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President Donald Trump Appoints Vice President Pence To Lead Administration's Response; CDC: California Coronavirus Case Could Be First Spread In A U.S. Community; President Donald Trump Downplays Threat Of Coronavirus Despite Warnings From Health Officials; Democratic Candidates Make Final Pitch Ahead Of South Carolina Primary; Donald Trump Campaign Rolls Out Black Voter Outreach. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2020 - 00:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: "CNN Tonight" I'm Don Lemon, thank you so much for joining us. We're in South Carolina. We're live here where we have just finished four Town Halls with Democratic Presidential Candidates. We're going to talk all about those we're going to do that in just a few minutes.

Let's first let's talk about some new developments in Washington. The President Trump is trying to show his administration has a plan to manage the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Even as the down plays it after some disaster contradictory appearances from top officials this week.

Tonight he put Vice President Pence in charge of the Administration's response to outbreak holding an hour long press conference trying to reassure the country the markets and voters.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Mike will be working with the professionals and doctors and everybody else working. The team is brilliant. I spent a lot of time with them over the last couple weeks. They are totally brilliant and we're doing really well and Mike is going to be in charge and Mike will report back to me.


LEMON: The President is first and foremost a businessman. When Wall Street talks, well he listens. And Wall Street is talking big time right now. Markets are rattled by the spread of the Coronavirus around the world especially in China.

And just three days the DOW Jones is down 2,000 points. Remember he is running for reelection on the strength of economy. And the Coronavirus outbreak is a threat to the economic strength. And he can't afford to look like he's not paying attention to a very serious health issue that could have serious consequences for the economy.

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta asks the President if he's worried about the spread of the Coronavirus in the U.S. and here was his answer.


TRUMP: No because we're ready for it. It is what it is. We're ready for it. We're really prepared. As I said we have the greatest people in the world. We're very ready for it. We hope it doesn't spread. There's chance that it won't spread too. And there is a chance that it will. Then there is a question of at what level? So far we have done a great job.


LEMON: In that answer he is actually contradicting officials at the CDC when he says there is a chance that it won't spread. They called the Coronavirus difficult and they call it challenging and they warn that the outbreak is likely to get worse.

Sources at the White House say that the President and top administration officials are angry at some of the warnings coming from the officials in the medical community. Claiming those warnings are overly fatalistic. At times during the press conference the President seemed to be rambling and a reporter challenged some other things that he said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And just the course of the last couple of minutes you have disputed some of what the officials that are working in your administration behind you have said about the risk of the Coronavirus and its spread. Do you trust your health officials to give you good information to give me good information at least trust your instincts?

TRUMP: I don't think I have - did say it could be worse. And I said it could be worse too. I don't think it's inevitable.


LEMON: And the President said to be privately annoyed with the Alex Azar the Secretary of Health and Human Services who has been the administration point man on the outbreak at least until tonight. The President has blamed Azar for not keeping him sufficiently updated and for keeping him out of the loop on crucial decisions although he tried to talk up Azar tonight.


TRUMP: I think Secretary Azar is doing a fantastic job. But he also has many other things. I mean, we're working on many, many things together. If you look at his schedule of what he's doing including drug prices and I think it's perhaps the most complicated job that we have in government. And I want him to be able to focus on that and Mike is really good at it. They're going to work together and they're going to work very closely together and they're both in the administration. I see them all the time. So it really works. This isn't Azar this isn't going out and getting somebody that's never been in the administration. I have two people that are very talented.


LEMON: But Pence is in charge of Coronavirus now and Azar reports to him even though Azar doesn't seem too happy about it.


ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I'm still Chairman of the task force. Mick Mulvaney has been serving in actually an invaluable role for me as Acting Chief of Staff helping to coordinate across the government with my colleagues and the solo government approach. Having the Vice President gives me the biggest stick one could have in the government on this solo government approach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're point you are being placed?

AZAR: Not in the least. When this was mentioned to me, I was delighted that I get to have the Vice President helping me this way.


