HHS Statement TRANSCRIPT: 5/5/20, The Rachel Maddow Show
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN for this evening.
“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
You may be hearing the breaking news at this hour that Supreme Court
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been hospitalized today. The news from the
“Associated Press” began as a one-sentence story. It said in total, quote,
Supreme Court says Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hospitalized with infection.
Justice Ginsburg is 87 years old. She has fought off cancer of the pancreas
and cancer of the lung. As of January of this year, she declared herself to
be cancer-free, but tonight, she is back in the hospital, and it is
apparently because of her gallbladder.
The U.S. Supreme Court has now released a statement about it. It says,
quote, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent nonsurgical treatment for
acute – forgive my pronunciation – cholecystitis, a benign gallbladder
condition, this afternoon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
Following oral arguments on Monday, yesterday, Justice Ginsburg underwent
outpatient tests at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. Those
tests confirmed she was suffering from a gallstone that had migrated to her
cystic duct, blocking it and causing an infection. The justice is resting
comfortably and plans to participate in the oral argument teleconference
tomorrow morning remotely from the hospital. She expects to stay in the
hospital for a day or two.
Joining us now is Pete Williams, NBC and MSNBC justice correspondent, for
the latest on this breaking news.
Pete, thanks very much for making time to join us tonight. I appreciate it.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): So, sure.
Think about how tough Ruth Bader Ginsburg is at 87. She takes part in the
court`s historic telephone conference call on Monday, the first oral
argument in the pandemic. Then she goes to a hospital here in Washington
where they diagnose this condition.
She takes part today in the telephone conference this morning. Then she
goes up to Baltimore. Then she has the treatment for the cholecystitis, and
she`s going to be back on the phone tomorrow morning. So she won`t miss any
But you`re right. Her health has been the subject of intense interest. She
had surgery in 2018 for lung cancer. She had treatment last summer for a
cancerous tumor of the pancreas.
I suspect one reason she wants to be on the phone tomorrow is that it`s a
subject important to her. That the court will hear arguments in the case
about whether the Trump administration can go ahead with its plan to give
more exceptions to employers who want to cite either religious or moral
exemptions – moral reasons for not providing contraceptive coverage to
MADDOW: Ah, yeah, an issue quite near and dear to her.
Pete, neither you nor I is a doctor, so tell me if I`m asking you something
here that is beyond our ken. But I am very focused on two words in this
statement from the Supreme Court tonight, one that this was a nonsurgical
treatment. Anytime somebody who is age 87 is having surgery, that itself
obviously becomes something that you worry about just in terms of the
strain on the body.
Also, that this is described as a benign gallbladder condition, meaning
something that doesn`t appear to be associated with any cancer. It`s an
infection related to a gallstone. This isn`t something that`s likely to
cause continual or chronic health problems.
Does that seem like a fair reading of what the court is telling us tonight?
WILLIAMS: It does. I`m not a doctor either, but I live with one, who`s been
explaining to me that the cystic duct, which was what was blocked here, is
what connects the gallbladder to the plumbing that in turn goes into the
intestine to help with digestion.
So somebody gets a gallstone like this is commonly treated with ultrasound
to break up the gallstone. Surgery wouldn`t be the normal thing for
treatment of a gallstone. And then usually antibiotics are administered
until – to take care of the infection, which is what the cholecystitis is.
MADDOW: Remarkable. Do you think there will be any implications, any
changes that will have to go into effect to have the justice on this
teleconference tomorrow for those arguments from the hospital as opposed to
from her office or her home, wherever she would otherwise usually be
WILLIAMS: I can`t imagine. I`m sure she`ll just tell everybody in the room
to shut up so she can listen on the phone. But I mean – this is – this is
one of the advantages to do it by phone because, you know, no matter where
you are, you can be in a Supreme Court argument.
She takes pride in not missing arguments. She missed a few early this year.
She had what the chief justice described as a stomach bug, coping with the
flu as many people were at that time in Washington. She missed a couple of
days, but she won`t have to miss this one. She can do it right from her
MADDOW: Pete Williams, NBC News justice correspondent, thanks for taking
time to help us understand it, Pete. I really appreciate it.
WILLIAMS: My pleasure.
MADDOW: All right. We are going to keep an eye on this story. We`ll bring
you any updates as we get them this hour. But again, the bottom line here
is that the Supreme Court has announced that Justice Ginsburg, 87 years old
and all of about three pounds, underwent nonsurgical treatment for
essentially a gallstone situation today at Johns Hopkins Hospital in
She was in oral arguments, the teleconference oral arguments yesterday
before undergoing tests that revealed the condition that needed to be
treated. She was treated today. She expects to be back in the
teleconference for oral arguments tomorrow morning. Remarkable and it just
puts your heart in your throat to think about it.
