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U.S. COVID-19 Pandemic Raging; Interview With Former Hong Kong Pro- Democracy Lawmaker Ted Hui; Interview With Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). Aired 2-3p ET
Aired December 17, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Vaccines in a race against time. Front-line worker and critical care specialist Cornelia Griggs talks to me about her daily
battle to save lives.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We agreed we will not leave town until we have made law.
AMANPOUR: A financial life line for millions of Americans hangs in the balance. I speak to Republican Senator Bill Cassidy about the critical
relief bill that's yet to pass.
Plus: pro-democracy activist Ted Hui tells me about his daring escape from Hong Kong, as China targets democracy there.
CLAIRE BABINEAUX-FONTENOT, CEO, FEEDING AMERICA: One in six individuals in this country are likely to be food-insecure.
AMANPOUR: Our Hari Sreenivasan explores how the pandemic could leave 50 million Americans depending on food banks.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
More grim milestones today, as America surpasses 17 million COVID cases. And here in the U.K., for the first time in history, the U.N. children's
agency, UNICEF, plans to feed vulnerable families across this country.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron is the latest world leader to catch COVID, which is further proof that no one is beyond its reach.
Meanwhile, millions of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are being rolled out to front-line workers. Next up could be FDA emergency approval for the Moderna
vaccine, a glimmer of hope, as experts fear this holiday season will certainly bring a spike in infections.
Pediatric surgeon and critical care specialist Cornelia Griggs has been manning the front lines.
And we spoke first back in March, when she was sounding the alarm over how unprepared U.S. hospitals were for the pandemic.
Take a listen to her warning then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. CORNELIA GRIGGS, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: No one in my life has ever called me an alarmist before. I am trained to be cool in an emergency.
In fact, I think of myself as someone who thrives in a crisis.
But this is different. And I think myself and a lot of doctors across the country are scared to go to work in a way that we have never been scared
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, nine months later, where are we? And do health care workers have the supplies and the support they need now?
Dr. Griggs is joining me from Boston to discuss.
Welcome back to the program. It's been many months, really since the beginning, that we spoke. And I wonder whether you're still scared and
whether you have now what you need.
GRIGGS: Yes, it's so nice to speak to you again, Christiane.
And we're in a very different place than we were when we first spoke. And it's terrifying in different ways. But I think, with the arrival of the
vaccine and the beginning of the rollout of broad-scale vaccination of our health care work force, people in the hospital are beginning to feel a
small nugget of hope, and potentially even some somber optimism.
AMANPOUR: Well, that's great to hear, really, because we know that hospitals are at capacity all over the country right now.
And we saw in some of those pictures that the first to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Monday was a front-line nurse in New York. And I
just wonder. You said it's -- it can bring you some optimism even now.
Are you going to get it? What's the situation for people in your hospital?
GRIGGS: Yes, my hospital started the vaccination process yesterday, and I should know tonight when I can make my appointment to get vaccinated.
But I expect everyone at my hospital will be vaccinated, everybody who wants to be vaccinated will be vaccinated by the end of January. So, that
timeline does give me a bit of hope.
But, as you said, we're seeing our beds fill up again with COVID patients. And we're seeing a surge related to the Thanksgiving holiday. And with more
holidays around the corner, I think a lot of health care workers here in Boston and New York and across a lot of hard-hit areas in the country are
bracing for a really brutal winter, even with vaccines.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, because you brought up Thanksgiving. And you famously tweeted -- I mean, you begged people basically to cancel their
Thanksgiving. You said you would even give them a medical note, so that they could bow out of their Thanksgiving.
And you said it's doable. It's just a year. One can -- one can just forfeit it this year. Do you -- I mean, you're saying you're seeing the spike after
that now? Do you think the same should happen over Christmas?
I think that the risk is even higher now than it was in the spring, when we were all being told to bunker in our homes, and a lot of people accepted
that that was -- that was what was necessary.
But now we have learned to ignore some of these appalling numbers, in terms of case counts and deaths. But the rate of community spread all across the
country is really terribly alarming. And the way COVID seeps into your family is insidious. It arrives on the breath of the people that you love
and their kisses.
AMANPOUR: Wow. That is a pretty visual way of putting it.
And we heard that, this week, if I'm not mistaken, yesterday, the U.S. surpassed a record daily death toll number. I mean, it's pretty -- it's
pretty heartbreaking to hear actual individuals talk about who they have lost. And, as you say, just like that, you can catch it from people who you
love just by them breathing anywhere near you.
I want to ask you this about what president-elect Biden has said, what he will do, because it's a lot about behavior as well.
He said -- well, actually, let's play his sound bite, because he says it a lot better than I can repeat it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: The first day I'm inaugurated to say, I'm going to ask the public for 100 days to mask, just 100 days to mask, not
forever, 100 days.
And I think we will see a significant reduction, if we occur -- if that occurs, with vaccinations and masking, to drive down the numbers
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, how do you grade that? A good idea?
