Stocks Plummet TRANSCRIPT: 3/12/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Leana Wen, Alexander Greninger, Neal Katyal, Ami Bera, Gene Sperling, Jenny Durkan



Good evening, Ari.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening. Chuck. Thank you very much. 


And we join you tonight throughout this continuing coverage of the 

coronavirus outbreak and the fallout. We have the latest developments 

tonight. We are going to bring you facts. That`s what we always try to do, 

what we know, what`s happening on Wall Street, where there has been another 

day of massive sell-offs after the president`s speech, what`s really 

happening with the ongoing concerns over testing inside the United States, 

as well as what`s brewing in Washington. 


We also are going to address some of the misinformation stemming from a 

person who, of course, is supposed to generally be the source of the best 

information, the president of the United States. 


Later tonight, I want to tell you the great Neal Katyal also here. And 

we`re going to get into some important questions that relate not only to 

the United States, but the legality of quarantines and travel bans around 

the world. 


We begin, though, with the latest for you.


Right now in the United States, we have more than 1,500 confirmed cases of 

coronavirus. Right now in the United States, the Dow is down nearly 10 

percent today alone. And, right now in the United States, there are 19 

different states, at least, that have declared types of emergencies to 

address all of this. 


So, that gives you a portrait of a crisis. Now, as for the markets, it`s 

the worst day on the Dow since the 1987 crash, which, you may recall many 

referred to for years as Black Monday. So we are in our own territory of 

that, although, unlike the underlying economic issues then, many hope that 

the United States can rebound from this if the health situation evolves. 


We should tell you that, at one point this morning, if you didn`t see this, 

the Dow was falling so fast that they formally froze trading to try to 

forestall any panic selling. 


Meanwhile, the president had an idea that he worked out relatively quickly 

to try to address all of this, a travel ban of Europeans who come here. And 

it is getting panned by even people who served in his own administration. 





George, those travel restrictions and additional screening measures are 

going to have little to no effect at this stage of controlling the spread 

of the virus. 


I think people perhaps misunderstand that the virus is here already in 

large numbers. 




MELBER:  The virus is here already in large numbers. You probably know 



A lot of the question is about , what are the different levels of 

precautions that can be taken? You, in your own life, your own family, how 

you deal with other people regularly, whether that`s through a job or other 

activities, and which you can take precautions for, which you can curtail. 


Then the macro is, as always, it`s policy. It`s what happens in Washington 

and in capitals around the world. What are the policy choices that have to 

be made? In a democracy, we all talk about them, but Washington tends to 

decide on them. 


And that has some people concerned with the president returning again today 

to another policy idea, maybe taking what`s happening inside the United 

States, like domestic flights, and canceling them as well. 




QUESTION:  Are you considering travel restrictions within the United 

States, such as to Washington state or California? 



yet. Is it a possibility? Yes, if somebody gets a little out of control, if 

an area gets too hot. 




MELBER:  Around the nation, there are local officials also doing their best 

to find ways to have everyone just step back from the kind of contacts that 

are voluntary. 


For example, we`re seeing major league sports, basketball, hockey, 

baseball, now pause, Broadway here in New York going dark for a month, 

church services on hold. 


Meanwhile, in other states, you have bans on any types of large gatherings 

of people. 


Today, Speaker Pelosi taking charge of basically how you craft the 

coronavirus relief package in Congress, working with Trump officials, 

including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. 




REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  Secretary Mnuchin, he had some suggestions, all 

very reasonable. I think that none of them is a – would prevent us from 

moving forward with the bill. 




MELBER:  In a moment, I`ll be joined by this expert panel covering the 

medicine, the science, the economics, as well as the Washington response to 

this unfolding situation in the U.S. 


We want to begin with a local leader facing this crisis on the ground, 

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan out of King County, where there have been over 

270 coronavirus cases reported. 


Thank you for joining us during a busy time. 


JENNY DURKAN (D), MAYOR OF SEATTLE, WASHINGTON:  Thank you, Ari, for having 



MELBER:  People around the country are concerned, while trying to avoid any 

type of overreaction or panic. 


What are you seeing right now in this city of Seattle and the King County 

area outside it, which has been hit so hard, and what are you doing 



DURKAN:  So, Ari, I think that you framed it exactly right. People should 

be concerned, and leaders across this country should be taking urgent 



But urgency does not mean fear or panic. And I would encourage the markets 

and others to lower the temperature and increase the action. 


We`re doing a number of things out here in Seattle, Washington. There`s 

things we`re looking to the federal government to partner with us on, 

because this is an emergency and health crisis, not just here in Seattle, 

but across this country. 


And we will only resolve it if we pull together and pull our resources in 

places that are actually going to make a difference. 


MELBER:  What are the local measures you have taken? 


DURKAN:  So, we have taken a range. 


