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Trump Returns To Campaign Trail For First Time Since COVID Diagnosis; Trump To Hold Campaign Events In FL, NC, IA And PA This Week; Joe Biden Travels To Ohio, Calls President's Florida Trip "Reckless;" Confirmation Hearings Underway For Judge Barrett. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 12, 2020 - 11:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Opening statements this morning on Capitol Hill, the prelude to a brutal confirmation fight over Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the United States Supreme Court. More on that ahead.

First though, the president is out of coronavirus isolation today and off to Florida for his campaign trail return. Joe Biden travels to Ohio and says this morning that the president's Florida trip is, quote, "reckless."

Now the president's doctor say he is no longer a coronavirus transmission risk, but they refuse to tell us -- tell you when the president last tested negative.

The president of course trails significantly with just three weeks left of campaigning. If you thought his COVID scare would steer him toward coronavirus truth telling, well think again.

The president argues again that the virus is disappearing and that we are around the final corner.

Let's look at the data because it tells us something very, very different. You just look at the case trend here in the United States. This is not around the final corner. This is not a virus disappearing. This is a virus heading back up. More than 50,000 cases on average right now in the United States. A bit of a dip on Sunday but the data on Sunday often drops down a bit.

You see we did get down here near the end of August but now trending back up. This was 20,000 cases a day up to the summer surge down some now back above 50,000 new infections a day on average in the United States of America. That is not round the final corner. That's the beginning of a possible fall surge.

Here's the state trend. Again, 50 states in the United States of America, 31 of them, 31 of them on this Monday trending in the wrong direction. That means more new coronavirus infections now compared to a week ago.

And you see it pretty much the entire northern half of the country. As it gets colder, the baseline was shoved down. As it gets colder, the case count going back up. 16 states holding steady, that's the beige. Only three states reporting fewer new infections right now compared to a week ago. 31, 31 states trending in the wrong direction.

The president is going to be back on the road this week. Remember, cleared now from his own coronavirus case to travel. Where is he going this week? Well, he's going to Florida today, the case count is going up. He's going to Iowa, the case count is going up. He's going to Pennsylvania, the case count is going up. And he's going to North Carolina, to the deep red there, that means 50 percent more cases now compared to a week ago or higher than that.

So, the president's travels today will take him right into the middle of this now fall coronavirus surge even though he says it's disappearing, and we have turned the final corner. If you want to look at this politically, three weeks to Election Day, here's one way to look at it.

Red line, the states the president carried in 2016. Blue line, the states Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. It's just unmistakable, the states Clinton won, most of them with Democratic governors have kept the coronavirus case count lower than the Trump states. Most of them with Republican governors.

You see the Trump states now in a much more difficult position heading into the final weeks of this campaign than the Clinton states. If you look at the top five states in terms of reporting deaths yesterday, all of them carried by the president in 2016. Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas reporting the most deaths on Sunday.

We hope these numbers stay down but we've learned this over the last seven, eight months, right? Case counts, high positivity rate, the death toll tends to travel after those. Yet, despite these numbers, especially despite this map, listen to the president of the United States, he says he's feeling better, he's going to be out on the road and he says pay no attention to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): I've been tested totally negative. I'm going to be out in Florida tomorrow working very hard and I want to give my warmest sympathies to the families that have lost someone. And I've lost many friends. I've lost five friends and probably more. But it's -- we're coming around that final turn and things are starting to really shape up.


KING: Let's begin the conversation this hour with the chief Washington correspondent for "SiriusXM," Olivier Knox. And congressional editor for "The New York Times," Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

Julie, it's hard to overstate the moment in the sense that the president was off the road for a week off the train for a week in his own coronavirus isolation. He begins to travel today, three weeks left to campaign. He's trailing and trailing badly, and he keeps telling people, essentially, pay no attention to the facts. We have turned the final corner. The virus is disappearing. It is not.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is not. It is really a critical time for his campaign. And it's -- you sort of can see you know why he's doing what he's doing. He really has no choice because he has taken this approach for months of trying to downplay the seriousness of the virus, trying to downplay the implications of the virus, not just health wise but on the economy and everything else.

