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Marc Short is Interviewed about the Debate and Coronavirus; Trump Backs out of Virtual Debate; Weekly Jobless Numbers Released; Virtual Presidential Debate. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired October 08, 2020 - 08:30   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, we have three breaking headlines for you right now in the 2020 race.

The debate commission just announced that the next debate between President Trump and Joe Biden will be held virtually with the candidates in separate locations.

Then, moments ago, former Vice President Biden agreed to those conditions.

And moments before that, President Trump refused.

Joining us now is Mark Short. He's chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence.

Mark, great to have you here with all of this breaking news. Thanks for being up early for us.

Why won't President Trump agree to a remote debate?

MARC SHORT, CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, good morning, Alisyn. Thanks for having me on.

Obviously, at this hour, we've not yet had a chance to talk to the president, but you've heard him speak and explain his concerns about a virtual debate.

I think our concern consistently has been the debate commission is supposed to negotiate with both sides if they're going to suggest a change in rules and that has not been the case. In fact, there was some minor rule changes they implemented in the vice president's debate at the last minute without consultation and I think this continues to have a pattern of them announcing it without discussing it with both sides.

And so we're hopeful that they'll actually enter into negotiations so we can hear what their concerns are and there can be a negotiation to hopefully reach a positive settlement because we think it's important that the American people hear from both candidates.


Well, they can still hear from both candidates, even if they're remote, obviously. And, I mean, if I can speak for the debate commission, I think what their big issue is, is that a week ago President Trump tested positive for coronavirus. He's supposed to be isolating. He's still contagious, doctors say. That's their concern.

SHORT: I appreciate you speaking for the debate commission, Alisyn, but I think the reality is that that debate is still ten days out, it's not tomorrow, and so there's -- there's, I think, all likelihood that the president would be negative at this point.

CAMEROTA: It's a week out.

SHORT: But, again, I think that the way the commission is supposed to work is they're supposed to negotiate with both sides. I think that would be what's most appropriate here.

CAMEROTA: But, Marc, I think that they get to make the decision. As the debate -- as the presidential debate commission, they get to make decisions. And doesn't it just stand to reason that if one of the candidates was sick, they would do what was safest for the public health?

SHORT: Again -- again, Alisyn, I appreciate you taking on the side of the debate commission and representing them. But, in our case, for instance --

CAMEROTA: I'm just telling you what the logic is.

SHORT: It --

CAMEROTA: The logic is that President Trump is sick with coronavirus.

SHORT: Yes, no -- no, and I -- but I think the rules -- the rules are very specific -- the rules are very specific. The sides are supposed to negotiate, Alisyn. It's just like, you know, it was a very small issue here. But we asked repeatedly for any sort of medical justification for Plexiglas, a request they never provided it. Obviously the vice president conceded and said if that's what makes Senator Harris more comfortable, we'll go along with that, but they never provided that, and that's not the way it's supposed to work.

CAMEROTA: What do you think the medical justification is for Plexiglas, Marc?

SHORT: Well, let's talk through that, Alisyn. Both candidates tested negative. The moderators tested negative. CDC rules say you should have six feet of distance. We extended it to 12 feet of distance. Medical experts across have come out time and again and said the Plexiglas is meaningless. In fact, the University of Utah epidemiologist told us the Plexiglas is meaningless. If it makes you feel better aesthetically, fine, but it does nothing medically. So that's exactly the point, is that there are rules that make (INAUDIBLE) --

CAMEROTA: OK, but isn't the point also -- hold on. Hold on. That's your side. Isn't the point also that Vice President Pence --

SHORT: It's not my side. Those are the facts, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Those are your cherry-picked facts. Here's another --

SHORT: That's where we live. That's exactly what --

CAMEROTA: Marc, here's another fact. Here's --

SHORT: No, Alisyn, how could you say they're my cherry-picked facts?

CAMEROTA: Marc, because you're -- what you didn't mention is that Vice President Pence has been with people in the past ten days who have tested positive at what might have been super spreader events.

SHORT: Alisyn, it's exactly why we did the contact tracing, we did that through both the White House medical unit, we did an extra consultation with the director of CDC who all felt comfortable with the vice president moving forward. It's why he's tested every day. He's continued to test negative. The vice president is not -- is not spreading coronavirus.

CAMEROTA: So is he tested every day, Marc? Is he tested every day?

SHORT: Yes, he is.


SHORT: Yes, he is, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: When was President Trump last tested before his positive result?

SHORT: Alisyn, you'll have to -- you'll have to ask the president's team that. The vice president's tested each and every day.

CAMEROTA: But why don't you know that, Marc? You are the chief of staff for the head of the Coronavirus Task Force.

