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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Coronavirus Fears; President Trump to Hold News Conference on Coronavirus; CDC: Coronavirus Could Cause "Severe Disruption" in U.S.; VP Biden: I Will Win South Carolina Primary on Saturday. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2020 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: And, slowly, it unbroke.

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"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: At least Antarctica is still coronavirus-free?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: With the CDC warning the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. is inevitable, and President Trump will speak to the nation this evening about efforts to contain it, as his prior words and tweets have, frankly, added confusion to this crisis.

Joe Biden pulling a Joe Namath, guaranteeing he will win South Carolina, as he gets a boost from an old friend. But would a win for Biden there be too little too late?

Plus, some Democrats warning that the whole party lost last night's debate and could suffer across the board if Senator Sanders hangs on as the front-runner. Are their fears correct or out of touch?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin today with the health lead.

In just over two hours, President Trump will hold a news conference from the White House Briefing Room, along with top health officials, to attend to address concerns about the coronavirus. The president wants to calm a jittery stock market and reassure Americans worried about just how prepared the U.S. government is for this crisis.

Some of those worried, we should note, are Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Today, for the first time, there were more new cases of the coronavirus outside of China than inside, according to the World Health Organization. President Trump has been spending the day downplaying the seriousness of the virus on Twitter, praising his administration, and attacking the media and Democrats, in other words, Wednesday.

Despite the president's insistence that his administration is doing a great job and -- quote -- "USA in great shape," top medical professionals and health experts in the U.S. are sounding the alarm, warning that the U.S. government needs more resources, saying that the outbreak could lead to critical shortages of medicines and medical devices.

And that's not even approaching the worst-case scenarios they discuss.

Today, top Democrats demanded billions of additional dollars in emergency funding and attacked the White House's plan as too late and completely inadequate.

Our team of reporters is covering the story from every angle.

We're going to start with CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who's at the White House for us, of course, and a closer look at exactly what President Trump is planning for the news conference coming up.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A volatile stock market is amplifying the president's concerns about the spread of coronavirus today, leading him to schedule a press conference for tonight, as he accuses the media of trying to make the virus look -- quote -- "as bad as possible."

While publicly downplaying the outbreak and praising his administration's response, sources say a frustrated Trump is privately lashing out at his own officials, including the health and human services secretary, Alex Azar, who's been put in charge of leading the interagency response.

ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I serve as the lead on this. The president and I spoke this morning as he returned from India. And he said, I want to keep being radically transparent.

COLLINS: Unlike how the Obama administration handled the Ebola crisis, there's no point person for the coronavirus. And Azar insists he's up to the task without one.

AZAR: It's just the longstanding doctrine that this should be led by HHS with a public health emergency. It has not actually changed. The oddity was actually what President Obama did with the Ebola response.

COLLINS: But that decision is coming under increased scrutiny, given that the Trump White House also eliminated a position on the National Security Council dedicated to pandemic response in 2018.

Sources say Trump is downplaying the outbreak because he fears, otherwise, it will cause more panic in the markets. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a very good chance you're not going to die.

COLLINS: But despite assurances that everything is under control--

AZAR: This has been the smoothest interagency process I have experienced in my 20 years of dealing with public health emergencies.

COLLINS: -- lawmakers are demanding more information and arguing the additional funding that the White House has requested isn't enough.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The coronavirus is under control, according to the president. Your reaction to that?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I don't think the president knows what he's talking about once again.

COLLINS: The concern about whether the administration is prepared to combat the oncoming crisis has been bipartisan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don't think we should be penny wise and pound foolish on that.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, when the president does appear in the Briefing Room later today, that's going to only be his second time ever coming in there with reporters.

The first was at a meeting with Border Patrol agents in January of last year, but this time he will be joined by members of the coronavirus task force that the White House has created. That consists of largely other members of the administration that have pretty big jobs, like deputy secretary of state, national security adviser, as the White House is continuing to insist they do not need someone who is the point person on all of this.


TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you so much.

And just to give you an idea of how fast the coronavirus spreads, Italy is now reporting 400 coronavirus cases. Last Friday, there were three. France overnight announced its first coronavirus-related death, and the first known case in Latin America was just reported in Brazil.

As CNN's Nick Watt reports for us now, top American health officials are now warning, efforts to contain the virus may not work in the long haul.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's a preemptive state of emergency in San Francisco.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: we need to allocate more resources to make sure that we are prepared.

