Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Says He Won't Waste Time on Virtual Debate, Wants to Hold Rallies; Trump Unleashes, Attacks Kamala Harris, Says He Doesn't Think He's Contagious and Repeats False Claims on Voting; 25 States Reporting Rise in COVID Cases, Only Two Seeing a Decline. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired October 8, 2020 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Thursday morning to you. It's a busy one. I'm Jim Sciutto.


So much breaking news this morning, we'll sort through it all here. Notably, the president says he will not now debate Vice President Joe Biden next week after an announcement by the Debate Commission this morning that it will be a virtual debate. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I heard that the commission a little while ago changed the debate style, and that's not acceptable to us. I beat him easily in the first debate, according to the polls that I've seen, but I beat him easily. I felt I beat him easily, I think he felt it too.

No, I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That's not what debating is all about, you sit behind a computer and do a debate is ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want.


SCIUTTO: Well, in fact, the polls did not show that the president won the debate. The president says he will not debate but he does want to start holding rallies again. He also self-diagnosed himself as no longer being contagious. What do the doctors actually say? They're different.

It was all part of the a stunning hour-long interview on Fox where he unleashed a string of false offensive claims. He targeted Senator Kamala Harris with sexist comments and attacks, calling her a monster more than once, claiming she is a communist. We will re-up again. We've reached out to the Senate GOP leadership for their comment on his personal attacks on a fellow sitting senator in Kamala Harris. We have not yet heard back. We will let you know if we do.

CNN's John Harwood is at the White House. John, the president's comments this morning, remarkable.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Very remarkable, Jim. The president made clear he is not just unwell physically, unwell politically, he's also unwell emotionally. He delivered that rant, as you mentioned, on Fox calling Kamala Harris a monster, berating his attorney general, Bill Barr, for not having prosecuted his political opponents, reversing himself on whether or not he was still going to negotiate with Democrats on economic stimulus as we got more bad economic news this morning. And also saying that even though he has the coronavirus, he intends to resume having his political rallies perhaps even as early as today.


TRUMP: I think I'm better to a point where I'd love to do a rally tonight. I wanted to do one last night, but I think I'm better.

No, I don't think I'm contagious, but we still have to wait --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) to feel that way if you're saying you are ready to go to a rally?

TRUMP: I don't think I'm contagious at all. Well, first of all, if I'm at rally, I'd stand by myself very far away from everybody, so whether I was or not. But I still wouldn't go to a rally if I was contagious.


HARWOOD: Of course, you heard that raspy voice from the president. He cannot know whether he is contagious or not. He said he had not been tested in the last few days, so he doesn't have a negative test yet. And he also hasn't told us the last time he has a negative test, which would tell us how far in the course of the illness he is. The further along he is in the course of illness, the greater the possibility that he's not infectious.

But according to the White House he discovered that he had symptoms middle of last week, which would suggest he is still contagious, and, in fact, still faces significant risk of the coronavirus taking a turn for the worst with his health, guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We'll continue to listen to doctors on this one. John Harwood, thanks very much.

So, how is the Biden camp responding to all this? M.J. Lee joins us now. And, M.J., the Biden camp said they'll participate in a virtual debate. It's interesting, Brian Stelter made the point that the Commission on Debates has the option at least to going forward even if President Trump doesn't show up. We don't know, of course, how that might play out. But tell us what the Biden camp is saying this morning.

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, guys, keep in mind that the Biden campaign has always said that Biden will participate in a debate so long as doctors and experts say that it is safe to do so. The question, of course, has been how do you safely debate someone who has COVID-19. And the commission obviously now is saying the way to do that is for Trump and Biden to participate from remote separate locations.

Earlier today, the Biden campaign said they're good with that. Here is what Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement. She said, Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people and comparing his plan for bringing the country together and building back better with Donald Trump's failed leadership on the coronavirus that has thrown the strong economy he inherited into the worst downturn since the great depression.

Now, Biden himself is now on his way to Arizona for campaign events with Kamala Harris. And he just told reporters that he's only now finding out about this and it is premature to comment on what he will do if Trump really does, in fact, insist on not participating. Here he is.



