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President Trump In Hospital With Coronavirus One Month Before Election, Expected To Stay Hospitalized For "Next Few Days;" More COVID Cases Emerge In White House As Trump Hospitalized With Virus; GOP Senator Ron Johnson Tests Positive For COVID-19; Trump's Infection Throws Election Into Chaos, Threatens Crisis. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired October 03, 2020 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. You know, it used to be that our political differences stopped at the water's edge. That partisan difference was the equivalent of a domestic disturbance where fighting family members put aside their squabbles and unite against a common enemy. When Ronald Reagan was shot or the country was victimized on 9/11, we were unified in purpose.

Sadly, those days have vanished. Hopefully a little bit of that sentiment returns with the hospitalization of President Trump. You're not required to agree with him or to vote for him to sincerely wish him well. I do. Now let's get to the latest.

This special hour will be dedicated to the medical and political issues, the potential crises of governance and national security. My guests will include Dr. Sanjay Gupta, David Axelrod, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Ronald Brownstein and law professor Brian Call (ph), but first let's go straight to CNN's Boris Sanchez outside of Walter Reed Medical Center for an update on the President's condition. Boris?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Michael. The White House physician has told CNN that the President is doing well, that he has very mild symptoms related to coronavirus, including congestion, a low-grade fever as well as fatigue, the President appearing exhausted and somewhat short of breath. The President, though, maintaining a positive face to the public, yesterday tweeting out a video in which he thanked the world for its support before being flown to Walter Reed Medical Center.

The President also tweeting late last night that he was feeling well, in all caps writing "LOVE" also. Unusual tone from the President who's often tweeting angrily late at night. Privately, though, we are hearing that the President was spooked by this diagnosis, that the onset of symptoms was rapid and that the President was rattled by that.

Further, people around the President are also concerned because as we've seen before anecdotally, this virus very quickly can become serious, as we saw with the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who just days after testing positive for COVID went from having mild symptoms to being in the intensive care unit. There's obviously concern about the President's health. He is being very closely observed here at Walter Reed Medical Center.

He's also receiving a mixture of drugs, for one, an experimental cocktail of drugs from the company Regeneron. It's an experimental antibody treatment that's believed to shorten the amount of viral fluid in the body, the amount of virus in the body. He's also taking Remdesivir which the FDA approved for coronavirus, also shortening the life of the virus in the system, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Boris, is there any formal medical briefing that has been scheduled for today as far as you know?

SANCHEZ: No, sir. Effectively what we've gotten from the White House are memorandums that have been put out about President Trump, about Vice President Pence and we should point out that really a big part of the reason we know that this was even going on behind closed doors is because of reporters who found out that Hope Hicks had become ill and then started asking questions and ultimately the President revealing that he had tested positive for COVID very late into the evening on Thursday, early Friday morning.

SMERCONISH: Boris, thanks so much for your report. We'll check back later. Joining me now to discuss the latest developments on the President's COVID diagnosis and the political situation, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, David Axelrod, CNN senior political commentator and of course former senior adviser to President Obama, Ronald Brownstein is the senior editor at "The Atlantic" and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "The New York Times" congressional editor and CNN political analyst.

Dr. Gupta, what do you most want to know and why about the President's condition?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'd like to know specifically what his symptoms are now, when he first developed symptoms and when he had his last negative coronavirus test. You know, we know that he was -- we were told he was diagnosed Thursday and then he develops, you know, significant enough symptoms that he needed to go to the hospital.

That is a little bit of an unusual time course. Usually you have the exposure to the virus, some time passes and then you develop a positive test, some time passes, develop symptoms. I think it's relevant medically, Michael, because, you know, if he has been dealing with this virus for some time, it may change the course of treatment, may change the nature of his treatments, but also give some idea of what, you know, the pace of his recovery is likely to be.

So there's still a lot of details about this. I'm glad he's at the hospital because I think for someone of his age with his pre-existing conditions you want to make sure that you're in a place where you have several specialists, an intensive care unit, if needed, close by and those sorts of resources.

[09:05:00] SMERCONISH: Of what significance would be a shortness of breath if, in fact, he has that?

GUPTA: Well, you know, when you talk about these types of respiratory viruses, you know, one of the concerns is you start to develop a viral pneumonia. That can start to limit, you know, your ability to exchange oxygen and you can have shortness of breath. It's another sign in the course of illness that may necessitate more aggressive treatment. We're told he doesn't need supplemental oxygen, but if someone is developing progressive shortness of breath, they may eventually need progressive oxygen.