GRIGGS: I think it's a great idea.
I think we need a universal masking mandate. We know that masking works. We know in the hospital now that PPE works. There have been health care
workers working tirelessly taking care of COVID patients day in, day out, with little more to protect them than a thin paper gown, a mask, a face
shield and some gloves.
We know that simple measures can work. It's just everyone is so exhausted, so fatigued, so burnt out by the despair that this virus has wrought upon
our country and others. And it's really hard.
But I do. I think it's a great idea.
AMANPOUR: And just quickly, as you know, the U.S. is experimenting with quick tests, home tests, so that you can know pretty quickly at home
whether you have it, whether you don't.
I mean, that's also, I mean, presumably a good idea, right? That could help at least. Well, how do you assess that?
GRIGGS: We need much more broader scale availability of testing overall. Even for someone like me, it's not always straightforward to get me or my
children or my loved ones a simple, straightforward test and quick results, especially now that we're seeing such high rates in the community.
There was one testing center that I called yesterday for a patient. And they said, I'm sorry, we don't have anything until 2021. So, it's still not
straightforward to get a test. And we need to ramp up our ability to test the public dramatically through the standard PCR test, and maybe even
innovative tests at home.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you? It's a little bit of a political question. Well, it's a labor question.
California is having a terrible surge. They're in a very dramatic lockdown right now. And yet there are a couple of nurses unions who are calling for
a strike over the next few days, a 10-day strike on Monday, citing poor working conditions, and being ill-prepared in that area for the pandemic.
And this is what the statement says: "While these HCA facilities are among the most profitable hospitals in the region, they were also amongst the
least prepared for the pandemic. The hospitals also have high staph infection rates. Two staff members at Riverside Community Hospital have
already died and scores there have fallen ill, spreading the disease to co- workers."
Is there a moral dimension also to even thinking about striking at this time, despite how terrible they say their conditions are?
GRIGGS: It's such an impossible situation to be in. For so many of these nurses, they have no choice. They need to put food on the table. They need
their jobs. They need to show up to work. A lot of health care workers feel that way.
But there's been a massive disparity in the preparedness among different hospitals in different regions of the country, in the availability of PPE.
And it's massively unfair to those nurses and health care workers, who are showing up, putting their lives on the line. They don't have the political
support, they don't have the community support of people taking simple measures to protect themselves and their loved ones.
And they are risking their lives every day to take care of patients. So, it is the obligation of these hospitals to equip those nurses with the PPE and
the safe equipment that they need.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you. And I'm going to be speaking straight after you, going to Capitol Hill, talk to Senator Cassidy, amidst this relief
stimulus bill that they still haven't been able to pass.
What would you ask your congressman or anybody for right now, in terms of being a front-line health care worker?
GRIGGS: The stimulus bill is extremely important for a lot of Americans. People are out there suffering. My patients are out there struggling and
It's going to be a miserable Christmas. And we need to give people reason to have hope, just a little nugget, a shred of hope to get them through to
the new year, when we hope the massive rollout of vaccines will be able to help us get a grip on the surge that's happening right now.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Cornelia Griggs, thank you so much for joining us from Boston there.
GRIGGS: My pleasure.
AMANPOUR: So, let us ask my next guest, because he's also a trained doctor. Now, though, he does spend his time in Congress as a Republican
senator from Louisiana. He is Senator Bill Cassidy, one of the lawmakers working around the clock to push through a $900 billion COVID relief bill.
It's a critical financial lifeline, as you just heard, for millions of Americans. And new data shows that almost a million people have fallen into
poverty over the past five months, including nearly 2.5 million children under 17 years old.
The package is expected to provide money for vaccine distribution and schools, as well as extending unemployment benefits and giving loans to
small businesses. But, as the possibility of a government shutdown looms, time is also running out.
And Senator Cassidy is joining me now from Washington.
Welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me. I assume you have a lot of work to do to get that stimulus bills through.
But I want to ask you, Senator, as a professional doctor as well, you just heard from Dr. Griggs in the pediatric hospital in Boston. You must feel
their pain and the pain of millions of Americans who are hanging on your every -- every word right now.
SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): Absolutely.
If you will, this is a kind of bifurcated economy right now. If you're making your living on Zoom, you might be doing pretty well. But if you make
your living in a service industry, as a waiter, as a chef, then maybe you're not doing so well.
And so that vulnerability among our fellow Americans is what we're trying to address with this COVID relief package.
AMANPOUR: So, tell me about it, then, because we heard that it was kind of going along. And now we hear that it stalled. There was a deadline of
Friday. I think you all are meant to be shutting down for the holiday period.
What is happening? Is it going to pass, because it's a cliff edge for a lot of people, as you pointed out.
CASSIDY: Yes, so Mitch McConnell has said, we're not leaving town without a COVID relief package.
So, now when we leave town is still up in the air. It could be Friday night. It could be Saturday morning. If they can -- if they can't iron out
the differences, it might run into Sunday. I do think, by the weekend, we will have -- by the end of the weekend, we will have something done.