WATT: Hundreds of infected and potentially infected Americans are isolated or quarantined on military bases. At spring training in Florida, the Red Sox keeping a young Taiwanese pitching prospect who arrived from Taipei last week quarantined for days just in case.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You need to be prepared for what very likely will occur.

We need to be able to think about how we will respond to a pandemic outbreak.

WATT: The federal government now saying it needs to stockpile 300 million more masks.

AZAR: I do want to caution it will take time, because China -- as you rightly mention, China does control a lot of the raw materials, as well as manufacturing.

WATT: And, this morning, a warning from the CDC on ABC.

REAR ADM. DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: And we recognize that our very strong measures here in the United States to contain the virus, to keep it limited to very low numbers may not hold for the long haul.

WATT: Right now, there are 60 confirmed cases in the U.S., among them, 42 from aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, three repatriated from China, eight infections in California, two in Illinois, and one each in Massachusetts, Arizona, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Clues to what we could face here from Italy, where there are 400 cases and 12 deaths. Schools, universities and museums are closed in Milan, Ash Wednesday services canceled in many places, the Italy vs. Ireland rugby game postponed, and 11 northern towns now on complete lockdown, no one in, no one out.


WATT: And we are also hearing from U.S. airlines, Delta today saying they are further curtailing their schedules between the U.S. and Asia, today saying that their flights between here and South Korea will be cut back.

We also heard today from the mayor of Los Angeles, who says that, at LAX, they are disinfecting every hour. But, Jake, even he admits even those measures, he said, there is no way we can be 100 percent secure -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Watt in Los Angeles for us, thank you so much for that report.

The U.S. military is trying to figure out how many people may have been exposed in their ranks after a soldier tested positive for coronavirus in South Korea. The Pentagon says he is the first service member to come down with the virus. Troops obviously work and live in close quarters, which makes them especially vulnerable to exposure.

And that is leading to concerns that a spread of the virus could hurt U.S. military operations in the region.

CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now live from the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, the military has put new restrictions into place and put some soldiers in quarantine, but there really is no clear solution here.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: There's no solution for the military, anymore than there is for civilian society take this is for civilian society, Jake.

This is a 23-year-old male Army soldier. He is now in a negative pressure isolation chamber, something that will help prevent cross- infection, where he is being treated in South Korea, 15 additional members in self-quarantine.

There are travel restrictions across the Pacific now for the U.S. military, as well as restrictions in some parts of the Middle East. Perhaps most interesting, the border between Kuwait and Iraq now essentially closed, so that means the U.S. military will be looking for other ways to resupply the U.S. military mission in Iraq.

They will have to increase their efforts to bring supplies in by air. There is also a look at all military exercises. We may quickly learn in the coming hours that key exercises in South Korea, for example, have been scaled back.

So no longer can the military say, this is not really impacting them. Today, on Capitol Hill, Pentagon leadership asked if they needed more money and more resources, and there was not a very clear answer on that. Have a listen.


MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have not had that discussion yet internally.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We can't give you a definitive answer whether we're going to need additional resource or not. We are taking all the appropriate measures right now. And we're doing the estimates of the situation, so we owe you some answers.


STARR: Owe them some answers. So the answer is, nobody knows right now.

And, of course, the ultimate question at the moment -- or at least one of the ultimate questions -- will U.S. military families have to be brought back to the United States if this infection grows?


This is something that has been quietly discussed. No decisions. No need to do it is seen at this time.

But a Pentagon official told me earlier today, right now, they feel nobody has a clear idea where all of this is headed -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much.

What you should do as the coronavirus spreads in the United States. A doctor and infectious disease expert will join me next.

Plus, why a Democrat from a state Trump won in 2016 now says the candidates running against him are only helping his chances at reelection.

Stay with us.



DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If we have a pandemic, almost certainly we're going to get impacted.


TAPPER: President Trump's top health officials warning Americans that the coronavirus spreading is, quote, inevitable, and for the first time since the virus broke out, there are now more cases -- new cases outside of China than inside, according to the World Health Organization.


Joining me now to discuss, Dr. Erica Shenoy, she's the associate chief of the infection control unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Dr. Shenoy, thanks for joining us.