All right. Yesterday while I was reviewing local TV news reports in Iowa,
because that`s kind of what my days are like now, yesterday, I came across
something that I thought was a little bit weird. In the local news about
the city of Perry, Iowa.
Perry is Dallas County, Iowa. It`s northwest of Des Moines. It`s right on
the north raccoon river. It`s a small place, less than 8,000 people live
there. It`s got one high school, one hospital, one big employer, which is a
Tyson plant, a meat processing plant.
As I mentioned, Perry is only a town of about 8,000 people, but more than
1,200 people work at that one plant, so you can imagine how dominant it is
in terms of what happens in that town.
Well, over the past few days, the mayor of Perry, Iowa, and other officials
in Perry, have started speaking out about their concerns that they haven`t
had any idea what`s going on with coronavirus at that Tyson plant. They had
been told, yes, the plant has some positive cases, but the plant wouldn`t
specify how many, and it wouldn`t say anything more about how serious the
problem was at that place.
And as you can imagine in a town that small with a plant in it that`s that
big, the size and characteristics of the outbreak of communicable disease
at that plant is the kind of thing the town actually would need to know.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ANDORF, MAYOR OF PERRY: We would like to have the numbers so we know
what we`re dealing with and so as citizens of Perry could know what they`re
dealing with, and so we could all react accordingly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s an interview with the mayor from the town of Perry. That was
done by KCCI, a local station there.
The station also reported that the town couldn`t even figure out why the
plant won`t tell them how many workers are positive there. So that`s an
But then the local TV station, KCCI, looking into this, trying to figure
out why local officials can`t figure out how many employees are infected in
this plant, why the plant won`t say anything, they then got this piece of
information, which I think is truly odd. I have spent the last few weeks
marinating in local news coverage from all over this country. I have never
seen anything like this anywhere else in the country. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now in Perry, it is still unclear just how many
cases of COVID-19 there are at the Tyson Foods plant. Last night, KCCI told
you about our push to get answers. Neither Tyson Foods nor Dallas County
Public Health will tell us how many cases there are at the plant until 10
percent of the workforce tests positive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Until 10 percent of the workforce tests positive. They will not
tell us how many cases there are at the plant until 10 percent of the
workforce tests positive. What`s that? What`s the magic threshold that you
cross where the town mayor where your plant is, is only allowed to know how
many people have coronavirus at the town`s largest workplace once one in
ten of the people there is infected. But before then, he`s not allowed to
know. Nobody`s allowed to know.
What is that? I mean in a public health apocalypse, the higher, cooler
rings of hell are for bad and counterproductive policies that aren`t based
in science, right? That aren`t based on actual public health imperatives. I
think there`s a slightly deeper, slightly hotter ring in hell for policies
that have random numbers stuffed into them to make it seemed like they`re
based on something derived from numbers, like, for example, math or
statistics or some kind of science.
But actually, it`s just random numbers inserted into a policy, and the
policy is just your usual trash. But that`s apparently what has been in
effect. The Tyson meat plant in Perry, Iowa, wouldn`t tell the town of
Perry, Iowa, how many cases in the plant until a magical 10 percent
infection rate was crossed. So that`s what Perry officials have been
While not incidentally, the Iowa governor, Kim Reynolds, has been bragging
about how awesome Iowa is doing with this whole coronavirus thing and it`s
time to open everything up again because everything is fine.
Governor Reynolds literally signed on to this op-ed today with four
Republican governors. Our state stayed open in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here`s why our approach worked.
Well, here`s how it worked in Perry, Iowa, today. Lucky for the town in
terms of knowing what`s going on, the plant in Perry, Iowa, the Tyson plant
there, did hit their magical 10 percent threshold. And so, now, the plant
has elected to disclose to the town exactly what kind of coronavirus
problem they`ve got in that gigantic workplace.
Here`s how the very, very, very, very local newspaper, “Perry News”,
headlined it today. Quote: Jaw-dropping 58 percent of Perry Tyson workers
test positive. There are 1,250-ish workers at the Tyson plant, 730 of them
have tested positive. That`s 58 percent of the workforce in that plant.
I mean, there`s a Tyson plant in Waterloo, Iowa, with over 400 cases. That
has produced over 1,500 cases in surrounding Black Hawk County. It has
produced absolute despair among their overwhelmed local officials and
hospitals. There`s another Tyson plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, that
closed because of some indeterminate number of cases, and the state and the
plant wouldn`t talk about it for weeks.
Well, the state now says it was over 220 cases at that one plant in
Columbus Junction. But now it`s 730 cases among workers at that one plant
alone in little Perry, Iowa?
Spare a thought for Perry, Iowa, and its one hospital and what they`re
about to go through in Dallas County. If you want to watch for them to
appear as the next spike in American coronavirus outbreaks, they will
probably be listed as Dallas County, Iowa. Watch for that.
