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GOP Alarm: Vulnerable Senators Distance Themselves From Trump; Fake Ballot Drop Boxes Prompt Investigation In California; Thousands Worldwide Sign Up To Be Exposed To Coronavirus; Update On Coronavirus Responses Around The Country; No National Tracking Of School Reopenings After Two Months. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 12, 2020 - 14:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We are three weeks until Election Day and many Republican Senators are fighting for their political lives.

As they struggle to stay afloat, some are coming to the realization they're towing a President Trump-shaped anchor and they're starting to distance themselves from the man at the top of the ticket.

Listen to North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, apparently looking ahead, arguing that he would be a watch dog on a President Biden.

He said, quote, "The best check on a Biden presidency is for Republicans to have a majority in the Senate. And I do think checks and balances does resonate with North Carolina voters."

In Colorado, Cory Gardner, a vulnerable Republican, declined to answer whether he is proud of the Republican response to the pandemic.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a member of the Senate are you proud of the way the Republican majority is handling the pandemic?

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO): We have to improve our work each and every day, Republicans and Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The question was: Are you proud of the way the Senate is handling it. So let me ask you, are you proud of the way the president is handling the pandemic?

GARDNER: Again, we have to work each and every day to make sure that we are proud of our response.


KEILAR: Gardner also declined to say whether he's proud of his support of the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you proud of your support of Donald Trump?

GARDNER: I'm proud of the work that we have done together.


KEILAR: He's not the only vulnerable Republican Senator having a tough time answering that question.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you proud of your support for President Trump?

SEN. MARTHA MCSALLY (R-AZ): Well, I'm proud that I'm fighting for ace Arizonans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, the question was: Are you proud of your support for President Trump?

MCSALLY: I'm proud to be fighting for Arizona every single day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that a yes or no?


MCSALLY: -- putting legislation on President Trump's test.


KEILAR: In Texas, Senator John Cornyn said this about the president's response to the coronavirus:

Quote, "I think he let his guard down. And I think in his desire to try to demonstrate that we are somehow coming out of this and that the danger is not still with us, I think he got out over his skis. And, frankly, I think it's a lesson to all of us that we need to exercise self-discipline."

Cornyn joined by the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who is breaking with the president on a couple of issues recently, including Trump's handling of the pandemic.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I haven't been to the White House since August 6th. Because my impression was their approach on to how to handle the virus is different from what we're doing in the Senate.


KEILAR: Senate Republicans and the president not even on the same page to with the much-needed stimulus package to help American individuals and businesses who are suffering economic.

The president's position keeps shifting. But as of this moment, he wants to see an even bigger deal than even his own party has been pushing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I would like to see a bigger stimulus package that either the Democrats or Republicans are offering.


KEILAR: But here is the Republican that he would need to make that happen.


MCCONNELL: I think that's unlikely in the next three weeks.


KEILAR: These Republicans are trying to thread the needle, distance themselves from the president without fully breaking with him.

But other GOP Senators are all in, like Lindsey Graham, Kelly Loeffler, Joni Ernst, who are tying their success to their support of the president.

So why are some Republicans starting to worry that they can't do that?

Let's take a look at this. Democrats are smashing fundraising records in my Senate races.

In North Carolina, Cal Cunningham brought in more in the third quarter than the last Democratic incumbent did in her entire campaign.

That's ditto for the Democratic challenger in Colorado.

In Iowa, not only did the Democratic challenger just raise more than Joni Ernst's 2014 opponent, but Theresa Greenfield has raised more than both Ernst and her 2014 challenger did combined.

In South Carolina, Jaime Harrison just raised $57 million in the third quarter. That's a record.

Democratic challengers in Texas and Georgia also reported huge hauls.

So Republicans are looking at the polls and they're looking at the money and they're hedging their bets.

They're still on the S.S. Trump but they are inching toward the lifeboats.

Here's the thing, though. They are way out at sea and they're anxiously wondering if their constituents are going to throw them a line. We're going to know that here in a few weeks.

I want to bring in former Republican congressman, Charlie Dent, who has endorsed Joe Biden. Charlie, Republicans are totally abandoning the president. That's very

clear here. Because clearly they still need him.

