: Well, I'm more than 10 feet away. I'm not -- well, I'm not going to talk through a mask.


TAPPER: He said he wasn't going to talk to the press with his mask off.

I mean, he literally has been with an infected, according to his own words, deathly ill president in the last week.


I mean, all I can do is shake my head at this. Listen, we have all become accustomed to wearing masks, to trying to hear a person and listen to a person who is speaking through a mask. We can do it. It happens.

So, this idea that he just can't bother to speak through a mask, I mean, it's ridiculous. But, again, I think Jackie is exactly right. This is all about loyalty

to the president. Are you with him or against him? If you're with him, you have got to go without a mask and show your loyalty to him, show that you're with his supporters as well.

And it has had terrible consequences for this president, for folks in that White House as well, and reporters as well. And that's why you hear those reporters saying, no, no, no, no, no, please, sir, put your mask on.

But he can't be bothered to put a simple piece of cloth around his face.

TAPPER: I mean, it's not virtue signaling. In Arkansas, they have a mask mandate. I mean, this isn't about liberals. This is about health.


HENDERSON: Right. Yes.

TAPPER: Jackie, while the president's physician puts out these very brief, very opaque notes about the president's health, he himself is calling himself immune, which is not accurate. And he's putting out all this false information about coronavirus again.

And yet there's tens of millions of Americans who believe every word he says.

KUCINICH: Exactly, which is why his words do, in fact, matter.

And if he decided -- I mean, there was that moment, remember, a couple months ago, where he posted a picture of himself on his Twitter feed with a mask, and a lot of his people around him in the administration were saying, oh, my gosh, look how great you look in a mask, seems kind of to try to encourage him to wear it.

And we're not there.

But here's the other thing, Jake. When he goes to these rallies, it's not just the people at the rallies. It's those communities. We had a reporter talk to some business owners in Sanford, Florida, over the weekend. And they're afraid because of the people in their communities that are going to these rallies, and then may become infected and spread it throughout the community, the county, the state.

So, it affects so much more than just the president's supporters, who listen to him. It affects everyone they come in contact to without a mask and without social distancing in their communities.

TAPPER: Yes, in Minnesota, they contacted traces after a rally there, nine infections, two hospitalizations, one person in the ICU because they attended a Trump rally.

Nia-Malika, Jackie, thanks to both of you.

Democrats saying Amy Coney Barrett, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, could be the justice, jury and executioner for Obamacare, as the battle lines are being drawn on day one of the hearings.

And the number of deaths across the United States was unusually high, as coronavirus rampaged through the U.S. earlier this year, a staggering new look at the toll that the virus has taken on this country.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

Just moments ago, we heard from Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Capitol Hill for the first day of hearings on her Supreme Court nomination. Judge Barrett, addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that she believes the judge should make decisions based on how laws are written, not based on their personal beliefs.

She also said that the courts should not be expected to solve every problem faced by the public.

Tomorrow, Judge Barrett will face questions from the senators. Democrats made it clear today that their focus will be on the Affordable Care Act, which goes before the Supreme Court on November 10 for a challenge from the Trump administration, while Republicans are defending Barrett's qualifications and their right to hold hearings so close to an election.

CNN's Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill for us.

And, Manu, what was your biggest takeaway from the day so far?


The Democrats had made very clear that their strategy going into this hearing was all about the Affordable Care Act. They wanted to make every single -- every single senator to make the case about their concerns that her as a justice could potentially strike down the law when she -- when it comes before the court on November 10.

Of course, she has -- had previously criticized Justice John Roberts' decision upholding the constitutionality of the law. So expect those questions to be directed to her when she comes before the senators tomorrow.

Now, when she had a chance to make her own case, she talked mostly about her family, but also talked about her judicial philosophy and her argument that it should be up to Congress to make law, not the courts.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AMY CONEY BARRETT, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: Courts have a vital responsibility to the rule of law, which is critical to a free society. But courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life.

The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.


RAJU: In addition to focusing on the Affordable Care Act, Democrats also today making it very clear about why they believe this process should not even go forward to begin with, given that we're only 22 days away from an election.

There's never been a Supreme Court nominee confirmed after July of a presidential election year. But Republicans push back on that. They're moving straight ahead. And, at the moment, Jake, they are on track to get this nomination confirmed before the end of the month.

Even one of the members on this committee who was absent because he already had tested positive for coronavirus about 10 days ago, Mike Lee, came back today, said he had been cleared by his doctor. We expect another Republican senator to come back who had also tested positive before, Thom Tillis, and that should be enough for them to establish a quorum to move forward with votes.

So, Republicans believe they are on track to get her confirmed before the end of the month, unless something changes over the next couple of days when she answers questions, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, I saw Mike Lee not wearing a mask there, which must have upset some of the -- some of his colleagues on the dais.

Manu, as Democrats tried to focus today's hearing on health care and on the Affordable Care Act specifically, President Trump weighed in on Twitter, as is his wont.

What did he have to say?