And then in a couple of days, you should watch for Madison County,
Nebraska, to become another nationally discussed spike because the Tyson
plant there just closed as well after almost 100 workers tested positive.
The test results for more than 1,000 of the other workers in Madison,
Nebraska, are due to come in tomorrow or Thursday. So brace yourself for
whatever those numbers are going to be as well.
The reason I spend my days now reading like the Perry, Iowa, news, and the
business pages in Nebraska is because I feel like it`s my job now, bottom
line – I mean that`s hard to say. But bottom line, I feel like my job
right now is to try to get my head around how many tens of thousands more
Americans are going to die from this thing, in large part because of the
way our country is botching the response to this epidemic.
And in order to do that, you have to look at the Perry, Iowa news and the
Nebraska business pages and everywhere else this thing is blowing up. And I
know I`m supposed to cover politics here, too. That`s part of my job. But I
actually can`t fathom the politics that would lead a governor like Kim
Reynolds in Iowa to brag about reopening her state right now, this week, as
the state crosses 10,000 cases and starts turning up 200, 300, 400, 700-
plus cases at individual workplaces, including in small towns that only
have one hospital.
And – I mean, it`s not just Iowa, right? I`m sure there`s politics that
explain why Texas is so excited to brag on how it`s opening up whole new
categories of businesses statewide on the same day that Dallas, Texas,
announces its highest number yet of new cases. I mean, I`m sure we will
look back at this moment, and there will be a clear in hindsight political
explanation for headlines like this. The U.S. just reported its deadliest
day for coronavirus patients as states reopen.
I mean, the president today decided the stay-at-home order isn`t working
for him anymore. He`s got ants in his pants now, so he flew out to Arizona
for a photo-op at a mask factory, where he didn`t wear a mask. And he did
so on the day that Arizona announced its highest daily death toll yet.
Why are we opening things up when the epidemic is getting worse? Why are we
opening it up specifically in states where cases are going like this,
The American epidemic overall has ballooned to over 70,000 dead now and
over 1.2 million cases among Americans. And yet you have to use a wide-
angle lens. You need to look in places you don`t usually look for big
national news stories right now in order to actually characterize what`s
going on and what`s going so wrong in this epidemic and in the public
policy response to it. You have to use a wide-angle lens to look in these
places you don`t usually find big national news stories.
But if you look there now, you will find what amounts to the biggest story
on earth. And actually to their credit, I think “The New York Times” netted
it up elegantly tonight in what will likely be a landmark front page story
for them, one that finally I think at least gets the headline right in
terms of providing a reality check antidote to the happy talk from
Washington and from increasingly Republican governors around the country.
Here`s the headline: Coronavirus in the U.S., an unrelenting crush of cases
And here`s the net grab: Coronavirus in America now looks like this. More
than a month has passed since there was a day with fewer than 1,000 deaths
from the virus. Almost every day at least 25,000 new coronavirus cases are
identified, meaning that the total in the United States, which has the
highest number of known cases in the world, is expanding daily by between 2
percent and 4 percent. That is very bad.
Quote: Rural towns that one month ago were unscathed are suddenly now hot
spots for the virus. It`s rampaging through nursing homes, meatpacking
plants and prisons, killing the medically vulnerable and the poor and new
outbreaks keep emerging in grocery stores, Walmarts or factories, an
ominous harbinger of what a full reopening of the economy will bring.
While dozens of rural counties have no known coronavirus cases, a panoramic
view of the country reveals a grim and distressing picture. Quote: If you
include New York, it looks like a plateau moving down, says Andrew Noymer,
an associate professor of public health at UC Irvine. But if you exclude
New York, it`s a plateau slowly moving up.
And then “The Times” in their data visualization department, they do that
work to show you what that looks like, right? On the left, that is the
comforting graph shape we are all so used to seeing by now. That is
specifically the New York metropolitan area. And that is – that is a
terrible thing, right? That represents thousands of cases.
And as we know, thousands of deaths, and that curve isn`t coming down
nearly steeply enough. But at least it`s coming down convincingly. That`s
New York on the left.
On the right, that`s what`s happening in the overall American epidemic if
you drop out the numbers from the New York metropolitan area. Up, up, up.
Keep going, keep going up.
The New York metropolitan area got its gigantic epidemic under control at
the cost of 25,000 dead New Yorkers among other things. But they got it
under control. The rest of the country is ascending relentlessly.
But for some reason, the way our politics and our brains are working right
now, it`s – we think we`re doing great as if the whole country is New
York, right? I mean, we think we`re doing great. We`re past all this. Time
to stop working on it, turns out it`s no big deal.
Why are our brains and our politics working that way right now when what
we`re going through as a country right now is an exploding epidemic that is
getting worse? I mean, in Hartsdale, Tennessee, Trousdale County,
Tennessee, we have talked in the last few days about the testing they just
did there on the men who are incarcerated in the state prison they got
there. They turned up 1,200 positive cases among the prisoners at the
facility in Trousdale County, Tennessee, plus dozens of staff members.