Just to set a framework, you gave the numbers of actual cases we have. But 

we have been really hampered by the fact that we have not had adequate 

testing even until today. We`re starting through our private labs to get 

more testing, but we estimate that the actual cases we have in our 

community are much higher than the confirmed cases. 


We have some of the best researchers in America. They estimate that, today, 

we have over 1,100 cases and that, if we don`t do measures like we`re 

taking now, which I will describe for you, by April 7, we will have 25,000 

cases and 400 deaths. 


So the governor…


MELBER:  Where? That`s 25,000 where in that estimate? 


DURKAN:  In our – in the Seattle region, in the King County region. 


MELBER:  And those are – just to be clear, you are referring to the sort 

of credentialed public health experts that you rely on are warning you 

that, in a matter of weeks, you could hit 25,000 in Seattle alone? 


DURKAN:  That`s right. 


So they have been able to actually – to get the genome and done a lot of 

modeling. And their best modeling is based on how this virus is transmitted 

and the tests that they actually have run through the modeling, that they 

estimate that, if we don`t take action – so, that`s why the governor, 

standing with the three county executives, myself and other mayors, 

instituted a number of measures, because this is a virus that goes face-to-

face contact. 


And if you limit that contact, you can limit the spread of the virus, save 

lives, and preserve our health care system. So we`re taking a number of 

things to limit public gatherings and other places where people will 

congregate, and give public real scientific-based information, and let them 

take measures to protect themselves. 


MELBER:  Mayor Durkan, thank you very much for joining us during a busy 

time and for your candor. 


Meanwhile, as mentioned, there`s a lot of questions about the leadership in 

the White House, as well as the people who want to replace this president 

in the White House. 


Against the backdrop of this crisis, we heard from the two remaining 

leading presidential candidates in the Democratic race with their views on 

the crisis. 




JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Protecting the health and safety 

of the American people is the most important job any of president. 

Unfortunately, this virus laid bare the severe shortcomings of the current 




information coming from credible, respected scientific voices, of which we 

have many in our own country and all over this world, not from politicians. 




MELBER:  I want to bring now in our panel, Dr. Leana Wen, the former health 

commissioner of Boston and president of Planned Parenthood. She is now, we 

should mention, with George Washington School of Public Health. 


Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council in the Obama and 

Clinton administrations, he helped actually work on crafting the Obama 

stimulus, responding to a different set of national problems and a market 

crash, not unlike what we have seen rolling over these past several days. 

And, of course our friend Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winner from “The 

Washington Post.” 


This is, unfortunately, a time where each of you brings so much to bear, I 

could start with anyone.


I could start with Gene Sperling on one of the largest market crashes since 

`87. I could start with Gene Robinson in Washington looking at coronavirus, 

reshaping the entire presidential race. 


But I`m going to start with our doctor here with me on set. 


What is the nature of this public health crisis today, as Americans heard 

the president give his view of it last night? 



before the storm that we know is going to be coming. 


We just heard the mayor talk about what`s going to come to Seattle. And 

this is what`s going to come all over the country. We`re going to see many 

hundreds, thousands of cases, maybe tens of thousands of cases, in the 

coming weeks. 




MELBER:  Let`s pause on what you just said, because, for a lot of Americans 

right now – particularly, we see the way people are tuning into this story 

– it doesn`t feel like the calm. It feels like part of the storm. 


And, again, we`re hearing from health officials with experience like 

yourself and the mayor we just heard from saying, that doesn`t mean to 



But when you say, this is a calm, when you say tens of thousands of cases, 

what are you getting at, that this is going to get much more onerous on 

people`s daily lives? 


WEN:  That`s right. 


I think we`re about to see significant disruptions in a way that we`re just 

experiencing a little bit of it now. The streets feel emptier. The stores 

feel more crowded as people are stocking up. 


But we`re soon going to see all of these schools being closed, work being 

significantly disrupted, and us changing our routines. But we have to, 

because we have to protect the most vulnerable among us. 


And we have a very small and limited window to act. That window is in the 

next week or two. So I`m really glad that our political leaders, at least 

on the local and state levels, are taking dramatic action that may seem 

like overreactions. 


I`m hearing my neighbors and people in my community saying, well, why are 

all these things happening? It feels like, while we – a lot of communities 

don`t have any cases yet. But it`s only a matter of time. 


MELBER:  And let me read to you on, with regard to preparation, “The New 

York Times”` reporting on the capacity in the United States. 


We talk a lot about the health care system here, how expensive it is, and 

where it is a patchwork. This is a quote of someone noting that there 

aren`t enough ventilators and ICU beds if there`s a significant surge of 

cases. As with Italy, the health system itself could become overwhelmed. 


Do you agree with that assessment? 


WEN:  Yes. 