But the things I think it's important to know that are now apparently the hangups are not critical to the COVID relief package. The things that are
working group put together, the help for the small business to keep people employed, the help for the unemployed, the help for vaccine distribution
and for testing, for schools, et cetera, that, I believe, has been agreed upon.
It is these kind of peripheral issues that are now holding it up.
AMANPOUR: Can you give us a peripheral issue, as you put it?
So, what I'm told is that -- and I don't have the kind of details of this information -- but that FEMA has spent a lot of money in New York and New
Jersey, and that there's a state match, which is required, and the delegation of New Jersey and New York are trying to get that waived.
Now, that's billions of dollars, potentially. Now, that's a peripheral issue, but obviously important to Chuck Schumer and folks like that. But I
am told that's one of the issues holding things up.
AMANPOUR: So, I mean, look, I can obviously hear you saying that the Democrats want something and you guys want something else.
But surely this is -- it has to get beyond politics right now. There are people who are really hurting. Let me just read a few statistics, as I
said, a fiscal cliff on December 31. Critical government support for millions of people expires for the unemployed, for homeowners, renters,
students, as you said, small businesses.
Just want to play what the chairman of the Federal Reserve has said about why you will need to act, and now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: We have talked about this as all of these government policies trying to work together to create a bridge
across this chasm, economic chasm, that was created by the pandemic.
Now that we can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel, it would be -- it would be bad to see people losing their business, their life's work
in many cases, or even generations' worth of work, because they couldn't last another few months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, bad because they couldn't last a few months.
Do you agree with the chairman of the Fed?
CASSIDY: Totally agree, which is why the working group that -- Republicans, Democrats, senators and representatives, separate from
leadership, came together to try and advance something.
We're the ones that came up with a package of $746 billion or $748 billion. I compare leadership, if you will, to folks in a bad marriage who can't
communicate. Our working group, if you will, is the counselor that brought them back together.
Now, our product has been given the leadership, and that's where we're kind of stuck once more. But, on the other hand, totally agree with you,
Christiane -- with Jerome Powell. We need to get these small businesses, these families through the next four months, while the vaccine is being
If we can do that, our economy will take off once more. We just got to get through the next few months. That's where -- that's what our COVID relief
package does and did.
AMANPOUR: Let me just follow up. Do you think maybe one of the marriage counselors could be the political reality in Georgia?
We understand that the Senate majority leader, as you have mentioned, Mitch McConnell, has basically said that the two Republicans are -- in a run-off
in January are -- quote -- "getting hammered" by the failure to pass this.
Do you think that is going to concentrate minds and get this over the line?
CASSIDY: I think it is the totality of what's happening in the country right now.
It is the doctor you had beforehand from Boston. It may be what's happening in Georgia. It's what's happening in Louisiana, where I have folks who are
very much connected to the food bank calling me to say that their lines are long. It's the small business owner who invested everything she had in her
coffee shop, and now the coffee shop may go under, and her life savings exhausted, and the people whom she employs laid off.
So, I think the totality of what's happening right now calls for it.
And I just want to echo what Jerome Powell said. We are putting vaccine out now. We can see the end of this. So to lose 25 percent of American small
businesses, as the National Federation of Independent Businesses, I'm told, estimates, to lose them now, when we're within -- we can see that light,
would be a -- would just be a tragedy.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I can hear you. I can hear you loud and clear. And I wonder whether you think what you're just saying and what Jerome Powell did say
will convince members of Congress.
CASSIDY: Well Mitch McConnell has said, we're not leaving until we have a COVID relief package.
And so I think he's convinced. And Pelosi is negotiating, I'm told, in good faith. So she's convinced. And the White House has been there the whole
time. So, President Trump's convinced.
I do think it will come together. Not quite sure what day it will.
AMANPOUR: All right, I just want to ask you again about your own personal feelings, because, as I said, you are a doctor. I believe your wife also is
a surgeon, a currently working surgeon.
And how do you -- I mean, you must hear from her certainly a lot of stories about the desperate need inside the hospitals and the infection rate. I
mean, it's really gathering pace right now. What stories you hearing from your wife inside the hospital?
CASSIDY: Well, my wife is actually a retired general surgeon, but I do hear from my colleagues who are still practicing. I hear from my wife on
From my colleagues who are practicing, indeed, the bed occupancy rate is increasing, the ICU rate is increasing. Now, the good news is that the
therapeutics we have, the antibodies, the drugs, the changes in how we treat people, has lowered the death rate as a percent of those people who
are getting infected.
We have learned to quarantine, if you will, to cordon off people in nursing homes, so the virus does not enter the nursing home, so they are protected.
We have learned a lot in the 10 months. My wife actually is the chair of a board of a public charter school for children with dyslexia. What I have
learned from her is that, if a child is distant learning, and they're less than 10, they're probably not learning at all, particularly for the
The mom has to work. The dad has to work. So the child's home alone, may -- even if you give them a Wi-Fi, they're not used to using computers at home.