They can also determine or at least give some indication of the types of treatments, not just medication treatments, but simple things like changing position of the patient. If someone is starting to develop shortness of breath, it could be certain parts of their lungs aren't exchanging oxygen as well, so you have to actually prone them, move them back and forth from a supine position to a prone position.

So, you know, all these are sort of clinical indicators. You got to take it in the context of what's happening with the patient overall, but, you know, shortness of breath, chest tightness, anything that's indicating that the patient's not getting enough oxygen is obviously a concern.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Gupta, there's an easy way to stop the sort of conjecture in which I'm guessing I'm now engaging and that is to have a formal briefing and have whomever is offering him treatment stand up and say, here's the deal.

GUPTA: Yes. You know, I really wish that would have happened. Even yesterday, you know, as we were sort of covering this since 1:00 o'clock in the morning, you know, yesterday morning or two days ago morning now, whenever it was, we were sort of trying to have to put together the bread crumbs.

President has diagnosed with COVID, he is doing well. President is diagnosed, he has mild symptoms. President has fever and fatigue since morning, something they hadn't mentioned before. Someone else comes out and says he has moderate symptoms, then they come out and say, well, he's now receiving experimental therapy at the White House, something that doesn't even have emergency use authorization. Well, that sounds like they have a higher level of concern. Now we hear that Marine One is landing on the South Lawn and he's essentially going to be medevaced to the hospital.

These were all sort of these bread crumbs. If we had had, you know, a formal briefing then and still going forward now, it would make it a lot easier and frankly, you know, Michael, the odds are very much on the President's side in terms of recovering from this. To give people an idea of how this sort of transpires, what happens, how he gets his care, I think is critically important.

SMERCONISH: Julie Hirschfeld Davis, a lot of interest in the tick tock of the last couple of days, particularly his interaction with Hope Hicks. What do we know? JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it was a very busy week for the President starting late last week when he had some fundraisers and events with the chair of the Republican National Committee who we now know, Ronna McDaniel, has tested positive, but Hope Hicks was very closely involved in all of his debate prep. We all saw the debate on Tuesday night in Cleveland. She was with him at the White House over the weekend preparing him for that Sunday and Monday.

She flew with him to Cleveland on Tuesday for the debate, was, you know, very closely involved with sort of the roll-out there and then she traveled with him to Minnesota for a rally on Wednesday and that is, we are now told, when she started to feel sick and instead of separating her from the President and his entourage, she continued to be around him and his top aides. She flew back with him to Washington on Air Force One, although we are told she exited the back of the plane, but it's not clear that she was tested at that point.

In fact, we believe that she was tested the next day and that's all, as Boris said earlier and as you noted, only because reporters have uncovered this information. The White House has not been forthcoming with any of this, but this is what we've been able to piece together.

And also basically when they did have her positive diagnosis, there was a decision made at the White House to allow the President to go ahead and travel on Thursday to a fundraiser that he had scheduled in Bedminster, New Jersey and be close to a number of donors, first at an indoor round table then at an outdoor larger event and by that point, it's pretty clear now from the -- from his symptoms and the sort of rapid escalation of his treatment, that he was already infected and he would obviously get his test results at some point or we got his test results at some point later that evening.

SMERCONISH: David Axelrod, is the net political impact that this guarantees we'll be talking about COVID and not the economy for the next 31 days?

DAVID ALEXROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly thrusts the virus back in the news, but -- to the front of the news, but we should also note that it comes at a time when the virus seems resurging in many parts of the country.


The President was headed to Wisconsin this weekend and had to cancel one event because of the volume of cases that they're reporting in the La Crosse area. So this story was coming back, but certainly this thrust this back into the forefront, but Michael, let me make one other point on this whole issue of not briefing.

You know, they are being as untransparent about the President's condition as they have been at many times about the virus itself and I think one of the reasons why they've been so secretive and why they were so late in reporting some of these cases, Hope Hicks, you know -- starting with Hope Hicks is that they wanted to promote a fiction that we're past the virus and that the country is moving forward and the fact is we're well in the middle of it still and that's why it's so dangerous.

I mean, obviously the people need to know what's going on with the President of the United States. We also need to know what's going on with the virus and the -- and the White House has not been forthcoming on either subject.