And so, now he's in a position where he's kind of eroded a lot of his credibility with many voters. That's I think part of the reason we're seeing him lagging in the polls to vice president -- former Vice President Joe Biden. But he really doesn't have a choice other than to argue you're not seeing what you're actually seeing with your own eyes. So, he's downplaying the virus, he's downplaying his own administration's role in doing that.


And I think, you know, in these last few weeks he's so eager to be back out in these rallies and talking to voters that he really has to also downplay his own health challenges because we don't even know -- you played that sound from him saying he has tested negatively, we don't actually have official word of that from the White House.

So, he says he's been cleared, they say he's been cleared to go back out and interact with people. But there's still a lot of unanswered questions, even about his own health.

KING: Even about his own health. But Olivier, the doctors say it's OK for the president to travel, he has told aids he wants to be on the road constantly through Election Day. Completely understandable for a political standpoint he is trailing and trailing badly. The question is, though, a lot of his own aides had hoped that his personal bout with COVID would teach him to be more empathic about this, would teach him to be more factual about this. But we're seeing something very different.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Right. In some ways what we're seeing is what the president has been doing ever since the pandemic began, playing it down, promising that it'll be over soon. What's different now obviously as you alluded to it is the calendar. We're closing in on what we've all agreed to call Election Day even though millions of Americans will have voted by then.

You know you already highlighted something that I think is really, really important. The pandemic is obviously an international story, it's obviously a national story. But if you go to these key states, you go look at the media in Arizona, look at the media in Iowa, look at the media in Florida, look at the media in Pennsylvania, look at the media in Wisconsin, you'll see that there are a lot of coronavirus related headlines. And this White House, no White House is equipped to push back against that kind of story where something is on the evening news, as likely to be on evening news in Des Moines as it is in D.C.

KING: Well, I would say, the only pushback I would give you there is there one way to counter that, which would be if the president of the United States would give speeches about the virus, in which he said I'm going to surge more help to the states like North Dakota that has a hospitalization crisis right now. We're going to do this. We're going to do that. But instead, Julie Davis, his speeches about the virus are almost exclusively about him.

HIRSHFELD DAVIS: Right. I mean it is very striking. You would think he would want to be doing that. As you've said he'd be wanting to confront head on issues of the virus and what he's going to do about it. You might also think he'd want to be leaning into getting a stimulus deal, which he just in the last couple of days decided that he really did want to see happen, recognizing that you know this is going to be judged as his economy, this pandemic is going to be judged to something that was his responsibility to confront, and a lot of people are still really struggling not just health wise but economically and not having jobs and with all of the effects of that.

We do not see him doing that. And that's really because he doesn't actually have a plan to promote right now. The stimulus negotiations are nowhere mostly because Republicans don't want to sign on to as much money as the president now says he wants to spend. But more broadly he doesn't really have that sort of all hands-on deck kind of response that he keeps saying he has had. But people don't see evidence of it.

And I think Olivier is right, the problem is you can't just tell people that I've done a great job, and it's going to be fine if in their own lives they don't feel like a great job has been done and if they are not trying. And this is when people are now going to vote, both now and you know in the next three weeks. And they're going to judge him based on what they're experiencing in their own lives for the most part, not on what he's telling them he's doing so well.

KING: And his campaign clearly understands the moment, Olivier. I want you to play a little snip it here. Dr. Fauci is not happy about this, but he's the star of a new Trump campaign ad.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump tackled the virus head on, as leaders should.



KING: Dr. Fauci, Olivier, says that's out of context, that he was talking a long time ago about the work of the task force, not about the president specifically. And in his five decades in public service, he said in a statement, he's never gotten involved in politics.

To me, what's interesting though is the Trump campaign thought it was important to run that ad. If you look at this percentage here from September 8th to October 3rd, about 30 percent, 28.5 percent of their ads were COVID related. Right now, this week on television they're up to 50 percent of the ads are COVID related. The Trump campaign clearly realizes they've tried to push the pandemic aside as an issue. They have no choice now but to confront it.

KNOX: Absolutely no choice. And it's obviously understandable they were trying to harness Dr. Fauci's credibility since he enjoys more approval from more Americans than the president does. It is out of context. I think it's from March. But, of course, they want to do this. Of course, they want to try to harness themselves to that because their own credibility is not great.

