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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Fiery Democrats Try to Slow Sanders at Debate; CDC: Not "If" But "When" Coronavirus Spreads in U.S. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 26, 2020 - 04:00   ET





JARRETT: A revitalized field of Democrats putting the pressure on Bernie Sanders. Did they do anything to slow him down ahead of Super Tuesday?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And it's not if, it is when. The CDC says coronavirus will spread in the United States. The president appears to be downplaying the facts on the health crisis in an election year.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. It's Wednesday, February 26th, it is 4:00 a.m. in New York.

It was a wild free for all last night at the final Democratic debate before Super Tuesday. Six candidates, all trying to blunt the momentum of front-runner Bernie Sanders. In Charleston, now just three days before South Carolina's primary, the candidates took aim at each other over socialism, electability, race, and the one issue you probably didn't see coming a week ago -- Cuba.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump thinks it would be better if he was president. I do not think so. Vladimir Putin thinks Donald Trump should be the president of the United States and that's why Russia is helping you get elected so you'll lose to him.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I dug in, I did the work and then Bernie's team trashed me for it.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you think the last four years has been chaotic, divisive, toxic, exhausting? Imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Progressive is getting things done and that's what we got done. We got a lot done.

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

WARREN: I don't care how much money Senate -- Mayor Bloomberg has. The core of the -- of the Democratic Party will never trust him. At least I didn't have a boss who said to me "kill it" the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees.

BLOOMBERG: Never said. Come on. I never said that. And -- and, for the record, if she was a teacher in New York City, she would never have had that problem. We treated our teachers the right way.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Instead of just reviewing everything from the past, let's talk about where we're going to go forward. No, the math does not add up.

BUTTIGIEG: I think we were talking about math and it doesn't take two hours to do the math.


SANDERS: Let's talk about math.

BUTTIGIEG: OK. So here's the math. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy is speaker of the House, and the inability to get the Senate into Democratic hands. The time has come for us to stop acting like the presidency is the only office that matters.

BIDEN: Bernie, in fact, hasn't passed much of anything. I'm not out of time. You spoke over time and I'm going to talk. Here's the deal.

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have worked for racial justice completely, and that is an absolute unfair statement.

KLOBUCHAR: All I know is --


KLOBUCHAR: -- if we spend the next four months tearing our party apart, we are going to watch Donald Trump spend the next four years tearing our country apart.

BLOOMBERG: The debt is $20 trillion, going up to $21 trillion. We just cannot afford some of the stuff people talk about.

Bernie will lose to Donald Trump. And Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the state houses will all go red. And then between gerrymandering and appointing judges for the next 20 or 30 years, we're going to live with this catastrophe.

SANDERS: Mayor Bloomberg has a strong and enthusiastic base of support. Problem is, they're all billionaires.

BLOOMBERG: You read about the virus. What's really happening here is the president fired the pandemic specialist in this country two years ago. So there's nobody here to figure out what the hell we should be doing.

SANDERS: Cuba made progress on education. Yes, I think -- really? Really?

BUTTIGIEG: I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s, and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s.

SANDERS: Misconception, and you are hearing it here tonight, is that the ideas I'm talking about are radical. They're not. In one form or another, they exist in countries all over the world.

BIDEN: China prevent North Korea from launching missiles to take them down. And if we don't -- why am I stopping? No one else stops.


BIDEN: My Catholic school training.


ROMANS: All right. You get all that.

Let's talk to Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of "Inside Elections", and a CNN political analyst.

Good morning. All right. Super Tuesday is now, essentially, right? I mean, this is -- we are here. We are in the thick of it. These are the most important days of this primary campaign.

Did the people on that stage do anything to -- to slow Bernie Sanders' front-runner momentum?

NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know that things -- that really there was anything that was fundamentally changed after last night.


I mean, ultimately, South Carolina and -- will decide, in terms of South Carolina and the margins will be important. I think Vice President Biden, he knows he has to not only win because do well since he's staked so much of this on this state for so long. And in some of those states such as California, voters are already voting. They were even voting before the last debate last week in Las Vegas.

So the opportunity, the window of opportunity, is really closing. And I think the key for Bernie Sanders, though, is can he expand in order to get a majority of the delegates? I think he is the front-runner to get a plurality of the delegates right now but a majority is less clear.

JARRETT: Nathan, what about Elizabeth Warren? It's interesting. Her strategy last night seemed to be to go after Bloomberg, once again, like she did last week instead of going after the front-runner, who is Bernie Sanders. And she tried to take him on a little bit just on the electability issue, trying to couch herself as an alternative choice. But not really coming out swinging against him.

Is this an effective strategy for her? I mean, where does she go right now?

GONZALES: I mean, it's been fascinating to watch her as -- as an attorney, trying to prosecute the case against Bloomberg. Both last -- in the last debate and in this one.

