CNBC transcript: Vice President Mike Pence speaks with CNBC’s Wilfred Frost on “Squawk on the Street” today about the coronavirus crisis
WHEN: Today, Friday, March 27, 2020
WHERE: CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street”
Watch CNBC's Full Interview With Vice President Mike Pence On Coronavirus Crisis
WILFRED FROST: Sara, thank you very much. A very good morning to you, Mr. Vice President, and thank you very much for joining us. I’m sorry I’m not there in person—
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Good morning, Wilf.
WILFRED FROST: --but we’re following social distancing rules.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Thank you. Good to be with you.
WILFRED FROST: I want to kick off Mr. Vice President, with the call that the President had last night with President Xi of China. It seems from the President’s Tweets that it was positive and constructive, perhaps more so than people may have expected. And I wondered whether it’s possible that the tariffs on China could be lifted temporarily while all countries are working together to fight the virus and fight its economic effects.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, as the President said publicly, Wilf, he had a lengthy and positive call with President Xi last night, and as was the focus about this time yesterday with G-20 leaders, President Trump is completely focused on confronting the coronavirus here in the United States. But we are working with China. We’re learning the lessons. I know they spoke at great length about China’s experience with the coronavirus, and we’re applying those lessons here. We’re listening to our top scientists and we’re analyzing the data, and we are now about almost to the end of our 15 days to slow the spread.
And these measures, in addition to the strong measures that governors have been taking with our full support in places like Washington State, California, and of course New York and now adding Louisiana and Michigan and elsewhere, we’re going to continue to lean into this. We’re going to continue to identify supplies around the country and around the world. And I know the President had a productive discussion with President Xi, as he said with 19 other world leaders yesterday.
WILFRED FROST: As you said, Mr. Vice president, nearing the end of that initial 15 days and the president said recently he’d like to see the economy opened up again, if possible, by Easter.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Right.
WILFRED FROST: How likely is that and what conditions need to be met for that to happen?
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, the President expressed really an aspirational goal, Wilf, that as we continue to follow the data, as we continue to call on every American regardless of whether they’re in an area where there’s a significant outbreak of coronavirus, to put into practice the 15 days to slow the spread. And we’re incredibly inspired by the way the American people and businesses have been stepping forward to put these mitigation practices, social distancing into effect.
We think the more we do that, the more we can hasten the day that -- the President said he would love to see it around Easter, but whenever that day is that we can responsibly begin to open up portions of the country.
But let me be very clear, there’s going to be areas of the country where we need to continue to lean into mitigation efforts. And notably, it would be the Greater New York City area of course including New Jersey. We’re tracking New Orleans and Detroit. Of course, Seattle and California.
But there are areas of the country, as Dr. Deborah Birx said yesterday at our press briefing, where there’s frankly very little outbreak of coronavirus. And as the President told Governors in a letter yesterday, we’re going to be examining that data on a county-by-county basis. And in the days ahead, we’re going to be giving guidance specifically to different regions of the country about how, as the President says, we are going to be able to open the country and get people back to work just as soon as we responsibly can.
WILFRED FROST: Mr. Vice President how closely is the White House watching the stock market, and you were on a call with some high-profile investors like Dan Loeb, Paul Tudor Jones, Stephen Schwarzman earlier this week. What were some of their best suggestions to the administration?
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, we did have a good call with leaders in the financial industry. But Wilf, we’ve also convened at the White House at the president’s direction, leaders in health insurance, in nursing homes, manufacturers, educators. You know, this is a president who really leads by asking questions. From early in the outbreak of the coronavirus, he’s been pulling together not just the best minds on our team and not just a full partnership with governors who are leading the efforts in their states.
But we’ve been drawing on what people are hearing and what their best counsel is. And while the stock market has ebbed and flowed, and even this week made dramatic moves, President Trump and our entire economic team believe all the fundamentals continue to be strong. And as we deal with the coronavirus, that this economy will come roaring back once we see our nation through this challenging time.
WILFRED FROST: Here in New York, Mr. Vice President, the numbers are clearly worrying. The government here describing it as American’s epicenter. He’s taken decisive lockdown measures to slow the spread for New Yorkers. But people are still traveling in and out of the state and indeed, all across the country. Why no nationwide lockdown?
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, it’s -- you’re absolutely right. And Governor Cuomo, who the President and I speak to very frequently, was right. The epicenter of the coronavirus virus in the United States today is not just New York State but the Greater New York City area. More than half the cases in the country today have come out of that region. It’s the reason why we’re building field hospitals. It’s the reason why that U.S. Navy Ship Comfort will be headed out tomorrow to the New York area. We have got a FEMA team on the ground with HHS assisting in the response. And we’ll continue to flow resources.
But last night CDC posted guidance, while we were telling people that residents who may have left the New York area to go to other parts of the country, that we want them to monitor their health, monitor their temperature, and self-quarantine for two weeks. Last night’s CDC published guidance for critical infrastructure, truckers and others that are moving in and out of the New York area about how to do so in a way that will protect their health and prevent the spread. We really do believe that the best broad-based guidance today, Wilf, is the 15 days to slow the spread. This is what every American can do, and tens of millions of Americans are doing, with social distancing. Working from home where you can. Avoiding unnecessary travel and the like.
