Pentagon official TRANSCRIPT: 6/16/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests:
Robert Gates, Jeanne Marrazzo
Transcript:

 

TOM PEREZ, DNC CHAIRMAN: Always a pleasure.

 

HAYES: That is “ALL IN” this evening.

 

“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.

 

Good evening, Rachel.

 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.

Appreciate it.

 

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

 

This was the front page of “The Tulsa World” newspaper today. You see the

main headline there. “Trump in Tulsa.”

 

Now, the president coming to do a big rally event in Tulsa is the main

headline. But then look at column one, the other main news of the day in

the “Tulsa World.” New cases surpassed peak. Tulsa County seven-day rolling

average more than doubles the peak that was hit in April.

 

And you can see the lead of that story there right there above the fold,

COVID-19 in Tulsa County is surging well beyond its original April peak.

Disappointing those who hoped the disease might stay at least somewhat

under wraps during the summer heat like the flu or common cold. Tulsa

County seven-day rolling average of cases has now more than doubled the

peak that Tulsa hit in April. The county also just reported the most new

cases on a single day yet. Again, that`s the front page of the “Tulsa

World” in Tulsa, Oklahoma today.

 

Now, Vice President Mike Pence recently said that the Trump campaign picked

Tulsa for the president`s big re-election rally this week specifically

because they`ve done such a great job flattening the curve and stopping the

virus there. That`s not at all true. The virus is actually off to the races

there. And it is the worst it has ever been throughout the duration of the

epidemic, both in Oklahoma broadly and in Tulsa specifically. We will have

more on that coming up.

 

But the president announced the Tulsa campaign rally right after he moved

the Republican convention out of Charlotte, North Carolina this year.

Because he didn`t want to do anything at the Republican convention to

mitigate the threat of coronavirus and so North Carolina basically said no

thanks then.

 

Well, in Charlotte, North Carolina, here`s the front page today of their

local paper. “Charlotte News Observer”, quote, Governor Cooper asked Pence

for help with testing. And, again, you can see the lead there above the

fold. Governor Roy Cooper says he`s spoken with Vice President Mike Pence

about the state`s climbing coronavirus infections and the need for testing.

The governor says the state is monitoring hospital capacity as new

infections in North Carolina have hit record numbers in the past few days,

as have hospitalizations in North Carolina.

 

On that front page, you can also see the other major headline above the

fold, page A1 is about how the state`s nursing homes are unable to contain

the coronavirus at this point.

 

The president has also reportedly decided to do another campaign event in

Alabama some time soon. Well, here`s the front page of “The Montgomery

Advertiser” today, virus infections rise among Alabama prison staff.

 

Here`s the lead coronavirus story at Alabama live right now. Hospitals in

several Alabama cities now seeing all-time highs in coronavirus patients.

Quote: The number of COVID-19 patients and hospitals in Birmingham,

Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Decatur has hit all-time highs this month,

filling beds and taxing staff as the state struggles with a wave of new

cases. That`s Alabama.

 

Here`s the front page at “The Arizona Republic” tonight. Arizona reports

record-high new COVID cases. And then here`s their big front page feature

story today. Headline: I am taken aback: here`s why Arizona`s COVID-19

trajectory is concerning.

 

Here`s the lead of that story where you can see they got the quote from

that headline. From the perspective of Arizona emergency room physician Dr.

Murtaza Akhter, the COVID pandemic here could be even worse than the

state`s numbers are showing. Dr. Akhter says, quote, I am taken aback. I

walked into the hospital today and I was like, oh, my God.

 

Dr. Akhter who works at Florence Hospital and Valleywise Health Medical

Center in Phoenix says, quote, we are getting all sorts of patients who

look quite sick. The paper continues: Trend lines are moving up in Arizona.

Total hospitalizations have doubled since April. The number of new daily

cases reported by the state have reached record levels.

 

Dr. Akhter says, quote: It`s very important for the people to know that

whatever your politics may be, whatever your family members may be doing,

whatever you want to do for fun, there really is a huge pandemic. It is

important to distance even if you aren`t sick.