My wife school teaches dyslexics. They are really potentially struggling.
Her school has been able to meet since July. Other schools have not. We are leaving children behind by keeping these schools closed. That's the other
tragedy of coronavirus.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you about quite a lot of tragedies?
I mean, one of the big tragedies was clearly a president who was mired in all sorts of conspiracy theories and misinformation about how to deal with
the disease, and also clearly about the aftermath of this election.
So I want to ask you, as a Republican senator, prominent senator from Louisiana -- and you were reelected in November -- you were the first, I
believe, in Louisiana to say: "I voted for President Trump, but Joe Biden, one. The transition should begin for the sake of this country."
That was on November 23. We're nearly a month beyond that. We still don't see any sort of emerging from that tunnel of denial by the president.
CASSIDY: So, I have got a couple things in there I want to dispute with you.
CASSIDY: Operation Warp Speed has been praised as the most significant medical endeavor in our lifetimes.
AMANPOUR: That's the vaccines. You're absolutely right.
CASSIDY: And so that was the Trump administration.
On the one hand, folks are saying, without mentioning his name, man, Operation Warp Speed was really good. On the other hand, boy, he really
messed it up.
Since Operation Warp Speed, bringing us the vaccine in 10 months learning about the virus to injecting in the arm, is just unheard of. I think the
president deserves an incredible amount of credit.
Secondly, on the day I made my tweet, which was the day or the day after that Michigan certified their results and gave Biden 270 Electoral College
votes, President Trump told the General Services Administration to begin the transition. He acknowledged the -- in effect, he acknowledged the
He understood that, for the pandemic and for foreign policy issues, it was important to have the transition begin sooner, and he initiated it. Again,
I don't think the president gets the credit for that.
He has the right, as he has, to go through his court battles. We have seen how they have turned out. But it's important to understand that he
acknowledged this possibility, and the transition began when Michigan certified.
AMANPOUR: OK. But he's still holding up hope, at least in public, for a congressional sort of pulling out of the -- rabbit out of a hat for him in
And he's still not conceding or whatever, publicly saying anything to Joe Biden.
And I just wonder with you -- why? Why do you think this is still happening? And what might it mean for the credibility and faith by lots of
Republicans around the country in your democratic system?
CASSIDY: So, first, I don't try and climb into anybody's head. I have learned long ago don't ascribe motivations. So I won't try and explain
anything, because it's not me. It's somebody else. And that would be whether he or whether you or someone else.
AMANPOUR: Lots of your colleagues in Congress, too, by the way.
CASSIDY: So, I think you're starting to hear my colleagues in Congress speak.
Mitch McConnell spoke on the Senate floor of President-elect Biden's victory. You have heard others acknowledge that as well. Of course, there
are some who still have not. And it's not a kind of en masse type of movement. But key leaders have so acknowledged.
Functionally, again, we have begun to discuss about a transition. The senators who are in charge of the presidential swearing-in, they're making
plans on the assumption that it's President Biden who will take the oath. So I think, functionally, you're seeing that.
I think the press really wants to see this kind of -- I don't want to put words in your mouth -- as I just said, I don't like to -- but this almost
mea culpa, we should have confessed sooner. I just don't think that's going to happen.
But you are seeing, functionally, people are moving on, acknowledging, just as President Trump did, that it's going to be a President Biden.
Senator Bill Cassidy, thank you very much, indeed.
CASSIDY: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And pursuing the theme of democracy, we turn now to one of the biggest issues of the year, the assault on those freedoms around the world.
And nowhere has this been more clear than in Hong Kong. China continues to crack down on pro-democracy opposition, after imposing a draconian national
security law in June, to -- quote -- "restore stability." That's what Beijing said.
My next guest is the former Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui. He made a daring escape last month, and he's now in self-imposed exile here in
the U.K. Hui he faces a series of criminal charges that, if convicted, could put him in prison for life.
He's joining me now from London.
Ted Hui, welcome to the program.
Do you feel--
TED HUI, FORMER HONG KONG PRO-DEMOCRACY LAWMAKER: Hello.
Do you feel safe? Do you feel at ease to speak now that you're out of Hong Kong? Because you had a pretty daring escape.
HUI: Yes, finally, I can breathe in free air away from Hong Kong. I feel much safer here.
And so I feel responsible for speaking for freedom of Hong Kong now here.
AMANPOUR: Let me just go back quickly, because I think people will be pretty interested to hear how you got out. You essentially -- you did --
you jumped bail and you left.
But it was a quite an interesting plan and plot that was conjured up. Can you just walk us through it? Because it involved the former prime minister
of Denmark and a whole load of people.
HUI: Yes, I'm grateful to my Danish friends I made in March this year.