Our own federal government estimates that even if we have a moderate 

outbreak, not a severe outbreak, but a moderate outbreak, that we`re going 

to need 200,000 intensive care beds. 


The U.S. only has 100,000 intensive care beds at any point in time, and 

most of them are occupied. So, if you have all these patients coming in all 

at once, many of them are not going to get care. 


And we`re also going to compromise care for those who are coming in for 

non-coronavirus-related issues, people with heart attacks and trauma who 

need that care. 


So, anything we can do to, we call it, flatten the curve, anything we can 

do to reduce the rate of infection and spread it out over time, it gives 

the health care system a chance to catch up, so that doctors don`t have to 

make that choice about who gets to live and who is going to die. 


MELBER:  Really appreciate your points there. You`re obviously staying with 



Turning to Gene Sperling on what, any other day, would be, by far, the 

biggest story in America, in American life, and certainly in presidential 

politics, given the economy`s relationship there. 


What does it mean when we see the statistic that this was the largest 

single-day drop since the 1987 crash? 



Well, there`s no question it was a bloodbath in the market, not just today, 

but in the last couple of weeks. 


But, you know, what I think is important to recognize is, this is not 

fundamentally a financial issue. The markets are responding to the real 

economy, to the failure to have a competent, professional, truthful 

government response that should have included massive, just massive 

government effort to get widespread testing, so we had knowledge and 

certainty, to have the kind of medical surge, so that we weren`t at risk of 

a lack of capacity.


To do things like emergency paid sick leave, not because Nancy Pelosi`s 

making somebody do it, but because, if you don`t do this compassionate 

thing of making sure people can stay home when they`re sick, you`re going 

to increase the community spread. 


And so there`s nothing the government could do to make all this go away 

simply or have no health or economic cost. 


But if you had the confidence that our response was going to say, we`re 

going to have a dip, we`re going to have a downturn, but we`re – it`s all 

because we have a national strategy of testing, treatment, to handle this 

in a relatively short period of time, and a surge of economic response to 

help people and communities in our country get through it, then I think you 

would see markets saying, wow, it`s going to be bad for a little while, but 

we have confidence it`s going to get better. 


When you have this complete failure of the government to help the real 

economy, the real health care crisis, markets can`t see where the bottom is 

and they can`t see where the end is, and that`s how they are responding. 


MELBER:  You mentioned the markets sort of reacting or pricing into their 

understanding of how the U.S. government is handling this. 


Then, in your view, was today`s crash partly a response to the way the 

president handled this last night, or is it too soon to draw that link?


SPERLING:  Well, I have a little bit of a different view, which is, I don`t 

think that this is just about the president`s speech. I think it`s about 

people`s growing recognition that you have a government that was out 

talking about this as if it was a political conspiracy, the president 

golfing, the vice president who was in charge of it going to fund-raisers.


And now people are starting to really realize, oh, my God, I`m 

understanding the exponential growth of how this spreads, and I am 

realizing our government is way behind. They are looking at South Korea. 

They are looking at other countries. And they are losing confidence. 


So, I don`t think it`s just about the speech last night. I think it is 

about the entire government response and the lack of confidence. 


Ari, I`ll say this. This is a national teaching moment, or maybe just a 

painful reminder, competent, professional, truthful, credible government 

matters. And it matters a lot. 


MELBER:  You say that, and then Gene Sperling walking us through that. 


Our other Gene is Gene Robinson. 


Take a listen to Speaker Pelosi with regard to the Congress` role in trying 

to craft something. 




REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  It`s about putting people and families first. 

Everybody could have a complaint about this or that. 


I said, save it for another day. We can have an after-action review about 

how we got into this situation. Save it for another day. 


Right now, we have to find our common ground, work together to get this 

done as soon as possible. 




MELBER:  Gene, what do you see coming out of Washington on this, and how 

much is it right-sized, a lot of emphasis on what they can control, which 

is, like anybody, what do you have control over, when the doctor and others 

have outlined some of the problems in the U.S. health system don`t relate 

to payroll tax credits?




You know, from the economic point of view, I`m a little concerned that the 

deal they eventually come out with – and I think they will certainly come 

out with a deal. Speaker Pelosi was negotiating with Treasury Secretary 

Mnuchin all day, basically. 


And so there`s going to be a deal. I`m a little worried that it`s going to 

be too small-bore. It seems to me – you saw what happened on the markets 

today – we need kind of a bazooka in the economic sense, I think. 


Far be it from me to tell Gene Sperling anything about economics, but it 

seems to me we need essentially a stimulus. We need help for people who are 

not able to work now. 


Restaurant workers are having their hours cut back or being laid off 

because people aren`t eating out, that sort of thing.


MELBER:  Yes. 


ROBINSON:  People are not taking trips that they otherwise would take on 

the airlines, on Amtrak, everywhere. And this ripples through the economy. 

