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Interview with Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI); President Trump Holding Campaign Event in Florida; Dr. Anthony Fauci Objects to Use of Him Without Permission in GOP Campaign Ad; Voting Begins in Atlanta, Georgia. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 12, 2020 - 08:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Thirty-one states across the country are seeing a surge in cases, six states seeing record hospitalizations.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I hope people are paying attention because this morning it is so clear that things are headed in the wrong direction with this pandemic. Nearly 50,000 new cases a day. It's worth noting, three Republican senators will not be present for the Senate confirmation hearing today for the president's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett because of coronavirus. The hearing set to begin in just about an hour. You'll get live pictures from inside the hearing room. Missing will be two senators who were infected, a third, Ted Cruz, who was in close contact with at least one of them.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman and Michael Shear. They're White House correspondent for the "New York Times". And Michael, you are, I know, recovering from coronavirus yourself, which we'll get to in just a moment. I want to start, though, look, we focused so much the last 10 days on one coronavirus case, I think we've lost sight of 50,000 new cases that are arising every day in the country, and it's that context, Maggie, that the president is choosing to go back on the campaign trail and be filmed proudly in front of thousands of people who probably won't be social distanced, many of the won't be wearing masks. Why is the White House doing this? What's the political calculation there?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think that, John, as we've discussed many, many times, there is often not a political calculation per se and simply just a desire to do what the president wants, which is he wants to be back out there on the road for the final three weeks of this election.

What they are saying they will try to have him do is illustrate to, particularly seniors, he has battled with COVID, he understands the concerns. They started airing a new ad this weekend which had a misleading quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci in the middle of it, toward the end, talking about work of coronavirus months ago that made it sound like he was talking about the president. That's going to be their strategy. It's going to be to try to sell it as a success story on the issue that he has behind Joe Biden on how to handle coronavirus for many, many, many months. Is it way too late to turn this around? Probably. And I think again, I

am not a doctor, I don't know if the president is infectious still or not. But I do know that because the White House has put out so few actual pieces of information about his health, it's impossible for people to make a clear assessment about how they think he is doing.

CAMEROTA: Michael, I'm just not sure any seniors in Florida are going to be showing up at these rallies. If you base it upon the poll numbers, a new Quinnipiac poll released October 7th, Biden is ahead of Trump 55 to 40 percent with Florida voters over the age 65, that they in particular seem to be digesting news and his handling of coronavirus in a different way than younger people.

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's a world in which you might have imagined the White House has a huge coronavirus outbreak and the president and the first lady both get infected, and that somehow that offers them new perspective and a real different take on how to handle the pandemic. And that obviously isn't the world we're living in. What today and the rest of this week shows is that he's returning essentially unchanged to the kind of shrugging off of the dangers of this virus that he was engaged in before he got sick.

And so with some modest changes I guess, that have been made at the White House a little bit in terms of some of the staff wearing masks. But essentially, we're going to see the same big raucous crowds with no real sense of social distancing. And I think from the president, as Maggie says, no real change in terms of the message. He wants to get back out and describe the same set of misleading assertions that he was before he got sick.

BERMAN: To me, he is going to be physical embodiment of the fact he couldn't protect himself from coronavirus, or protect people in the White House from coronavirus. And so he is making that statement and casting that image in front of thousands of people in Florida where there are seniors concerned. It's just striking. And it's a choice. And I get the choice, but it is a choice.

Michael, Maggie brought up the Anthony Fauci thing, that the Trump campaign has put Fauci in an ad. That, too, seems to be reminder that there's a direct split between the administration, or the president and Anthony Fauci, because Fauci came out and said I don't like this one bit. You're taking me out of context. Fauci put out a statement and said "In my nearly five decades of public service I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate. The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about efforts of federal public health officials." So the president managed to drag out Dr. Anthony Fauci to make a statement against the Trump campaign in a manner of speaking. I just don't know how it helps him politically.


SHEAR: Look, the relationship between Dr. Fauci and the president has been strained since the beginning. People have always wondered at what point does Dr. Fauci reach his breaking point in which he finally says look, I'm done being used and trotted out by this president who clearly isn't taking a lot of my advice. Obviously, that breaking point hasn't really come yet, but you can sense the frustration in that statement by one of the world's most respected infectious disease specialists, that he didn't particularly appreciate, first, being used as a purely partisan political prop essentially in that commercial, and then on top of it, essentially being, as Maggie said, misrepresented where he wasn't talking, praising the president in particular. He was praising work of the federal bureaucracy and the work of people in the trenches to try to fight the disease.