But supporting governors like the Governor of New York, the Governor of Washington State, of California, New Jersey and elsewhere and the strong measures they’re taking will continue to be the approach. The president, when he stood up FEMA in the lead and declared a national emergency, he made it very clear. We recognize that in a health crisis, and this is something I learned when I was Governor of Indiana, in a health crisis it’s your local health officials and health care workers on the front lines. They are executing the response. It’s state-managed and it’s federally supported.
And we hope before the end of business today, the House of Representatives will vote to pass the Care Act and speed vital resources to families, direct payments to families, payroll support for small businesses, significant lending facility to be made available to our critical industries, and really make it possible for the American people to be confident that this too shall pass. We will use the full power of the American economy, the full weight of our government at every level and we’ll see America through the coronavirus.
WILFRED FROST: Mr. Vice President, last night Dr. Scott Gottlieb, of course, your Former FDA Commissioner said, quote, I’m worried about emerging situations in New Orleans, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, among others. In China no province outside Hubei ever had more than 1500 cases. In United States 11 states already have that total. Our epidemic is likely to be national in scope, end quote. Is Dr. Gottlieb wrong?
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, great respect for Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He served our administration well, and he’s a great friend. He’s been advising the White House Coronavirus Task Force. But to his point, we’re tracking exactly those same numbers. And we’re able to do so because, now more than a month ago, the President brought together the top commercial labs in America: Quest, Lab Core and others working with companies like Roche and others. And as of yesterday, we had actually done more than a half a million tests around the country. We’re working right now on a point of care test that can be administered even at your doctor’s office.
By rapidly expanding testing that’s happening all over the country today. And getting that data back, as we are on an increasing basis from hospitals and labs around the country, we have much greater visibility on where the hot spots are. And our team, whether it be Dr. Anthony Fauci or Dr. Birx or others, are going to bring the President recommendations about where we need to focus our mitigation efforts, where we need to be supporting efforts at containing the spread of the virus. But the encouraging news that we see is that because so many people across this country have embraced the President’s 15 days to slow the spread, because so many have heeded the guidance of state and local authorities, we really do believe that in the days ahead, we will see that we did significantly impact spread of the coronavirus and ultimately save lives.
You know, and it’s important always to say that we’re tracking the numbers in terms of consequences. You know, most Americans that contract the coronavirus, Wilf, will have very mild symptoms or flu-like symptoms. And while we grieve the loss of every American who has succumbed to the coronavirus, our hearts go out to their families, the mortality rate still is running somewhere around 1% in the country. It’s to say most people that contract this disease will recover, and so we’re going to lean into this effort. We’re going to focus on those most vulnerable. And we’re going to focus on the areas most at the point in the need. We’re going to surge testing and supplies and resources and mitigation.
WILFRED FROST: Mr. Vice President, one more very quick one on this topic from me and then Jim Cramer has a question for you. You mentioned the governor’s taking decisive action and of course, that you were a Governor yourself. If we do see a big spike in cases like in New York State in another state in the weeks ahead, whose responsibility will that be? The governor of that state or the Federal government?
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, I think it’s a responsibility of all of us at every level to bring our very best science, our very best recommendations, our very best counsel to the American people, and to American businesses. And you know, it’s been a little more than a month since I was tapped to lead the coronavirus task force, Wilf.
And if I have to tell you, if every American could see what I’ve seen in terms of the selfless dedication of our health care workers and communities that have been deeply impacted by the coronavirus, if they could see the incredible partnership that President Trump has forged with governors in every state and territory in this country, if they could see the dedication of all the incredible professionals working in every federal agency from FDA to HHS to CDC and of course the 20,000 strong people at FEMA, they’d be as inspired and as grateful as I’ve been, and they could be confident that we’re going to continue as President Trump often says to do whatever it takes.
Congress will act today on the third different piece of legislation the President has called for, building on the progress we’ve made before. We want American families to know we’re going to see you through this crisis. We’re going to see our businesses large and small through the coronavirus, and I truly do believe that the more the American people act on the guidance of their state and local authorities, take it seriously, and the more that every American acts on 15 days to slow the spread, we’ll do just that. We’ll significantly reduce the impact of the coronavirus in our country. We’ll protect our most vulnerable and we’ll heal our land.
JIM CRAMER: Mr. Vice President, Jim Cramer. Thank you for coming on CNBC.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Hi, Jim.
JIM CRAMER: I am as someone who is trying to practice all the things we’re doing and I love slow the spread and believe in everything you’re doing, I do get confused. I listen to Dr. Fauci. Sometimes he makes me feel a little nervous. He’s such a hero. We know what he did for 30 years – every President. I listen to the President. I so much want to get back to work. People want to get back to work. This weekend I’m in the New Jersey area and I’m reading the New Jersey health commissioner goes, I’m definitely going to get it. We all are. Mr. Vice President, I don’t want to get it. Are we all going to get it?