SHORT: I don't know -- I am the chief of staff for the vice president of the United States.


I'm not privy to access to the president's medical records. That's for the White House medical unit to provide you.

CAMEROTA: You don't know when the president was tested negative before his positive result? You do not know that?

SHORT: I don't know -- I don't know when there's a lot of people who are tested negative. I know when the vice president's tested. He's tested each and every day. And -- CAMEROTA: I'm talking about the president of the United States, Marc.

SHORT: And I work for the vice president of the United States. He's tested each and every day, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Marc, you also just mentioned that you're doing contact tracing. For what? For what event are you doing contact tracing?

SHORT: We did for the vice president to make sure, again, as we walked back through and said, here's where the vice president has been, here's who he's been exposed to, and we had clear guidance from both, again, the White House medical unit and the director of CDC who said they're confident with that.

And, again, Alisyn, what's most important is the vice president continues to test negative each and every day. He -- he was not --

CAMEROTA: I'm -- I'm happy to hear that. That's -- that's wonderful.

SHORT: He's not at risk but I appreciate --

CAMEROTA: But we -- you -- you can -- can't blame us for wondering if that's going to be a constant given how many people in the White House have now tested positive. Every day, Marc, there is a new positive test coming out of the White House.

SHORT: And it's -- and it's a fair question and I -- and I appreciate --

CAMEROTA: Yesterday it was Stephen Miller. It -- let me ask you this --

SHORT: And I appreciate you allowing me the chance to answer it.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let me ask -- let me pose the question first, Marc.

SHORT: I -- I appreciate you asking. It's a fair question. I appreciate having the chance to answer it.

CAMEROTA: Has there been anybody since Stephen Miller? Go.

SHORT: I'm not aware. I'm not aware of anybody. We've been here in Salt Lake. It was a great debate last night. I think that's why you asked me to come on. We're really pleased with how the vice president did. I think he drew a clear contrast in the divisions of the future of our country as what it would look like for the Trump/Pence administration versus the radical left policies of the Biden/Harris administration. So we really -- really thought it was a great night.

CAMEROTA: OK, I have a sound bite to play for you. That's -- good. I'm -- I'm -- I did want to get your take on what you thought of the debate, obviously.

SHORT: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: And here is a moment. Let me play this for you and get your response.


MODERATOR: You head the administration's Coronavirus Task Force. Why is the U.S. death toll, as a percentage of our population, higher than that of almost every other wealthy country. And you have two minutes to respond without interruption.


And I want to thank the commission and the University of Utah for hosting this event.

And our nation has gone through a very challenging time this year. But I want the American people to know that from the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of America first.


CAMEROTA: And, Marc, he didn't answer it. He never answered it. A lot of people want to know, why is the death toll in the U.S. so much greater than other countries.

SHORT: Well, you didn't play the full clip. But the reality is that, that requires you --

CAMEROTA: He never got to it. He never explained that.

SHORT: Alisyn, are you going to let me answer your question or not?

CAMEROTA: Marc, you just said we didn't play the full clip. It was two minutes of him not answering.

SHORT: The vice president did -- Alisyn, one more time, the vice president answered the question if you played the full clip. But the reality is, that requires you to trust the information that's being provided by Russia, China, Iran, other nations that have had the coronavirus and believe their numbers relative to what the United States has put forward. We use --

CAMEROTA: So you don't think that we have the highest death toll, is that what you're saying?

SHORT: I -- I believe, if you're going to be consistent and trust the numbers, then you also have to go back and say that when the swine flu broke out during the Obama/Biden administration and there were 14,000 domestic deaths --


SHORT: They said there were 18,000 international deaths total. So, therefore, the United States was 70 percent of the fatalities, not 20 percent. So we mourn each and every one of the losses, but --

CAMEROTA: Marc, I'm so confused about this analogy that you guys keep using. So there were 13,000 deaths, by our numbers, from the swine flu. There are now, on your screen, 211,000 deaths of Americans from coronavirus.


CAMEROTA: Why do you keep going back to the swine flu? Coronavirus is so much more deadly --

SHORT: Sure.

CAMEROTA: And it's on the Trump administration's watch.

SHORT: Sure. Sure, the coronavirus is more deadly, Alisyn, but it's why the reality is that what the Biden administration was -- the Obama/Biden administration provided opportunities as well to close down borders to Mexico that they did not do when swine flu was coming across. And the swine flu ended up infecting 60 million Americans. So, God forbid if the swine flu had been as fatal, you'd have ten times as many fatalities in the United States.