RAJU: Yes, he actually called on the Republicans to scrap the hearings altogether, move straight to a vote. He said the Democrats were given way too much time to talk.

And Republicans are not listening to that. Lindsey Graham was asked about that specific tweet. He said, we're going to move forward with the hearings.

Of course, this is still happening at a very rapid clip, Jake. Typically, it takes about two to three months for confirmation hearings to happen. This will happen in just over a month, if she gets that job before the end of the month -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Joining us now to discuss Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. He's on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which, of course, is holding the confirmation hearing.

Senator, I want to get your reaction to Judge Barrett's opening statement and the arguments you heard from your colleagues today.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): Well, we have heard these kind of standard confirmation hearing pabulum open statements before. They happen all the time. They say they're going to respect precedent. They say that judges shouldn't make policy.

And then they get onto the court, and they go off and overrule statutes that have been passed by Congress with huge bipartisan majorities, like the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, because they reached a determination that there was no danger to minority voters of being disenfranchised in the states that had a history of disenfranchising majority -- minority voters.

So, you know, they upend American politics by letting corporations spend unlimited amounts of money in politics. Those are not things where they're following the law. Those are things that they have made up, and they have done it 5-4, through partisan Republican majorities, and it always helps the big donors on the Republican side.

So -- but we have heard that before. So, we hear it again. It's perfectly understandable.

TAPPER: So I want to ask you about one specific part of Judge Barrett's remarks today. Take a listen.


BARRETT: More than the style of his writing, though, it was the content of Justice Scalia's reasoning that shaped me. His judicial philosophy was straightforward. A judge must apply the law as it is written, not as she wishes it were.


TAPPER: So, Judge Barrett seems to be suggesting that she will not let her personal views affect her judgment, she will just adhere to the law. It sounds like you don't believe her.


I think that this is very scripted confirmation hearing stuff that we hear over and over and over again, and then judges go on the court, having said all this stuff, and they go out and behave completely differently.

And, frankly, her description of Judge Scalia is not even very accurate. Justice Scalia was in the Citizens United court and in the Shelby County court, I believe, and both of those were decisions that violated the principles that this nominee just said he stood for.

It just -- it just ain't so. It's confirmation theater, Jake.

TAPPER: Well, let's -- I mean, but let's get down to brass tacks here. I mean, you guys are focusing, Democrats are focusing on the Affordable Care Act.

But, by all indications, she's not likely to answer how she's going to rule on the case. And she has...

WHITEHOUSE: She's already answered how she is going to rule on the case.

She sent a loud enough signal to get this nomination. And the signal was that the swing vote in that case, Justice Roberts, was wrong, that she disagreed with it.


TAPPER: You're talking about the book review she wrote when she expressed disagreement with Justice Roberts.


TAPPER: So, I guess my point is, the Republicans are going to vote for her. And she has the votes. Republicans control the Senate.



TAPPER: So, is your goal, since you don't appear to be able to pick off any other Republican votes that I can tell, to make the case about that she's going to overturn Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, and make it kind of like a rallying cry to vote against Trump?

Is that really the goal of the hearings here?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, if there's any way to turn this, it's because a Republican in the committee or two more Republicans on the floor choose to vote against her.

And there's immense pressure from big Republican political forces to cram her on the court. They have been desperate to own this court for a long time. So they're really going to have to have a good reason to push back.

And that reason is going to be the public, particularly for senators in close races, calling up and saying, hey, whoa, whoa, wait a minute, she's going to get rid of my health care, she's going to get rid of Roe vs. Wade and my ability to determine my own choices, and she's going to get rid of Obergefell.

Those are the three -- being the gay marriage case, that is -- those are the three things that are in the Republican Party platform.

TAPPER: Right.

WHITEHOUSE: Judges must reverse those decisions.

So, I think it's very fair for Democrats to point out that that's the plan. And we know that's the plan because the Republicans said so. TAPPER: Yes, I'm not saying it's not fair. I'm just wondering what the

strategy is, since it -- I mean, I don't see any more votes for you to pick up.

I guess, who has said they're going to vote against her in the Republican Party right now?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, the signals are from Senator Murkowski and Senator Collins.

TAPPER: Senator Collins, right, yes. But you need four.


TAPPER: I mean, I don't see any...

WHITEHOUSE: So, we need two more.

TAPPER: I don't see anyone else. Do you?

WHITEHOUSE: Not at the moment.

That's why it's important to make this confirmation process salient to real Americans who have real skin in the game for health care, for instance, in the middle of a pandemic, for -- we have had a whole generation of women who've been brought up with Roe vs. Wade as a constitutional baseline, as a given.

The idea that this nominee might knock that out from underneath and reopen all those sore wounds, that's something that I think people should be concerned about.

And if people are concerned enough, even politicians with very grumpy donors trying to get something done, sometimes answer.

TAPPER: Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of the great state of Rhode Island, thank you so much for your time today, sir. We appreciate it.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coronaviruses is -- quote -- "the greatest threat to prosperity since the Great Depression" -- unquote -- that in a new study that puts a nerve-wracking number on the financial and human toll.

That's next.