SMERCONISH: Ronald Brownstein, meanwhile, Vice President Biden seeking to rebuild that blue wall in Grand Rapids among other places.

RONALD BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes. Well, first on the Biden side, he is laser focused on the idea that the shortest path back to 270 Electoral College votes is basically up by 75, you know, or one of the other interstates running through the midwest. I mean, he is pounding at Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

That was the job he was hired to do. You don't hire a 77-year-old, you know, 50-year career politician to turn out more -- necessarily turn out more young African American and Hispanic men in the Sun Belt. You do it to win back a few white Rust Belt voters and he has not lost sight of that at all. I mean, he is -- those are -- those are his top priorities without question.

On the other side of the ledger, can I just say that, to underscore David's point, from the beginning, the President's priority here has been to reassert normalcy no matter what the implications of public health, no matter where the virus is and you see that so dramatically reflected both in what we were talking about before, Julie was talking about with him going to the fundraiser after Hope Hicks was diagnosed, but also the night at the debate itself when the Trump entourage and family refused to wear masks in direct violation of the rules of the debate and this has been the posture from the beginning.

It affects not only him, it affects Republican governors who have felt tremendous pressure to reopen early and widely to avoid getting on his bad side. I mean, there have just been enormous consequences from the outset from his choice to basically try to assert normalcy even when obviously events do not justify it.

SMERCONISH: I am so appreciative of this all-star panel and they're all sticking around. Up ahead, with so much now in disarray, the campaign, the debates, the Supreme Court nomination, what are these next 31 days before the final day of voting going to look like?

And the President's positive test and hospitalization is most serious -- the most serious known health threat to a sitting President since the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. So far, President Trump remains in charge, but what are the procedures when presidents are temporarily incapacitated?




SMERCONISH: Welcome back to CNN's breaking news coverage. President Trump has been hospitalized in Walter Reed following his COVID diagnosis. Several top staffers have tested positive, including campaign manager Bill Stepien and advisor Hope Hicks, plus now three Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee, Mike Lee, Thom Tillis and Ron Johnson, all one month before the final day of voting.

Back with me now, CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, David Axelrod, CNN senior political commentator and of course former senior adviser to President Obama, Ron Brownstein is the senior editor at "The Atlantic" and Julie Hirschfeld Davis is "The New York Times" congressional editor and CNN political analyst. Dr. Gupta, how long after being infected can it be recognized by a COVID test? I ask that with an eye toward understanding is it possible that the President had the virus while he was on the debate stage Tuesday night.

GUPTA: Yes. This is an excellent point and I -- and, you know, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when, but I have this timeline graphic which I'll put up and I'll -- and I'll talk you through this because I think it's a critical point. After you're exposed to the virus and become infected, the question is -- the virus starts to replicate. The question is how long does it take for that virus to replicate before it is detectable, right? By any of the tests that we have.

You get exposed, you're not immediately going to be able to have a positive test because there's not enough virus in your system. So at the left there, if that's the point of exposure, it can take some time before you, A, develop symptoms, usually five days or so, and at least a couple days before that perhaps where you could actually have a positive test. It's not immediate by any means.

Couple more important points quickly, Michael, is that even before one develops symptoms, if you look all the way at the bottom there at that purple line, that's when you start to become infectious. Point being, you don't even have symptoms yet, you haven't been tested, you don't know, but you actually could be at your most infectious time during that purple window there and that's critical.

So with the President, for example, if he started to show symptoms on Friday, there's a good chance that, just statistically, the exposure happened four or five days, maybe even earlier than that, earlier than when he started to show symptoms.


SMERCONISH: OK. So let me -- so let me get to the third part of that trifecta of a question. Is Joe Biden out of the woods to the extent that there were people in Cleveland in that debate environment who were COVID-19 positive?

GUPTA: Well, I don't think that he's out of the woods in the sense that, you know, he got tested, he's negative now, which we know, but you could -- you know, again, according to that graphic, you could test positive from an exposure even up to 14 days later. So people get a positive test and they say, well, it must have been exposure I had yesterday. It could have been from two weeks ago.

So he's not out of the woods, he's going to need to continue to be tested with some degree of regularity. People who have had known exposures, close contact exposures within six feet, unmasked for longer than 15 minutes, if they've had that level of an exposure to someone with COVID, they need to be quarantined for 14 days.