There`s only 11,000 people in the whole county. So the space of a week and
a half, that little county went from 27 known cases to more than 1,300
known cases. How have they responded to that this week in Trousdale County?
They`ve decided to open back up all the businesses in the county this week.
They went from 27 to 1,300, that`s this week, and so they`re celebrating by
opening up all the businesses because why not? Why were they closed anyway?
Everything should be fine.
Where do you think the people who work in that prison go home to after
their shifts? The disconnect between what is happening in the epidemic and
what decisions are being made now about whether or not it`s over, Ollie,
Ollie, all come free, is a disconnect that reflects something about
American politics. It`s a disconnect between what a bad situation we`re in
and what kinds of decisions we`re making.
That disconnect honestly reflects a country with bad leadership, with bad
politics that aren`t correcting bad decisions at a critical time. I mean
when you`re talking about decisions for the country that will either kill
tens of thousands of Americans or keep them alive, those decisions should
be based on a realistic perception of what`s actually happening in this
But instead we`ve got, you know, headlines every day that look like this.
Trump cheers on governors even as they ignore White House coronavirus
guidelines in race to reopen, right? We`ve got these White House
guidelines. Supposedly President Trump`s own guidelines that say states
shouldn`t open up until, among other things, they`ve got 14 straight days
of declining cases.
The American states that are right now opening up by and large do not have
anywhere near that because the American epidemic is getting worse, not
better. But, meh, whatever. Who said he cared about his own guidelines
anyway? Why did they even issued them?
In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, they have reopened the big Smithfield plant
there that was the direct source of more than 1,000 coronavirus cases in
Sioux Falls. They reopened that plant yesterday despite all the people who
have already gotten infected there. They reopened it yesterday without
testing all the employees who were going into the facility for the
reopening. Instead, they decided they would just scan all the employees to
see if they had a fever on their way in.
Well, what does that do? If you have COVID-19 but you`re not symptomatic,
you don`t have a fever, you can still spread the virus to others. You`re
still infectious. So scanning for fever – I mean, yes, it might identify
individual people who are already sick, which is a nice thing, I suppose.
But when it comes to actually trying to keep COVID-19 out of that facility
so hundreds of other workers there stop getting infected on the job,
scanning for fever at the gate is nothing. Scanning for fever at the gate
is what we used to call security theater. It`s nonsense designed to make
you feel like you`re doing something to keep yourself safe even though
you`re not. It`s like if you were trying to keep under the age of 18 out of
your venue, so you put up a sign that says “you must be this tall to
Like OK, maybe you`ll catch some, but tall kids will get in fine, and short
adults will be excluded. You`re scanning for something. You`re testing for
something that isn`t actually determinative of the thing that you are
looking to exclude.
Why would you do this? Why would you allow the reopening of this plant
without testing everyone? This is a plant that`s already led to more than
1,000 infections. Why would you let them reopen without testing everybody?
It turns out there`s an answer to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: One of the most effective things that
we can do is test Smithfield employees to make sure that they are COVID-
negative before they`re going back into work. We also want to make sure
that their family members have the opportunity to be tested.
This event is optional for Smithfield employees and is not a requirement
for them to return back to work.
REPORTER: Whose decision was it to make the testing for employees at
Smithfield optional and not mandatory for returning to work?
KIM MALSAM-RYSDON, SOUTH DAKOTA HEALTH SECRETARY: That decision was made by
Smithfield as the employer.
REPORTER: OK. Thanks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK, thanks. That`s the state health director and the governor of
South Dakota saying basically, yeah, it would be really important for
everybody to be tested before they go back to work in that plant, that
plant that`s already give us over 1,000 infections in Sioux Falls.
But, yes, as much as we want that, the plant`s reopening and the testing is
optional. Might happen, might not because the meat company, Smithfield,
decided that they didn`t want to test everybody before they reopened. How
can that be that the company just decides, and the state is like, oh, OK,
whatever. It would be really good to have everybody tests, but they don`t
want to. How can that be?
Remember the president`s executive order to keep the meat plants open? We
got our first court ruling today on what that means in practical terms for
trying to make American meat processing plants operate in a way that stops
infecting hundreds and thousands of those employees at a time.
A federal judge in Missouri today ruled that because of the president`s
executive order, he, the judge, can`t require meat plants to follow OSHA
and CDC guidelines in order to stay open safely. He can`t require them to
do it. He has to defer to those agencies themselves. And states can`t close
these plants down or stop them from reopening if the plants don`t follow
Oh, and the Trump administration says through those agencies that it runs
that the plants don`t have to follow those guidelines at all. They`re just
good thoughts. They`re nice ideas, but don`t worry. We won`t hold you to
them, not if we believe you`re acting in good faith.
