Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Interview With Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb; Trump Teases 2024 Presidential Run; At-Home COVID Treatment. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 11, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us on NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.


We begin with major news in the fight against the coronavirus. Drugmaker Merck has applied for FDA emergency use authorization for its experimental antiviral pill to fight COVID.

CAMEROTA: The pharmaceutical company says their test results were so promising that they stopped the study early in order to submit their findings.

If authorized, the pill would become the first oral treatment for COVID.

CNN's Nick Watt has more.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first pill to treat COVID-19 might be getting close. Today, its makers, Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, asked the FDA for emergency use authorization.

Unlike the quack cures already out there, this has science behind it. In trials, molnupiravir near halved the risk of hospitalization and death in people already suffering some symptoms.

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Longer term, I think this is going to be huge.

WATT: And unlike monoclonal antibody treatment given as an I.V. infusion, these are easy-to-pop pills.

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So it makes it much more accessible, much more reliable and really gives us hope.

WATT: Meantime, more than 1,000 city workers in Boston face unpaid leave tomorrow for failing to get vaccinated and sharing the proof or taking tests. As more vaccine mandate deadlines near, shots in arms did just tick up. Plus, a powerful voice is making a pitch to fellow evangelicals, a

somewhat hesitant group.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: But if you have prayed to God to give you protection against COVID-19, and along come these vaccines created by science, which God has given us the ability to do, and they're incredibly safe and effective, maybe that was the answer to prayer.

WATT: Key numbers, meantime, average daily COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. both down from last week, patients in the hospital lowest it's been in more than two months.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: But we have to just be careful that we don't prematurely declare victory.

WATT: Today, the Boston Marathon was back after skipping a year, and cruise ships returned to San Francisco after an 18-month hiatus. Plus, Halloween is coming up.

FAUCI: It's a good time to reflect on why it's important to get vaccinated, but go out there and enjoy Halloween, as well as the other holidays that will be coming up.


WATT: And, meantime, some more evidence from overseas about the impact that COVID-19 can have on pregnant women.

A study out of Israel on women in their third trimester found that those suffering symptomatic COVID were more likely to also get gestational diabetes, to suffer some bad bleeding at birth, and their kids were more likely to have breathing problems.

Meantime, over in England, one-fifth of all critically ill COVID patients right now are unvaccinated pregnant women -- back to you.

CAMEROTA: That is really important context. Nick Watt, thank you.

OK, now to this. Donald Trump's big election lie is now embraced by even Republican leaders who once sharply criticized him. Standing on stage beside Trump at his rally in Iowa on Saturday was 88-year-old Senator Chuck Grassley, who at one time called Trump aggressive and irresponsible .

BLACKWELL: Now, Grassley condemned the insurrection the day it happened as an attack on American democracy. And then a month later, Grassley condemned Trump's behavior.

He said: "The reality is, he lost, and encouraged his own vice president to violate the Constitution."

But here's Grassley and the ex-president this weekend shoulder to shoulder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm thrilled to announce tonight that senator Chuck Grassley has my complete and total endorsement for reelection.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA): If I didn't except the endorsement of a person that's got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn't be too smart. I'm smart enough to accept that endorsement.


CAMEROTA: All right, let's get into this with CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Dean.

And, Jessica, Chuck Grassley was not alone this weekend in terms of establishment Republicans seeming to sign on to this.


And you heard Chuck Grassley there kind of saying it and laying it out right there. Donald Trump remains the head of the Republican Party. He has overwhelming support among Republicans, despite the fact that he continues to push the big lie.


And so where does that leave the Republican establishment and the leaders of -- the other leaders of the Republican Party? Well, take a listen to the number two House Republican. Here's Steve Scalise this weekend. Take a listen.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): At the end of the day, are we going to follow what the Constitution says or not? I hope we get back to what the Constitution says. But, clearly, in a number of states, they didn't follow those legislatively set rules.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": So you think the election was stolen?

SCALISE: What I said is, there are states that didn't follow their legislatively set rules.

WALLACE: Last time, I promise. Do you think the election was stolen or not? I understand you think there were irregularities and things that need to be fixed. Do you think the election was stolen?

SCALISE: It's not irregularities. It's states that did not follow the laws set, which the Constitution says they're supposed to follow.


DEAN: And it's a pretty quite a pretty easy question to answer. Yes or no, was the election stolen? The fact of the matter was, it was not, that some 60 cases went through the courts that were challenges to the election, that judges found that it was -- proceeded -- was one of the safest elections that we have seen here in the United States.

So, again, the big lie continuing to be pushed, Victor and Alisyn. And here we are getting ever closer to 2022 and this next election cycle, House Republicans, Senate Republicans looking to take back the majorities here on Capitol Hill.

