Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Interview with HHS Secretary Alex Azar; Biden and Trump Supporters Happy with Final Debate; Over 50 Million Americans Have Already Voted. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 23, 2020 - 10:30   ET



ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: And in particular, being careful in household gatherings. This has become a major vector of disease spread.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Would it help, then -- would it not help if the president spoke honestly and said, listen, this is serious, it's not getting better. We need you as Americans to take this seriously, to keep those masks on -- as you say -- to not do the opposite, which is to kind of give up on the protections that are necessary.

AZAR: Well, nobody's giving up on those protections. I'm here as his secretary of Health, speaking for him and I'm saying to the American people, this is the time, more than ever, to be vigilant.

We're in so much of a better place than we were just months ago. You know, in April, if you were 70 and above and you got infected with COVID, you had a 30 percent-plus chance of perishing. Now, thanks to Operation Warp Speed under the president, thanks to Remdesivir, steroids, convalescent plasma, better treatment protocols, that has been reduced to well under 10 percent.

And we literally are weeks to months away from next-generation monoclonal antibody therapies that'll treat and prevent disease, and vaccines that will eventually get us out of this.

SCIUTTO: And you're right, and we've talked about a lot of those developments on this broadcast. Because we are making progress as a country, and the health community is making progress.

I do, for a moment, though, want to look back here, just about taking responsibility. Not to emphasize the negative, but to look back at -- there's a study, one of these models out there that has looked back and said, listen, if the U.S. had been more aggressive from the beginning, if the president had been more honest from the beginning -- adopted, for instance, the South Korea strategy with very aggressive testing and contact tracing -- that fewer than 3,000 Americans would have died as opposed the more than 223,000.

And I know these models, it's hard to get the numbers exact. But you get the point here, that if the president has been more aggressive, if the country had been more aggressive, we could have saved lives as a country. And I wonder if you agree with that.

AZAR: I don't agree, actually. That kind of analysis is frankly just facially (ph) absurd. I was with the president throughout all of this, and I was there with him, taking these aggressive, unprecedented, historic steps -- for which we were criticized every step of the way for being too aggressive at the time, whether it was shutting down travel with China, shutting down travel with Europe or actually having 45 days of essentially sheltering the economy in place to try to prevent the spread of this disease. At every step, we were attacked.

And here's the issue, Jim, that people have to focus on. We in public health focus on what's called mitigation fatigue. You can only ask a population to take stringent measures -- like sheltering in place for instance, or shutting an economy down -- for so long, and you've got to hit that disease curve just right.

And when you look back, we actually hit that curve at just about the right point to achieve the core strategic objective, which was --

SCIUTTO: Secretary Azar --

AZAR: -- to flatten and delay that curve to keep within health care resources, and we're seeing the impacts now here and in Europe, from mitigation fatigue.

SCIUTTO: But still, to this day -- to this day -- the president, one of his senior advisors shared information -- Scott Atlas -- questioning the value of masks, which you just, moments ago, said people have to wear. I mean, the president admitted, in his interview to Bob Woodward in February, that he knew this was deadlier than the flu, and yet he said to the American people, no.

At that time, when it was clear the science was that masks helped, the president continued not to wear one. I'm just asking if you're willing to take some responsibility here for the administration to say, yes, we should have been more aggressive earlier and yes ,by the way, the U.S. and South Korea had the first infection on the same day, and South Korea's had a far different course of this disease than the U.S.

AZAR: Well, Jim, first, let's talk about South Korea. They had a radically different type of case profile. They had an explosion of cases at one megachurch, and then they used their military and police powers to lock down that church, arrest everybody who was in contact with individuals in that church.

And through a single testing site, using the same testing capabilities that we had at the CDC, during that same period of time, ran tests on the individuals in there through their significant lockdown efforts, things that fit them within their cultural and legal context but would likely not fly here in the United States.

In terms of our messaging around mitigation, it's clear, it's been clear. As we learn about this virus, wash your hands, watch your distance, wear your face coverings when you can't watch your distance and stay out of settings where you can't do those things. We're saying that to people over and over again.