LEMON: And remember how the markets have been reacting and how tied to the economy is to his chances as at reelection.


LEMON: One reporter asked if Wall Street is overreacting to the threat from Coronavirus. And Trump's response was off the rails.


TRUMP: I think with financial markets are upset when they look at the Democratic Candidate standing on that stage making fools out of themselves and say we haven't had a President like this and there's always a possibility it's an election. Who knows what happens. And I think we're going to win. I think we're going to win by a lot. But when they look at the statements made by the people who standing behind those podiums I think that has a huge effect.


LEMON: His answer had nothing to do with the question. Say what you will about the Democrats freewheeling and often chaotic debate last night in South Carolina. But Wall Street certainly didn't react to it. The DOW dropped 2,000 points on Monday and Tuesday.

Long before the Democrats took the stage. Since he is running on the economy, no doubt his theme is that it won't do as well with the Democrat in the White House. The Democrats in the White House but his words were poorly chosen. And with Americans questioning his handling of the Coronavirus outbreak so far maybe it's best if the professionals answer the questions at this point. Let's bring in CNN White House Correspondent Mr. John Harwood to answer some questions for us. John good to see you; thank you so much for joining us.

The President downplaying the threat posed by Coronavirus right now even as new case of a known origin was announced in California will this press conference quiet the critics do you think?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, definitely not in part because the President himself was a little rambling and uncertain. He said well we have asked for $2.5 million and Republicans want $4 million and democrats want 8. We'll see we don't really care. That was not a focused response to the question.

You just played his disagreement that was solicited by Holly Jackson of NBC. With his specialist on this and saying I don't think it's necessarily inevitable. Of course they have said community spread is inevitable and in fact we have got a case of it right after the press conference.

That plus the chaotic choreography of Azar and Pence and who's in charge that the press conference is certainly not going to quiet the criticism from Democrats and in all likelihood from Republicans as well. Republicans in the last couple of days have been clearly uneasy with how the President was handling it.

LEMON: There's a bit of keystone cops going on here. Listen, this is him down playing the threat in China. Take a listen to this.


TRUMP: If you can count on reports coming out of China that spread has gone down quite a bit.


LEMON: He is pointing to these reports but also suggesting that they might not be believable. Is that helpful when trying to calm the public?

HARWOOD: It is certainly not helpful from the standpoint of the public. If the President says well here's some good things happening in China if you can believe them. What is the public to take from that?

As Former Vice President Biden said in our Town Hall tonight, he said the President of the United States shouldn't count on Chinese statistics. We had - the President's own current President's own cabinet and senior officials have been saying we don't trust what's coming out of China.

China has not been particularly transparent. They resisted international health experts coming in. They're allowing them now. There's not strong reason to accept what's coming out from China. And so to cite that unreliable information as a source of comfort for Americans suggests it's not really source of comfort at all.

LEMON: It seems like this is equal parts defending the President and equal parts trying to reassure the public. I'm not sure if it is equal parts but it was all played into it both played into it.

HARWOOD: Don, as you know this President has a very strong impulse to deflect blame from himself for anything that goes wrong. So--

LEMON: That's why he's blaming the Democrats.

HARWOOD: --he blames the Democrats and by the way blaming Democrats for the stock market drop as you pointed out the stock market dropped a couple thousand points on Monday and Tuesday before of the debate.

Today after the debate it dropped about 123 points. But the DOW Futures moved from positive to negative during his press conference. So the press conference that was intended to calm fears plainly did not do so.

Now stock markets are complicated and at any given moment you don't know what's moving them. The President also Don when he was in India foreshadowed his attempt to deflect blame from himself because he was talking to a group of business executives.


HARWOOD: And he said that the Coronavirus was like some external shock that might hit your company. He said to these business executives. That had nothing to do with you. That's the President signaling that if something bad happens from Coronavirus it has nothing to do with me.

LEMON: You talked about Alex Azar a little bit earlier the Health and Human Services Secretary how he was blindsided by this decision "The Washington Post" is reporting that as well. He was a little defensive earlier today at the press conference.