And I wish we had a big plan for addressing this, because I think it is an 

emergency, in that sense, as well as a health care emergency. 


MELBER:  And we`re running over on time, but, Gene Sperling, having been 

name-checked in your economic expertise, I give you the last word. 


What about the other concern that a lot of these precautions are, by their 

very nature, the type of thing that are harder on wage workers, on people 

with less savings, on people with less health care?


It`s fine if it is medically true that everyone needs to take a step back, 

but what about people who are literally losing what would be next month`s 

rent for that precaution?


SPERLING:  Well, precisely. 


And in response to the other Gene`s comments, exactly right. You need all 

of the above. There`s a lot of things that…


MELBER:  I thought you were the other Gene. 




MELBER:  Why is he the other Gene? 




SPERLING:  Just in my – only in my family is Gene Robinson the other Gene.


But the – but I think he`s right. You know, we`re going to need some big, 

powerful help for economic demand. But you do have to contain the actual 



And there is this category that I think is the most win-win. And that is 

helping the people like Gene just described who are – don`t have paid sick 

leave. They are gig workers who might not have total – the right type – 

they don`t get covered by unemployment insurance. 


I think the first win-win is you get a massive influx to them, and I think 

we need a broad emergency paid leave. We need to take most of the 

restrictions off unemployment insurance, so that that waiter with less 

hours, the gig economy worker, the domestic worker can get that assistance. 


And I will tell you that was a point of agreement today between Joe Biden 

and Bernie Sanders. And that is just not – that is compassionate and the 

right thing to do. But those are the people who are going to need the 

money. They are going to spend it the fastest. 


If you have a surge of that type of help, Medicaid match, unemployment paid 

leave, broadly available in a way that hasn`t been before, that will be a 

good step to what Gene is talking about. But we may end up needing even 

more to ensure we have the economic demand, because I have never seen a 

situation in my life where everybody, whether you have a job, whether you 

are financially secure, is pulling back on their spending. 


It doesn`t matter how well-off you are. You are pulling back on your 

spending, and your economic activity. That`s not the normal thing in just a 

normal recession. 


And that means it`s going to be a scary – I think it will be a bit of a 

scary downturn. And I agree with Gene. You need – in addition to the 

targeted help, which will help the economy and help those workers, we`re 

probably going to need some bigger mobilization to state and local 

governments, to individuals, to seniors to make sure this – we get through 

this as a country. 




Well, look, these are sobering assessments, each of you with a lot of 

experience in the respective fields, including the intersection between 

health policy, managing the precautions and government. What does 

government do and what tradeoffs does it make during a time when there are 

some big decisions ahead?


I think we benefit from exactly that kind of sober information. 


Dr. Wen and Gene Sperling, I want to thank you.


Gene, I`m coming back to you later in the hour on THE BEAT. 


Now, coming up, we have updates on what we were just discussing in part, 

because the House may vote as soon as tonight on the beginning of a 

coronavirus aid package. We have a Democratic congressman who is also a 

physician to give us more on that important intersection. 


What about the testing failures? We have a doctor dealing with the crisis 

also in the hot spot of Washington state joining us.


And former Solicitor General Neal Katyal is here. We`re going to get into a 

lot of these important issues, including a huge question you may be 

discussing around your dinner tables. What can the government do and what 

are its limits on quarantining and other measures? 


I`m Ari Melber. And you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.




MELBER:  Now turning to a different facet of digging in to this coronavirus 

issue, as it spreads around the nation, and thinking about what governments 

are able to do. 


Consider Italy, which is on basically a full lockdown. How do quarantines 

work, and how would they happen in the United States? 


We have a Constitution that does discuss the idea that the federal 

government can make any regulations that basically prevent the spread of 

communicable diseases. That`s a federal law. 


The Constitution, meanwhile, has other rights to cut against that. 


Now, keep in mind that, while quarantines thus far and all of the talk you 

hear about limiting or even – quote – “banning” the large gatherings are, 

for the most part, voluntary. 


But what if they weren`t? Consider when you had a flu pandemic over 100 

years ago. CDC released an example of a coronavirus quarantine order that 

could look like mandating that infected individuals simply cooperate with 

health officials, but also authorize other deterrents, for example, a 

criminal fine or even up to one year in jail for violating a quarantine 



Now, the United States has different rights, of course, than many other 

places. Consider China, a country that has basically a more authoritarian-

style control of government, far fewer civil liberties, no resort to the 

courts for a lot of citizens, but they utilized that kind of set of powers 

to contain the virus. 


“The Wall Street Journal” reporting, for example, the sealing off of an 

entire area, Wuhan province, which dispatched armies of low-level enforces 

to guard the gates of compounds and tapped data from state-run mobile 

carriers to track down people who slipped those lockdowns, and had 

volunteers go door to door in apartment buildings to record people`s body 



That`s obviously very invasive and farther than what most Americans 

consider the role of government. 