CAMEROTA: Maggie, you have some stunning reporting about what the president was thinking when he was at Walter Reed and about the splash that he wanted to make when he came out of Walter Reed, the bit of stage craft that he was actually considering. Can you just explain your reporting and what you heard?

HABERMAN: Sure. So Annie Karni and I, Michael and my colleague Annie Karni and I had a bit of reporting in a story this weekend as the president was making his first appearance publicly on Saturday from the White House, that when he was in the hospital, and we've all reported that he was itching to get out, Alisyn. He was not happy that he was there. But in several phone calls he described to people something that he was toying with, which was this idea of leaving the hospital, appearing too look frail when he got out, and then having a Superman t-shirt under his white dress shirt, and then ripping open the white dress shirt, and people could see the super man t-shirt. He ultimately did not do that. Everything for him is through the lens of branding and showmanship and tamping down this question that he was sick, which I think has bothered him. So it's not surprising that he was thinking of it through that lens.

CAMEROTA: But who talks him out of that, Maggie. When he just say, I have a great idea. I'm going to pretend to be sicker than I am, I'm going to bust out on the balcony and rip open my shirt and it's going to be Superman. Who say, Mr. President, I have a better idea?

HABERMAN: One of the things we saw, Alisyn, last weekend was we know the president wanted to leave the White House on Sunday, and didn't leave Sunday. Instead they compromised and gave him that car ride outside of Walter Reed, which no other patient, as a doctor at Walter Reed has said, would have gotten, and he got to wave to the fans who were outside.

So I think that there is a very small group of staff around the president who is trying to manage this. But I keep hearing we are in that stage that he gets in sometimes and often where he is not really listening to anyone. So whether it was somebody talked him out of it, or whether somebody on the phone decided this was not a good idea, I'm not precisely sure, but he didn't go ahead with it.

BERMAN: Do you have any reporting, Maggie, on why he was thinking a t- shirt and not the tights?


HABERMAN: I'm afraid we don't know that, John.

CAMEROTA: Keep digging, keep digging.


BERMAN: Michael, how are you feeling? You were one of the people infected who I know was infected, most likely at the White House, although there is no way of knowing for sure. How are you feeling now? What ultimately was the outreach from the White House in terms of contact tracing? How is your family?

SHEAR: I'm feeling better. Today is the first day after 10 days straight with a fever that I don't have a fever anymore, so that's good. My wife, who also got it, I guess from me, is feeling better as well. So we both turned the corner. Tired, still. The fatigue is a real factor in this thing.

And as far as the tracing, nobody at the White House ever did get in touch with me to ask about who I might have been in touch with. I did get a call from the Fairfax County, Virginia, Health Department, and briefly from District of Columbia Health Department as well, but the White House never called.

BERMAN: That's unbelievable. That's unbelievable to me that you were never contact traced. And it's very possible that your wife became infected because of you. This is the nature of contact tracing, this is why you do it, to trace where it goes and protect other people.

SHEAR: And you would have thought they would have been interested in knowing who else at the White House or in the administration or other reporters, or who had I come into contact with in days before I became symptomatic. That's when you're most infectious. And nobody ever asked.

CAMEROTA: Michael, it's so good to get your update. We have been worried about you and your wife. I'm so glad that you guys are on the mend and you're looking great.

SHEAR: Thanks.


CAMEROTA: And Maggie, thanks so much for all of the reporting. Always great to talk to you as well.

We have a quick programming note, Dr. Anthony Fauci will join Jake Tapper on THE LEAD at 4:00 p.m. eastern today only on CNN.

BERMAN: That could be something. That really could be something based on the statement that Fauci put out. I'm very interested to hear what he will say when asked that question out loud.

Early voting begins today in Georgia. People are voting all across the country already. Officials are breaking for record turnout, despite the pandemic. More than 260,000 absentee ballots have already been cast in that state, and that's more than there were in all of 2016. There's 22 days left until Election Day. I don't know that we should be even putting this up. We shouldn't pay attention to 22 days, because it's Election Day now. People are voting.

CAMEROTA: People are already voting.

BERMAN: People are voting all around --

CAMEROTA: Almost 8 million have already voted.

BERMAN: Yes, yes. So it's Election Day now, 22 days if you want to show up in person to get your last chance to vote for 22 days.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live inside State Farm arena, an early voting location in Atlanta. I see a lot of people behind you, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, my gosh, it is a crush of people here this morning, John. And you're right, the election is happening today here in Georgia. Early voting starts today for three weeks. Georgians all across the state will have a chance to go into any place, any polling district or any polling station in their county to be able to cast their ballot early.