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Jim, it’s one of the things we’re tracking. And Dr. Birx last night at the White House briefing spoke to just this. There’s been a lot of what they call modelling in the science of infectious diseases that’s been done that is now being understood to have been really wrong. And what I’m pleased about is whether it’s Dr. Fauci or Dr. Birx, who is probably one of the leading experts in infectious disease in the world, is that we’re really following the data here.
And in terms of the infection rate that we’ve seen, what we know of China, the data from South Korea, from Italy, from other places around the world, I would just -- I would just commend your viewers to take a look at what’s being published and being written in recent days about that. It’s been a lot of people that have been restating it.
Our team from the very beginning has been questioning the modelling, saying we’re going to follow the data. The truth of the matter is though it does appear to be significantly lower than a lot of the earlier projections were Jim.
But that being said, every American should do exactly what you’re doing. And that is put into practice the social distancing. You know, use a drive through at your local restaurant for the time being instead of going in. Avoid nonessential travel. All the kinds of things that in personal hygiene that are keeping us safe. Because as I said to Wilf a moment ago, you know, the risk of serious illness to the average American even if you get it is very low. But the risk of seniors with serious underlying health conditions or everyone be immunity deficiency, is sufficient. That’s why every one of us needs to do our part to slow the spread and protect our most vulnerable.
DAVID FABER: Mr. Vice President, It’s David Faber. You’ve noted that fatality rate, roughly 1%. Good morning. Which is obviously scary but not as scary as some might have thought. But that depends on getting supplies to our hospitals in need, what they need. I think the hospitalization rate in the New York area is something about 15% and other areas as well. If they don’t have the ventilators and they don’t have the equipment they need, that fatality rate could rise. Are you confident at this point in the crisis that we’ll be able to provide the needed ventilators and other equipment to our people on the front lines so they can keep those people who go to the hospital alive?
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: David, I want all of your viewers, particularly those amazing health care workers in places like Seattle, the Greater New York City area, California, and other metropolitan areas being impacted to know that we are leaning in to the effort of personal protective equipment. The President recounted the millions of M-95 masks and supplies that we’ve already shipped out.
We are in the process. We are in the process -- we just distributed to New York some 4,000 ventilators. But one of the exciting things is and this is where I want to thank American Society of Anesthesiologists. In one of the meetings I was telling Wilf about all the different groups the President has convened, we actually learned from anesthesiologists the device they use in outpatient care for doing their work can easily be converted to a ventilator for someone struggling with a respiratory illness.
The FDA rapidly issued guidance for that last weekend. The American Society, Dr. Mary Peterson and others, are hosting a webinar today to explain to health care workers how they can change one vent. And it literally will increase the supply of ventilators by tens of thousands across the country.
That and the manufacturers that we’re working with today to add supply, we -- we are absolutely determined to use the full weight, contracting authority of the government, full support of all of our states, to make sure our health care workers have the protective equipment to be safe. We’re requiring it every day. And also, the ventilators to take care of patients that are truly struggling. I want to say one other thing about masks.
You know, it was the President’s insistence on extending liability protection to industrial masks that are made by companies like 3M and Honeywell, that in the last bill that passed that vastly increased the availability of masks that will protect our health care workers from respiratory illness. And let me, David, if I may, call every business in America. Go back to your warehouse. If you have masks you can spare, load them in a truck, call your health officials, call FEMA, or even just as well drive them to your local hospital. You’ll do a great service to America.
WILFRED FROST: Mr. Vice President, I know we’re out of time, but one final question from me if I may. Which is, I’m sure you saw the news Prime Minister Johnson in the UK has contracted the virus. I wondered if there was a plan in place if the President contracted the virus. What would happen?
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, I would refer you to the White House physician that I know is always very attentive to the health of the President and the first family. But obviously we send our very best wishes to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He is a great leader, the president admires him, we consider him a friend, and whether it’s the UK or the other countries in the world that are dealing with this, the President spoke on the G-20 call yesterday, we’re going to continue to focus on the health of America first. As America always does, we’re going to continue, continue to provide support and guidance to nations around the world. And I’m absolutely confident that the day will come that we will put this behind us. We have therapeutics being developed through a consortium of pharmaceutical companies that the president organized more than a month ago.
Those therapeutic medications may be available quite soon. You see the way the President made available medications like Chloroquine, that it’s a malaria drug, but FDA permitted off label use. We’re distributing that. And even doing a clinical test in New York, but it’s available for any American whose doctor prescribes it. Of course, in record time, we initiated initial trials on a vaccine which could be ready in as early as a year and a half or slightly less. We’re going to continue to lean into this effort. We’re going to bring American creativity.
I just know with the cooperation of the American people, and as we put the President’s 15 days to slow the spread into practice, with listening to your state and local authorities, taking to heart the guidance they’re giving to you and your family, with the incredible cooperation of American businesses, ingenuity and the prayers of millions, we’ll get through this. We will respond to the coronavirus the way the American people always do, with courage, and generosity, and we’ll heal our land.
WILFRED FROST: Mr. Vice President, thank you as ever for your time. We appreciate it. And stay healthy.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Thank you all.