 

In Arizona`s second largest city in Tucson, as of yesterday morning, the

Tucson medical center had just one remaining bed available in its ICU. One

ICU left. Tucson Medical Center spokeswoman Julia Strange writing in an

email to the “Arizona Republic”, quote, we have been very constrained

within our ICU because of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

 

“The Republic” then reprints these graphs from the COVID tracking project

showing the kind of company that Arizona is in right now. Take a close look

at that. What that is, you see the headline there, “Daily Positives,”

that`s the graph of daily numbers of positive cases in Texas and Arizona

and North Carolina and South Carolina. Look at how steeply those numbers

are rising.

 

This also from the COVID tracking project is the graph of hospitalizations

in those states. Again, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina.

That`s bad.

 

In Texas, they have just set five consecutive days of record

hospitalizations. And this is the front page of “The Texas Tribune” right

now. Texas` Republican Governor Greg Abbott assuring Texans that there are

plenty of beds, plenty of hospital beds to go around. Never mind the five

straight days of ever-increasing record numbers. Fill em up, they can take

way more.

 

So it`s OK if the daily number of new infections keeps hitting new records

as well. Let`s just see how high we can go. You see the secondary headline

on the front page there, which is a little discordant with that message

from the governor. Secondary headline on the front page of “The Texas

Tribune” tonight is this: Texas Governor Greg Abbott blames people in their

20s for the latest increase in coronavirus.

 

That`s kind of a hard sell, right, to pick somebody to blame if you are

simultaneously denying that the huge increase in coronavirus transmission

and in your state are a problem, right? Because you`ve got plenty of

hospital beds to fill up with sick and dying Texans. We can take them all.

Make more.

 

Some Texas cities and communities want to put in place new mitigation

measures to try to slow down the spread in Texas. But the governor made

clear today he will block any Texas cities and towns and counties from

doing that, because, again, his approach is fill em up. There`s lots of

room for people to die here, lots of beds to fill up with sick and dying

people. We`ve got plenty of room.

 

The vice president today wrote an op-ed in which he said that the state of

the U.S. coronavirus epidemic is, in his words, quote, cause for

celebration. Cause for celebration. He said, thanks to the leadership of

President Trump, we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.

 

I just want to put something on the screen here if you`re, like, doing the

dishes and not watching what I`m doing, you might want to look at this for

a second. Up in the upper left-hand corner, you have these graphs?

 

That`s Italy, how they have dealt with their epidemic. In the upper right-

hand corner there, that`s Spain. That`s how they`ve dealt with their

epidemic. In the lower left-hand corner, that`s France. That`s the shape of

their epidemic over time.

 

Now, let`s put us up there. Let`s put the United States up there for

comparison sake. Yeah, that`s us. That`s what the U.S. government is

calling cause for celebration. Closing in on 117,000 Americans dead and we

appear to be doing something you might reasonably call peak plateauing.

 

I mean, all these other western industrialized countries, all these allies

of ours that got hit hard and early like we did, they did actually succeed

in bringing their numbers basically back down to their baseline or close to

it. But us? No way. We are just plotting along, steady as she goes with the

biggest epidemic on earth, the deadliest one already, and we are just

holding forth now at 20,000-plus cases a day. More than 20 cases seeing

daily increases in their number of cases this week.

 

“The New York Times” reporting that Vice President Pence told governors on

a call yesterday that they should stress in their public remarks that the

reason it might look like case numbers are getting worse in lots of states

is just because over additional testing. Not because we`ve got any problem

with a persistent and even growing epidemic.

 

That advice from the vice president is not borne out by what`s actually

happening with the numbers in the states where case numbers are outpacing

the rate of case – the rate of testing and where the percentage of

positive test results is going up in multiple states. Vice President Pence

also apparently told the governors that they should play up what a success

reopening has been, which sounds like an awesome thing to want to be able

to say until you look at the front pages of local newspapers around the

country.

 

I mean, here`s “The Miami Herald” front page today. Miami and Miami Beach

mayor sound alarm on COVID-19 increase. Miami is one of the places

nationwide that is now considering stopping or rolling back reopening

efforts because of exploding case numbers. And record hospitalization

numbers.

 

Miami`s considering that. Nashville`s considering that. Utah, Oregon and

counting. We went through all of that national discussion about reopening.

Well, we`re now entering into the part of the botched re-openings that`s

going to lead to a big national discussion about re-closings.

 

Unless, of course, you are buying what the White House is selling. Vice

President Pence in his op-ed today saying any panic over a so-called second

wave is, quote, overblown.

