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Kellyanne Conway on school reopening and Kamala Harris

Many school districts across the country say they are not ready to bring students back for in-person learning due to the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. But President Trump continues to pressure them to reopen as normal, making the case for that approach at the White House again Wednesday. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the risks.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As schools are preparing for the start of another year, many districts say they are not ready to bring students back into the buildings because of the spread of COVID in their communities.

    But President Trump is dialing up the pressure on them to do so. He tried to make the case for that again today at the White House.

    Kellyanne Conway is counselor to President Trump. And she joins us now.

    Kellyanne Conway, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    As we were saying, the president is trying to get the schools to open up physically. But this comes at the very same time we are learning that 90 percent — that there has been a 90 percent increase in the number of children diagnosed or — with this infection, something like 100,000 children diagnosed at the end of July.

    Now we have the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Association of Children's Hospitals saying, please hold off on in-person schools.

    How does that square with what the president is saying?

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Judy, our message today in our discussion with parents, teachers, scientists and doctors and students themselves was very clear.

    Let's reopen safely. The word safely is critically important here, because, as you point out, roughly 50 percent or so of the nation's students are not returning to a physical structure on day one of the regular school year this fall.

    So, what does that mean? It means that those that are — still have low infection rates, knowing that children are still at relatively low risk from contracting, that 99.95 percent of the COVID fatalities are adults, and, of course, the average age is 78.

    But, having said that, people are very concerned. And we wanted to make sure that we amplified and acknowledged those concerns and came up with eight different things the president is announcing tonight that we think will help schools to safely reopen.

    Among other things, the president is reminding that, through the CARES Act, we have allocated $13 billion in resources to help these schools safely reopen. Some may want to invest in thermometer checks. Some may want to do testing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And…

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Others may want a contingency plan for older educators who feel that they are at higher risk.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that…

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If I could just step in — I understand you are giving specific recommendations.

    That may work for some districts where the prevalence is very low. But you do have rising cases. More than half the states right now are seeing a resurgence of COVID.

    The district — school district in Georgia that just this past week opened up early, one district, 900 students and staff are now quarantined because of what they have done. So, there are caution flags all around.

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Yes.

    And I'm raising them, actually, in this interview and in the discussion we had today, because that is indubitably true that some people are very concerned.

    That's why we're not — I'm not saying open the schools now. I'm saying open them safely. And each district will have to decide what that means.

    But this is a good time to prepare for that, Judy. In other words, there are protocols in place, the social distancing, the mask wearing, the hygiene, making sure that young children understand what we have all learned as adults now, and how critically important that is, also recommending no cafeteria eating, perhaps eating at your desk, limiting indoor activities, like assemblies, for example.

    And I have heard doctors, I have heard epidemiologists and doctors recommend, the more you can do outside than inside for any of us, let alone including these students, the better.

    So, each school will need to make those decisions. I would point out the Kaiser Family Foundation health tracker survey revealed just in the last two weeks that 67 percent of parents say they are worried about their children falling behind socially and 65 falling behind academically.

    And in that same survey, 51 percent of the parents said they are worried about themselves not being able to earn enough money if the kids aren't back in school. So, we are not saying do it today, tomorrow or next week.

    We're saying, let's do it safely, and let's not lock down kids indefinitely.

    Judy, I have never met a parent…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We should also say, if I could just…

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Please.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If I could just step in, there was another survey done by the Schar School/Ipsos/The Washington Post showing that more than 80 percent of parents said that they think school should be at least partially online. Only 16 percent are favoring fully in-person education.

    So…

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    And you are seeing many district have this hybrid or starting virtual, with a promise to reassess, say, in October, November, and, in some cases, longer.

    We also heard stories today from folks who are already back in school. Lubbock, Texas, and some other places, they came to say, we are already back in school.

    We also heard from a mother and father who have a Down syndrome, a special needs child in Columbia, South Carolina. They feel like this is the worst possible outcome for that child, because he requires so many of his services inside, in other words, with those specialists.

    So, that shows you there is no-one-size-fits-all mandate. And we, as a federal government, don't want to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But the other…

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    We do want to remind the states, though, Judy, that the $13 billion that is available, roughly 4 percent of that has even been tapped into.

    So, folks out there in the states, you have resources ready for you to help you to plan to reopen those schools, when you feel it is best to do so.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I think our question is that, at a time when we are getting new information about children at risk, and even about how children can be strong spreaders of COVID, that this is a very — it's a very mixed message that the American people are getting from the White House about this.

    But, Kellyanne Conway, let me ask you just quickly about the big news on the Democratic presidential ticket. Joe Biden has introduced his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris.

    The president's first reaction in his comments to — at the White House yesterday were to call her nasty and horrible. He has called other women politicians, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, nasty.

    Is this the tone that is going to mainly come from the president toward her and toward this ticket?

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Well, I have said, Judy, that I think we can take a moment, pause and say, good for history.

