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Trump puts focus on national security and data models amid coronavirus outbreak

President Trump was in the White House briefing room again Wednesday evening for what has become a regular discussion of his administration’s response to COVID-19. He was joined by other political leaders and health officials -- and this time, by prominent national security figures, as well. Yamiche Alcindor was there, and she joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump has been in the White House Briefing Room again this evening, along with other administration officials, for what has become a regular discussion of the COVID-19 response.

    And our Yamiche Alcindor joins us now with the latest.

    Yamiche, hello.

    We know so much of the focus today has been on those grim projections from the president, from the White House yesterday about the number of deaths, the number of cases. What are you learning about how that is affecting the White House' thinking overall?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    (AUDIO GAP) White House continues to be the fact that more than 100,000 Americans could die from the coronavirus even in the best-case scenario.

    So President Trump today was talking about those numbers, and Vice President Pence made it very clear the White House was studying models. And, on last Friday, they decided to finalize those numbers, present them to the president.

    On Saturday, when the president actually learned of these numbers — that's what the White House is saying — he was moved by this, and that's why he went from saying that the country could be possibly easing up guidelines by Easter Sunday to saying, no, we're going to have to keep the guidelines in place until April 30.

    I want to put up this graph for people. This is a graph that the White House was using yesterday as they were describing — and it's one that they have continued to go back to today.

    If you look at this dark hill, the dark blue hill, what you see is 1.5 to 2.2 million Americans could die if there was no intervention, if there was no social distancing. That's what the White House's worst-case scenario is.

    Then, if you look at the other hill, it's a smaller bump, it's says that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die. Those are the numbers that we should be focused on today. That's the graph at the heart — the graph, rather, at the heart of the White House's numbers.

    The president also made it clear that a lot of these deaths are going to be happening within the next month.

    And the important thing to note here is that the governor of New York, who is, at this point, the hardest-hit state, he said that, in his models, about 16,000 people will die in New York. That means 93,000 other people, he said, could be dying on other states and — in other states.

    So what we see there is that this is obviously a big issue in New York, but he's saying that the deaths might be nationwide, so we should really be looking at this as we go forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So grim, so — still so hard to comprehend those numbers.

    And so, Yamiche, you have been in the briefing. What more can you tell us about what the White House is saying today?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, Judy, it was a really different White House briefing than we have seen in the past.

    Today, the president began with talking about national security. And he said — and he said specifically that he wanted to talk about anti-drug operations. And he said that the Navy is going to be beefing up operations in the Pacific Sea, as well as — in the Pacific Ocean, I should say, rather, and the Caribbean Sea.

    And they're going to be fully focusing on cartels, they say, that are trying to use the coronavirus outbreak to smuggle more drugs into America.

    Here's what the president said about that:

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, for a long time, we have had a lot of drugs coming into our country. And it's not that it's increased. It's probably — we have probably got it down a little bit, but it's still a tremendous number.

    And families are being ruined. Lives are being ruined. It's an incredible thing, especially as you're at this position. You would never believe it. I see things that nobody would believe. I see reports that nobody would believe.

    So I met with the group behind me, all of them. And we said, what do you think we can do? And they think they can interdict. They think that we can stop it before it gets to the shores.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    So, today, the president brought out national security officials. He brought out the national security adviser. He brought out Attorney General William Barr.

    He brought out people like the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These are people that we usually do not see at the Coronavirus Task Force Briefing. We usually see the top scientists talking.

    But he waited until the second half of the briefing to have the scientist speak. And he wanted to underscore that he thinks that this narcotics appropriations that he's having, that they are really the top priority, at least today, even though, of course, we're looking at those grim numbers when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak.

    So that's a really important point that President Trump was trying to make. Now, I should say that this comes with the context that there was a Naval ship that was asking — a commander was asking that sailors be evacuated from that ship. It was docked in Guam.

    John Yang, of course, had that in the script. And he was talking about it at the beginning of the show.

    And what you see there is the president basically having this context, saying that there needs to be this anti-drug activity.

    The other thing I should note, really quickly, is that Adam Schiff, a prominent member of the House, says that, after the coronavirus bill phase four is done, after more relief is given, he wants to see some sort of commission to really look at the White House's handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

    So, we should be looking out for that as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure.

    Yamiche Alcindor monitoring it all at the White House, thank you, Yamiche.

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