And what that means is, we're going to see likely a lot of tap dancing, like we just saw from Steve Scalise, where he's not willing to say outright, no, that's a lie, because he knows that former President Trump has convinced so many Americans that this is true.

And so expect to see more and more of this as we get closer to that 2022 election battle -- Alisyn, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Jessica Dean on Capitol Hill for us, thanks so much.

Let's bring in now CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and Olivia Troye. She served as an adviser to Mike Pence when he was vice president.

Gloria, let me start with you in this moment with Chuck Grassley, because I was seeing Chuck Grassley, but I was thinking Jeff Sessions. You remember that moment in 2016 when Jeff Sessions put the white cap on, senior Republican senator, the establishment of the party getting on the Trump bandwagon there?


BLACKWELL: He made it plain here. He made it plain here. I have to do it, because 91 percent of you like him, despite what I have said in the past.

BORGER: Right, 88 years old, running for reelection, suddenly, he needs Donald Trump again.

And you guys quoted a little bit from what Grassley said after January 6. I want to remind everyone that he also said that Donald Trump belittled and harassed elected officials across the country to get his way.

So that was Chuck Grassley then. This is Chuck Grassley now. And what Donald Trump is trying to do, and he did very easily with Chuck Grassley -- it didn't take much -- if he can co-opt some members of the establishment to stand alongside him, then he can steal the Republican agenda for the 2022 midterm elections and make it about him, which is what Republicans do not want.

They want to talk about Joe Biden. They don't want to relitigate the last election, but here you have it. They're handing it over to Donald Trump and saying, OK, your agenda is our agenda.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Olivia, this is not just about how hypocritical and power hungry Senator Grassley is. This has real life consequences, as you know from homeland security.

(CROSSTALK) CAMEROTA: The fact that he's now going along with, as Gloria said, the very person who he said had harassed election officials, I mean, back in February, Chuck Grassley knew what was happening.

He said: "The reality is, Trump lost." Trump continued to argue that the election had been stolen, even though the courts did not back up that claim.

But now, standing shoulder to shoulder to him, what are the real-life consequences of this?

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: Well, he's just here going along with what is stoking the flames of what's causing the rise in violence across our country.

And I think the real-world repercussions are what you get when you see people traveling across state lines to the U.S. Capitol threatening to bomb the Capitol. You see an insurrection on January 6 because these people are being told a lie day in and day out. And so now you see Chuck Grassley saying, yes, that was a really bad thing that happened, but now he knows that he cannot win without the Trump base, especially in Iowa.

And so he's willing to forego all of that and put the future of election officials, the future of candidates, the future of people who are trying to figure out how they're going to navigate in this space, he's putting their lives are at risk, and there will be more threats going forward.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the future of the country, the future of democracy.

Let me come to you on one specific element, Gloria, the president going after Mitch McConnell on that deal to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.


We will talk micro and macro. Let's first listen to the former president.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To think that we had 11 Republicans go along with an extension.


TRUMP: Headed up by Mitch McConnell. Can you believe that, Mitch McConnell, 11 Republicans?


TRUMP: And you know what it does. It gives the Democrats more time, two months, gives them more time to figure it out. They can now have two more months to figure out how to screw us, OK?


BLACKWELL: We know that the former president cares about his political future.

The full faith and credit of the United States really isn't on the top of his list. That's micro.


BLACKWELL: Macro, though, this fight between former President Trump and Leader McConnell is going to be one of the ones to watch as we look towards 2022.

BORGER: Yes, look, again, it's about the fight for the agenda in 2022.

Donald Trump wants to make this about himself. And they want to make -- the Republicans like McConnell want to make it about Joe Biden. They want to talk about Joe Biden being a big spender. They want to talk about COVID not being handled well. They want to talk about immigration, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And Donald Trump wants to talk about 2020. And the irony here, of course, which people know, is that Mitch McConnell delivered the president the only major victories he ever had, his tax cuts, judges, Supreme Court nominations, got them all through.

So Mitch McConnell actually really helped Donald Trump. But it doesn't matter to Trump now, because Mitch McConnell stood on the floor of the Senate and said that Donald -- that Donald Trump had provoked the insurrection. Remember that speech?

And that is all Donald Trump cares about.

CAMEROTA: Olivia, all signs point to Donald Trump running again in 2024. That's what our reporting suggests is happening behind the scenes. And that's what he keeps teasing.

But, this time, this time, it is possible that, when that happens, and when he again loses, he will have installed his stooges into the positions of secretaries of state in the red states that last time were the guardrails. And so here's the picture of the -- of at least four of the people who have gone along with Donald Trump's election lies, who have tried to gin up their own bogus election fraud.

These are the people who I believe Donald Trump has endorsed, the majority of them, and what happens then? I mean, what happens in 2024 when we get a replay of all of this over again, but those people are at the wheels of power?