SCIUTTO: I know --

AZAR: And look, Jim, compare us to Europe --


SCIUTTO: -- but Secretary Azar, you're saying it but the president's not modeling it.

AZAR: -- compare us to Europe. Europe now -- no, Jim.

SCIUTTO: He's not modeling it.

AZAR: No, Jim. Let's look at -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: I mean, he's holding indoor rallies.

AZAR: Jim, we've got to look at the results, Jim. No, Jim.

SCIUTTO: He's holding indoor rallies without social distancing.

AZAR: You know, your proposition is just false. Europe has, right now, 30 percent more active cases per day being diagnosed than here in the United States, and you're not saying the same things about European leaders. I'm sorry, you're just -- you're not using valid comparisons here.


SCIUTTO: European leaders are not --

AZAR: Europe is facing this because of individual behaviors.

SCIUTTO: -- they're not holding -- they're not -- you have said, not just on this broadcast, you said it on Sunday. You're asking Americans over Thanksgiving not to hold family gatherings indoors. The president continues to hold indoor events. And we saw, with an event that proved to be a superspreader event at the White House.

I'm asking you, why isn't the president modeling the very advice you're giving on this broadcast?

AZAR: Jim --

SCIUTTO: Why isn't he modeling it?

AZAR: -- you know, you're the one reinforcing that. Europe has 31 percent more cases today being diagnosed with a less aggressive testing system.

Our message is clear. But the more important thing we ought to be talking about --

SCIUTTO: Talking about America (ph) here. AZAR: -- for the American people, the more important thing we ought

to talk about right now is, thanks to President Trump's leadership of Operation Warp Speed, which "The New York Times" has called "remarkably efficient, the "Washington Post" today quoted an opponent of the president, saying that it has been staggeringly impressive. "The New York Times" says our efforts will actually --


AZAR: -- reduce the duration --

SCIUTTO: Listen --

AZAR: -- of this pandemic beyond anybody's expectations. That's what we ought to also be talking about.

SCIUTTO: We've talked on this broadcast about vaccine progress every day, and certainly highlighted it (ph). I asked what the president is modeling here, you didn't answer the question.

I do want to ask about what is going to be covered for average Americans, because if Obamacare is repealed, even perhaps after the election, there are questions about whether individual insurers will treat COVID as a pre-existing condition. And I'm curious, what would the Trump administration do to guarantee that COVID infection would not be treated as a pre-existing condition, prevent people being covered for that, their treatment being covered.

AZAR: Well, there are so many hypotheticals in there of things that would have to occur to get to that point. And what the president's made clear is under no circumstance will he permit insurance companies to actually harm individuals who have pre-existing conditions. We'll work with Congress under all circumstances if that day every comes that the Supreme Court strikes down all or a large part of Obamacare, to make sure there's real coverage for pre-existing conditions.

But look what's happening now. This Obamacare that you talk about as if it's the land of milk and honey, it's not providing real protection for people who have pre-existing conditions. If you're a couple making $70,000 a year in Missouri, you're going to be spending -- and you're 58 years old -- you're going to be spending $30,000 a year in premiums, $12,000 a year in out-of-pockets, that's not real protection for COVID or any other pre-existing condition coverage.

So that's what we would work to deliver if there's the opportunity to actually fix Obamacare with something that delivers a better solution. But in the interim, we have to work with Congress to make sure the uninsured are covered. We've worked to make sure people don't have out-of-pockets for their COVID treatments, we've worked to make sure the vaccines will be free to individuals. That's what we've been doing.

SCIUTTO: OK, we'll hold you to that and I hope you'll come back on this broadcast to say what the plan would be to guarantee that coverage if there were a replacement. Secretary Azar, you're always welcome on this broadcast. AZAR: Thank you.


SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Well, loyal Trump and Biden supporters, they gathered for watch parties as their candidates hit the debate stage last night.