And so, meatpacking plants across the country are operating now while
making their own rules, and nobody`s holding them to anything. And every
day we get hundreds more workers at these plants finding out that they`re
And, yes, you can lament that meat processing plants are closing down and
the meat supply is crimped and Wendy`s stopped selling burgers at a bunch
of their restaurants because they can`t get beef, literally. Tyson said in
an investor call yesterday that – or this morning – that the pork supply
has been crimped 50 percent, and that`s only going to get worse. You can
lament that about the U.S. food supply, but what are you going to do about
You can`t keep these plants open without any workers in them. And if Perry,
Iowa, God bless them, if Perry, Iowa, is going to have 58 percent of its
workers from its big meat plant test positive, then, no, you`re not going
to be able to keep that plant open because you`ve infected all your
employees with a highly contagious communicable disease that may
hospitalize 15 percent of them and kill a good number of them, too.
The way to keep the meat plants open is not by ordering them to stay open
and then telling the meat companies there`s no rules for them to follow. If
you do that, what will happen? You will have all of the meat plants close
anyway because their workforce will all get sick.
If you want Wendy`s to have burgers and the pork supply to not be shut off,
you actually have to work on this as a public health matter. You actually
have to figure out a way – it`s not hard to do. You have to only allow
these plants to reopen after you have required them to follow really strict
rules about how to operate without infecting all of their workers, and that
includes mandatory and frequent testing of everybody who comes through the
And, yes, that will be a difficult and expensive thing to do. Making them
follow the guidelines that will prevent their employees from all getting
infected, making sure they`re all testing before people come in, yes, that
will be expensive, time consuming to do. But, A, these are pretty rich
companies. And, B, there aren`t that many of these plants.
That`s why they`re all – that`s why all these plants have so many workers,
right? The consolidation of the meat processing industry means there are a
relatively small numbers of large plants.
So fix them. Make them follow really strict rules. Help them do it if they
need help. This is not rocket science. Don`t just tell them to reopen, you
Make it possible for them to reopen and stay open by operating in such a
way that doesn`t infect everybody who works there. This is not rocket
science, basic public health concepts.
You`re not trying to keep the workers from getting infected because you
love the workers. We know in the Trump administration that`s not your
strong suit. You don`t have to love the workers.
If you just want to keep the meat – the meat supply unbroken in this
country, you have to keep people who work at meat processing plants alive
and at the job, which you can only do if you change the way the plants
work. Why don`t you get this?
But this is our government right now, and they apparently cannot handle
concepts even this simple. So we`ve got from our government, right? Top of
my head, right? The disastrous meat plant executive order, which is putting
our meat supply more at risk than anything else the federal government has
done in this crisis.
There`s also the FDA decision in the Trump administration to willy-nilly
allow anything calling itself a coronavirus antibody test onto the market
without any sort of quality control or testing of those tests at all.
The FDA has been doing that for weeks. They`re only now getting around to
telling the hundreds of entities that have put these mostly dodgy tests
straight onto the market that actually, now, after the fact, now they`re
going to need to show some data that indicates those tests might work. Good
job, Trump administration.
In a Friday night news dump late at night Friday night, the president got
rid of the Health and Human Services Inspector General, the one who
reported that hospitals were having a hard time getting necessary supplies
including both tests and PPE to protect their staff. Undoubtedly true,
helpful report from the inspector general, so naturally she`s got to go.
Today, “The Washington Post” reports on a whistle-blower who has come
forward to the House oversight committee to tell them all about the boy
genius volunteer team that presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner put
together to be in charge of getting necessary PPE to American hospitals.
Well, that team under Jared`s leadership was excellent, it turns out, at
things like expediting requests and paying special attention to tips and
questions from conservative TV hosts, but they were not so good at actually
getting PPE to health workers and American hospitals, maybe because, oh, my
God, this is how the U.S. federal government decided we would tackle this
challenge. Quote: The document alleges that the team responsible for PPE
had little success in helping the government security such equipment in
part because none of the team members had significant experience in health
care or procurement or supply chain operations.
In addition, none of Jared`s volunteers had relationships with
manufacturers or a clear understanding of customs requirement or FDA rules
according both to the complaint and to two senior administration officials
So that whistle-blower complaint, per “The Post`s” reporting, is supported
by corroboration from multiple administration officials. Yes, they`re
making lots of good decisions up top these days. Today, we learned they`re
going to disband the coronavirus task force since, you know, all better
now. Let`s reopen. Everything`s fine.
There`s still, in the Trump administration, as of right now, fighting to
take away health insurance from millions of Americans by killing the
Affordable Care Act with the Supreme Court case. Seems like an excellent
time to take health insurance away from millions of Americans.
The part of the Trump administration that oversees nursing homes and long-
term care facilities, what are they working on? They`re loosening the rules
about what nursing homes need to do when it comes to infection control.