TROYE: Well, therein lies the problem, right? That is when democracy dies. And that is exactly why we need to be vigilant here at the state level on what's happening on some of these critical elections.

And in normal time, I think voters go out and these -- at the state level, some of these significant slots sort of get -- they're overcast by national elections. But, honestly, these are critical elections of these officials that are going to hold the line.

That's what happened in 2020. And there were plenty of people who came forward and told the truth, that this election was not stolen. Now Donald Trump has decided that the big lie is the platform for him going forward.

This was essentially a campaign rally this weekend for him, whether he has proclaimed his candidacy or not. That's really what that was. And so I think it's going to be critical for people to get involved at the state and local level on the ground and pay very close attention to who you're electing and their principles and their integrity and what they're going to stand for should they need to be the last defenders of democracy in that space going forward when it comes to Donald Trump.

BORGER: And if I could just add, look at how Steve Scalise answered that question from Chris Wallace, or refused to answer it, citing the Constitution.

What state legislatures did during COVID was try to make it easier for people to vote. That was what they were doing. And 60 courts said that's what they were doing, and it was fine, and it was legal.

So you have to ask yourself the question whether this is going to become the excuse, which is aha, the Constitution. They didn't follow the Constitution. What they were doing was trying to allow people to vote in a pandemic, which is very democratic, if you ask me.

CAMEROTA: Gloria Borger, Olivia Troye, we appreciate talking to you. Thank you.

OK, now to coronavirus. In the past few weeks, COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all gone down. So are we out of the woods?

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will be here to answer that and much more.

BLACKWELL: And airline passengers are stranded after Southwest Airlines cancels thousands of flights.


The airline is trying to blame now air traffic control problems, but the FAA is pushing back.


CAMEROTA: Welcome back to a special holiday edition of CNN NEWSROOM.

Now to a coronavirus update. We saw an uptick in vaccinations over the weekend, more than 200 million doses administered. As for cases, compared to a weeks ago, 45 states are seeing cases decline or remain steady. Does that mean the worst is over?

Joining us now is former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. He's the author of "Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic." He is also on the board of Pfizer.


Dr. Gottlieb, great to have you here.

So let me just pull up the map again, because it's amazing to see that much green on the map. Green is good. Green means cases have declined. But I know that, just a couple of weeks ago, you were still predicting that there would be hot spots where we would slide backward.

Is that still your prediction for the next month?

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: Yes. And there still are hot spots.

I think, when you look at the national data, you see an improving picture nationally, because it's being driven by sharp declines in very populated states, like Texas and Florida, where you're seeing cases really collapsed in the South, because Delta has largely run its course down there. They have infected a good percentage of their population.

And people who haven't been infected have been vaccinated. You're seeing an uptick in cases across the Midwest and the West right now. And the level of infection in some of those states really is on par with what we were seeing in the South. Now, they're less populated states, so you're not seeing enough infections to really drive up the national average.

I think the big question is, what's going to happen in the North? And you're starting to see an uptick in cases in the Great Lakes region, in New England. The tri-state region still looks pretty good. But you're starting to see an uptick in cases in the colder parts of the country.

And I think, as people are driven indoors, and they go into confined spaces without masks on, you're going to start to see cases pick up. This Delta wave hasn't run its course through the United States. I don't think that other parts of the country, just because they have high vaccination rates, are completely impervious to it.

They certainly won't see epidemics on par with what the South saw, but they will see an uptick in cases. And so I think we still have a couple of months to go until this Delta wave sweeps across the country in a regionalized fashion and we're sort of done with it.

CAMEROTA: How hopeful are you about this new antiviral drug from Merck, the Molnupiravir that purports to cut hospitalizations and deaths significantly?

Because, I mean, weren't the experts also excited about hydroxychloroquine back when it was first sort of introduced, and then they had to backpedal? So how is this different?

GOTTLIEB: Yes, look, hydroxychloroquine was never studied early on in a randomized, placebo-controlled study. It wasn't studied rigorously. And when it was studied rigorously, we found it wasn't providing a

treatment effect in multiple subsequent studies. This was a very rigorous study that Merck undertook looking at this drug, and it showed profound treatment effects, so a 50 percent reduction in hospitalization and death in a population of patients who already had COVID and were symptomatic, so they had progressed disease.

And everyone enrolled in the study had at least one risk factor that put them at risk for a bad outcome with COVID. Most were older individuals. Some had diabetes. Some were obese. And so it was a population of patients that were at risk of a bad outcome from COVID.

This is probably the most substantial treatment effect that we have seen from an orally available drug in the treatment of any respiratory pathogen. So it's quite profound. Now, the treatment effect isn't as profound as what we see with the monoclonal antibodies. But there is no reason that this drug couldn't be used in conjunction with the antibody drugs, particularly in high-risk people, and also no reason that it couldn't be used in people who have breakthrough infections after vaccination, but are at risk for a bad outcome from COVID.