So, we had contact beforehand. And so they invited me to -- on my official visit basis to talk about environmental issues, green topics like climate
change. And so they sent the program to me. And I sent the program to the police. So I didn't know before I landed Denmark that they actually changed
the program for me to talk about Hong Kong's human rights situations.
So, I -- my Danish friends smart enough of not telling me beforehand, but they actually -- it's like smuggling me out of Hong Kong. So, I have the
chance of speaking in free air now because of that.
AMANPOUR: So, that is really interesting. You had a lot of international help there, a lot of friends.
Of course, the authorities there have -- are pretty mad at you. And you kind of have an option, I guess, you activists these days, get out or go to
jail. That seems to be what's happening. And we know Nathan Law, a fellow activist and a friend of yours, has also come out. He's in the U.K.
What do you feel about being out of that situation with so many of your activists still there? And what was it like to reunite with Nathan?
HUI: It is very heavy, a very heavy decision for me to leave Hong Kong, perhaps permanently.
And, of course, seeing all my friends and freedom fighters still in Hong Kong, many in jails and many about to go to jail, and it makes me feel
really responsible, like bearing Hong Kong on my shoulders, that it's my lifelong mission now. I need to talk about and speak to international
community about how they can help in building freedom back in Hong Kong.
And so it is important for the world to know about the real situations. Hong Kong, for example, like nowadays in Hong Kong, if you even are
chanting a slogan itself can lead you to life imprisonment, with a draconian national security law.
So, I'm lobbying international and world leaders regarding stronger sanctions and stronger stance and attitudes towards Beijing, China, and
perhaps even isolating approach, and so let Beijing be affected economically and also politically, and feel -- maximize the pressures that
it faces. And I think that would be important for Hong Kong's freedom movements in the near future.
AMANPOUR: So, before we go into some of those details, I just want to play some pretty dramatic images, which is when you were confronted by police in
the streets in Hong Kong. There was a protest, and you were there.
And they were waving around the pepper spray. And we're seeing it right now. Basically, they're asking you to leave, and you won't leave. And he
takes off your goggles, and puts the pepper spray practically right in your face. And then he does it again while you are turning away from him. Again
and again, this happens.
Tell me about that. Did you suffer any injuries? And was that a moment when you felt the net was closing in on you?
HUI: That's very typical of the Hong Kong movement and typical of police brutality you're facing in Hong Kong.
Imagine, at that time, I was still a legislator. And what I was trying to do was be in the protest scene and be the peacemaker, asking people to calm
down and pointing out the actions by the police that's infringing basic human rights.
And just by that, and police would spray me, tear gas us. And so I -- but, at that time, we were still allowed to protest in the streets. At least I
was allowed to be talking and mediating between the police and the protesters.
But now, with the new security -- national security law, it's totally banned. In 2020, no legal assembly is ever allowed in Hong Kong. So, Hong
Kong's freedom has totally collapsed, and press freedom totally collapsed. And that's the change that we are going through.
AMANPOUR: Well, I'm going to just put some more video up, because it's the so-called loyalty pledge that legislatures essentially had to take this
week because of, as you say, this new edict from Beijing.
The first group of high-ranking public officials in Hong Kong there are taking an oath to uphold the constitution. That's a requirement in the new
national security law.
And those who don't could be forced out. What do you think when you see these pictures, when you know what's happening back in the legislature, of
which you used to be part?
HUI: I don't know how to say it, but I think for the regime to use these measures oathtaking measures on all civil servants and anyone in Hong Kong
holding a public office, and the ultimate aim is that they are holding you as hostages so if you pledge allegiance now to the basic law of Hong Kong
to (INAUDIBLE) our constitutions.
And in the future, if you are departing from it, if you are expressing any dissent and they can always make that as a tool to disqualify you, to get
you to -- to totally kick you out, just like how they disqualified our colleagues, other legislators in our legislature.
Now, the regime is expanding this tool, political tool they can use to expel anyone, any civil servants, anyone holding public office. So,
basically, it's silencing all dissents and to take complete control of Hong Kong's establishment system.
AMANPOUR: You know, Ted Hui, we remember back in 1997 and for all the transition years that followed, it was meant to be, you know, one country,
two systems. It was meant to be that democratic three-part of China which was called Hong Kong, and it seems very, very close to being wiped out.
They are targeting, as you said, not just the legislators but the press, the judiciary and all of that.
This is what President-Elect Biden's nominee for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, tweeted. He has said, we stand united with our allies and
partners against China's assault on Hong Kong's freedoms, and to help those persecuted find safe haven. OK. All right, fine. Find safe haven.
Is that what -- what do you think? Do you think that that means they're just going to help all of you who are forced out or do you have faith that
a new administration will do what you want to see, and that is, punishing Hong Kong -- or China, rather, Beijing, even further for this crackdown on
democracy? Because so far, sanctions don't seem to have worked. They have already sanctioned Carrie Lam, the chief executive in Hong Kong.