    We have a young and fragile democracy. And for a woman of color to be on a major-party ticket is something we should all celebrate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But that is not what the president said.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Well, I'm standing in front of the White House saying it to you.

    And then I think we can also quickly say that even those who pretend they are forward-looking would bring us backyard, your tax cuts gone, trade deals gone, energy dominance, that we're the net exporters of natural gas and oil, that would be gone.

    Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are for abortion in the ninth month. That is the most extreme position you can have. And the list goes on and on.

    Is she for defunding the police? Because she made joyful noises about it when Los Angeles did that recently. She said she was the top cop, and — but she was also soft on crime.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Joe Biden is not for defunding the police.

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Well, Joe Biden really should make clear — well, the ticket will be the ticket.

    And here is the issue I see. I think it is their policy positions. I think Medicare for — government-run health care and talking about Green New Deals, which will cost trillions of dollars, and ban air travel and cows and gas, I mean, this is outside of the mainstream of the America.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, there are a lot there are a lot of policy positions that you are throwing out there. And, as you know, Joe Biden is not for Medicare for all. And neither is Senator Harris.

    But I want to ask you about something else that the president — he tweeted this morning about suburban housewives wanting safety, and threatening that Cory Booker, who happens to be the only African American senator, male senator, today would invade their neighborhood with low-income housing.

    I am just curious, why would the president mention Senator Booker on this — just right after Joe Biden chooses a black woman, a woman of Asian descent, to be his running mate?

    I mean, people are saying this is a racial dog whistle.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    No, that is not fair. I have not — I have not discussed that tweet or that issue at all with the president.

    But I would gently correct that Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is an African American male senator currently serving in the United States. Cory Booker is not the only one. And Senator Scott, of course, has a wonderful bill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I meant to say the only African American Democratic senator.

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    OK.

    Having said that, I believe everybody wants public safety. And I would look at the Gallup poll from last week, Judy, that says 86 percent of Americans say that they want the same or more police presence in their communities. That included 83 percent of Hispanic Americans and 81 percent of African Americans.

    So, this defunding the police or what we see in our great cities across this country, where people are just going out every single night and destroying property, it really belies the memory of those for whom the peaceful protesters actually began.

    This is not peaceful protesting. This is vandalism and violence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me — and let me just finally bring this back to the central message that we just heard a few minutes ago from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

    I mean, she said today, the president failed to take this virus seriously from the start and said that — in other words, holding this president responsible, and that is what this campaign is going to be about, what — the fact that the United States is doing so much worse than most of the rest of the world, when — and the fact that the number of cases in this country far higher than the proportion of the U.S. population to the rest of the world.

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Well, Judy, here is what I would say to Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.

    If they have got a better way to tackle this pandemic, what are they waiting for? Where have they been for five months? We have been here every day. I sit in the Coronavirus Task Force meetings right behind Drs. Birx and Fauci. That is my regular seat.

    I have been here Saturdays and Sundays. The president and vice president work around the clock. And we are trying to get this right for the American people.

    This president has signed trillions of dollars in relief. Taking that bold step to ban travel from certain areas that were highly infected early saved additional lives. Everybody who needed a ventilator got a ventilator. We are developing vaccines and therapeutics at a record pace.

    NIH Director Francis Collins, a doctor who has been there for decades, he said he has never seen something come together so quickly and so well.

    And we are working very hard to do that. We also have dealt with our G7 leaders, because it's a global pandemic, that we have surged supplies, PPE. We have — cleaning the nursing homes through the National Guard. I mean, it goes on and on.

    Meanwhile, Congress wasn't even here. Joe Biden has been in Wilmington. I told the president, you should go visit Wilmington. We want to see what all the fuss is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I would just say Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said that the White House — they have met with Secretary — with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin today, who said the White House was not budging on its position, whereas they have given a trillion from the $3 trillion that they presented.

    So…

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Secretary Mnuchin told me just a half-an-hour ago in Oval Office that that was inaccurate, what Nancy Pelosi — what Speaker Pelosi had tweeted out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we want to get that straight.

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    But, look, we want to get to the negotiation — we want to get to the negotiation table.

    Judy, it's the Democrats who walked away, compelling the president to take executive action on protecting you from evictions, not having you pay your student loan debt, giving you more unemployment benefit through that payroll tax suspension.

    And we're trying to do that, because, in the absence of congressional action and leadership, the president has no choice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are…

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    We want to get back to the table and get the funding for the schools, get the funding for small businesses, and workers, who need that relief.

    But the president also today, in his press briefing, he reviewed some of the great economic data that is happening, more jobs created in the last three months than — than I think in a very long time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're watching…

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    And we're coming out of this recovery.

    But we would love for — we would love for Kamala Harris and Joe Biden to help the country now. Are they waiting until November 4 to announce a big plan?

    Let's help the country now, if they have got some great idea cooking in Wilmington.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're going to — we're going to see a debate, an active debate, between now and November 3.

    Kellyanne Conway, thank you very much.

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    Thank you, Judy.

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