How do you see Trump impacting down-ballot races?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Brianna, for those members who are in swing states or swing districts, this is a really tough time. Because the numbers of the president keep collapsing.

It's going to be very hard for a lot of these members to distance themselves from the president three or four weeks out. If you're going to do that, you need to do that over four years, not over three to four weeks.

So I think it will have very little effect, these distancing measures.

You want to be seen as a watchdog, not a lap dog. You want to be seen as a check on the president, not a rubber stamp. That's a challenge.

I said this all along, by the way, for members of either party. If you're serving the party of the president, you better be very careful you can demonstrate you have some independence from that executive, even in your own party.

Even if you support the president on most things, you have to be able to demonstrate that to your voters.

KEILAR: Senator Ted Cruz recently warned that Republicans could face what he called a bloodbath of Watergate proportions on Election Day.

Do you think that's possible?

DENT: Well, I think the worst-case scenario is the Democrats run the tables and that they win the presidency, the Senate and maintain the House.

So the worst-case scenario is there could be a very decisive win by Joe Biden. I think that's very -- it may be probable at this point.

The best case for Trump is he pulls another inside straight and wins a narrow election. But I think that's a fairly remote possibility at this point.

It's more likely you could see a decisive victory by Biden, which could enormous down-ballot problems for Republicans.

The president is back on the campaign trail today. You know that. We are watching that. And that means that he's out of COVID isolation 11 days after being diagnosed.

He's heading to Florida, North Carolina, Iowa. He's also going to be heading to your state of Pennsylvania this week.

What do those stops tell you about where the campaign is this close to Election Day?

DENT: I think they're clearly panicked. The fact they have the president out so quickly after being hospitalized with COVID.


Brianna, you know, I had COVID back in March. I was never hospitalized. I was never given any drugs, other than Tylenol and Gatorade. I felt miserable.

I can't imagine, after a diagnosis like that, that he would be in any mood at all to go out there and visit the public.

I mean, I self-isolated for about three to four weeks as a result. And I had mild symptoMs. I was in a very unpleasant position.

I am stunned that they're allowing the president, his own campaign, to go out and face the public in this way.

It's clearly a sign of desperation. And also, to me, it seems a bit reckless to go out there and face the public so quickly after this diagnosis.

KEILAR: Yes, I do think you're right, Congressman.

Congressman Charlie Dent, thank you so much for coming on.

DENT: Thank you, Brianna. Always great to be with you.

KEILAR: Still ahead, Dr. Anthony Fauci is taking exception to the Trump campaign using his voice in one of their political ads. We'll show you how it was taken out of context.

And hear his response in an interview with my colleague, Jake Tapper.


KEILAR: State officials in California are investigating after fake ballot drop boxes were found in several locations. Some of them were labeled official when they most definitely were not official.


CNN's Kristen Holmes is tracking this for us.

Kristen, tell us what you're learning here?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, according to the secretary of state in California, this has appeared in at least three counties.

I want to pull up a tweet here. This is what we know. This is a regional field director for the California Republican Party. He's tweeting, "Doing my part and voting early. Direct message me for convenient locations to drop your ballot off at."

And you see him there. He's crouched in front what looks like an official drop box. Says official on it.

Here's the problem. It's not an official drop box. Lots of questions about what's exactly going on.

One also appeared in front of a Baptist church. The church had put out a statement on social media in which they said this was brought to them by the GOP and it was an approved box. Again, not an approved drop box.

I did get a statement from the secretary of state in California, where he official said that operating an unofficial drop box, especially if you are mislabeling it as an official drop box, is not only misleading to voters, but it is against state law.

Now we did reach out to the California GOP. This is the statement that's pulled up right now. They have now gotten back to us.

But they wrote essentially supporting it, saying, "If a congregation or business or other group provides the option to parishioners, associates or colleagues to drop off their ballot in a safe location with the people they trust rather than handing it over to a stranger who knocks on their door, what's wrong with that?"

Of course, Brianna, we can tell you what's wrong with that. It is a violation of state laws, as the secretary of state said.

So still trying to learn more information as to who exactly is behind this. And what exactly is happening to those ballots. A lot of unanswered questions.

KEILAR: Yes, definitely.

Kristen, we know you're working on this story.

Kristen Holmes, thank you so much.