So, we don`t believe and we`re not reporting tonight that the United States 

is looking at things like that. And yet the international part of this 

international pandemic is a big story. 


For this on this, we want to bring in a guest that we use for so many legal 

questions as part of our Opening Arguments series, former acting Solicitor 

General Neal Katyal. 


A tough time, but good evening to you, sir. 




MELBER:  Neal, when we talk about quarantines, when we talk about things 

the government tells and advises vs. mandates, how should we be thinking 

about this, particularly if, as I just heard experts tell me minutes ago, 

we are in still the calm period before a potential health crisis storm?


KATYAL:  Yes, I think, Ari, the Constitution and the federal and state laws 

and localities regulations altogether really give all these governments 

sweeping powers to deal with a crisis. 


So, in a way, the law is actually not the problem here. I mean, the Supreme 

Court in 1900 said it was beyond question that the federal government has 

quarantine powers and the states and localities can impose any number of 

movement or crowd restrictions as well. 


And, as you just noted, the federal statute says, if you violate a federal 

quarantine, you can get fined up to $100,000, put in jail for a year and 

the like. So you have got that. 


You have also got the power to restrict movement and travel. President 

Trump tried that yesterday a little bit. The problem there is not, again, 

the law. It`s the kind of haphazard policy, closing it to Europe, but not 

to the U.K., and not closing it for all of Europe. So those are all policy 



But, actually, in general, the law is not going to stand in the way. There 

will be some restraints. Like, if you`re doing it on a discriminatory basis 

– like, San Francisco in 1900 said, if you were Chinese, you had to get 

inoculated against the bubonic plague, but only Chinese.


And the federal court said, no, you can`t do that. I mean, you have got to 

prove that the Chinese were like uniquely susceptible or something to it, 

which they couldn`t. It was just done out of racism. 


So, if we went down that path – and I sure hope we don`t, even with this 

president`s proclivities – I sure hope we don`t do that. If we do, there 

will be some court challenges on that front. But , otherwise, there are 

sweeping powers for the government here. 


MELBER:  Governor Inslee was speaking quite starkly this week in Washington 

– we just heard from a mayor there – about penalties. 


And he made a broader point. You`re speaking to the fact there`s plenty of 

authority for an actual, bona fide, justified public health emergency. But 

he spoke about something higher than the law. Take a listen. 




STEVE PATTERSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  How far does this extend to 

personal events, like parties, like weddings, like funerals? And then what 

are the penalties exactly for not abiding by the ban? 


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA):  The penalties are, you might be killing your grand 

dad if you don`t do it, and I`m serious about this. 




MELBER:  What do you think about that and the way government officials try 

to instill seriousness within the law, without panic? 


KATYAL:  That`s 100 percent right, Ari. 


Yes, there are penalties for violating all of these different government 

restrictions, but, at the bottom, this shouldn`t be about penalties. This 

is about your own conscience and what you`re willing to do and what you`re 

willing to risk. 


And anyone – you know, we`re all in this together, and we all have to do 

everything we can to avoid the spread of the disease and flatten the curve. 

The law is a piece of it, but it`s the tiniest piece of it. It`s all about 

our individual actions.


And so I think the governor got it exactly right. This is why we`re also 

very different than China. China, in addition to the movement restrictions, 

they`re literally tracking everyone`s cell phones, WeChat and other things, 

so they can determine if anyone is moving out of their restricted areas or 

into the restricted areas. 


They can go and get them with their military. And, you know, we don`t want 

to go down that path. And we`re a country of liberty and freedom, but we`re 

also a country in which we view ourselves as having a communitarian 

responsibility to one another. 


And we shouldn`t need the law to do this. We shouldn`t need apps to be 

tracked or anything like that. But if it comes to that, unfortunately – 

fortunately, the government does have powers to do things like impose 

movement restrictions. 


MELBER:  Neal Katyal with a lot of context here, thank you so much. 


I want to remind everyone you can always go to 

We will have this segment there later tonight on coronavirus and the law, 

as well as Neal`s past reporting and analysis. 


Meanwhile, a lot of Americans finding that this hits home when you hear 

about people you care about, if not in your community. What about famous 

people you know about? Tom Hanks and his wife publicly announcing they have 

coronavirus. They got tested in Australia. 


It also puts more pressure on why it`s so hard to get tested right here in 

the U.S. 


We`re back on that and much more in 30 seconds. 




MELBER:  We are back with breaking news here. 


And it`s all about responses to the coronavirus. 


Since we came on the air, Delaware has joined the many states declaring 

states of emergency, the 20th state to have done so. You can see we`re 

keeping track on several of the ways that you can understand this and keep 

it in context. 