But then telling reporters I'm still in charge here. What do you know about that? Because as I understand there's going to be a briefing tomorrow and the Vice President is still in charge of that briefing tomorrow, right?

HARWOOD: This is going to be a remarkable event Don because first of all Alex Azar has been saying in testimony on the Hill that a czar was not needed. Lot of people has pointed to the Obama Administration response to Ebola where they brought in somebody to coordinate a multi-agency response.

In this case the President relied on his HHS Secretary. Who of course as the President himself pointed out has a full-time job nevertheless Azar had said we don't need it. And when "POLITICO" reported a story this afternoon speculating that there might be a czar appointed the White House on the record said it was not true.

They denied that that was going to happen. And so you can see that this was something that unfolded and fits and starts this afternoon as the President was taking in information. When you have Azar then come out and say during the session well, I'm still the Chairman of that task force. The President said well, Pence is in charge but I'm not calling him czar.

Now they have got this meeting tomorrow it is going to be on Alex Azar's turf at HHS. Azar says he's still the Chairman but the White House announcement said that Pence is going to be leading the meeting I don't know how that is going to work.

LEMON: Maybe the President got the wrong message when they said a czar is not needed if you know what I mean?

HARWOOD: I still know what you mean.

LEMON: Thank you very much for that. We appreciate your reporting.


LEMON: The CDC now reporting a case of Coronavirus in the U.S. that maybe the first example of what's known as community spread where the patient did not have excuse me the relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient. We'll discuss with a leading position, that's next.



LEMON: So here's the breaking news. The CDC is investigating what could be the first case of the Coronavirus spread in the U.S. community the patient hasn't travelled internationally recently and hasn't come in contact with anyone who has.

CNN has learnt the patient was admitted to the California hospital last Wednesday but was not tested for Coronavirus until Sunday. Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips. She is a Chief Clinical Officer and Executive Vice President of Providence St. Joseph Health.

The first U.S. case of Chinese Coronavirus was confirmed at one of her hospital. And now additional patients have been treated by her team. We thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. Doctor Compton-Phillips, what is your reaction to this new case the U.S. maybe seeing its first instance of the Coronavirus spread in a U.S. community?

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CHIEF CLINICAL & EVP, PROVIDENCE ST. JOSEPH HEALTH: Well, I have to tell you my phone was exploding a little while ago. With several folks texting me saying okay game changer it's time to actually start Implementing all those just in case plans that we have had on the shelf.

LEMON: And so and your reaction is what? I know your phone has been exploding. But what's your reaction to that?

COMPTOM-PHILLIPS: My reaction to that is that I really do think that while we have been hoping for the best and planning for the worst, that our fears are have come true. And that we really are at place where we have to actively be seeking out and going from prevention from bringing people to our shores with Coronavirus to saying okay now it's time to actively work on mitigation. For how do we help prevent this from reeking-havoc in our communities?

LEMON: Your hospitals are really in the thick of this. What are your teams doing to treat these Coronavirus patients doctor?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Well, we're doing several things. One is we have to actually think about it and screen for it. And so what we have been doing is asking people for travel history or exposure to people with travel history if they come in with symptoms of flu like symptoms so cough and fever shortness of breath.

And so now we're going to have to be thinking how do we change that strategy? Who all do we need to be testing for the Coronavirus? And right now during flu season that would be a lot of people. So we need to figure out how to scale up the testing and screening?

And the other thing is we need to really be thinking about how are we going to manage our personal protective equipment that we have? The masks and the shields that we use to keep from spreading germs amongst others and so how do we really start segregating and isolating people with in any kinds of cough symptoms from anybody else?

So that if they have flu it's bad enough if they have Coronavirus it's even worse since there are so few people with antibodies to this novel Coronavirus that it can really turn into a rapidly spread infection as we saw in Hubei Province very quickly.

LEMON: Do you feel confident that all hospitals in the U.S. are prepared to deal with the potential out break?