 

Tonight, we`re going to speak with the top infectious disease doctor at the

University of Alabama, which is treating a record number of coronavirus

patients as of today, along with many other health facilities in her state.

She may actually agree with Vice President Pence on that – that second

wave idea, at least in this one specific sense. Her name is Dr. Jeanne

Marrazzo, and she announced in a public update for the University of

Alabama yesterday.

 

Quote, it is a real increase in the cases we are finding. People ask about

a second wave. I`ve been saying we never stopped having a first wave. She

says, quote: I think we now have just widespread sustained community

spread. There`s so much infection out there, you could go anywhere and

potentially be exposed. It`s been an unfortunate series of days of record

setting.

 

I`ll be speaking with that infectious doctor from the University of Alabama

later on this hour. But the White House says it`s all over. The White House

says it`s cause for celebration, that we have won, this thing is done,

let`s pile 19,000 people into an indoor arena in Tulsa for the largest

indoor congregate event in the western hemisphere since the onset of this

global pandemic, and we`ll do it in the country that has the worst epidemic

on earth in a place that has widespread community transmission with no

relief in sight.

 

I mean, let me just say one other thing about this, about the White House

saying there is cause for celebration in the American coronavirus disaster.

I mean, it turns your stomach in one direction, to look at, you know,

117,000 Americans dead and say that`s good news, cause for celebration. But

there`s something even more disturbing about the White House telling us

that there`s cause for celebration when you look at not just where we`ve

been but where we are going.

 

You might have seen yesterday that forecasters at the University of

Washington have updated their projection for the course of the U.S.

epidemic. This is the data group whose models the White House used to

promote and cite all the time at the White House when their model was –

this model from the University of Washington was based on the premise, the

expectation that we were going to have a competent response as a country.

 

So their initial projections, which were modeled internationally on

successful things that other competent governments did to contain this

thing, their initial projections from the university of Washington looked

pretty rosy from the White House`s perspective in terms of how things were

going to go out, in terms of how many Americans were going to die.

 

But those premises, those expectations were wrong. We didn`t respond in a

coherent and effective way as a country. Given how we have actually

responded as a country, they`ve had to revise their model, they`ve had to

revise their projections, and their new forecast from the University of

Washington is that over 200,000 Americans will be killed by this thing by

the time September is over.

 

And let me just put that in perspective, right, in terms of the White House

saying – the vice president saying our coronavirus epidemic as of today is

cause for celebration. Let me put that in perspective this way. As a

country, it took us this long to get from our first case on January 21st to

100,000 dead Americans on May 28th. It took us 129 days for this – for

this thing to kill 100,000 Americans.

 

This new forecast from the University of Washington is that our next

100,000 dead will take even less time. That it will take 127 days for the

coronavirus body count to climb from 100,000 to 200,000 dead Americans. The

pace is holding steady, maybe even picking up just a little bit. This is

what the White House today calls cause for celebration.

 

And it`s not like this is a tragedy that is unfolding separate and apart

from the federal government, right? The parts of the response for which the

government has direct responsibility continue to be the deadliest and worst

handled aspects of this American disaster. I mean, “The Wall Street

Journal” reporting today that among the 116,000-plus American deaths it now

looks like over 50,000 of though deaths can be attributed to nursing homes

and long-term care facilities, 50,000 Americans dead in those facilities.

It just rocks you to your core.

 

Well, in terms of responsibility for that, the federal government regular

gates nursing homes in this country directly, but the federal government`s

response to this problem where 50,000 Americans have been killed already

continues – I mean, it continues to be basically nonexistent. The Trump

administration, who heads CMS, who heads the part of the federal government

that regulates nursing homes, yesterday did a photo-op event with the

president at the White House where she said that American nursing homes by

and large have done great.

 

Yeah, nothing to worry about – other than 50,000 people dead in those

facilities. This comes as ABC News today obtains a recording of a call

between FEMA and nursing homes in which a FEMA official starts apologizing

for FEMA and the federal government sending American nursing homes expired,

broken and inappropriate gear.

 

FEMA now apologizing to nursing homes for sending them junk they can`t use.

This is something we`ve been hearing from nursing homes who have been

puzzling through what to do with the fact – look at her hands. Look at the

arms.