HUI: Well, of course, I am grateful for the new administration and all Americans speaking for the freedom of Hong Kong. And I'll say that even we
don't see a fight that is very much effective in Hong Kong with the sanctions, but are still -- it's something because it's recognition of the
cause of the movement in Hong Kong.
And what I would like to see more by the new administration is by widening the scope of the sanctions, like in my case, after my -- just one day after
my exile, my HSBC account has been frozen without reasons, and that's totally illegal. And even my family members' accounts are frozen.
So, can sanctions be on those HSBC management people and for the right of - - and also the regulators, financial regulators in Hong Kong. So, to widen these sanctions would be a step forward for the administration to take. And
of course, with the safe havens, perhaps visa or a pathway to permanent residency would be helpful for the really young protesters who are in the
AMANPOUR: Ted Hui, HSBC told us that there's "a lot of misreporting" about this but added it, the bank, must abide by the laws of the jurisdiction in
which we operate, i.e., what, I guess, is happening on the ground there right now.
I want to ask you a final question because there are some activists, quite a few, in fact, in Hong Kong and even in China who believe President Trump
and his unorthodox, you know, willingness to at least verbally go after China, go after, you know, the trade and all the rest of it was a champion
for people like yourself. Was a champion and spoke much louder for people like yourself and are worried that a Biden administration may not be as
strong against China and Beijing. What is your view on that?
HUI: I think that's the impression of Hong Kongers that Donald Trump is more -- take a more assertive approach and stronger approach towards China,
but my personal view is that we don't only look on surface. It's really what new measures in terms of sanctions, in terms of statements and visa --
safe haven visas that's really helping Hong Kong.
And also, it is the work of uniting our friends, our little friends in the west, in Europe, in the five I's (ph), that really matters. And that can be
-- together with other nations -- and that's more influential. So, it's hard to say, but I hope that with the new administration, these things can
be done for Hong Kong's freedom.
AMANPOUR: Well, it is certainly going to be in the public eye, Hong Kong, as the outpost and bastion of freedom to be defended. Ted Hui, thank you
very much for joining us.
HUI: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And freedom to speak the truth and truth to power must be at the heart of any democracy, of course. Today, marks 10 years since those
freedoms were put under a microscope in the Middle East when the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire, sparking the
beginning of Arab Spring that would go onto topple many oppressive regimes but also, sadly, spur others to crack down with ever more force. And today,
we remember all of those who took to the streets across the Arab world and demanded justice, freedom and dignity.
Now, earlier, we were discussing the race in Congress to finalize that COVID relief bill. Unemployment has surged and experts say hunger, hunger
rates are higher than they've ever been in more than 20 years. Claire Babineaux-Fontenot is the CEO of Feeding America, which is the country's
largest network of food banks and Dave Krepcho runs the Second Harvest, that's a food bank in Orlando, Florida. And here they are talking to our
Hari Sreenivasan about the desperate need.
SREENIVASAN: Christiane, thanks. Claire Babineaux-Fontenot and Dave Krepcho, thanks for joining us.
Claire, I want to start with the sort of big picture here. When we see some of these numbers, they are startling but hard to grasp. Tell us how many
people are food insecure right now in America.
CLAIRE BABINEAUX-FONTENOT, CEO, FEEDING AMERICA: Yes. I agree that they're hard to grasp and my -- one of my concerns is that people -- human beings
would get lost in those big numbers. So, our estimates are that as a result of the pandemic, that the rate of food insecurity in this country will go
up to 50 million people.
So, maybe it's easier for your audience to grasp that that would mean that if you're in the company of more than six people, about one in six
individuals in this country are likely to be food insecure. About one in four kids. And what's really challenging for me, all of that is
challenging, but when you contemplate, that's an average. That there are actually communities in this country that, where right now, one out every
two kids is food insecure. So, really big numbers. A lot of pain. We're right smack dab in the middle of a food crisis, Hari.
SREENIVASAN: Dave, you've been doing this for decades now. What has it been like to be on the front lines in Orlando through this pandemic and
watching people come in to need help?
DAVE KREPCHO, PRESIDENT AND CEO, SECOND HARVEST FOOD BANK OF CENTRAL FLORIDA: It's been surreal. I think that's the best word. You know, when
people hear of Orlando, they think of Disney and all the theme parks. How could you possibly have issues there? You know, but in the shadow of
Cinderella's castle, we have incredible need.
You know, in all my years, I've been through fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, 9/11 impact, the recession, COVID tops them all, by far. It's
not even close. So, it is surreal just to see the numbers of people that are reaching out. I mean, on an average day -- well, since mid-March. We
have distributing enough food for 300,000 meals each day, and it's not enough.
SREENIVASAN: Claire, one in six Americans, at this point, you're not talking about who we would consider in some stereotypes, poor, people who
are on their last dollar, people who are homeless. We're talking about a much bigger slice of America.
BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: You're absolutely right. About 40 percent on average of people who are turning to us for help have never before relied on the
charitable food system. So, these are people -- they're your neighbor. They're the person right next door. And I'm glad you asked the question in
the way that you did because there are so many myths around whom is it that food insecure before this pandemic started.