COMPTON-PHILLIPS: I feel confident that hospitals are working to be prepared. Ever since Ebola hospitals have been making plans have been drilling and have been practicing on saying what will we do if a pandemic comes here?

Ebola was a wakeup call for us. And so we had to get things in place to be prepared just in case a new virus a new infection emerged. We always have been convinced that one would. We have been planning for it.

The challenge now is how do we put those plans into place particularly because for most of us those plans didn't include things like having the supply chain for masks and face masks and gowns disrupted because they are coming from the heart of the epidemic?

So now we have to be really creative with how we actually ensure we can care for patients while we prevent infections from being transmitted to healthcare workers as well.

LEMON: There are currently only 12 labs in the U.S. besides the CDC that can test for Coronavirus. How problematic is that for you?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: It's problematic. In fact already even with the limited numbers of tests that we have been sending because we have been facing the screening on people who have the travel exposure.

If we open the flood gates and start testing everybody for Coronavirus, it's a new test. There are a very limited number of them and that is going to be an enormous bottleneck. And that's why in Wuhan you saw that enormous jump last week in the number of cases because the test was a bottleneck.

And so they started doing a clinical diagnosis. And assuming that if had symptoms they had Coronavirus. At this point during flu season we may end up having to do something if we start seeing a dramatic escalation in the number of cases like if you have flu symptoms and your flu test is negative. Assume you have Coronavirus until we can start catching up with what will end up being a backlog of testing.

LEMON: Doctor, thank you so much. We'll have you back. This is going to be ongoing for the time being. We appreciate you joining us. Thanks so much.

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Thank you so much.

LEMON: Considering the President's credibility problem. The question is can Americans trust what he is saying about Coronavirus. That's next.



LEMON: President Trump tapping Vice President Pence to head up the government's response to the Coronavirus as the White House pushes back against criticism of how it is handling the outbreak so far?

Joining me to discuss, Juliette Kayyem Max Boot and Scott Jennings so happy to have all of you on thank you so much for joining us late. Juliette the President downplaying the danger of Coronavirus despite health experts warning about future risk how concerned should Americans be about this?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So they should be concerned in the sense that something is coming. It will come to our shores. It's already here. And that we don't know the magnitude of the how it is going to hit the homeland and we don't know what populations it may impact more?

We only really have significant data from China. So from the preparedness perspective you know I would like to say that there's a space between what we're see from the President between tuning out and freaking out which we saw over the 24 hour period.

Yesterday he was like everything is fine. And then today he just has these tweets that are sort of getting everyone agitated. I think people should just take a step back and in between those two extremes is to be prepared to sort of insist from government that they be ready and then obviously on a personal level.

And that's the best we can do right now. We just don't know what to anticipate at this stage. It's not time to freak out and there is no time for the President to minimize it. It's time for the President to speak honestly. We're far enough along that we can say without being partisan he's not capable of that at this stage.

LEMON: Max, I want to read from your column today. You said the Coronavirus outbreak is laying bare the pathologies of the Trump Administration which include compulsive lying pandering to dictator's ideological aversion to globalism and inveterate hostility towards experts and expertise. And in a related development sheer incompetence. Is this where the President's lack of credibility is really going to hurt him do you think?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, absolutely, I mean in a crisis you want a leader you can trust. Who could possibly trust Donald Trump who has committed something like 15,000 falsehoods since coming into office and you know his message about Coronavirus that has no credibility because I mean he is saying things like it will all end when the weather turns warm or we're going to have a vaccine very soon.

All the experts are saying no. It's not going to happen just because spring is coming and we know we're not going to have a vaccine for over a year to come. And today during a press conference you saw that you know the kind of the happy talk coming from Trump saying it's a very little problem. Don't worry about it.

It is contradicted by his own CDC experts who were saying no this is potentially a very big problem it is going to spread in the United States. We have to be prepared for it. And so you just don't get a sense that President Trump is prepared for it. This is something that remember Jeb Bush low energy Jeb warned us about in 2016 when he said when you elect a chaos candidate you're going to have a chaos President.