SCIUTTO: CNN correspondent Elle Reeve, she watched with Trump supporters. What did you hear?

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, before the debate, they told us they wanted it to be more civil. But during the debate, they cheered like it was a professional wrestling match.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump 2020, baby, Trump 2020.

REEVE (voice-over): We're in a baseball stadium called the The Corn Crib in a town called Normal, Illinois, where hundreds of Trump supporters have gathered to watch the debate at an event hosted by the local Republican Party.

CONNIE BEARD, CHAIRMAN, MCLEAN COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: This event has sort of snowballed. We have our McLean County Republican tent (ph), of course, and our little Trump store.


BEARD: We have a raffle for a semiautomatic shotgun that is apparently very popular.


KENNY MOREAU, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I just like the no-bullshit attitude of, hey, I want to make America great. I don't understand what the problem is of trying to bring everyone up in America to do good things.

REEVE: But is it no bullshit to have only paid, like, $750 in taxes?

MOREAU: And here's the deal, is that I would love to be able to comment on that. I don't know. And it's one of those situations where you and I can both sit here and say if we made that kind of money, you know that you're going to play the tax game. It's set there for millionaires to be able to play this game.

REEVE: But would you want him to change it so that millionaires couldn't play that game?

MOREAU: Yes. In the grand scheme of things, it would be great. REEVE: How do you think it's going so far?

PAUL BROWN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: As I expected it to go. Mr. Joe Biden is talking a lot of trash and lies, he's not being truthful with the American people.

REEVE: Well like, what made you cheer? Do you remember a moment?

BROWN: I guess when President Trump was talking about bringing out the details with the Biden crime family.

REEVE: So like when Trump was hitting him hard?

BROWN: Yes, oh yes.

REEVE: Have you ever watched a debate in a crowd like this before?

BROWN: Not like this, no. It's pretty cool (ph).

REEVE: Well, what do you think about it?

BROWN: I love it.

REEVE: Is there a moment that made you cheer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Everything that's coming out about how -- about Hunter Biden's computer, that was the -- I saw that as a grand slam.


REEVE: How do you think the debate went tonight?

JEANIE QUIRAM, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Great, he's absolutely wonderful, Trump nailed him.


REEVE: Well, what was your favorite moment?

QUIRAM: Just all of it. I thought it was absolute -- the best debate by far, and it was great.

Trump 2020, look at this baby, there he is.

DAWN NOWLIN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I was really glad he brought up all the Biden, Hunter e-mails.


NOWLIN: Or the -- excuse me, Hunter Biden e-mails, let's --


NOWLIN: -- get that right. Honestly, I wish he would have been slightly more aggressive. JOHN T. GRIFFIN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: oh, John (ph), I saw my number, way

up in the middle of the air. Amen. Right?

REEVE: Yes, that was pretty good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four more years! Four more years!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four more years! Four more years!

REEVE: And now to CNN's Jason Carroll, with a view from the Biden side.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Minutes after the debate ended, a group of Democratic supporters who had gathered for a socially distanced, backyard watch party in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia, were ready to weigh in with their verdict.

CARROLL: Who felt as though Vice President Joe Biden met or exceeded your expectation during the debate? Show of hands.

DAMON WALKER, BIDEN SUPPORTER: Four more years of Trump is not going to work in America.

CARROLL (voice-over): Damon Walker, a correctional officer and father of four, agrees with Jasmine Schley, who says some of Vice President Biden's best moments came when he addressed the COVID-19 pandemic.

JASMINE SCHLEY, BIDEN SUPPORTER: When he talked about the families who have died because of coronavirus, it shows his humanity. And that's one thing that you never hear President Trump mention. He talks about the economy, he talks about his poll numbers but he never takes the time to acknowledge the suffering of Americans.

WALKER: I believe he did what he needed to do. He answered all the questions, and he stated the facts. He didn't veer off-point.

MACK DUNCAN, BIDEN SUPPORTER: He answered the questions, he had a plan, he explained it. That's it.