 

Nursing homes have been puzzling through what to do with the fact that they

may not, you know, have access to testing, they may not have gotten any

help with their staffing needs or infection prevention protocols, but the

federal government has found time to send them random crap like these

poncho thingies that don`t have holes to stick your arms through. Look at

that.

 

FEMA now apologizing, but that`s what the federal government has done for

nursing homes. The federal government, the White House also took it upon

itself to issue that executive order mandating that meat processing plants

stay open. Even as local health authorities wanted to shut them down.

Because meat processing plants all over the country were turning out to be

super spreader facilities where thousands of people were getting infected

with the virus.

 

Well, amid lots of chess pounding from the administration and claims from

big meat processing companies about how that presidential order to stay

open was a necessary move to keep American dinner tables and American

grills supplied with adequate supplies of meat, well, today, “The New York

Times” reports that actually what the meat companies did during that time

when president Trump ordered them all to be open despite what local

authorities might want, what American meat companies did during that time

is that in April they exported more American pork to China than they had

ever exported before. It was a record.

 

The president intervened to keep these plants open, creating known huge

clusters of infection where hundreds and then thousands of people got

coronavirus, all so China could receive record U.S. meat exports. And

American towns and cities and counties where these plants are where these

huge locusts of infection were forced to stay open, they can pay the price

in terms of having hundreds and thousands of infections in their

communities.

 

We are a poorly-run country right now. And this is a bad time for it. We

are a poorly run country right now.

 

And among other things, we have the body count to show for it. And that is

one thing when we are the deadliest country in the world right now with

this incredibly botched response to this epidemic, right? The largest case

count in the world, the largest body count in the world, and another 85,000

of us slated to die over the next four months at the same torrential pace

that we have been dying over these last four months.

 

But, you know, it`s one thing to think about that domestically in terms of

how poorly run we are right now, how incapable we are of pursuing even our

own interests and saving our own lives because of how badly run our

government is at a time that we need government.

 

But we`re not alone in the world. And the world and its threats and

challenges are not taking a time-out for this mess. And us being very

poorly run right now has consequences for that stuff, too.

 

I mean, stuff is happening. Stuff is in motion. Today on the disputed

border between India and China, in the Himalayan Mountains, a long-

simmering dispute erupted between Indian and Chinese soldiers which

reportedly resulted in 20 Indian soldiers being killed. This is the

deadliest violence on that part of the border since the `70s. And, of

course, India and China are both nuclear powers and both pretty ascendant

and pretty aggressive right now, eager to show their strength.

 

How about an international standoff between nuclear-armed India and China?

The United States in a good position to delicately handle what needs to

happen in terms of that kind of a standoff?

 

Today, you might have woken up to headlines like this one about North

Korea, quote, blowing up a joint liaison office, dramatically raising

tensions with South Korea. If you`re like me, seeing that headline, you

might not have realized at first that that headline is meant in a literal

sense.

 

This isn`t a proverbial thing. This isn`t North Korea blowing up in some

diplomatic furfural (ph) like it`s always having with South Korea. This was

literally North Korea blowing the thing up, bombing it, bombing this joint

liaison office. It`s a sort of de facto embassy used in the border region

between South Korea and North Korea.

 

North Korea dropped a bomb on it and blew it up today. That will probably

resolve well. What could possibly go wrong? The president has incredible

faith, though, in the sobriety and wisdom of the North Korean leadership.

 

At the end of his new book “Exercise of Power,” former Defense Secretary

Robert Gates has this sort of dark but also sort of hopeful take on how

President Trump has talked about leaders like North Korea`s Kim Jong-un

since he has been president.

 

Gates says this, he says, quote: Americans, I think, understand the value

of allies and how they are a unique asset for the United States, especially

compared to both China and Russia, none of which have any.

 

He says, quote: I believe most Americans want us for our country to stand

for something beyond just our military strength and economic success. A lot

of people are uncomfortable, he says, with an American president cozying up

to autocratic foreign leaders, full of praise for how wonderful they are,

and siding with them on issues while deriding government institutions. We

must work with these leaders but we don`t need to say we love them.

 

That`s from Robert Gates` new book “Exercise of Power”.

 

Russia this week sentenced an American named Paul Whelan to 16 years hard

labor for allegedly spying against the Russian government. Whelan proclaims

his innocence. He has asked out loud and signs he`s held up during his

trial, he`s asked specifically for President Trump to speak out forcefully

and clearly to get Russia to release him.