KING: And so, Julie, you look at not only the president now, a lot of Republicans are having serious case of jitters because there's no tickets splitting left in American politics largely. So, if the president goes down, they're worried they will lose the Senate and perhaps several blood bath down the ballot as well.

This is from the Republican pollster were there and said, quote, to the "Associated Press." "'It's not good for my side,' said veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres. 'Pretty obviously, in many ways down-ballot Republicans are in the boat with Donald Trump. That's good for Republicans in deep-red states, but more problematic for those in swing states.' Asked for any bright spots for the Republican field, Ayres said, 'I'm wracking my brain and just struggling.'


With a straight shooter, as you know, three weeks before Election Day, as we call it, I get it millions of people are voting early, that's a tough line for the party to be in but they feel essentially, they have no escape because if they leave the president they lose his base as well.

HIRSHFELD DAVIS: Right. I mean it's a very uncomfortable and careless place for them. And this is the challenge that they've known and have seen coming for many months and they are squeezed between the need to really you know turn out the Republican base which largely is very, very supportive of the president so they can't really break from him entirely or even in sort of a detectable way. But they really need to reach out to independent voters, to women, to folks in the suburbs, the sorts of people who if you look at the data right now are abandoning the president in droves primarily because of the coronavirus crisis but also for other reasons.

This Supreme Court nomination which has so energized the right I think really has in some ways raised a lot of concerns among moderates and women in particular. You hear Democrats harping on the potential consequences for the Affordable Care Act and I think those kinds of messages really break through with the kinds of voters that these Republicans also need if they want to be successful when they face their own reelections.

And so, they're in a place now, much like the president, where this is kind of baked in. They can't really get off of the message that they've been on for these last several months. And yet, we very clearly see signs that voters are not satisfied with that and may well be looking for something different.

KING: And so, I guess the question for the Trump campaign and the candidate himself, Olivier, is what can you do to break this dynamic. If you have 31 states, most of them states carried by the president four years ago, now reporting more COVID infections than a week ago. You have Joe Biden on the campaign trail with more money and on offense, going to states that are key to the president's map, not so much key to Biden's map.

The president this week having to go to Florida, to Iowa, to North Carolina, three states that an incumbent Republican president if you're going to win should have in his pocket already. It's a steeper hill and never steeper hill.

KNOX: The Trump campaign theory of the case is that there is some large number of Trump friendly voters who didn't come out in 2016 because they didn't think that he had a chance but they're going to come out this time in part in response to the president's portrayal of a flaming hell scape if former Vice President Biden wins.

Could that happen?

I suppose so. But the travel and the spending tell the tale. They're spending a lot of money on ads in D.C. or just not obviously crucial to their strategy. Him going to Florida - remember, he's done a lot of stuff in Florida. He reversed himself on offshore drilling. He has tried to court seniors down there. He has after blocking it for three years he has expressed support for a Puerto Rico rescue package.

He's doing a lot in Florida, and Florida is obviously a must win. But when you look at -- you talk about these deep-red states - or not you - Whit and others have talked about these deep-red states but look at what's happening in places like Kansas and South Carolina where people who have tied themselves pretty closely to Trump find themselves also in trouble.

KING: Also in trouble because no matter what you tweet, no matter what you say, something as personal as a health care crisis, a pandemic, people get it. You can't tell them it's gone when they see it in their lives every day, whether it's the medical or the economic disruption. Olivier Knox, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, grateful for the reporting and insights.

Up next for us, the confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. First, a look back at a hearing for the justice she would replace on the court, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


RUTH BADER GINSBURG, FORMER ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT: I think rank discrimination against anyone is against the tradition of the United States and is to be deplored. The richness of the diversity of this country is a treasure and it's a constant challenge, too. To remain tolerant and respectful of one another.




KING: Opening statements this morning the start of a bruising Supreme Court confirmation battle for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. New polling shows the majority of Americans oppose this fast track confirmation but there's less resistance to elevating Barrett to the high court now than there was in that same poll one month ago.