And just look at the lines, John and Alisyn, this morning. People showing up here at State Farm Arena, which is doubling as an early voting site. This is traditionally home to the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, the MLS's Atlanta United. But after the absolute disaster that happened here this summer during the primaries where people were waiting in line after five, six, seven hours in communities that predominantly had people of color as residents there, and that led to a lot of concerns, especially with coronavirus.

And just take a look behind me here. You see those plexiglass dividers. You see that these folks that showed up to vote early today are socially distanced. Everyone here inside is required to wear a mask. And just really quick here guys, they're expecting between 3,000 and 6,000 people to show up here to vote. They don't want to put a number, but they say this is expected to be high voter turnout. Not only do you have a hotly contested presidential election, but also two open Senate seats here that are going to be on the ballot. So a lot of people are already lined up this morning to cast their vote early. John, Alisyn?

BERMAN: Here's my new graphic -- zero days until you can vote in Georgia. Zero days, people there are voting right now, showing up in droves. Nick Valencia, thank you so much for showing us the pictures. Appreciate it.

VALENCIA: You bet.

BERMAN: Nearly 50,000 new cases of coronavirus a day in the United States last week. We haven't seen those numbers in months. It is getting worse. What's going to happen next, what's behind the surge? We'll discuss next.


[08:16:33] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, coronavirus cases in the

United States rising in 31 states with the average daily case count nearly 50,000. The number of people hospitalized has hit record in six states, nearly a dozen states are seeing really high spikes in the number of cases that are near record hospitalizations.

Joining us now CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leanna Wen. She is an emergency room physician and the former Baltimore City Health Commissioner.

Dr. Wen, thanks so much for being with us. Look, we see the rise in daily cases now nearly 50,000. We haven't been there since the beginning of August. We see the rise in average hospitalizations, which is getting higher and higher and higher, and when we saw this back in June and July, this was a clear indicator that we were hitting another very bad patch.

We are there. The numbers this morning are just crystal clear at this point. So what happens the next few weeks?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: You're right, John. These are extremely alarming trends and there should be warning bells going off around the country. Some will say, well, look, we are having increasing numbers of cases because we're testing more.

But we also know that in more than 15 states, the test positivity rate is over 10 percent, which means that we're not doing nearly enough testing. Many parts of the country are reporting that 50 percent or more of their cases cannot be traced back to any single infectious source, which also means that there is a high level of community spread.

And you're right, we know what's coming next, which is that we're going to get increasing numbers of hospitalizations. Hospitals could once again become overwhelmed, and then we're not just talking about patients with coronavirus who might be in trouble. It's also about other patients who might be coming in for heart attacks and strokes and car accidents, who may find a situation that's really untenable, and elective surgeries and people coming in for routine appointments, who may not be able to get the care that they really need.

And so I really hope that all of us take this very seriously, see the surge that is now not just on the horizon, but here and do all the things that we know are what it takes, which is avoiding crowds, wearing masks, physical distancing.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, can we talk a little bit more about that, Dr. Wen, because I think that in the northeast, where John and I are, where many, many of our viewers are, we can have a false sense of security because they did a great job after the horror story that was in the spring, then over the summer, some of that horror abated and in September, things were going well.

And so is it time for us here, even in states with low positivity rates to change our behavior? And what should we start doing today? WEN: So one of the trends that we're seeing across the country and in

particular, also in these areas that have done a good job also, Alisyn is that it's not so much the formal settings that's driving the increasing numbers of infections, it is actually informal settings. Meaning, gatherings with extended family and friends.

So we've actually done a good job of controlling outbreaks in places like jails, nursing homes, homeless shelters that were initially the drivers of the outbreak. And actually, when schools are coming back, there's a lot of work being put into making schools, the in-class environment safe or businesses safe or retail establishments safe.

But what happens is that once people leave these formal settings, they're still having gatherings with their friends and family and that actually eliminates then all the good work that's done. You can imagine if kids are putting on masks and social distancing in the classroom, but then afterwards they're participating in extracurricular activities, or in playdates, where these same restrictions don't apply, then these same students are going to get infected as well.

And so I think the messaging needs to change to also focus on these informal settings that are a lot harder to enforce and to regulate.


BERMAN: Yes, they go to school and they are so careful, but then they're getting in a car pool and going to a play date. So you know, there's a disconnect, I think, for a lot of people who think they're doing some things, but every cheat adds up for people, Dr. Wen.