 

We shall see.

 

A couple of weeks ago we learned from the Russian government that President

Trump had taken a call with President Vladimir Putin. We tend to usually

learn these things from the Russian side. That call happened on the day

that Vladimir Putin announced he would generously give the Russian people

the opportunity to vote on whether or not he should have 16 more years in

power as Russia`s leader.

 

Putin has already been in power for 20 years. Now he`s changing the Russian

constitutional framework to let him go for 36 years in power, which is a

heck of a presidential term. So, the day that he announces that he`s going

to do that, he has a call with President Trump. There`s no record, at least

from the White House side, that our president expressed any objections or

concerns about that in their call.

 

What the Kremlin says they discussed in that call is the idea of letting

Russia back into the G7. Russia was kicked out of what used to be the G8

for invading a neighboring country and taking over part of it for itself.

They`re still in that status so there is no clear reason why they should

get the reward of getting back into the G7, but they want it and President

Trump did start reiterating publicly that he want it is to happen.

 

The other G7 countries, including the U.K. and Canada, promptly said they

would veto any such thing. And then in fairly quick order, German

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she wouldn`t interested in coming to the G7

in the U.S. in person this year, the G7 meeting that the U.S. is supposed

to host this year was quickly just scuttled altogether.

 

So, there will be no G7 meeting this year hosted by the United States, not

even on Zoom. They`re just not doing it. President Trump wants Russia in

there. And Russia`s not going to get in there and there`s not going to be

any G7.

 

I will also just mention that President Trump has unilaterally announced

within the last week that he`s taking thousands of U.S. troops out of

Germany, another inexplicable gift to Russia which wants that very badly. A

gift to Russia that was apparently announced by president Trump without any

consultation, not only with Germany or our other allies, but it was

apparently announced by President Trump without him consulting anyone in

the pentagon or in the U.S. State Department. He just announced he`s going

to do it. Thousands of U.S. troops pulled out of Germany.

 

This comes as the president`s loyalist attorney general has moved to drop

charges against Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn for pleading

guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian

government about sanctions against them for them interfering in the 2016

election. It comes as the president appears to be publicly promising a

pardon or some other kind of intervention to save from prison one of his

campaign advisers who was convicted of multiple felonies in conjunction

with his efforts to help with the dissemination of the information that

Russia stole in that election to try to influence the outcome.

 

House Democrats announced today they will take whistle-blower testimony

text week from a federal prosecutor who quit that case after the attorney

general intervened to try to lighten that sentence for the Trump adviser

convicted in conjunction with the Russia investigation.

 

We are not a well-run country right now. In our disastrous and still

cratering relationships with our allies, in our submarining of

international institutions that we not only helped set up but that we have

bolstered for decades because they`re in our own interests as well as in

the interest of world peace and stability, in our inexplicable and

troubling relationships with our supposed adversaries, in our basic

adherence to the things like the appearance of impartial rule of law, which

is fundamental to our basic self-worth as a civilization, in our botched,

incoherent, fatally mismanagement response to the largest and deadliest

public health disaster in a century, we are poorly run. It`s bad.

 

And of all people, Robert Gates` new book makes the case that actually it`s

really bad. That as he says, quote, despite our braggadocio, the overall

trend for us in the global arena has been negative. He says, quote, how did

our country go so quickly from unique global power to a country that is

widely perceived as no longer willing to bear the costs or accept the

responsibility of global leadership and is no longer even capable of

governing itself effectively?

 

Yeah, how – how did we do that so quickly?

 

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates joins us live, next.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARACK OBAMA, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: At a time when we face

unprecedented transition amidst two wars, I`ve asked Secretary Robert Gates

to continue as secretary of defense, and I`m pleased that he`s accepted.

Two years ago, he took over the Pentagon at a difficult time. He restored

accountability. He won the confidence of military commanders and the trust

of our brave men and women in uniform as well as their families.

 

ROBERT GATES, THEN-DEFENSE SECRETARY: I`m deeply honored that the

president-elect has asked me to continue as secretary of defense. Mindful

that we are engaged in two wars and face other serious challenges at home

and around the world, and with a profound sense of personal responsibility

to and for our men and women in uniform and their families, I must do my

duty as they do theirs. How could I do otherwise?