As we have been saying throughout the evening, facts, not panic, but over 

1,500 cases and quite the market crash today as well, all of this putting 

pressure on the federal government and how Donald Trump is leading. 


Here he was today. 




TRUMP:  Stay away from people and wash your hands and do all of the things 

that we`re supposed to be doing a little bit anyway. But it will be – it 

will go very quickly. 




MELBER:  I`m joined now by Congressman Ami Bera from California, who is 

also a doctor. 


Good evening.


REP. AMI BERA (D-CA):  Good evening, Ari.


MELBER:  What is important to know here as we move forward? The president 

spoke last night, issued a type of travel ban, said some things that had to 

be corrected. 


What do you want your constituents and the rest of the viewers to know? 


BERA:  Look, let`s take this seriously. The president often undermines our 

own message of how serious this is. 


This will get worse before it gets better. That said, the vast majority of 

folks are going to be fine, but we have got to be vigilant here. We, as 

Congress, have to get our act together. There are a lot of vulnerable folks 

that are one paycheck away from being evicted. 


There are a lot of vulnerable folks that don`t have paid family leave. 

Let`s take politics out of this. Let`s address the urgency of now. Let`s 

put those safety net services in there for the uninsured folks, so they can 

go get tested if they`re concerned. 


And let`s actually fix this testing problem. It would almost be better if 

the president didn`t get on television right now, because I think he is 

undermining the urgency of now we can do this, we can get ahead of it, but 

we have all got to be on the same page. 


MELBER:  Well, which is it at this point? Because some of his critics and 

Democrats have said he`s played it down too much. Then, as of last night, 

some are saying he`s overreacting with the partial travel ban. 


BERA:  Well, so what we know is, a travel ban right now is not going to do 

a whole lot to mitigate things. It may slow things down a little bit, but 

coronavirus is now community-spreading. 


It`s throughout the United States of America. Six weeks ago, when he did 

the China travel ban, that probably bought us a little bit of time. 

Unfortunately, they squandered that time. That`s when we should have been 

developing testing capabilities, getting equipment out to the hospitals and 

public health centers, et cetera.


And that just didn`t happen. They have slow-played this. That`s fine. 

Listen to Dr. Fauci when he says, you know, this was a mistake. We have 

squandered things. 


Now let`s get our act together. Let`s come together. This isn`t political. 

This isn`t partisan. We have got to do our jobs as Democrats and 

Republicans, reassure the public, but let the doctors and scientists do 

what they have got to do. 


MELBER:  Why is testing such a problem, from a policy perspective? 


BERA:  You know, we`re frustrated. 


The administration cannot answer the question why it is taking us so long 

to get testing capabilities up and running, when South Korea can do 10,000 

to 15,000 tests a day. 


I would tell the CDC to pick up the phone, call that South Korean company 

that`s creating these tests, ask them if we can get that licensing, and 

let`s start creating those tests here. 


This is not about ego or anything else. This is about getting the 

capabilities out to the front lines to the doctors, the nurses, the public 

health workers that are on the front lines that are going to keep us safe 

and help us get ahead of this. 


MELBER:  Congressman Bera, thank you so much. 


We want to dig as well deeper into the testing issues and how to fix them. 


We have a doctor in Washington state when we come back. 




MELBER:  Actor Tom Hanks now is quite clearly the most famous American to 

contract the coronavirus, testing positive while in Australia. 


As “The New York Times” notes, though, tests there are widely available and 

free, a marked contrast to the United States, where test kits have been 

hard to find , there are not enough for people who need them, a fact that 

the government`s own science leaders admit.




DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR:  The system does not – is not really 

geared to what we need right now, what you are asking for. That is a 





FAUCI:  It is a failing. Let`s admit it.


The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are 

doing it, we`re not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes. But 

we`re not. 




MELBER:  You are looking at the process of congressional oversight, where 

people from the administration have to say under oath what the facts are. 


They also have private briefings. And lawmakers who received one also 

speaking out on what they are learning about our capabilities as a country 

to deal with coronavirus. 




SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA):  I think we are all very concerned about the 

spread, about the lack of testing. The reality is, and we are told by the 

experts, that they do not yet have the tests available and can`t give us a 

date they will be. 


SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN):  We`re not the best-equipped nation in terms 

of testing. That`s absolutely obvious. 


I think, generally speaking, our public health system and our system of 

hospitals and experts and doctors is. But we have a serious deficiency in 

being prepared for testing. 


South Korea, for example, is doing a better job. 




MELBER:  About 11,000 people have been tested thus far in the U.S. South 

Korea, which you just heard mentioned, tests about 10,000 people daily. 


Experts say several factors lead to this failing. We were just discussing. 

We want to bring you some more context. 