Right now, that`s what they`re working on. They`re loosening the rules
about what nursing homes need to do when it comes to infection control.
Right now, that`s what they`re working on. They`re saying nursing homes
should be way more lax when it comes to infection control inside those
facilities. Sure, why not?
We`ve learned that the official the president put in charge of public
health preparedness and things like building up the national stockpile of
stuff, we would need in a pandemic, he halted an Obama era initiative to
spend $35 million to build a machine that could produce 1.5 million N95
masks per day. Wouldn`t that have been great if the U.S. government had had
For $35 million, you could have had 1.5 million masks every day, seven days
a week. No, he killed that so he could instead spend freely on smallpox
vaccine supplies from a company he used to work for that appeared to have
been severely marked up. And now, tonight, a new whistle-blower complaint,
a doozy, from someone who reported to that paragon of Trump administration
The new whistle-blower is named Dr. Rick Bright. He was a top vaccine
official. He was recently demoted within the Trump administration. He has
since been sounding the alarm that he was removed from his post for
refusing to go along with serious corruption at the highest levels of the
Trump administration`s epidemic response.
And now, he has spelled it out in great, excruciating detail. It is hair-
curling stuff. That`s next.
MADDOW: The date is Tuesday, March 17th. It was sent at 1:22 p.m. Subject,
chloroquine for COVID-19, importance, high.
Quote: We were approached by a group about a promising compound,
chloroquine, that`s making waves in the European and Chinese critical care
community. Bayer just reached out and is willing to give drug away to the
national stockpile for free. One million pills to treat 35,000 patients.
This can be a big immediate win. Assuming this one team inside HHS signs
off on saying this chloroquine stuff can work for the treatment of COVID-
So the scientists on that team do take a look at the chloroquine compound
that was being proffered to the administration, and this is what they
Quote: Attached is a summary of the clinical trials that are associates
with chloroquine use. Not a single study has posted any data for peer-
Quote: The attached publication says chloroquine works without providing
any supporting data.
Quote: One article actually says to use caution when thinking about
chloroquine for widespread use because one clinical trial showed those
treated with chloroquine were harmed.
Quote: Bottom line up front, I do not believe we should accept the donation
until we have an understanding on the clinical utility of the drug.
Accepting the donation could lead to widespread use that is not supported
by any clinical data.
So that was the scientists at the Biomedical Advanced Research and
Development Authority, BARDA. Scientist there telling his boss, hey, we
should not take millions of doses of it for free for use on the American
people. This could hurt people, and we don`t have any data it would help.
His boss, Dr. Rick Bright, at BARDA, agreed, but it did not make any
difference. Two days later, Bayer had partnered with the U.S. government,
quote, on a major product donation.
And soon enough, Dr. Rick Bright says he was getting directives passed down
from the White House to drop everything and make the chloroquine donated by
Bayer widely available to the American public.
Dr. Bright says he brought his concerns about the drug to other government
officials. He says he alerted his boss for example, at HHS.
But with the president daily hawking it as a potential cure as well as
hosts on the Fox News Channel, Dr. Bright says his warnings were ignored.
He ended up talking to a reporter about what was going on behind the
scenes, and for that he says he was pushed out of his job.
Quote: Dr. Bright concluded he was left with no choice, and he had a clear
obligation to the American public to protect it from drugs which he firmly
believed constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and
public safety. Dr. Bright hoped that by shining a light on HHS` reckless
push to make this drug available, human lives would be saved.
Those emails and this recollection from Dr. Bright come from a formal
whistle-blower complaint he has now filed alleging that among other things,
he was pushed out of his job in the Trump administration for resisting on
scientific grounds the president`s continued insistence that his miracle
cure that he`d already discovered was going to be the one that made the
coronavirus go away.
Dr. Bright again filed his formal whistle-blower complaint today. His
lawyer joins us live in just a moment. Stay with us.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED RESEARCH AND
DEVELOPMENT: Time after time, I was pressured to ignore or dismiss expert
and scientific recommendations. I was pressured to let politics and
cronyism drive decisions over the opinions of the best scientists we have
in government and, ultimately, I was removed from my position.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Dr. Rick Bright on a call with reporters today after he
filed a whistleblower complaint saying he was demoted from his job as a top
level vaccine expert in the U.S. government. He says he was demoted
specifically for resisting on scientific grounds the administration`s
campaign to use an unproven drug as a treatment for coronavirus.
Joining us now is Debra Katz. She`s the lawyer who`s representing Dr.
Bright in this whistleblower complaint.