On the subject of inside versus outside, the President is going on a coronavirus campaign tour this week where he has got at least four outdoor rallies in a row. Dr. Fauci always does say that outdoors is better than indoors, but what about outdoors when you have to get there early, so you're standing next to someone for two hours, cramped, maybe, you know, six inches touching shoulder to shoulder. What are the risks there?

WEN: Yes, so outdoors is certainly better than indoors. It reduces the risk of transmission by 18 to 19 times. But our behavior outdoors still matters. If you're going to be outdoors shouting, shoulder to shoulder hugging, kissing, shaking hands, that still increases your likelihood of transmitting and getting COVID-19, too.

In addition, it's also about the activities of those individuals attending these rallies. They might be coming from all over the place, from all over the country, including places with active viral surge, and when they get together, it may well be that they are also going to bars afterwards, or indoor restaurants after the event, too, that are indoors and increase the risk of transmission that way.

So I would highly recommend, first of all, for people not to be going to these gatherings in the first place. But if they are going, when they return home, they should be quarantining and getting tested because they just got exposed to a high risk event and even if they may choose that risk for themselves, they shouldn't be able to make everybody else commit to that sacrifice, too.

BERMAN: You think that thousands of people who go into these Trump rallies should be quarantining after they go?

WEN: Absolutely. They should be doing that because that is the best for themselves, for their family members, and that's a responsibility that they should all have at this time of a surging pandemic.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Leana Wen, thank you very much for all of the advice this morning.

New details on the plot to kidnap Michigan's Governor. Two of the 13 suspects charged had a connection to the U.S. military. We'll tell you what that means, next.



BERMAN: Thirteen men have been charged in the alleged domestic terror plot to kidnap Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer. Among them, members of armed anti-government groups. Now, there have been indications for years now that the threat of right-wing extremism and violence is on the rise. So what's being done about that at the Federal level?

Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan. She serves on the Armed Services Committee, the Homeland Security Committee and is a former CIA official.

Some of the alleged crimes committed in the plot against Governor Whitmer took place in your district, Congresswoman, so thank you very much for being with us. And, look, you've got a lot of life experience here dealing with terror in your work in the C.I.A., and you look at what happened in your own state, in your own district and you see hallmarks of terrorism are frankly disturbed that people aren't being very explicit in calling it that. What do you mean?

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Yes, I mean, this is, to me a classic case of radicalization and while I worked as a C.I.A. officer focused on foreign terrorist groups, you know, my entire life, basically, since 9/11, the patterns are very similar and that's why I've been very clear that this is domestic terrorism.

You have a permissiveness around speech -- hate speech -- anti- government speech, speech against our Governor. It's become normalized. And we've been seeing the rise of membership in these types of groups. I've been talking about it for six months at home, but also in the Homeland Security Committee.

We shouldn't be surprised when a small number of the folks who are involved decide to take it up the next rung of the ladder. They start to organize. They start to train. They start to plot.

It's the same pattern we see with terrorist organizations around the world, so we need to call it what it is. BERMAN: You talk about the permissiveness in language, the

permissiveness regarding the language that's used here, and this isn't some vague connection. I mean, some of the actual words that have showed up in the affidavit in the criminal complaints here are words we hear from the President: treason, for instance. Talk about that.

SLOTKIN: Sure. I mean, I guess, because I worked alongside the military my entire career, you know, you really learn that leadership climate is set from the top, right? If the Commanding General is doing something, you know, untoward you shouldn't be surprised when the lieutenants are doing the same thing.

And we've seen not just the President, but leaders, elected leaders across the country, and certainly in our state, using the same language. "Let's liberate Michigan," "Our Governor is a tyrant," protesting against her using language that we again saw show up literally in wiretaps of this group.

And it's why elected leaders have a special responsibility to set the tone and tenor for the country, for the people they represent. And to me, you have to understand the connection.

And you know, even before COVID, before these protests, I had an event with the F.B.I. and our Attorney General, because we had seen a precipitous rise in the State of Michigan of anti-Semitism.

We've been seeing this for a while now, and to me, it just is -- it's a breach of responsibility for elected leaders when they allow and advance this kind of language.

BERMAN: And it was your questioning in a congressional hearing, which led to the F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray, now saying something which is in a way put him at odds with the President of United States,

I want to play an answer to your question where he highlights the problem of right-wing terror in the country. Listen.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, F.B.I. DIRECTOR: What I can tell you is that within -- within the domestic terrorism bucket, a category as a whole, racially motivated violence extremism is I think the biggest bucket within that larger group.

And within the racially motivated violent extremist bucket, people ascribing to some kind of white supremacist type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that.