Flaws in the initial test kits sent by the CDC last month, that compromised 

critical early stage efforts. The Trump administration also declining 

offers of a test developed by the World Health Organization, instead, 

basically – quote – “going it alone.”


Then, weeks ago, Trump administration officials blocking efforts by doctors 

out in Washington state to use their own tests, because – and this can be 

a consideration, of course – but those tests were not at the time FDA-



One of those Washington state doctors, though, joins me right now, Dr. 

Alexander Greninger, assistant professor at the University of Washington 

Medical Center in Seattle. 


Good day to you.


Explain what…






Explain to us the context here and the balancing of things that, in a non-

emergency setting might make sense, like waiting, vs. the situation we`re 





So, on February 4, the FDA offered EUA for the CDC. That`s an emergency use 

authorization for the CDC tests.


And part of that emergency use authorization and the laws around that 

basically did not allow hospital labs and clinical labs to begin to perform 

testing until they also had received emergency use authorization. 


And the FDA has a clear – had a clear interest in this – and we do too – 

for having accurate testing, which is very important. The problem is, is 

that created a monoculture, which the CDC test, unfortunately, had one bad 

primer set.


And it took three weeks to fix that issue. And so it wasn`t until the last 

week of February where we were able to both fix the CDC kit, and then, on 

February 29, the FDA allowed the go-ahead for clinical labs such as ours to 

begin to perform testing. 


MELBER:  So, is that how the system supposed to work, or do you have a 

criticism embedded in that history? 


GRENINGER:  Well, I think there are a few things that could be fixed. But I 

also think that any country that has come in contact with this virus has 

been caught unaware. 




GRENINGER:  I mean, it`s a very difficult virus. It transmits very, very 

efficiently. It has a high morbidity and mortality. Every country that`s 

come in contact with virus has not made peace with it. 


They have decided to fight. 


MELBER:  What would making peace involve? 


GRENINGER:  Well, I mean, like, with flu, it`s not peace, really, but it`s 

just like the flu, we kind of – we get vaccinated, but we sort of still go 

about economic activity, right? We don`t – we don`t – the market hasn`t 

dropped 10 percent for respiratory syncytial virus. 


But with this particular virus, we are – we – China, Italy, you can see 

the response of these countries to this particular virus. It has a high 

morbidity, high mortality rate. 


MELBER:  It seems that you`re gesturing towards the psychological part of 

this, that there is something scarier about the newness, without minimizing 

the obvious pain, suffering and death, and that you`re saying, if it were 

acculturated differently over time, it might not have – no, go ahead. 


GRENINGER:  Not at all. 


I`m saying exactly what Tony Fauci is saying, which is, this virus is at 

least 10 times more lethal than flu. And so this is a special virus. And 

that`s part – when you`re talking about regulations around this virus and 

how that works, I mean, we have never seen something like this. 


MELBER:  So you`re saying, don`t make peace with it and…




MELBER:  … redouble efforts to contain.


GRENINGER:  Absolutely. Absolutely.




So let me play something for you. I just want to – if you shake your head 

early, then it saves time, because I will stop talking, and you will give 

us the goods. 


I also did want to get in something that happened in the Congress today, an 

exchange with Congresswoman Porter and the head of CDC, and looking at 

something we have also been talking about that I don`t think anyone wants 

to make peace with, which is looking at how unfairly the burden is 

apportioned in an unequal society like ours, which is, of course, as 

everyone knows, a huge issue in health care access. 


Take a look. 




REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA):  We live in a world where 40 percent of Americans 

cannot even afford a $400 unexpected expense. 


Dr. Redfield, will you commit to the CDC right now, using that existing 

authority, to pay for diagnostic testing free to every American regardless 

of insurance? 


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR:  Well, I can say that we`re going to do 

everything to make sure everybody can get the care they need.


PORTER:  No, not good enough.


Reclaiming my time. 




MELBER:  And she went back and forth. You saw the whiteboard. 


Where do you, as a scientist, a scientific expert, see all that?


GRENINGER:  Well, so I`m an assistant director for the clinical virology 



And so right now, our consideration is to expand testing. We performed more 

than 1,300 tests yesterday, and detected more than 100 infections here in 

the Puget Sound area. We`re also a national reference lab, so we get things 

from outside. 


Our job is to push that testing number to 5,000 tests per day. And we`re 

working with that every day within the next few weeks. So that`s our number 

one goal. I do think it`s important that there – we get reimbursed for 

doing this work. 


But, right now, that`s not really our number one consideration. 


MELBER:  And, finally, I`m over on time, but I would want, given where you 

are, to get your view of what the mayor of Seattle said earlier in our 

broadcast, that they think this could hit 25,000 cases by the first week of 

April in your area. 


Do you agree with that assessment? 