There are a number -- there are millions of working class, poor people in this country who can't make ends meet. And then what this pandemic has
shown us is there are also millions of people who are right -- who are sitting right there on the brink.
And so many vulnerable communities rely upon the very industries that are hardest hit by the pandemic. So, one of the horrors for me was -- hidden in
plain sight was that things were going to happen just like they did when we started closing restaurants, I knew that there were so many people who were
going to have to turn to us and other sources because they just weren't going to be able to make ends meet.
SREENIVASAN: David, I'm assuming that the hospitality industry is big in Orlando, kind of in the ripple effects of having the magic kingdom there.
What is it like -- and I'm sure you've seen this hundreds of times now. What is it like when you see that person who's coming for the first time?
What is going through their minds? What's the similarity?
KREPCHO: Yes, we're getting literally thousands of those people approaching us for food relief. And what's disturbing is that they -- well,
first of all, they have never been in that position before, OK.
And they start explaining themselves out of embarrassment and almost shame that they have to build the case for themselves that they need food. And
it's like you have to give them a gracious time-out and say, hey, we understand, you know, you're in this through no fault of your own. And how
can we help you?
So, there's a lot of that going on. And a lot of these folks put that request off as long as they could because of embarrassment, you know, I'll
give you just one example. You know, a lot of the food distributions are drive-throughs so there's no touch, right?
So, volunteers put the food in the back of a van or car. There was single father with about a 6 or 7-year-old son going through line and the
volunteers putting food in the car and the son is watching this and whipped around, he goes, dad, are we going to eat today? The father just lost it,
right. And he said, son, yes, we're going to.
As the dad pulled away, he mentioned to the volunteer that he had lost his job unexpectedly, you know, hiw wife had passed away. And him and his son
hadn't eaten in three days. And the Orlando area, OK -- and again, like I'm saying, this is going on around the country, I mean, something's terrible,
terribly wrong here.
They say that about one-third of the U.S. population, one-third, is living paycheck to paycheck and they don't have $300 or $400 in their checking
account to pay for any kind of emergency. So, when the wind blows, you know, they're teetering on that tight rope. When the wind blows, you know,
it's blowing them over.
SREENIVASAN: Claire, I don't know if most people realize where food banks get their food from. I know there are a couple of big federal programs,
right now, The Farmers to Food Family Box program, there's the Food Purchase and Distribution program, they are set to expire at the end of
this calendar year.
SREENIVASAN: What kind of impact is that going to have around the country when these programs that have helped feed hundreds of thousands of people
right now could zero out?
BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Yes. So, let me give a little context for what that's going to mean to us if there's not intervention. So, our remarkable network
was able to provide about 5 billion meals last year. 1.7 billion of them were as a result -- direct result of federal commodities. We're looking at
a 60 percent increase in demand and if nothing else happens, we're looking at a 50 percent decrease in those commodities. That is a perfect storm.
So, right when people need help so desperately in the middle of the winter, in the middle of the pandemic, we're looking at having less supply. I mean,
it's really critical. So, part of what we ask is for Congress to act. There is reason to be hopeful in some of the draft legislation that's out there
right now, but I've said more than once lately, I've seen a lot of drafts. I'd like to see some legislation, because while we're thinking about it and
trying to get it precisely right, people are struggling right now.
Ordinarily, the vast majority of the food that we receive as a network comes from some form of donated food, right. So, it's the federal
government with commodities, it's retail, it's manufacturers. Right now, we're seeing declines in those places, which is forcing our members to go
out and buy more food than we've ever bought before.
And also, because of or need to be safe, we have to have it boxed up in a certain way so we can do these mass distributions. All of that collides to
have our members in the marketplace when according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail grocery prices are at a 50-year high. So, our
members are out there buying food that we didn't have to buy in the past at a time when it costs so much more.
SREENIVASAN: David, what -- one of the things Claire mentioned was this perfect storm. That demand was likely to increase. With your kind of ears
on the ground, you're likely meeting people who are just a couple of payments away from being evicted or people for whom any sort of
unemployment insurance has run out or will run out in a matter of weeks.
KREPCHO: Unfortunately, homelessness is growing again. You know, incredible efforts to minimize that or reduce it, but it's growing. It's
like one step forward and three steps back. We have single mothers with families living in storage sheds in Central Florida, and they're being
charged $500 a month. I mean, that's disgusting. It should be illegal.
Eviction notices are increasing. I was just talking to one of our feeding partners and, you know, they're a fairly small operation but in the past
week they had 18 families come to them and said, we have been evicted, you know, we need food, you know. Can you help us with some kind of rent
payment somewhere? And all these programs, you know, they're running out of money because of the demand that they're facing.
This pandemic has really laid bare some prior huge issues in this country from community. And one thing that exists across the country is lack of
affordable housing. This is all interconnected. So, when you have a lack of affordable housing connected with low wages, you got a horrible cocktail
right there for hardship.