SMERCONISH: David Axelrod, does this engender sympathy for the President? First words out of my mouth on this program today, I was certain to say Godspeed to the President and first lady. Or does he become the embodiment, politically speaking, of his handling of the virus?

AXELROD: Well, Michael, I think the answer is both. I mean, we should feel sympathy for him and anyone who is struggling with this virus. we know how pernicious it is, but it's also true that he stood on a debate stage on Tuesday and ridiculed Joe Biden for wearing a mask and setting the right example for the country and so, you know, you do reap what you sow in that regard and I do think it brings back the way the President has approached this virus.

His own -- he has now become an example, unwittingly become an example, of why his approach to this has been so dangerous and I pointed out yesterday, you know, there are -- he's conferring with experts and doctors about his own health, but he's sending Dr. Atlas out to talk to the country who has no credentials to talk about the coronavirus because he would mirror the President's political line on the virus, while the experts were forced off the stage.

So, the President is looking for advice from experts now, but he denied the country their advice at his own briefings and so yes, I think this brings his performance back. We all want him to recover. We should want the President of the United States to recover, the first lady to recover, we wish them well, but it doesn't erase the history of how he's handled this virus.

SMERCONISH: Julie, folks like me are fixated on the campaign. Let's not forget he's the incumbent, he's the commander-in-chief, he's in office. What does this mean for the duration of this first term, if there is to be a second term, but the remaining days that he certainly has on the clock as president?

DAVIS: Well, I mean, there's certainly a question of, you know, what his condition actually is and how it will develop and whether he'll be able to get back out on the campaign trail. He did ridicule Joe Biden for not wearing a mask.

He's also -- you know, he and his campaign have talked about Joe Biden, you know, being stuck in the basement while he was doing rallies all over the country. That contrast is not going to be there anymore. We know Joe Biden is going to be campaigning and the President is at Walter Reed.

So there's that immediate question of whether he will be able to campaign and if he can't, that has sort of been the centerpiece of his re-election effort, is these big rallies with lots and lots of people, nobody socially distanced, no masks, et cetera. He's not going to be able to do that, at least for a little while here and it's a question of whether he'll be able to get back to doing that at all and then there is a question, of course, of the rest of his agenda.

You know, he has this Supreme Court nominee that he and the Republicans in the Senate very badly want to get confirmed before Election Day, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Will that timetable, that had very little give to begin with, be possible given his condition and now the diagnoses of three Republican senators, two of them on the Judiciary Committee? That's an open question.

It's also a question of whether his efforts, sporadic as they were, to potentially get a deal with Democrats on some more pandemic relief aid, some stimulus for the economy which badly needs it, are those going to be successful? Will this force a late stage deal? Will this set back those efforts?

Obviously with the focus back on the virus in a big way and on the toll that it's taken on the country, you would think that the President and Republicans would really want to redouble their efforts to get a deal like that, but it's not clear whether that's going to be possible.

SMERCONISH: Quickly, Ron, if I may, he had just seen an uptick according to Gallup of his approval number to 46 percent.


BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, Gallup has been pretty erratic on the approval. I think the race and attitudes about the President are pretty stable. I would say obviously everybody, you know, hopes as an individual the President, you know, comes through this and as Sanjay -- as Sanjay said that, you know, the odds are very high that he will, but does anybody have any doubt about what he would be saying if it was the opposite case or his supporters would be saying if the opposite case?

It would be proof that Joe Biden is too frail to be President and that, you know, he's too weak and I prefer -- as someone tweeted, I prefer candidates who don't get infected. So, I mean, you know, as David said, I mean, you can't erase the impact that the President has had by his posture from the beginning of basically trying to assert normalcy in every possible way, to downplay the risks.

And again, not only in his own choices about, you know, not stockpiling PPE and so forth, but also in the pressure this has put on Republican governors in states like Florida, Georgia, Texas, Arizona to override local Democratic mask requirements, to override decisions, local decisions on when to reopen bars and restaurants and retail and schools. I mean, there is a direct line between the President's posture on this and the reality the communities are living with all across the country.

SMERCONISH: The panel is sticking around. Up ahead, more cases of COVID-19 emerge in the White House and the campaign as we get word of a third Republican senator testing positive. Who else is affected? And it's a scenario we pray we'd never have to face, but what are the rules in the event that a President becomes unable physically to do his job?