CARROLL (voice-over): In this predominantly African-American middle- class community, residents such as Billie Jo McKinney, a mom of five including a young son, says Biden's answer on race in America made an impact.

BILLIE JO MCKINNEY, BIDEN SUPPORTER: He showed compassion for all races. And the story about him saying that he's never had to teach his daughter about putting her hands on the wheel, that's a big deal for me because I'm going to have to teach my 6-year-old that. And that's painful.

CARROLL (voice-over): Also important for people like McKinney and Walker -- who, again, is a correctional officer -- was to hear Biden's response to his past support of crime bills that resulted in high rates of incarcerating African-Americans for petty drug offenses.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It was a mistake. WALKER: He answered the question by first apologizing.

MCKINNEY: He took accountability and he apologized immediately, something we have not seen from our current administration.

CARROLL (voice-over): Biden scored points on character and integrity with the group after hearing what he would say to those who do not support him.

BRIAN CLINTON, PHILADELPHIA MAYOR'S OFFICE: Joe Biden, when he said it's human decency, American values are on the ballot in November. I thought that really spoke to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump didn't answer that at all.

CARROLL (voice-over): The watch party organized by City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker, a Democrat who says beyond tonight's performance, it's Biden the candidate who will ultimately drive supporters to the polls.

CHERELLE PARKER, PHILADELPHIA COUNCILWOMAN: One of the things that I like about Joe Biden the most is what you see is what you get. And people from all walks of life know that they want a steady leader.


CARROLL: so a couple of quick points, a number of folks that we talked to said that they had already voted, so it shows you just how much interest there is here in this state. It's very clear from the folks that we spoke to that Biden did what he needed to do to energize urban voters.

Tomorrow, Biden's going to be out on the campaign in places like Bucks County, Pennsylvania, trying to energize suburban voters. Again, this is a state that Democrats lost in 2016. They don't want to see a repeat this go-around -- Poppy, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the battle there for Democrats is all about building a big lead in those urban, suburban areas to counteract the disadvantage in the rural areas. Jason Carroll, also Elle Reeve, thanks very much.


Thanks to you, we'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: Well, these numbers are just incredible, more than 50 million Americans have already voted in this election with a week and a half to go until November 3rd.

HARLOW: That's amazing. Kristen Holmes joins us again this morning from Washington. Good morning, Kristen, we made it to Friday, it's been a big of news but also a huge week of early voting.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy and Jim. I mean, it's really incredible here, and we are starting to learn more about the landscape, meaning who exactly is voting.

So we'd started to see a pattern of Democrats far outpacing Republicans when it came to early voting, but now that gap is starting to close, particularly in the critical swing states of Florida and North Carolina, where we've seen that ramped-up early in-person voting. And just to give you an example here, from last Monday to where we are now, in North Carolina, that margin was cut in half by 50 percent. So you're really seeing Republicans eke up here.


Now, there is another headline out of North Carolina that I want us all to pay attention to because we have talked about it before. You might have thought it was over, this idea that you can count ballots up to nine days after the election. We know an appeals court ruled in favor of that; now Republicans are bringing that to the Supreme Court.

The reason to watch this is, the Supreme Court is generally hesitant to change these kinds of rules this close to the election. It could potentially disenfranchise thousands of voters if they choose to do this, so keeping our eyes on that.

Now, I do want to talk about one other case, and that is the Texas Supreme Court allowing drive-through voting to continue. This is important because the U.S. Supreme Court just blocked that in Alabama.

HARLOW: The courts are making huge, huge moves here --


HARLOW: -- since Shelby v. Holder, that make huge differences state to state, and it seems like it's happening right up to Election Day. Thanks, Kristen, we appreciate it.

OK, so all the information, let us point you here, if you want to find your polling station, voter registration status or information on absentee or early voting, everything for your state is here,

Thank you for being with us, we wish you a restful weekend because a big two weeks are ahead. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: No question. I'm Jim Sciutto, NEWSROOM with John King will start right after a short break.