BIDEN: We don't know what the president is going to do. He changes his mind every second. So, for me to comment on that now would be irresponsible. I think I'm going to follow the commission recommendations. If he goes off and he's going to have a rally, I don't know what I'll do.


LEE: I also just want to point out that the suggestion from President Trump that the Debate Commission is somehow in cahoots with the Biden campaign, I mean, that is just nonsense. The head of the commission has said they did not consult with either campaign before making this announcement. They only really just got a heads-up that the announcement was coming.

They worked with the Cleveland Clinic to make sure this future debate could be healthy and safe. So this idea that either campaign might have gotten a heads up or an advantage, that's just not true.


HARLOW: Thank you. M.J. I cannot believe you have to fact-check things like that, but we appreciate you doing it.

With us now, our Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Good morning, Sanjay. It's hard to pick where to begin, but I guess let's begin with any potential endangerment to the American people with COVID.

If we could play the comments from the president on claiming immunity and that he's not contagious.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Remember this, when you catch it, you get better, and then you're immune, you know? As soon as everything goes away for me, you're immune.


HARLOW: What? I mean, is any of that based in science?

GUPTA: Well, I think what the president is sort of alluding to, although he doesn't have it quite right, is that after you get infected, after a period of time, a few weeks later, you start to develop these antibodies. And a lot of people have heard this term, antibodies. Now, antibodies are these proteins that can help fight the infection if the body sees that virus again. He does have antibodies, but that's because he received a massive dose of antibodies, these monoclonal antibodies.

So the thing that we don't -- there're two points. One is we don't know if he's immune or not. I mean, the idea -- he probably still has the virus in his body. They're not revealing the results of any new tests. So not only is he maybe not immune right now, he's likely still contagious. They say that people are contagious for ten days after they first develop symptoms.

But also, you know, it doesn't change the guidelines. If you look at what public health experts say, including the CDC, regardless of what the antibody tests show, people still need to abide by the basic public health guidelines.

There's a graphic just so you have it. It's the IGG. It's kind of a busy graphic, but it's that last graph, the IGG antibodies that we're talking about, typically, and you see it takes about 14 days, typically, when people start to develop those.

So he would not have started developing his own yet. His antibody levels may be high because of what he's received. But even before this, before the president's diagnosis, the idea of having a bunch of people come together for a rally, aggregating together like this in the middle of a pandemic made no sense then and it still makes no sense now.

SCIUTTO: Well, the fact is they did get together under circumstances that, Dr. Gupta, appeared to have turned into a super-spread event. This, of course, the Amy Coney Barrett ceremony, now a number of infections traced to that event.

The vice president last night defended it, saying, well, it was outdoors, people wearing masks. In fact, we saw the video, many people took those masks off. And there is concern in D.C. now that that event might contribute to a larger resurgence in D.C. of infections.

Tell us what the facts and the data show us so far about that event and whether it helped seed an outbreak of this virus.

GUPTA: This is a valid concern. You know, we've talked to a lot of people who are experts in viral dynamics, and you are seeing -- we don't get to see this clearly what a super-spreader event looks like. But the idea that so many people who were together at that event or maybe in the time right before the event or after the event, people clustered together very closely, maybe even indoors in some of these situations, whatever it is. Around that event, there definitely does appear to be evidence of a super-spreader type event now.

And we know how quickly this can happen. You know, if you have one person spreading it to two or three and then they spread it to two or three and then so forth, you can start to get into the hundreds, if not, thousands of people affected by this pretty quickly.

So, outdoors is better than indoors. The vice president is right about that. The issue is that, you know, what we know about the way that this virus spreads, if you are closely clustered as they were, and I think we have pictures of the event sitting close together, closer than six feet, and for longer than 15 minutes, that's considered a close contact. That is how they define close contact.

People who have been diagnosed with COVID at that event now have to find everyone who was in close contact with them either at that event or in the time immediately before or after.


And also just to visualize this for a second, because people keep thinking of the respiratory droplets which is a way COVID can spread, but the idea that it can also be aerosolized, it can look more like smoke. Or think of it like a campfire. You're sitting at a campfire. You may be far away, but you can still be affected by that smoke from some distance and for some time. So that's, I think, what we really need to pay attention to. And that's why you don't want to aggregate people together in the middle of a pandemic.