SHORT: And it's why Ron Klain, the chief of staff to the vice president, said we did everything possible wrong in managing that situation.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I heard that last night. I just wish that you guys would -- would build (ph) around more on the coronavirus and --

SHORT: We think that's an important contrast. That's good. I'm glad you did. I think it's an important contrast to show between the two -- the two administrations and the way that they would have handled it.



Marc Short, thank you very much. We didn't expect all of this breaking news, but we really appreciate you being here and giving us the White House perspective.

Thank you.

SHORT: Thanks for letting me talk about the debate.

CAMEROTA: We are getting a brand-new snapshot of America's unemployment crisis. We will give you the breaking details, next.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, major breaking news.

Moments ago, President Trump backed out of the second presidential debate scheduled for next Thursday night. The debate commission announced shortly before that, that the debate would be virtual because the president, of course, has coronavirus and there are medical concerns.

For what it's worth, Joe Biden agreed to the new terms of the debate.

We're joined by CNN White House correspondent John Harwood.

John, great to have you here.

Look, it's a big headline when a president backs out of a debate. It's a big headline when the debate commission feels the need to make it virtual because they worry the president could be a health threat. There's a lot going on here.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, it dramatizes every way in which the Trump administration and President Trump as a candidate are behind the eight ball right now. The president is physically sick. His campaign is in terrible shape, trailing Joe Biden by a large margin that has been getting wider in the last week or two, and in battleground state polls he was terrible in the first debate, all the polls show it. He -- because he is sick, it's not safe for Joe Biden to be in the same room for him and to have a virtual debate that advertises that fact simply dramatizes the failure of the administration in handling the coronavirus pandemic. And so the president's now seizing the opportunity not to participate in another debate.

Now, I do think Alisyn is right to say don't necessarily take to the bank what the president says in the flush of the moment because he is rapidly running out of options to change the dynamic in the campaign. A rally instead of participating in a debate is not going to do it.

On the other hand, it's a town hall debate that puts a premium on showing empathy with your audience and President Trump doesn't do that very well.


So the truth is all of the good options for President Trump are gone and he's just got to figure out which is the least bad one. And in the moment he thinks the least bad one is not to participate in the debate and to, you know, attack the -- Chris Wallace, attack the commission on presidential debates, attack the media, attack the Biden campaign. He just put out a rambling video from the south -- from the lawn of the White House in which he was claiming to have, you know, restored the military. It's just -- it's not a pretty picture for President Trump right now.

CAMEROTA: And also, John, one more thing, you know, we were sort of joking about, oh, in this age of Zoom, what would this look like? Oh, my gosh, technology is crashing into the debate. It would not actually be that. It would be a real camera, a real TV camera, like the ones we're using right now, real satellites. It would be the same as an Oval Office address. When President Trump is alone in his room or whatever with a small crew and he speaks to the camera, that's actually what it would be. And he does -- he likes to do those addresses and those speeches all the time. And so why not do the debate this way? I mean he's acting as though that it's a deal breaker, but he generally likes getting out his message that way.

HARWOOD: He's losing. He knows he's losing. He likes attacking other people. And so he's seizing on this change to attack the commission.

Again, it is possible, Alisyn, that you are right. And when they reflect and realize how -- what a difficult situation their campaign is in, they could shift gears tomorrow. They could -- he could shift gears later -- later today. Like I said, the good options are all gone for President Trump and he's just got to try to scramble and figure out some way to make the best of it.

You know, we don't know -- we still don't know what his physical condition actually is. He -- if, in fact, he acquired the coronavirus when the White House says he tested positive, that is in the middle of last week, he still has a significant period of unpredictability about the course of his illness. So, you know, it's entirely possible he might not be well enough to debate on the 15th. We just don't know because they won't tell us when that last negative test was.

BERMAN: John Harwood, great to have you with us. In the future, you don't have to take Alisyn's side.

CAMEROTA: Yes, you do.

BERMAN: You don't have to, but we appreciate you being with us always nonetheless. Thanks, John.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much, John.

All right, breaking news right now, new jobless claim numbers have just been released.

CNN's chief business correspondent Christine Romans joins us now with more.

What do you see, Christine?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I see a job market under stress and I see a recovery at a crossroads here, 840,000 new first-time unemployment claims in the week. That is a number that has been alarmingly high here, stuck in this 800,000 range for weeks now.

There were also 464,000 pandemic unemployment insurance. So you add that together, that's 1.3 million for the week. These are continuing claims I'm showing you here. It's almost 11 million people, down a million. These are people who are continuing to get benefits.

Overall, in all the different kinds of programs, this is including special programs for the unemployed because of the pandemic, there are 25.5 million people received aid, jobless aid, from the government.