Doc – Ms. Katz, thank you very much for being here. I appreciate you
DEBRA KATZ, RICK BRIGHT`S ATTORNEY: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, I understand a little bit because I`ve read a little bit of the
medical literature around chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine and the
concerns about its widespread use and the weirdness around conservative
media and the president hyping it. The thing that I`m less clear on is why
your client thinks that cronyism was part of the problem in terms of why
that drug was being hyped and why he was being pressured to go along with
KATZ: Well, we`re mixing up a little of the allegations here. With respect
to other contracts, there was clear cronyism. Friends of Dr. Kadlec
insinuated themselves in the contracting system and pushed for drugs that
medical experts and scientists did not favor. And somehow those drugs got
approved for the contracts that we`re very, very lucrative.
With respect to the anti-malarial drugs, what we know from other reporting
is that the president fell in love with this idea that these drugs could
work even though his scientists told him that there was no scientific
evidence, no data, to suggest that this was the way to go.
And what you see from the allegations from the complaint and from the
emails that were attached, somehow people thought this would be a big
political win if Bayer – Bayer donated all of these pills that it was
getting from factories in India and Pakistan that were not inspected from
the FDA, and somehow there would be a big political win to flood New York
and New Jersey with drugs that were unproven and, in fact, could have had a
very damaging effect to people who took those drugs, which is what prompted
Dr. Bright to come forward and say “no” repeatedly. And he tried to do that
internally and that did not work. The administration was not willing to
listen to the scientists.
MADDOW: In terms of the way things have evolved with your client and his
career and his position in government, HHS says they transferred Dr. Bright
to a less prestigious job which they want to be distinguished from firing
him from his job.
Does – does he intend to start that new job? Does he – has he started the
new job? What`s he looking for from this complaint?
KATZ: Today, with the whistleblower filing (AUDIO GAP) you`re breaking up a
little bit here. I don`t know if you can hear me.
MADDOW: I can still hear you.
KATZ: It`s raining here in Washington, D.C. Sorry, it`s raining here in
Washington, D.C. The world is coming to an end.
What – I`m sorry. Ask again. This is freezing.
MADDOW: Oh. I`m sorry.
KATZ: With respect to the transfer – OK. Sorry.
MADDOW: Go ahead.
KATZ: You know, you asked about his transfer. When they first announced it,
the administration said this is a great opportunity for Dr. Bright. And if
you see when he was told about this involuntary transfer from a position
that was the best position in science for him given his training, this man
worked his whole life and career to be ready to deal with a pandemic of the
type we`re having.
And his supervisor, his boss, comes to him and says, great news. You`re a
victim of your own success and we`re shipping you to a position with narrow
responsibilities and, essentially, we`re stripping you of all your
Now, when the administration first said that, they put a press release
saying this is a great opportunity for Dr. Bright, he is the man for this
role. As soon as he came forward and said, no, this is retaliatory, the
administration started a smear campaign and said, we have to get him a more
narrow role because of performance deficiencies that do not exist.
So, he has not started that job. There are no roles. There`s no
And contrary to what HHS said today, he has been suffering from
hypertension. They know that. He`s been out on medical leave. He`s out on
He has – he has a medical condition and they`re aware of it. So, the
suggestion that he`s absenting himself from work is silly.
What is true is we have requested today that the Office of Special Counsel
seek a stay to prevent his forced transfer. This is an illegal transfer.
The special counsel has the authority to go to Secretary Azar and ask him
to stay that transfer. And that`s what we think is warranted here.
MADDOW: Debra Katz, the lawyer representing Dr. Rick Bright in this
whistleblower complaint, which is fascinating in terms of his own situation
but also as a window into what the administration has done from the
beginning, from the earliest days of the warning here – thanks for helping
us understand what your client`s going through. I really appreciate it.
KATZ: Oh, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MIKE DUGGAN (D), DETROIT: The key to everything that we have done has
been testing, and I think by now you know I`ve been obsessed with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I have been obsessed with it. The key to everything has been
testing. That`s Detroit`s mayor, Mike Duggan, speaking earlier today.
Detroit, of course, is one of America`s great cities. It`s also in a really
vulnerable position when it comes to dealing with this epidemic. Michigan
has the highest fatality rate in the country, meaning it has the highest
proportion of infected patients who have ended up dying from this virus.
But within Michigan, Detroit is the hardest-hit city in that very hard-hit
state. In order to try to fight back, one of the things the city of Detroit
has done is make testing a real focal point and that itself is interesting
given how bad access to testing has been everywhere in the country. But
specifically in Detroit, Mayor Duggan has done one testing initiative that
deserves a bunch of national attention. He has made a huge effort on
testing when it comes to the city`s nursing homes.
Listen up, other cities. Here`s what you`re supposed to be doing if you are
not doing it already. Detroit has committed to conducting universal testing
of all of its nursing homes, all the residents at city nursing homes were
tested whether or not they showed symptoms. And when they did that
universal testing, what they found is that more than one in four residents
in Detroit nursing homes was already positive.