There are only 12 labs in the U.S. that can test for coronavirus this time. How significant a problem is that?

DR. ERICA SHENOY, ASSOCIATE CHIEF OF THE INFECTON CONTROL UNIT AT MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: Well, so, I think it is limiting, in terms of our ability to test patients who might have coronavirus. However, I know that there's a plan in place to make that test more widely available.

As is happened in the past with other, the other coronavirus, most recently MERS in 2012, eventually states labs were up and running and there eventually became commercial tests available.

TAPPER: So, the FDA warned that some medical products such as face masks or gowns could be at risk for shortages. Does wearing a face mask prevent coronavirus from spreading? Should people start stockpiling them now?

SHENOY: No. And maybe I'll explain this, because this is one of the most common questions I get from colleagues and from family members alike. So, why do we put surgical masks on patients? So, if you have a cough or you're sneezing, like you might have the flu, every time you cough and sneeze, droplets of the -- that contain that virus particles are coming out of your mouth. So, when we put a surgical mask on a patient, we're containing that from spreading.

If you're healthy and walking about, there's really no need to be wearing the mask. And I do worry, number one, it's a false sense of security. Number two, it eventually will impact the supply and we're already feeling the impact of the supply at the hospital, and in health care settings where we need those masks both to mask patients who are ill and also to protect health care workers.

TAPPER: There's a growing number of cases in Europe. American students studying abroad have been told by several universities to come home. Is that too drastic, do you think?


TAPPER: Is it really not safe for those students to be in Europe right now?

SHENOY: So, I think -- it's hard to say. I think the individual risk to one person in a country of, you know, millions of people and now we have 400 cases in Italy, but as I mentioned in the break, we had a few last week, maybe that individual risk is small and to that individual, even if they were infected, maybe they wouldn't have severe disease, but I think what we don't know is how disruptive this is going to be to travel and when they return, if there may be restrictions on their movement, as we've seen in the past when people were coming back from China.

So, I think it's probably wise to be looking at the daily updates with respect to what's going on, because the situation is so fluid.

TAPPER: The Journal of the American Medical Association released a paper, looking at data. Chinese government data, we should point out, more than 72,000 coronavirus cases, according to this study by JAMA, they say the fatality rate for those who have contracted coronavirus is 2.3 percent. There were no deaths for those 9 and younger who contracted it, but older people have higher fatality rates than that, 8 percent for people in their 70s, almost 15 percent for people in their 80s.


TAPPER: Put this in perspective for us. And also, given the data came from the Chinese government, do you trust it?

SHENOY: So, first of all, I think this is one of the -- this is the largest study to date looking at this, and what I took from that study was, number one, a 2 percent fatality rate overall, if we think that there is a portion of the cases out there that aren't even presenting to hospitals to be tested, the fatality rate may actually be lower when all the dust settles.

The second part is that distribution in age and really seeing the very high fatality rates among our oldest -- the oldest population there, and I think that mirrors what we see with influenza and other sorts of viruses that the oldest are generally the most fragile and they're the ones who have the higher fatality rate. So, I think when the dust settles, we may learn that the fatality rate is lower than 2 percent, I don't know how much lower than 2 percent, but there'll definitely be segments of the population, those with underlying disease, like heart disease or lung disease and, again, the very elderly, who will be more impacted than the rest of the population.

TAPPER: Doctor, as quickly as you can, if possible, what should people at home be doing other than washing their hands several times a day?

SHENOY: I think they just have to keep aware of the news and I think what the CDC is really telling about preparing for the general public is, these are -- they have to keep up to date on what's going on, but also be prepared that things may change in their life. Schools may be closed. Employers may have to adjust to that by allowing parents to work from home or figure out flexible arrangements, travel may be impacted, large gatherings maybe impacted.

So, I think what they're doing is, preparing us that things might not be the same as usual, it may not be business will not be as usual if COVID comes to the United States.

TAPPER: All right. So, mentally prepare yourself, keep alert and wash your hands several times a day.

Dr. Erica Shenoy, thank you so much.


SHENOY: Absolutely.

TAPPER: Appreciate it.

SHENOY: Yes. Thank you.