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW: That is tape from our country, from our nation`s capital, from not

that long ago, just over a decade ago, but in our current times, doesn`t

that feel like that`s being broadcast from a different planet, right?

 

December 2008, President-elect Barack Obama, Vice President-elect Joe

Biden, Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, the

actively serving defense secretary under outgoing Republican President

George W. Bush being tapped to stay in the job.

 

It was the first time in American history that a new president had kept on

the defense secretary from a predecessor of a different party.

 

Robert Gates has had more than 50 years as a public servant in this country

in the national security field. He served eight presidents during his

career, including secretary of defense to two. He served under four

different presidents in National Security Council roles. He was director of

the CIA.

 

Public servants like that who spend a career developing expertise and how

the government works, who think of themselves as serving the office of the

presidency as much as person who happens to be holding it, those kind of

people are completely absent from the upper levels of the current

administration. Some have tried to work for this president. It hasn`t

worked well for them.

 

So when you pick up Robert Gates` new book which is called “Exercise of

Power: American Failures, Successes and a New Path Forward in a Post-Cold

War World”, about his time serving all those presidents and what he has

learned about the nature of American power, it can feel a little bit like

Robert Gates is beaming in not just from another time but from another

planet, and I mean that in the best possible way because our planet right

now is troubled.

 

Joining us now for the interview, I`m honored to say, is former Defense

Secretary Robert Gates. His new book as I mentioned is called “Exercise of

Power.”

 

Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for taking time to be here tonight. It`s

an honor to have you.

 

GATES: Thanks for inviting me, Rachel.

 

MADDOW: You have a – you sort of mock yourself a little bit in the book

for being a glass half empty kind of guy, for being a doom and – a doom

and gloom sayer. But the book, as constructive as it is, does take a pretty

dark role of America`s situation in the world. You essentially say that for

25 years, things have not been going our way and that there are serious

signs of decline in terms of our influence in the world.

 

What do you think are the most important ones?

 

GATES: I think two things have happened that are major in terms of the way

the rest of the world perceives us. The first was our economic crisis in

2008/2009, which led the rest of the world to wonder whether our economic

model actually worked and whether American capitalism was the path to

follow.

 

And then what we`ve seen over the past number of years, which is the

complete paralysis of our political system, our inability to address any of

the major problems facing our country, whether it`s infrastructure or

immigration or race or a host of other issues. And so, you have the

perception that both the economic and the political model are not working

very well. And the rest of the world has noticed this, and, frankly, our

adversaries, our rivals, in particular China, are taking advantage of that.

 

I would say that another piece of it obviously is the fact that the country

has been at war for nearly 20 years. And – and it has exhausted the

patience of the American people with an international leadership role

because it`s been conflated with being the world policeman.

 

So if we are going to try and be the – and must be – have a leadership

role internationally, it has to be in a different framework.

 

MADDOW: One of the hallmarks of your time as secretary of defense was how

outspoken you were about the – I don`t want to say overuse of the U.S.

military, but essentially starting to look at the use of military force as

a first resort rather than a last resort. And you were very outspoken in

your time as defense secretary and also in the book about the need to build

up and resource and use other forms of American power. That the use of

force should always be last and we should sharpen and build all of our

other ways that we can preserve our influence.

 

I`ve always thought that was a very interesting role that you played as

sort of a public intellectual and practitioner on that, and I`m curious

because of that what you think about this strange new wrinkle that we`ve

just had in terms of the use of the American military, where the president

has talked about using active-duty U.S. troops in American streets.

 

I know you`ve been critical of what happened in Lafayette Square, but I

wonder if you can talk about why that`s – why that`s problematic, why it

troubles you, why you see that would be – why you think that would be a

mistake?

 

GATES: Well, first of all, I think it`s important to understand the

difference between the National Guard and the regular Army. Regular Army,

the 82nd Airborne, the 10th Mountain Division, these troops are trained

primarily to do one thing, and that is to kill our enemies, I mean, just to

state it at bluntly as it needs to be stated.

 

The National Guard, on the other hand, are people from the community. You

saw some of the interviews of D.C. guardsmen expressing their concerns

about what had happened with the use of their units in the – at Lafayette

Square and so on. But those National Guard troops take off those uniforms

the next day and go to work in those towns, in those cities where they –

where they come from, and they`re trained in crowd control and they`re –

and they have great relationships often with law enforcement.