Republicans see a chance here to cement this president's judicial legacy and tilt the court in a conservative direction for a generation. And they also hope improve their 2020 prospects by exciting conservative turnout. Democrats though see Barrett as a mortal threat to the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare and a potential vote to abolish or significantly roll back abortion rights.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The bottom line is Justice Ginsburg when asked about this several years ago said that a president serves for four years not three. There's nothing unconstitutional about this process. This is probably not about persuading each other, unless something really dramatic happens, all Republicans will vote yes, and all Democrats will vote no.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Health care coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination. This well could mean that if Judge Barrett is confirmed, Americans stand to lose the benefits that the ACA provides.


KING: Let's go straight up to Capitol Hill CNN's Manu Raju. Manu, Judge Barrett has to listen for most of this day and the political arguments are pretty stark.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are. And this is what we've been hearing since the day that she was nominated last month. There are Democrats raising concerns about the lightning fast pace in getting her to the bench, as you mentioned 22 days away from the election. There has not been a Supreme Court nominee who has been confirmed after July in a presidential election year. But this would happen, assuming that all goes as planned and it appears it will, that she will get confirmed by the end of the month.


Now, in a boost for Republicans earlier this morning, Mike Lee of Utah, who sits on this committee announced that he is cleared by his doctors to attend today's proceedings. He of course tested positive for the coronavirus. He announced that 10 days ago, but the U.S. Capitol physician -- attending physician suggested that he could participate in today's proceedings. So, he is here.

And as well as Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, a Republican in a difficult reelection race who also tested positive about 10 days ago. He's indicated that he will be back later this week in person. That is important because Republicans need to establish a quorum to move forward in a vote on this nomination. And by all accounts it appears that they will do just that. And that was set up. That confirmation vote by the end of the month.

Now, as Lindsey Graham noted there, John, the question is whether or not anyone's views will change. At the moment, it does not appear that way, but will she trip up in any way, tomorrow is when the questioning will begin. Democrats will press her on her views on the Affordable Care Act. It's unlikely she'll get pinned down.

She'll likely side step as Judicial nominees tend to do. But that is what Democrats are pushing on, Affordable Care Act. Will she recuse herself from any election related disputes after November, Roe versus Wade, stark battle lines being drawn but the moment Republicans feeling pretty confident about their chances for her confirmation. John?

KING: Confident. The moment was there on top of the next few days. Manu, appreciate the live report, getting us there from Capitol Hill. Joining the conversation now, Seung Min Kim of "The Washington Post" and CNN's Joan Biskupic.

And Seung Min to that point, as of now, it looks like the Republicans have the votes and they will be able to ram this through. So, Democrats are trying to raise this as a campaign issue. Trying to lay down a marker for Judge Barrett about what they expect of her if she does become Justice Barrett. But listen to this on health care, also trying to rally the American people with the election just three weeks away.


FEINSTEIN: They are asking the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Judge Barrett has said that she would overturn the ACA.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): This person getting on the Supreme Court lickety-split so that she can get rid of Affordable Care Act.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): You are being sent to the bench to do his political chores, abolish the ACA.


KING: It's interesting listening to that in the sense that Democrats hope as Manu noted that she says something in the hearings to send this off the tracks. The Democrats clearly don't expect that, and we have a Supreme Court confirmation battle that's actually about a bigger legislative and political issue.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's exactly right. I mean what's so fascinating generally about Supreme Court hearings for nerds like you and me is that they can touch on basically any issue that can come before the Supreme Court. But this one is going to be different and deliberately so. Democrats instead of touching on a kind of the monopoly of issues that may come before the court are specifically focusing on health care.

You see the postures of affected constituents, constituents who have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act. And the hearing rim behind Democrats right now. Every Democratic senator is mentioning the Affordable Care Act and its benefits. That's certainly going to come up in basically every Democratic senator's questioning because they know they have very, very little power to slow down and even stop this nomination and this confirmation from happening before Election Day.

So, they are turning that into a political issue. They know health care was a major advantage for them in 2018 and could certainly be an advantage for them this year because it's so - because it's so tangible. I mean if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, she will be on the bench in time to hear these oral arguments in a significant Affordable Care Act case on November 10th.

And what Democrats are also trying to do is trying to exploit the divisions on health care on the Republican side of the panel. You look at the dozen Republican members, you see that they range from senators who are in tough reelection races where they're getting hammered by their Democratic challengers for their opposition to the Affordable Care Act and also to staunch conservatives like Mike Lee who say the whole law should be stricken down. So, that's what Democrats are going for here today and for the rest of the week.