SREENIVASAN: So, Claire, here we are about to turn the page to a new administration and the agriculture secretary, somebody who's been on your
board before, Tom Vilsack, what are the opportunities here? When -- we're not just talking about fixing the crisis that's around this pandemic, but
some of the deeper inequalities that it's laid bare that David is pointing to.
BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Yes. So, I have to tell you, I'm really optimistic about what the future represents. I believe that part of what we needed to
do as a country was to -- we needed certain things to be revealed, right. There were things hidden in plain sight and they need it to have lights
shown on them and we have.
So, as I contemplate what next year has in store for us, I think about some of the short-term interventions that are going to be necessary to be sure,
like increasing commodities, like increasing the federal nutrition programs. Trying to track with the increase that we already have in the
cost of groceries, track that in incremental increases in the federal nutrition programs.
I think about that as -- the federal nutrition programs, as being the short and mid-term solutions. But then beyond that, we must take a fresh look at
our policies and we really need to finally address systemic issues. I think we need to seize upon the opportunity to stop assuming that the people who
are not as impacted by these policies are better positioned to solve for them. We've got to bring people facing hunger, for instance, to the table
as we come up with creative solutions for people facing hunger.
SREENIVASAN: David, if you had a bit of advice for the incoming Biden administration, not just what you're dealing with today and the next couple
of months, but the bigger picture?
KREPCHO: We -- you know, we are out here in the trenches. We are not looking for government to solve all of this. OK. I want to make that
message clear. My advice to them is to do as much as possible of inspiring and engaging the country to end hunger, OK, as a grand vision and then to
work out how do you do that. And that takes local, state, federal government at the table, corporate America at the table, private family
foundations, individual residents, everybody can play a part and does play a part.
And just an example of that. If you can -- I got a handwritten note in block letters from Savannah. She says, I'm a 7-year-old in school and, you
know, I don't want to see hungry people. She put a $20 bill in the envelope.
You know, I mean, if you can can -- I got like a handwritten note and block letters from Savannah, she goes, Mr. Krepcho, I'm a 7-year-old in school
and, you know, I don't want to see hungry people. And she put a $20 bill in the envelope, you know. I mean, if Savannah can do that, certainly the rest
of us can do something. We can solve this.
So, I am encouraged by that. But I would just say, maybe Tom Vilsack has to create a national food czar, you know. We have to get -- elevate this food
security thing to a much higher level and take it much more seriously. The other specific piece on legislation is to increase SNAP., our food stamp
benefits, by, you know, 15 percent.
You know, there's a lot of myths around SNAP and who uses it and everything, but for every meal that a food bank provides, SNAP provides
nine. OK. And all the SNAP dollars are economic drivers to local communities. So, it makes so much sense. And the S in SNAP, that acronym,
is supplemental. Nobody can live -- no family can live on $4.85 a day for a meal.
SREENIVASAN: Claire, how do you square this? When we look at this structurally, how is it possible that we could be so wealthy and at the
same time have so many people in such need?
BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: I want to talk about through the lens of my own life where I am the product of the generosity of this remarkable country. I've
had access to education that my parents didn't have. They didn't graduate from high school. My parents got to go to school. My grandparents were
sharecroppers on both sides. None of them had the opportunity to go to school. I get to realize the American dream.
There's an American dream and there's an American ideal. And that ideal, we have not lived up to that ideal. So, some of this is just counter to who we
think we are. So, when we talk to little kids about eating -- a picky eater, about eating all of their food, we will tell them, oh, baby, you got
to eat your food because there are hungry kids in Africa, India, China.
My whole life I've understood that we do not need to look to distant shores to find hunger. Hunger is right here in every county in this country there
are challenging around food insecurity, and it's simply not who we think of ourselves as.
So, I think we are -- I know we are a great nation. We can do so much when we set our minds to it. But people don't solve for problems they don't
think they have. I think in this moment, we can see the issues, and that's what makes me so optimistic we have to do something about it.
SREENIVASAN: Claire Babineaux-Fontenot and David Krepcho, thanks so much for joining us.
BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Thank you for having me.
KREPCHO: You're welcome.
AMANPOUR: Wow, Claire and Dave really are heroic frontline essential workers. And who could not be moved by those very, very incredible stories.
Two people, a father and a son, haven't eaten in Orlando, Florida, for three days. Those are the stories we were trying to put to the senator at
this crucial time.
And finally, imagine a world where institutions are fined for having too many women. Well, that is exactly what's happened in France this week. The
French government fined the City of Paris for appointing more women to senior positions. And if that sounds topsy-turvy, well, it is. And Mayor
Anne Hidalgo branded it absurd, unfair and even dangerous, but she said she would be proud to pay this one and she called for more action for more
Meanwhile, in Finland there's no such thing as an overload of female power. The current coalition government is led by five women and they have a model
track record on COVID management.
That is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you for watching and good-bye from London.