SMERCONISH: President Donald Trump was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center Friday after news broke of his COVID-19 diagnosis. And now the circle of current and former aides to president testing positive is widening and rapidly.

Let's check in at the White House with CNN's Ryan Nobles. Ryan, since last night, I'm told three more people tested positive for the virus. Please walk us through the list.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michael. It seems to grow by the minute. We're learning now that Bill Stepien who is the president's campaign manager last night received a positive test. Kellyanne Conway, the former senior advisor to President Trump also testing positive. And now just in the last few minutes we're learning that the Wisconsin senator, Ron Johnson, has also tested positive.

But you see the list there of people that have been around the president, that have been in his orbit who have all tested positive for the coronavirus. And many of them connected to two specific events, Michael. You had the announcement of the confirmation -- or the nomination, I should say, of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. And then you had the president's debate prep which was a small group of people in a confined space. Many of them not wearing masks throughout this process. More and more people that were both of these events are now starting to come back with positive tests.

And it's also important to keep in mind that some of the people that were either of these events many of them have come back with negative tests but that doesn't necessarily mean that a positive test couldn't be in their future, especially with the incubation period and what we know about the coronavirus.

So, folks like the Chief of Staff Mark Meadows who has tested negative so far, that's someone we would keep an eye on. And, of course, the vice president, Mike Pence, who was there with many of the people at this event in very close quarters on Saturday. He, too, is someone who will need to get a test on a frequent basis.

And, Michael, it's really incumbent upon as reporters to press the White House for results of these tests because as we've seen over the past 24 and 48 hours they haven't necessarily been all that forthcoming.

SMERCONISH: Ryan, I'm also keeping my eye on the composition of the Senate Judiciary Committee and wondering whether those members will be able to fulfill their responsibilities at this very important time that they're considering Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

NOBLES: It's unbelievable, Michael, and I don't think that we can understate how significant it is that we now have a third Republican senator who has tested positive for the coronavirus and what this means for the confirmation process of Judge Barrett. If we talked about this two days ago we would have thought that the process was going to be smooth sailing for Barrett. Or Republicans have lined up behind Mitch McConnell and the president in this pick and they were ready to confirm her before the election.

But now that you've got three Republican senators out of the mix for an indefinite amount of time it really calls into question whether or not McConnell is going to be able to pull this off in time before the election. And even if he has the votes in a lame duck session, the results of the election could have a big impact on whether or not her confirmation will push through.

So, the dramatics of this have changed dramatically. And of course, Michael, as we've talked about at the beginning of this conversation, more and more people continue to test positive. Right now, it's only three Republican senators. There were many Republican senators at that event on Saturday. And, of course, these senators are intermingling with each other through lunches and meetings on Capitol Hill. So there is the possibility that more senators could test positive in the days to come.

SMERCONISH: Ryan, thank you for that. That was excellent.

The president's positive test amounts to the most serious known health threat to a sitting American president in decades. The White House says the president remains fully in charge. We pray that's the case. Wish him all the best.

What would happen if that were to change? Brian Kalt is a law professor from Michigan State University. He wrote this piece in "The Atlantic" titled "Rules Exist for What Could Come Next, but They Won't Prevent Total Chaos Things could get very ugly, very fast." Brian Kalt joins me now to discuss. By the way, he's also the author of "Unable: The Law, Politics, and Limits of Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment." OK. So, you're here, professor, because you literally wrote the book on the 25th Amendment.


I don't want this to be poor taste. I wish God speed to the president and I'm sincere. I do however want to be reminded, how does the 25th Amendment operate?

BRIAN C. KALT, PROFESSOR OF LAW AND THE HAROLD NORRIS FACULTY SCHOLAR, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: OK. So, there are two basic tracks here. Section 3 is when the president says himself that he's unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. And when he says that the power goes to the vice president who serves as acting president until the president says he's better and then he takes power right back. So, that was all under his control there.

Section 4 is when he can't or won't say that he's unable, if he's unconscious. Then the vice president and majority of the cabinet would declare that he's unable to transfer power to the vice president. But, again, it's not as much to the president's control, but it still stacks the deck in his favor, because if and when he says that he's OK, he takes power back, at least if the vice president and cabinet agree.