KING: And Joan, if you look at the opening statement Judge Barrett submitted to the committee, the Democrats' hopes of getting her to be specific are likely misguided and the Democrats know that. They know she's not going to answer how she'll vote on Roe v. Wade. They know she's not going to answer how she'll vote if - when she - if she's on the bench in a couple of weeks, when the Obamacare challenge comes up.

Here's one thing she says in her opening statement in talking about how her idol is the justice she clerked for, Antonin Scalia. "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 written, not as the judge wishes it were. Sometimes that approach meant reaching results that he did not like. But as he put it in one of his best-known opinions, that is what it means to say we have a government of laws, not of men."

My translation here, she's going to say I'll call it like I see them as I was taught by Justice Scalia, stay tuned. Right?


JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. And what Justice Scalia did with that theory was to vote against abortion rights, vote against all reproductive rights. He voted against same-sex marriage. He voted to enhance guns rights. He voted to strike down the Affordable Care Act twice.

So, that theory that he held had consequences and it might have consequences again. This hearing so far has been so much about November 3rd and November 10th. November 3rd the election, November 10th, the Affordable Care Act will be argued at the court.

But Amy Coney Barrett is only 48 years old. She could serve you know for another 30 years and think of all that her fingers will touch and how much her vote will matter. So, there's a certain incongruity here to hear senators talk about the importance of the Supreme Court but really have already relegated this hearing to an empty exercise. Everybody knows it's a done deal but we -- you know, it would be great if we could have a little more of a back and forth to hear more about her views. Especially tomorrow.

KING: We'll see if we get that. But Seung Min, to Joan's very point, Republicans see this as a chance to have a 6-3 majority for years and years on the high court and they understand the politics. Your newspaper today, The Washington Post/ABC News poll 44 percent say the current Senate should vote on these nominations. 52 percent saw a majority -- so majority but the majority say wait for the election. Wait until we know who won the election before you move forward this.

But Senate Republicans and President Trump are not going to wait because they understand they could lose the White House and the United States Senate and it's a much harder political argument to make after the election if you have just been shellacked saying let us exercise this power than to exercise it now.

KIM: Right. I mean could you imagine if Vice President Biden won the White House, Democrats took back the majority. I mean Mitch McConnell's mind may not change about the lame duck but there were certainly be Rank and File Republican senators who may be questioning their decision to go forward. Which is why it's so important for Senate Republicans to go ahead with this confirmation now.

And this has been a long running project, not such for President Trump but certainly for the conservative legal movement and certainly for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whose top priority as majority leader has been transforming the federal judiciary at all its levels into a conservative one. So, certainly having you know stamping into place a 6-3 conservative majority for years, if not a generation to come, is certainly worth the political risk that Republicans are going to be taking now.

KING: And Joan, as you noted, assuming this stays on track we will know pretty quickly. We will know pretty quickly on some big issues who Justice Barrett is, if she becomes Justice Barrett. Fulton versus City of Philadelphia, that's a religious liberty case, a big LGBTQ case. California versus Texas, that's the Obamacare case.

There's also the fight between the House of Representatives and Department of Justice over jury documents, the balance of executive power, legislative power, the balance of government, if you will. But on LGBTQ rights and on Obamacare we will know and know fairly quickly.

BISKUPIC: We will, John. But here's the other thing we will see her make a move in both of those areas. Think of how these kinds of cases will keep returning and returning. And there might be a tendency for a Justice Barrett and her colleagues to perhaps hedge their bets a little bit in this election year or shortly after the election. And we won't really see the full potency of the kind of justice she can be and the kind of 6-3 court that we will soon have until we have more cases down the road.

And I think you know it could mean a difference for the religious rights and LGBTQ issues that you just raised in that immediate case to be heard in November. But you know we've seen some of the justices who were in decent in the same-sex marriage case you know call for a reconsideration of that. So, lots at stake here, John, that we'll see a much fuller picture of her, probably not just this term but the next one and ones to come.

KING: Joan Biskupic, Seung Min Kim, appreciate you getting us started on day one of these confirmation hearings. Thank you both so much.

Up next for us, the number of deaths across the United States was unusually high in a six month stretch back earlier this year. Researchers believe COVID is to blame for much of that spike.