You know, she is incrementally getting more -- drawing more distinctions with Bernie Sanders. In the last debate, she was -- she went further than she had in six months. And last night, she was going even a little bit further and saying, hey, I agree. We agree on the policies. But I am the one that has the specifics, or for more of a pragmatic streak.

And I just don't know if it's enough to fundamentally change things. I mean, she -- I don't know that she will persuade the people that like Senator Sanders, and they like his style, they like that he's been talking about these issues for 40 years. But I don't know if she changed very many minds.

JARRETT: Yes. It seems like she's made a decision she doesn't want to go after him too hard and risk making his supporters mad, on the hopes that they could come around towards her.

ROMANS: Meantime, Joe Biden really has to have a good showing in South Carolina. He really does. I mean, he is ahead in the poll but the margin of error -- margin of error's pretty tight here with Bernie Sanders right behind him at heels. How important is South Carolina? How important is maybe a Senator Clyburn endorsement? We are going to hear from him later today. And could that be the reset that the Biden campaign needs if he does well here?

GONZALES: Well, I think if you are Vice President Biden, you'd a rather that have endorsement than not have it. I'm a skeptical of endorsements whether from politicians or newspapers. I just don't know how many people are waiting around for a politician or newspaper to tell them how they are supposed to vote.

I think a key coming up, though, will be there are news reports about Bloomberg starting to turn his millions of dollars in ads against Senator Sanders. And that will be interesting. You know, when you could -- even if you are the most upstanding individual, if you have millions or tens of millions of dollars worth of negative ads dumped on your head, that has a chance to really change things.

So that is a big X factor that wasn't on the debate stage, but we're waiting for overall.

JARRETT: Yes. And you always make the good point, which is a lot of people are seeing those ads. You know, people are watching the debate but more people might actually be seeing those Bloomberg ads. Nathan Gonzales, thank you so much for getting up with us this

morning. Great to see you as always.

All right. Well, CNN presidential town halls in South Carolina resume tonight. Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar, and Warren answer questions live from Charleston. That starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

ROMANS: All right. Big questions this morning. Is the president risking public health with his sunny outlook on the coronavirus?



ROMANS: All right. The money question today. Can stock markets stabilize after two historic days of declines?

A strong stock market and healthy economy are central to the president's re-election message. So he projected optimism ahead of Tuesday's opening bell.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I see the futures are up today, up fairly substantially. But that's a very serious thing. But we think we're in very good shape in the United States.


ROMANS: He could not have been more wrong. Markets plummeted for a second day in a row Tuesday as coronavirus fears rattled investors around the world. The Dow fell 879 points, that's more than 3 percent again. Adding to Monday's wreck.

This is the worst two-day point drop in American history. The Dow is now down 8 percent from its most recent high, putting it close to what we call a correction. Now, the would need to fall a total of 10 percent, to be officially in correction, something that many economists and stock market strategist has said is long overdue.

The S&P 500, the Nasdaq, also down about $1.7 trillion wiped off the S&P value in just two days.

Look at entertainment and travel stocks. American Airlines down 9 percent. People are worried about spending money and people are worried about group activities because of coronavirus. That is a remarkable one-day move for stocks like that.

Now, important to note, the rush into the safety of bonds pushed down the benchmark ten-year note yield to a record low, reflecting deep concerns about slowing global economic growth.

Still, White House economic advisor Larry Ludlow doubled down on the U.S. response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We have contained this. We have contained this, I won't say airtight, but pretty close to airtight.


ROMANS: The markets disagree. Coronavirus still rattling global markets. Asian markets close lower again. European shares have opened lower. Frankfurt, almost down 3 percent.

And on Wall Street, you have more fear and unease this morning. If this holds, you'll have losses again at the opening bell.


JARRETT: Well, futures way down there.

Well, it looks like the president is choosing happy talk over facts about the coronavirus. Remember, just yesterday, when President Trump said this.


TRUMP: We're fortunate, so far and w think it's going to remain that way. I think it's a problem that's going to go away.


JARRETT: Just go away. Well, turns out his own government disagrees with him. One of the top officials at the Centers for Disease Control warned it is not a question of when but if novel coronavirus will spread in the United States.

Other crucial unknowns, when and how many Americans will have severe illness. The president also insisted a vaccine is close but most experts say it's roughly a year away.

ROMANS: Publicly, the president is projecting optimism but sources tell CNN privately he is frustrated with by some of the ways his administration is handling the outbreak. On Capitol Hill, even some Republicans were raising concerns about the lack of alarm.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): You're supposed to keep us safe. And American people deserve some straight answers on the coronavirus. And I'm not getting 'em from you.


KENNEDY: That's all I have, Madam Chair.


ROMANS: In contrast to the administration's low-key response, San Francisco declared a state of emergency. As of knew, there are at least 57 coronavirus cases in the U.S.

JARRETT: Breaking overnight, a U.S. soldier in South Korea testing positive for the virus. He is the first American service member to become infected.