So I think that this is going to be a meaningful addition to our overall therapeutic toolbox against this disease.

CAMEROTA: Speaking of monoclonal antibodies, I want to ask you about something that Allen West said over the weekend. He's running for governor in Texas. He's a Republican.

He got sick with COVID. He was hospitalized with COVID. He is unvaccinated. And he got all of the precious resources of the hospital. The doctors and nurses worked on him and they gave him monoclonal antibodies, which he says he responded to really well.

And then he tweeted this: "I can attest that after this experience, I'm even more dedicated to fighting against vaccine mandates. Instead of enriching the pockets of big pharma and corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, we should be advocating the monoclonal antibody infusion therapy."

What do you think of that logic, and isn't monoclonal antibody therapy also a product of big pharmaceuticals?

GOTTLIEB: Well, it's produced by a number of big -- larger drug companies.

Look, I don't think it's an either/or. I think people should be seeking vaccination, and the antibody drugs should be reserved for people who have breakthrough infections, those who can't get vaccinated or don't have access to vaccination.

There's still a lot of individuals that have a hard time getting vaccinated because it's still difficult to access in some parts of the country. But, certainly, these therapeutic should not be used in lieu of vaccination. And it's unfortunate that some people are thinking of them in that regard. Again, the best protection that can be afforded is through

vaccination. The drugs are good, but they're not 100 percent. And they need to be delivered very early in the course of infection. If you're outside that window, if you're not someone who has access to really good medical care and constant testing and can't get diagnosed early, as a lot of people who are fortunate can, but some people don't have that kind of medical access, if you infuse the antibody drugs late in the course of the illness, you're not going to derive as meaningful a therapeutic benefit.

And in some cases, you won't drive any benefit at all if it's used too late in the course of the disease.


CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about what's happening at the FDA.

Why hasn't the White House named a new permanent commissioner, your old job, at the FDA? I mean, it's been 10 months.

GOTTLIEB: Yes, look, every indication is that they're going to very soon.

But the FDA has been under very good leadership. Janet Woodcock, Dr. Janet Woodcock, the current acting commissioner of the FDA, who ran the Drug Center in the agency, knows that agency exceptionally well, and I think was the right person in the right time to be leading that agency through this crisis.

If you had pulled someone in from the outside who didn't know the agency well, in the setting of a crisis, I'm not sure it would have been more effective and it might have been a lot less effective for the administration.

Now they have had someone in that seat who is very experienced, who's been able to keep things moving in the setting of a crisis. She's an experienced hand, and I think that's exactly what you wanted.

There's a really steep learning curve to that agency. And I was fortunate that I had worked at the FDA prior to becoming commissioner as both the deputy commissioner, as well as a senior adviser to the FDA commissioner. But had I not had that experience, that previous experience in the agency, it would have been a lot harder for me to get up to speed when I first arrived as commissioner.

And it was difficult regardless in that role learning that job. Dr. Woodcock knows that job. And so I think the administration has benefited from that.


CAMEROTA: I mean, so I know that there's been some pushback on her because of the opioid crisis. But do you think that she should be named the permanent commissioner?

GOTTLIEB: I think she should. And I think the Senate should confirm her. And I think it's a real misfortune that some senators are blocking her nomination.

The administration and the country would be very well served if she was in that role permanently. The reasons that have been brought up why some are opposed to her, I don't think have any basis in fact.

I mean, she is not responsible for the outcome that this nation had with respect to opioids, any more so than a lot of other people who are in positions over that time period. I mean, there was a lot of things that we didn't know when these drugs were first approved that we learned subsequent.

CAMEROTA: OK, last question.

Given the trends that you're seeing and what your prediction is for the country, do you think that we will all be able to be with our extended families on Thanksgiving, or not yet?

GOTTLIEB: Yes, certainly, we will be.

But I think some families are going to have to exercise more caution than others. I mean, if you're in a high-prevalence environment, if you're bringing together young people who are unvaccinated with older individuals who may be vulnerable, even despite vaccination, I think there's things you can do to create a safer setting.

And, certainly, using at-home testing is something that you could do very effectively. And if you're really concerned about that setting, do serial testing on individuals. Don't just rely on one test result, but test people over the course of two days if you really want to protect that environment.

But we now have the tools available to create a much more protected, safe setting for families to gather around the holidays.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Scott Gottlieb, thanks for all the expertise. Great to talk to you.

GOTTLIEB: Thanks a lot.

BLACKWELL: Well, this is a holiday nightmare for Southwest passengers and the crew, after thousands of flights were canceled, leaving them stranded. We will have more on that.

CAMEROTA: Also ahead: An FBI undercover operation catches a Navy submarine engineer and his wife, they say, trying to sell secrets. And they hid those secrets in a peanut butter sandwich.