GRENINGER:  Yes, I think that`s consistent with what we`re seeing.


And, like I said, we detected more than 100 new infections yesterday. 


MELBER:  Wow. 


And, by context, that`s, by multiples, many more than are confirmed across 

the entire country right now.




So it takes – our data gets reported to the state of Washington. It then 

gets reported to other places. But we sort of get a first look at what`s 

coming across the pike. And everywhere across the United States, this virus 

is there, it`s spreading. 


We have a 10 percent positivity rate where we`re testing. Now, again, 

mostly we`re testing hospitalized patients.


MELBER:  Right. 


GRENINGER:  But this is a significant – a significant threat. 


MELBER:  Dr. Greninger, thank you not only for your work, but for your 

blunt clarity. We learned something. Thank you, sir. 


GRENINGER:  Thank you. 


MELBER:  Appreciate it.


And coming up:  How is American society shifting amidst all of this, from 

suspending entire sports leagues, closing Disneyland? What do we do and how 

do we do it better? 


An important conversation. We will be rejoined by our friend Eugene 

Robinson when we come back.




MELBER:  Do you feel like everything is changing all at once right now? 

Could anyone have seen this coming? 


Well, over two weeks ago, there was a CDC doctor discussing the 

possibilities with reporters on a media call, and we saw the foreshadowing 

of exactly what has been transpiring this week. 





to everyday life may be severe. 


I had a conversation with my family over breakfast this morning, and I told 

my children that, while I didn`t think they were at risk right now, we as a 

family need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives. 




MELBER:  Significant disruption. That was weeks ago. 


A lot of people were saying different things then, but not these 

scientists. Think about how this prediction has proven correct. 


Sports leagues and tournaments telling basically fans, do not show up or 

shutting down entirely, March Madness canceled today. The NHL suspending 

the entire season for now, as did the NBA, canceling games in real-time 

just last night. 




UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So both head coaches have gone back. You see the teams 

heading back to the locker room, the officials now going over to the 

scorers table. 




MELBER:  You don`t see that every day. 


Meanwhile, think about the creation of our own culture, Hollywood putting 

off movies that people love, employers telling folks, work from home, maybe 

indefinitely, until we figure this out, entire school districts telling 

parents, keep your kids at home. 


All of this raising so many questions about fairness, about economics, 

about who bears the brunt of this, and about what is to become of life 

during this pandemic.


We bring back Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winner of “The Washington 



And we have tracking on the screen the facts that we know, which are 

against the backdrop of how life is changing.


Your thoughts, sir. 


ROBINSON:  Well, Ari, I think today might be the day when it really came 

home to people that things are going to be different for a while. 


And the big unknown is, we don`t know for how long. But just the list of 

things that happened today, last night and today, that you ran down, no 

March Madness, no professional sports leagues. Major League Baseball is 

putting off opening day and won`t have crowds at the spring training games. 


It`s not just a sports leagues, but those really focus – they get your 

attention, right?


MELBER:  Yes. 


ROBINSON:  And so many are working from home, as I did today, because, at 

“The Washington Post,” that`s the policy now. 


If you`re able to work from home, please do. There`s hand sanitizer 

everywhere. We`re all washing our hands. And I think what we need is, what 

I wish we had is a better narrator than we have right now. 


MELBER:  Well, let me ask you about that, because a word that is so 

overused in politics and culture, certainly, the movies that are being 

canceled, is sacrifice. 


How much do people need to think about this, even with the inequities that 

we have covered on this very broadcast, as a time where maybe the stuff we 

have got to put up with is sacrifice for our greater good and what we owe 

each other? 


ROBINSON:  Well, I think it`s – that`s a lot of it, because, let`s face 

it, most of us don`t know anyone who has been infected with the coronavirus 

or who has suffered from COVID-19. 


And we read the stories and we see the number of cases, which, thankfully, 

appear small. That is actually partly because we haven`t done the testing. 

But – and so there is, I think, a natural tendency to say, why am I 

turning my life upside down for this? 


And there is a very good answer. There`s a very good answer. We have seen 

what happened in China. We have seen what happened in Italy. We know what 

can happen if we allow our medical system to get overwhelmed. And that`s 

what we have to worry about. 


MELBER:  Eugene, we had you on the breaking news at the top of the hour, 

but this is a fitting thing to reflect on. 


As always, we appreciate your words, not only in writing, but right here on 



Thank you, sir, and stay safe. 


ROBINSON:  Thank you. Thank you. 


MELBER:  Thanks to everyone watching THE BEAT tonight. 


We will be back with one more thing. 




MELBER:  I`m Ari Melber.


You have been watching THE BEAT on MSNBC. That does it for our hour.


Stay safe, stay informed. And thanks, as always, for watching. I will see 

you again at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. 


Keep it right here on MSNBC.






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