HARLOW: Sanjay, the president this morning touted Regeneron's monoclonal antibody cocktail that you just referenced, which gave him a lot of these antibodies, and then news overnight that they are going to the FDA for emergency-use authorization. Can you explain what that would mean for the average American who, again, has not had access to most of the COVID treatments that the president has?

GUPTA: Yes. It's not clear to me what this would necessarily mean for the average American. This is a very expensive sort of medication and we don't even -- I mean, frankly, I've been following the story antibodies for some time. And we even did a piece on it a few months ago saying this could be the bridge to the vaccine. Think about it. The vaccine helps you create antibodies. If you could give antibodies, that could actually be really, really useful.

The problem is that there's still not good data about this. Hopefully, they're going to provide more of the data. Once you apply for emergency-use authorization, there is a concern that it's harder to do trials. Why? Because people are like, I want that. I don't want to get a placebo, I want that, so it makes it harder for the trials, and, again, just the cost of this. So there's not enough of it. It's very expensive and we don't have the data yet. There is enthusiasm, and I don't want to diminish that, but we need all those other things in order to start making widely available to people.

SCIUTTO: Quickly before we go, the public has the right to know the truth about the president's health and recovery. Have the White House doctors done so provided that fact, those truths?

GUPTA: We don't even know if the president has pneumonia. We still don't know what medications the president is on now. We don't know when he actually was diagnosed with this disease or at least when he tested negative.

Look, I mean, the right to know thing is a long discussion, but what I would say, having done this work for a long time, if you're going to go out and brief reporters because you want to have the public know about the president's health, then you should do it.

I mean, it was such a situation of, you know, bending yourself into pretzels, he's not on oxygen right this minute. It was clearly just so evasive, what was the purpose of that, to say that we did a briefing but not really do a briefing? We still don't have enough data on the president's health.

And I will say if the president is still on steroid medication, which is typically a ten-day course, that could be masking his symptoms. That's not treating the infection, that could just be masking the symptoms of that infection. That's a concern.

SCIUTTO: Sanjay, always good to have you give us the facts. Thanks very much.

GUPTA: You got it.

SCIUTTO: Well, the president unleashed offensive, sexist attacks on a sitting senator, Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris. He called her unlikable, he called her a monster more than once. He accused her of being a communist. We're going to discuss.

And a reminder, we've reached out to Republican leadership in the Senate for reaction on this. We have not yet heard any.

Plus, new coronavirus cases in the U.S. climbing back above 50,000 for the first time in five days. Only two states now seeing a drop in new infections.

HARLOW: Also, thousands of Americans are out of work and not only struggling financially, they are wrestling with their mental and their physical health. Veterans among the hardest hit. You will hear from them and their stories this hour.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of politicians out there, a lot of agencies and a lot of folks saying, we're here to help, but I'm in a hotel. (END VIDEO CLIP)



HARLOW: Well, despite still being infected with coronavirus, the president now says he will not agree to what is now going to be a virtual debate with Joe Biden. Here is what he said just this morning.


TRUMP: No, I'm not wasting my time on a virtual debate. That's not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and debate, it's ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want.


SCIUTTO: That is the president, in fact, a virtual television interview there.

Let's bring in Brittany Shepherd, National Politics Reporters for Yahoo News and CNN Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley.

So, Douglas, with the caveat that the president might change his mind here, it would be quite a large audience in election, the needs to make up ground in. Is there any precedent for what the head of the committee on Presidential Debates brought up to our colleague earlier this morning that, well, if the president doesn't show, the vice president could go ahead and have the town hall. I mean, is there a precedent for that?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Not quite like that, but Jimmy Carter, when he was president in 1980, refused to debate Ronald Reagan. He smelled it as a trap. But back then, there was the third-party candidate, John Anderson of Illinois. So you had Reagan and Anderson do a debate, and then Carter realized, wow, I'm losing points for not showing up, and he then injected himself in a debate and didn't do well, Carter.

But also, if I could, in 1960, there were four debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. One of those was a virtual debate. John Kennedy was in New York and Richard Nixon was in Hollywood. So there is precedent for a virtual debate.