They have four days to disagree. And if they do disagree it goes to Congress, but it requires two-thirds in the House and two-thirds in the Senate to agree that the president is unable. Otherwise, he gets his power back. So, if he's in a position to contest it, he's well enough to say that he's well then it gives him his power back.

SMERCONISH: In modern history, when has the 25th Amendment kicked in?

KALT: So, Section 3 has been used three times. President Reagan had colon surgery. George W. Bush had two colonoscopies. For a few hours they were under general anesthesia, handed power over to the vice president as acting president.

Section 4 has never been used. And you mentioned that this is the most serious health crisis since Reagan was shot. They didn't use Section 3 or Section 4 when Reagan was shot. And he was under general anesthesia. He was out of it for a while. So they probably should have used it then, but they didn't.

SMERCONISH: Does it require some formal declaration?

KALT: Yes, so, all of these declarations if the president is unable or if the president is (INAUDIBLE) have to sent to the speaker of the House and the president pro tem of the Senate and the declarations are effective as soon as they're sent. But it is a formality that has to be observed.

SMERCONISH: Professor Kalt, thanks so much for your expertise. Again, here's hoping that we don't have to cross any of these bridges. I just wanted a refresher and to provide one for my audience.

KALT: Thanks for having me.

SMERCONISH: Stay tuned for the latest updates on President Trump's COVID diagnosis, the implications for the 2020 election and beyond, if you're just joining us. We'll be back in just a moment with more coverage.



SMERCONISH: If you're just joining us, President Trump is in Walter Reed hospital for treatment following his COVID diagnosis. Several top staffers and three U.S. senators have also tested positive.

Back with me now for CNN's breaking news coverage Dr. Sanjay Gupta, David Axelrod, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Ronald Brownstein.

Dr. Gupta, I hear a lot of discussion about the president potentially being released in time for October 15 which is the next presidential debate. It's one thing to be released from the hospital it's quite another to be raring to go in prime time under these klieg lights.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. No, absolutely. I mean, you getting out of a hospital means you don't need the sort of acute care that a hospital provides but it can still takes time to recover from this even in people who have mild symptoms.

So, it's definitely going to be a step that is lost from a period of time for anybody who recovers from this sort of illness. There's also the concern as you know about some of these long hauler symptoms. So, we don't know how much that's going to affect him but I think that those are definitely considerations.

SMERCONISH: Julie, in retrospect we look at Wednesday night in Duluth and we say, well, he spoke only for 45 minutes which by the way sounds a little funny because for anyone else 45 minutes is a long speech. For him, it's about half of what you're used to.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, in retrospect, there were some signs that he was not quite himself. My colleagues reported that on the plane on the way home, he briefly fell asleep. That's not -- that's also not typical for him.

Clearly, he was experiencing some of the early stages of whatever symptoms that would manifest themselves just about 24 hours later. So, yes, you have to wonder whether -- how quickly he can bounce back from the symptoms he's experiencing now.

SMERCONISH: David Axelrod, Wednesday night, the vice presidential debate, what does all of this mean for that?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's going to elevate the importance of that debate. We should point out that the vice president has been exposed to the president. He tested negative and he's moving forward on his schedule. But I'm sure Dr. Gupta would say we don't really know.

But, yes, that debate is going to be more important because of the uncertain status of the president. And because both of the men running are in their 70s and it underscores that one of these people could be president of the United States.

SMERCONISH: Ronald Brownstein, there's been a difference in the approach of retail politicking up until now. The Trump campaign supposedly knocking on a million doors a week. What's the future for each campaign now given this diagnosis?

RONALD BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, Democrats have kind of put their toe back in the water of trying to get back into some door-to-door organizing themselves. I'm not sure it affects the trajectory of their on-the-ground operations that much. I do think as David said earlier it makes it unavoidable that we are going to be again facing the question of how the president handled this from the beginning. Particularly because the case loads are rising and we could hit 50,000 cases a day again for the first time in several months within the next few days.


SMERCONISH: Dr. Gupta, the more we know, the more it does appear that a week ago today in the Rose Garden the announcement of the formal nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett seems to have been a superspreader event?

GUPTA: Yes, it really does. I mean, you can start to look at the number of people who have tested positive, you can look at the proximity that they had to one another. And, you know, being outdoor is certainly much better than being indoors, but there are other factors.

How long are you next to people? How close are you to people? Are you wearing a mask? We know all of those basic factors.