A big hit today on the future of cruise ships in the pandemic.

Plus, an extraordinary split screen. Long lines of early voters in Georgia as the Senate holds the confirmation hearing for the president's Supreme Court nominee.



KEILAR: Another setback for the already devastated cruise line industry. Carnival announcing today that it's cancelling its November cruises out of Florida.

The company says the cruises are no longer feasible now that the CDC has extended its no-sale order through October 31st. Other major cruise lines have made similar cancellations.

Let's check in with CNN reporters around the country for more on our coronavirus headlines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Phil Black in London. Almost 40,000 people around the world have volunteered to be deliberately exposed to the coronavirus.

They're campaigning for human challenge trials where potential vaccines are given to people followed by a dose of the virus.

Proponents say it could save lives because it's a more efficient way of testing some of the many vaccines being developed and helping to work out which ones work best.

But critics say there are health issues. And the young, healthy volunteers don't represent the range of people who most need protected from an effective vaccine.

The British government says it's in talks to possibly become the first country to conduct human challenge trials for coronavirus vaccines.



NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Nick Valencia in Atlanta, where it is officially Election Day. For the next three weeks, Georgians across the state will be able to vote at any polling location as long as it's in the county where they reside.

Things will look a little different this year for voters because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Just take a look here. The lines are practicing social distancing. Masks are recommended, though they're not required. Plexiglass also acting as a divider at check-in. And they are regularly wiping down surfaces.

Voting will look a little different as well. It'll be a combination between touch screen and the ability to print out the vote for the ballot before it's scanned.

COO Steve Koonin, of State Farm Arena, tells me they are expecting between 3,000 and 6,000 people per day.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Carolyn Manno in New York. And after 94 days of playing basketball in a bubble, the L.A. Lakers are heading home as NBA champions. A remarkable accomplishment not only for the franchise but the league as a whole.

Commissioner Adam Silver confirming zero positive coronavirus cases reported among the players and the staff members who were participating in the playoffs.

The rigorous protocols that were enforced on the Disney campus, ensuring that none of the disruptions which plagued Major League Baseball early in the season and are currently wreaking havoc on the NFL's schedule came into play.

Adam Silver hopes to be back in the NBA's home arenas with fans when the next season starts.

Right now, the specifics of that are up in the air, leaving basketball fans savoring the recent showdown between the L.A. Lakers and the Miami Heat, with an unclear timetable for when the sport could return.


KEILAR: All right, everyone, thank you so much for that.


Joe Biden going off on the president and his campaign for an ad that Dr. Fauci says took his words out of context. Dr. Fauci will respond on CNN, next.


KEILAR: Schools all over the country have been forced to adapt to deal with the coronavirus. Many are giving students and parents options, remote learning, in-person learning or a hybrid of the two.

But two months in, we should have an idea of what's working and what is not, and we don't. And that's because there's no national tracking of schools' progress.

CNN's Bianna Golodryga is following all of this for us.

And, Bianna, it seems like tracking would be a no-brainer. Who dropped the ball here?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Brianna, it does appear that the federal government has dropped the ball.

Where is DeVos? Why isn't she briefing us weekly on how schools are doing? There is no federal tracking system to collect data on school- related cases.

However, researchers and economists at Brown University have created a COVID-19 school response dashboard. This is all based on voluntary responses.

But it's not very small. It actually includes over a thousand schools, 167,000 students, 54,000 staff. And among the students and staff collectively, they're saying a positivity right of .24 percent.

Now, mind you, this is early in, just a few weeks into the school year. But this is somewhat optimistic.

And to give a bigger picture, while a majority of the larger school districts are on online, half of the country's school districts are offering some in-person learning.

So what we're seeing from this data tracker from Brown University, at least, showed the biggest mitigating uses that they're seeing thus far from students and faculty, including mask wearing, home checks, home evaluations and screenings and social distancing. No expert is suggesting that where there's a high positivity rate or a

positivity rate that is rising that schools should reopen.

But what they are suggesting is that schools are not the super spreaders that many had feared that they would, at least the first few weeks into the school year -- Brianna?


KEILAR: That is good news.

Bianna Golodryga, thank you so much.

Our special coverage continues now with Jake Tapper.