Let's go to Paula Hancocks live from Camp Humphreys headquarters of the U.S. military in South Korea.

Paula, what is the containment plan there?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're trying to find out exactly who he has been in contact with in recent days. And try and contain the virus in that way. It's a 23-year-old male. We understand he was from Camp Carroll, which is about 12 miles away from Daegu.

This is the city in the southeast country where most of the cases are now happening. This is the area where the quarantine is being placed on around the country, as well. So this is what the commander of Camp Humphreys, behind me, said earlier today.


COL. MICHAEL F. TREMBLAY, USAG HUMPHREYS COMMANDER: It is our first case, positive case, as confirmed this morning in Daegu. We have sent -- taken an ambulance and transported the one positive case to B dock to be put in negative-pressure isolation here on Camp Humphreys.


HANCOCKS: The alert level for USFK is at high. We are also hearing from three U.S. officials that we are expecting to hear the drills. Those military drills between the U.S. and South Korea will be scaled back. We're hearing from those U.S. officials that the two militaries simply can't cope with -- with these kind of military drills at a time like this. There are huge restrictions on both militaries.

We know the commander inside this base has just said that from tomorrow, from Thursday, it will be mission-essential personnel only that are allowed on base. It's also only essential personnel that are allowed down to Daegu.

At this point, they are telling people not to go out to restaurants. They are closing facilities on bases. While really trying to contain this as best they can.

JARRETT: Right, seems like doing those drills in such close quarters would be proven challenging.

Paula, thank you so much for laying that out.

ROMANS: The nation's top election security official is staying on the job. Sources say Shelby Pierson told lawmakers recently that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election. But three national security officials say she overstated Russia's aim when she said the Kremlin was trying to help re-elect President Trump. Pierson now says new Acting Director of Intelligence Richard Grenell

has expressed support for her. The president has been ridding the administration of people he views as anti-Trump since his impeachment acquittal.

JARRETT: Well, the White House search for Trump loyalists has led to a college campus. A senior from George Washington University has been hired for a top post in the presidential personnel office. 23-year-old James Bacon will work for Trump's new personnel chief, John McEntee. A source says the president ordered McEntee to assemble a staff of loyalists and Bacon is likely the first of McEntee's hires. A pretty sweet job right out of college.

ROMANS: I would say so.

All right. Changing of the guard. Why Bob Iger is leaving his post at the top of Disney.



ROMANS: Huge news in the world of business. One of the biggest CEO changes of this generation, Bob Iger is going out on top at Disney. Effective immediately, Disney's CEO becomes executive chairman and head of the company's creative endeavors. He's set to stay on through the length of his contract, through 2021.

Iger took over from Michael Eisner in 2005. He oversaw the acquisition of Marvel Studios, Pixar, Lucas Film, all of which are shattering box office records. Iger says with the successful launch of the streaming service Disney Plus, this is an optimal time for change.

Iger says he will work closely to transition with Disney's new CEO, Bob Chapek. Until yesterday, Chapek was chairman of Disney's Parks and Resorts Division.

JARRETT: The Supreme Court has decided the family of a Mexican teenager who was killed by a U.S. border agent cannot sue for damages, the 5-4 ruling splitting along ideological lines. The border agent was on U.S. soil when he shot and killed the 15-year-old in 2010 after the teen had run back across the border into Mexico.

You might recall "The New York Times" reported, last year, President Trump privately recommended shooting migrants in the legs to slow them down.


ROMANS: Peter Nygard is stepping down as chairman of his fashion empire hours after his New York office was raided by the FBI. Nygard is facing allegations of sex trafficking in a civil lawsuit. His spokesperson says Nygard's California office was also raided and that the fashion tycoon welcomes a federal investigation and expects to be cleared. Earlier this month, ten women filed a suit against Nygard, claiming he

sexually assaulted them. Some of them were minors at the time of the alleged incidents.

JARRETT: Newly released body cam footage sparking outrage in Florida. It shows police arresting a 6-year-old girl at her school in Orlando. An officer is seen restraining Kara Royal's (ph) hands with a zip tie and hauling her off to a squad car as she cries and pleads for a second chance. The incident took place back in September after reports the girl was allegedly kicking and punching members of the school staff. One of the officers was fired shortly after the arrest, a 6- year-old.

ROMANS: Wailing. There is just, in no universe, is that how any police officer or school resource officer should be trained. That a child should be -- I would be furious if that were my child.

JARRETT: Yes, it's interesting it's just coming out now, even though it happened a while ago.

ROMANS: And we've seen them before. We've seen these kind of incidents before.

JARRETT: Many times.

ROMANS: And you wonder where is the reason in a situation like that?

All right. Not a lot of Southern hospitality on the debate stage in Charleston. Democrats face a ticking clock as they try to slow Bernie Sanders ahead of Super Tuesday.