Also, you know, what inevitably happens in these situations is that there ends up being other small gatherings. People get together either before or after these types of events. Sometimes, they get together in indoor places. So, you have -- you could have a singular event and then you have many surrounding sort of satellite events that happen at that point as well.

That's what contact tracers have to do. They got to try and now -- did you have another meeting with this person? Where was that? Who else was there? So, it's a difficult investigative process but that's what's happening now.

SMERCONISH: And has to be compounded by the fact that the president has come in contact with so many people in recent days. The rallies aren't what they used to be in this environment. But many, many people in an outdoor setting have been at least exposed to him indirectly.

GUPTA: Yes, absolutely. And most of them, I mean, we talk about this Rose Garden event and people can get tested. Most of those other rallies people, A, can't get tested. There can be a significant lag time as we talked about, you know, up to 14 days, they may not even correlate it at that point with the rally that they attended.

So, absolutely. There can be all sorts of different events that we've just never heard about. This is the most obvious one because we see the testing in real time around this event

SMERCONISH: My sincere thanks to Sanjay Gupta, David Axelrod, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Ron Brownstein. Truly four of my favorites. I really appreciate your time.

Still to come, I bet you're thinking the president's COVID diagnosis has got to be the biggest October surprise ever. Well, do you even remember what happened four years ago this weekend? We had three huge surprises all in about an hour.



SMERCONISH: It's October and we have had quite a surprise. The diagnosis of the president and first lady with COVID-19. First off, God speed to both for their health. Here's hoping they each make a complete and speedy recovery. Then will come the political fallout and with just 31 days until the final day of voting. Right now it is just too soon to know how this all plays out.

Does the president engender sympathy? Boris Johnson got a short term bump. Or is his own illness perceived as the embodiment of his handling of the pandemic?

Sometimes first reactions are short sighted. Remember this, it was four years ago this week that we saw the most tumultuous few days of the 2016 cycle. If again on Friday, October 7, that afternoon at 3:30 the intel community told the media that Russia was meddling in our election. On any other day, that would have been a huge story. But it quickly became a footnote.

At 4:03 p.m., "The Washington Post" revealed that in 2005 Donald Trump had made crude comments about women while being interviewed by Billy Bush for "Access Hollywood." Many like me thought that would finish his campaign. But within a half hour of the "Access Hollywood" tape being published WikiLeaks released a trove of 250,000 emails from within Hillary Clinton's campaign. No one thought it a coincidence.

Just after midnight, Trump hastily released a video apologizing for his past behavior. He called it locker room talk. Talk about a Friday news dump.

The next day, Saturday, October 8, candidate Donald Trump gathered his leadership team at Trump Tower. Speaker Paul Ryan had disinvited Trump to a rally in Wisconsin where they were to appear together. And RNC Chair Reince Priebus told Trump that his choice was to drop out or are lose in a landslide. Calls were mounting for Mike Pence to replace Trump at the top of the ticket. But Trump hung on and Steve Bannon, the campaign's chief executive, went to work on a counter strategy.

The next day, Sunday, October 9, was the second debate between Trump and Clinton at Washington University in St. Louis. Less than two hours before the debate, Trump held an impromptu press conference, the true purpose of which was unknown to even its participants. He surprised the media by presenting three women who each accused Bill Clinton of sexually harassing them and one woman whose rapist had been represented by attorney Hillary Clinton.

Reince Priebus hasn't been told the truth in advance for fear that he would object if he knew. When the Trump campaign then attempted to have the women sit in the family section of the debate as a means of intimidating Clinton access was denied by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The debate went on and the subject of Trump's behavior was a major topic.



ANDERSON COOPER, 2016 DEBATE MODERATOR AND CNN ANCHOR: We received a lot of questions online, Mr. Trump, about the tape that was released on Friday. As you can imagine, you called what he said locker room banter. You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I didn't say that at all. I don't think you understood what was said. This was locker room talk.

I'm not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly, I'm not proud of it. But this is locker room talk.


SMERCONISH: But by the end of the weekend with heads still spinning, the campaign and the news cycle began to move on. Today the president's COVID diagnosis seems like the biggest thing that could ever happen to this campaign cycle. But remember this, we still have 31 days to go.

That does it for me. I'll be back this Wednesday at 7:00 Eastern, part of the CNN special coverage of the only vice presidential debate of 2020. Have a good weekend, see you next week.