TAPPER: Former Vice President Joe Biden guaranteeing victory in South Carolina. How a huge endorsement from the state might change the race.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Turning to the 2020 lead now, Vice President Joe Biden getting the much anticipated and coveted endorsement from top South Carolina Democrat, House Majority Whip James Clyburn. The backing comes just 72 hours before Saturday's critical Palmetto State primary.

Biden insisting he will win South Carolina, but as CNN's Abby Phillip reports, it's unclear whether a Biden victory would ultimately change the likelihood that he becomes the nominee.



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Vice President Joe Biden scoring a major endorsement from the dean of South Carolina politics, Congressman Jim Clyburn.

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): But I want the public to know that I'm voting for Joe Biden. South Carolina should be voting for Joe Biden.

PHILLIP: It comes at a pivotal time for Biden in a state where he has guaranteed victory.

DEBATE MODERATOR: If you don't win South Carolina, will you continue --

BIDEN: I will win South Carolina.

PHILLIP: The former vice president relying heavily on his support from the state's large African-American population to give him the edge. Biden hoping South Carolina will be a launching pad, after three straight losses in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

BIDEN: I promise you this -- if you send me out of South Carolina with a victory, there will be no stopping us. We'll win the nomination, we'll win the presidency.



PHILLIP: Meantime, the contentious Democratic debate in Charleston making crystal clear who the other candidates in this race believe is the one to beat.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight.

PHILLIP: His rivals taking issue with Sanders' past votes on gun legislation --

SANDERS: Bernie voted five times against the Brady Bill, and wanted a waiting period --

PHILLIP: The cost of his plans --

KLOBUCHAR: No, the math does not add up.

PHILLIP: And questioning his electability.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you keep on going, we will elect Bernie. Bernie will lose to Donald Trump.

PHILLIP: Sanders' rivals now scrambling to stop his momentum going into Super Tuesday.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, this race has a front-runner. It's Senator Sanders, even though most Democrats are looking for something else.

PHILLIP: But the negative turn of the campaign rubbing some Democrats back in Washington the wrong way.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): I hope they'll get their acts together and talk about the future and talk about issues instead of trying to destroy each other. Last night's debate was an embarrassment for everybody.


PHILLIP: And, Jake, the Biden campaign also announced today that they would be airing new ads in Super Tuesday states. They're calling it a six-figure ad buy. And among the ads airing will be one featuring President Obama speaking about Joe Biden. But, of course, that buy is going to be dwarfed by $38 million that Michael Bloomberg already has in Super Tuesday states. And that's just the ads that feature President Obama, again, talking about Michael Bloomberg -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, six-figure ad buy isn't really all that much for Super Tuesday. Abby Phillip, thank you so much.

Let's chat about all this.

And, Angela Rye, let me start with you, because you know the dean of South Carolina Democrats, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

How important is it for Joe Biden that Clyburn has endorsed him right before the South Carolina primary?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, I think we have to look at the timing. We are just a few days away from South Carolina's primary and I think that means that Congressman Clyburn had an extensive amount of deliberation. If it was really going to be helpful to Joe Biden, it probably needed to be when early voting started, in South Carolina, particularly for those among us who are day-to-day wage workers that have to take time off to go vote.

I also think that he feels in some way compelled to endorse Joe Biden. They are longtime friends. You probably know Joe Biden, when in the Senate, was an associate member of the Congressional Black Caucus, when they had that. So, he's a long-term friend, political friend and ally of Congressman Clyburn. So, it's almost like he kind of owed him.

I don't know how helpful this will be. There are a number of people, particularly the younger folks, who feel like they need someone who is speaking to their issues. And just to tell you how much of a divide this particular election has caused, we can look in Congressman Clyburn's own family. His grandson is knocking on doors right now for Pete Buttigieg.

TAPPER: For Pete Buttigieg, interesting. RYE: Absolutely. It's no laughing matter, that's --



RYE: But I'm just saying it is that kind of primary.

TAPPER: Yes, no, there's more of an age gap in the Democratic electorate than any other.

Let me ask you, Alexandra Rojas, and we should point out, you worked for Sanders in '16, although right now, you haven't endorsed anybody. But as a progressive, you like both Sanders and Warren the most.

Do you think that if Joe Biden doesn't win South Carolina, that's it for him, practically speaking?

ALEXANDRA ROJAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think the numbers bear that. I think when you make your entire argument about electability, it means that you have to win. And so, this is going to be the third state that Joe Biden has not won.