In addition to testing all the residents, symptoms or not, the city is now
testing all of the staff at those facilities as well. They`ve also begun
testing other high-density locations that house Detroit seniors, places
like long-term care facilities and senior residential buildings. They`re
doing that in part through funding from a donor, a private citizen who came
forward with a bunch of cash to make sure this Detroit effort to test
seniors could keep going.
As I said, testing access continues to be terrible everywhere. Detroit has
a big epidemic and a big problem, but they are testing everyone in the
places where people are most at risk for dying from this thing, which is a
big deal because it means they are finding the bull`s-eye in terms of
keeping people alive. Like Mayor Duggan, the key to everything has been
Joining us now is Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for making time to be here tonight. I
appreciate your time.
DUGGAN: Well, thanks for having me on, Rachel. We didn`t really have any
choice on the testing. We got hit so fast that by the second week, a
quarter of our police department was out on quarantine, and it was shocking
how fast the virus was spreading.
But we got obsessed about the testing off the bat. We did it starting in
the police department where we took the officers through and if they were
positive, we got them medical care. If they were negative, we got them back
to work. And we brought the infection rate down so dramatically that we
then looked and said, where is our worst problem?
And it`s in the nursing homes, and we`ve now tested every single one of the
2,000 nursing home residents in this city. And this is the problem. A
quarter of the people with no symptoms were positive.
So think about it. If you`re a nursing home administrator and people
without symptoms are spreading the disease, you have no way of isolating
them. And it really is the reason why rapid testing is at the center of
what this country`s got to do to beat this thing.
MADDOW: Are you going to keep testing people in an ongoing way, both the
residents and the staff? I imagine this is both a big logistical
investment, but it`s also expensive, having a snapshot round of tests is
incredibly valuable but obviously the most value would be if you could
DUGGAN: Oh, absolutely. We`re doing 1,500 tests a day, every single worker
going to work in grocery stores and drugstores and gas stations we`re
testing. So, we took the state fairgrounds that has 140 acres, and we`re
testing 1,500 people a day, and it`s making a huge difference.
Three weeks ago, we had about the highest death rate in the country. Now
it`s dropped 80 percent and half of our hospital beds are empty. The people
of this city have definitely committed to social distancing. You don`t have
to explain to Detroiters that if an African-American gets COVID-19, you`re
two to three times more likely die than a Caucasian.
The people of this city have embraced the social distancing commitments.
And when you can keep the infectious from the non-infectious by the rapid
tests, there are the tools here. But we brought the rate down very, very
MADDOW: If other leaders are right now listening to you, wishing that they
had access to rapid testing to be able to test all of their nursing homes
and thinking through how they might be able to walk through – how they
might be able to do the logistics in their own communities given what
you`ve been able to do in Detroit, do you have any advice in terms of other
public officials who may be wanting to do the same kind of thing that you
do, specifically thinking about nursing home residents?
DUGGAN: Well, for nine years before I got elected mayor, I ran the Detroit
medical center, the major hospital system here. And a number of my team
came with me, so we had a significant advantage. We were running a big
hospital system during the H1N1 issue in 2009.
But we don`t spend a lot of time in politics. I`m all day on the phone with
labs, with doctors, and so is much of my team. And, you know, where are the
swabs? Where are the medium? Where are the vials? Who`s got the lab
Then I had the big advantage that Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans is our major
employer here, the people who normally sell you mortgages. They took 40
people and switched them over to a call center, and the reason we can run
through 1,000, 1,200 people a day is because they call the Quicken call
center and make appointments.
So it comes through the average person spends 15 or 20 minutes. But it`s a
lot of boring details. But given the stakes, it just was something we felt
we needed to do. And the reaction we`ve gotten from the nursing homes, now
that the nursing home administrators are moving to senior citizen
traditional housing, now they know who`s infectious and who`s not, they`re
moving very quickly to separate folks and we`re seeing infection rates go
And most importantly, we`re seeing the number of deaths drop dramatically.
MADDOW: Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, thanks for helping us understand this. I
feel like what you`ve been doing in Detroit is different enough from what a
lot of other cities have done, then it really deserves attention. Thanks
for helping us understand what you`ve done. Good luck.
DUGGAN: Thanks for having me on, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. I want to leave you tonight with one thing that has just
happened over the course of this evening, as if we were not already living
through a “Ripley`s Believe It or Not” episode turned dark. Today, you
should know that as the president toured a mask factory in Arizona, while
not himself wearing a mask, there was something going on with the
background music while he toured the plant that you should just know about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the material that traps the particulates –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is the material that traps the particulates, Mr. President.
This is how the mask works. I see you`re not wearing a mask. And neither
are any of us here.
In the background “Live and Let Die” playing really loudly, Guns N` Roses.
Sometimes the universe is too on point for me.
That does it again for us. That really happened? That does it for me
tonight and maybe for a long time.
I`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>
Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the