I want to point out, California has put a two-week pause on processing new unemployment claims. They're trying to work through some fraud issues. Also a big, big backlog there. So these numbers could change a little bit going forward. But, again, heading into an election here with clearly the American worker, the American jobless worker under a lot of stress and no aid yet from Congress in terms of stimulus.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. OK, Christine, thank you very much for all of that breaking news.

All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us with his reaction to our other breaking news, the next presidential debate is set to be --

BERMAN: No, no, the president backed out of the presidential debate. There is no next debate.

CAMEROTA: That's the big -- well, OK.

BERMAN: It doesn't matter if the debate commission says it's virtual, the president just backed out.

CAMEROTA: I mean, again, that's at 8:48. At 8:48. And the -- their campaign did just put out a press release saying they're -- that President Trump is not going to do it. So I'm taking your side and I'm taking my side.

BERMAN: Right.

CAMEROTA: Anything's possible is what I'm trying to say. And Sanjay Gupta's next.



CAMEROTA: OK, big, breaking news this morning. President Trump has just said he will not debate Joe Biden virtually next Thursday. The debate commission announced this morning that the candidates would have to be in separate locations. We assume because the president has coronavirus. But the president has just said he will not take part.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, joins us now.

Sanjay, your thoughts.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this won't surprise you, but I think from a medical perspective, obviously, a virtual debate would be the best, safest option medically. And that was even before the president was diagnosed with coronavirus.

So, you know, it's interesting because the sort of policies around these debates went from being a very porous sort of policy, you can be tested, just show your test within 72 hours, any kind of test you want, people inside, audience, not even necessarily masked during the first debate, that was sort of what we saw, to now virtual.

I'm sure, as you point out, that this has a lot to do with the fact that the president has been diagnosed with COVID. But, you know, we -- we are in the middle of a pandemic here, so it's funny, we talk about these issues all the time and, you know, part of me is saying we're clearly just trying to make the best out of a bad situation. It feels very incremental. We will test, we will sort of require masks. None of this stuff really makes a difference. There is a virus that is still very contagious. Aggregating people indoors like that makes no sense. So I -- you know, medically, and I think you'll hear this from all public health officials, this would be the safest way to conduct a debate.

BERMAN: Yes, it was interesting hearing Marc Short say it was a political decision not made in consultation with the Trump campaign. I'm not sure you have to consult with the campaign to figure out whether an event is safe or not. That's not a political decision, that's a scientific one. So maybe that's the discussion that the debate commission had.


BERMAN: Sanjay, we're running out of time and --

GUPTA: And I'll just point out as well the aerosolization, too. I'll just point out, you know, the idea that this virus can be aerosolized makes indoors sort of like that debating, you know, more of a concern. Plexiglas offers some protection, but I think that that, I'm sure, informed some of their thinking as well.

BERMAN: Sanjay, we -- we have some viewer questions for you, which is wonderful because it is something that I think that people find so useful.

This question is, is air travel safe if I wear a mask? I think that's interesting as a general question. This specific question comes from someone who's 79 years old and has atrial fibrillation. But as a general question, how safe is air travel at this point?

GUPTA: Well, you know, airplanes themselves, you know, a lot of the airlines have done a reasonable job of trying to make them, again, as safe as possible. Kind of like we're talking about the debates. I mean we are still in the middle of a pandemic. A virus is circulating. Any time you bring people together, you're going to increase the risk.

Airplanes have generally pretty good air exchange, four times an hour, which is really critically important, especially when talking about the aerosolization of the virus. But it's all the other steps to get there. You know, you're potentially increasing the risk just going through the airport. Are you going to a place that may put you in quarantine when you get there? You have to look at that ahead of time. And it can change, you know, week to week.

I had the same conversation with my own parents, you know, upcoming holidays, they're around that age and we've decided that air travel is not going to be the best option for them.

And, by the way, I should point out that Dr. Fauci, who is also 79 years old, was asked this question, people don't realize he's 79, but he said he wouldn't travel right now because of those risks and because of the fact that given his age he's considered vulnerable.


So still not quite there yet I don't think.

CAMEROTA: I did not realize that Dr. Fauci was 79 years old. We've had a lot of breaking news on this show in the past hour.


BERMAN: Right.

CAMEROTA: That is -- wow. That's amazing.

Sanjay, thank you.

GUPTA: He looks good.


CAMEROTA: It's -- amazing. I want what he's having.

Sanjay, thank you very much for all of that.

OK, so the big, breaking news, President Trump says he will not participate in the next debate if it is held virtually.

BERMAN: Which it will be. The debate commission says it's up to any candidate if they show up. The debate commission says if it's going to happen, it's going to be virtual, and the president says he's not going.

CAMEROTA: CNN's breaking news coverage continues, next.