But we might watch the specter of Joe Biden holding a town hall and Donald Trump being spoiled and refusing, being afraid to debate him. That might happen here.

HARLOW: I wouldn't hold my breath for the presidential allowing that to happen. That (INAUDIBLE) maybe a last minute --

BRINKLEY: A big mistake.

HARLOW: -- change, of course, there for him. We'll see.

Brittany, the president -- it's a big deal that he called Senator Kamala Harris a communist this morning. Either he doesn't understand what a communism and a communist actually is or he's just flat-out lying or both, and it reeks of McCarthyism. And I just wonder what your reaction is.

As Jim has said, like no Republican leadership in the Senate has responded to our calls to like defend their colleague.

BRITTANY SHEPHERD, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, YAHOO NEWS: Well, Poppy, fear is a great motivator, right? And it's hard for me to quite understand why Trump world and Trump himself keeps saying Biden and Harris are communists. If you talk to any progressive, old or young, they say that Biden and Harris just don't fall far left enough.

I think it's important to acknowledge the reality that women candidates, Republican or Democrat, especially black women candidates face when they're in the public circle like this. The reality is that if they're too ambitious, they get hit from their own party and the opposing party as being -- trying to grab power they don't deserve. If they're more pointed against their opponent, they're an angry black woman and angry black person and they need to pipe down. These are narratives that have been passed along for decades, right, for centuries abroad and domestically. So what you're hearing from the president on Fox this morning is just an extension of that.

I would say, on the same token, as far as Democrats can clamor about this online, but ActBlue did raise $15 million since last night for Harris. (INAUDIBLE) the impact, while it might not move the needle, it opens a conversation what it means to be black. But also, I mean, they're cashing checks. I mean, they can run commercials in swing states that are important where Trump is pulling ads.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And you saw similar fundraising jump during the presidential debate last week.

I want to ask you, Douglas Brinkley, again, for placing this in historical context here, because the president calling Harris a communist, I mean, it's evocative, as Poppy said, of Joe McCarthy, saying, I have here in my hand the names of 200 employees of the State Department who are communists, of course, without basis, and yet he did it. And he captivated the country for years as the president at times has been able to do.

You have the statements and you have the actions, because the president also publicly putting pressure on the attorney general to charge his political opponents. I want to play that sound and I want to get your reaction to it.


TRUMP: To be honest, Bill Barr is going to go down either as the greatest attorney general in the history of the country, or he's going to go down as a very sad situation. I mean, I'll be honest with you. He's got all the information he needs. They want to get more and more and more, they keep getting more. So, you don't need any more. You got more stuff than anybody has ever had.


SCIUTTO: Tell us the significance of that, because Barr has proven himself willing at times to take cues, it appears, from the president, dropping, for instance, investigation into Michael Flynn that came from this Justice Department and pursuing others. What's the significance?

BRINKLEY: Well, it reeks of McCarthyism, both what Barr and Trump are doing, that they've got dirt and they've got all this information and it will come out, and Kamala Harris is a communist. And they're doing a dog and pony show that really should have Americans worried. I mean, what Trump and Barr are doing is trying to steal the Justice Department and make it a kind of Billy Club of some kind for the president of the United States, which isn't the point of the Justice Department. So I think these aren't just dog whistles, these are sort of threats that are coming.

And there is, though, some light there. It seems Barr doesn't want to give Trump what he wants right now, which is just spilling invective about Biden and Trump out there from the Justice Department. It seems like Barr is holding back and Trump is trying to urge his attorney general, unleash yourself, throw stuff out there, I'm desperate.

I mean, you were dealing with Donald Trump with COVID-19, quarantined or hiding in the White House where he can't get out, down 10 points in the polls. It seems like a sinking ship and we're starting to see more and more erratic behavior. And that's when that kind of McCarthyism starts unspooling.

HARLOW: it's really unfortunate. I'm sort of at a loss for words. We appreciate you being here, Brittany Shepherd and Douglas Brinkley, thanks a lot.

Also this, the president goes even lower this morning, attacking Kamala Harris with sexist remarks. He called her a monster twice this morning. Reaction from the first black woman to ever to become a sitting senator, next.



HARLOW: Well, hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients are spiking across the country this morning and 25 states are now seeing an increase in cases.