 

And so, I think one of the reasons you saw the strong reaction of many of

the former military leaders was – was the notion of using the Insurrection

Act which allows the president to use regular military forces domestically,

was – it involved the use of the regular army in – in domestic affairs

and it – and it compromised – it had the danger of compromising the

apolitical nature of our armed forces.

 

You know, our armed forces, Rachel, are about the only institution left in

the United States that have the respect of nearly all Americans. And our

current and former leaders very concerned about compromising that. And so,

that`s why I think you got the strong reaction that you did from people

like Admiral Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General

Dempsey, another former chairman and so on.

 

MADDOW: One of the things that you write about eloquently in the book is

the utility, the short term and long-term utility of having good

communication skills as a country, about being able to tell our own story,

about being able to sort of participate in ideological combat, trying to

win the argument around the world, particularly against rising

authoritarianism. And you write with some regret about how some of those

skills, some of the ways we do that as a country have been defunded and

weakened over time.

 

Because of that, I wanted to ask you about this recent controversy, very

recent controversy involving Voice of America. Voice of America is an

interesting part of the U.S. sort of quiver in – in that regard. They are

independently – editorially independent, but they`re obviously part of the

U.S. government.

 

We`ve had a president install someone who is perceived as a real

ideological loyalist there. And we`ve just had the director and the

assistant director resign suddenly and they`re apparently not being

replaced, at least not yet.

 

Are you worried about VOA? Are you worried about those types of capacities

of the U.S. government during the Trump presidency?

 

GATES: I`m worried that our entire strategic communications capability has

been dramatically weakened since the end of the Cold War. You know, in the

late 1990s because of budgetary and other reasons, the U.S. Congress

eliminated the United States Information Agency. This was an agency under

Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower, under leaders like

Edward R. Murrow and Charlie Wick in the Reagan administration had enormous

influence and enormous reach around the world. And one of the reasons that

VOA was so important was that people around the world, in Eastern Europe

and in the Soviet Union when they could get VOA believed it gave them an

honest, objective view of what was going on in the world.

 

The VOA also would record what was going on in the United States. And the

truth is most presidents really got annoyed by what VOA said about what was

going on in the United States because it was often very revealing about –

and very honest about problems we had here internally.

 

But it had a great deal of credibility around the world. And there were

other radios and originally operated by C.I. like raid Radio Free Liberty -

- Radio for Europe, Radio Liberty and others. All of those have basically

been dismantled.

 

And so, when you have a country like China that has a global communication

strategy and they`ve invested billions and billions of dollars in it, in

acquiring networks and broadcasting to every country in the world and –

and owning networks in various countries and so on, we don`t have anything

comparable to that today. And in this rivalry we`re going to have – we

have with China going forward, we`re going to need these kinds of tools,

because if we`re lucky and we`re smart, we can avoid a military conflict

with China, but that means that the – that the rivalry will take place

using the nonmilitary instruments of power, and strategic communications is

one of the most important.

 

The Chinese have enormous assets in taking this on. We`re very limited at

this point. And that`s why these controversies but also the lack of funding

and, frankly, the lack of imagination and aggressiveness in using our

strategic communications capabilities is so bothersome to me.

 

I mean, why haven`t we been more aggressive in telling the Iranian people

about the corruption of their leadership? Why haven`t we – why haven`t we

told the Russians – you know, the Russians interfere with our politics all

the time and try to divide us? And so, why aren`t we going into the

Russians, getting past their firewalls and talking about the corruption of

Putin and his henchmen?

 

We just don`t do that kind of thing. And, frankly, it`s going to be very

necessary going forward in the world. And we`re at a disadvantage because

we`ve – we`ve basically eliminated or reduced dramatically the funding for

almost all these nonmilitary instruments of power. That`s really what the

book is about.

 

MADDOW: And you speak from the – it is what the book`s about and you speak

about it from an incredibly authoritative position having been secretary of

defense to two different presidents, talking about the erosion of

nonmilitary forms of power. It`s just a unique and really public spirited

perspective that I`m grateful to hear more about.

 

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, thank you so much for taking time to

be here.

 

Again, the book is called “Exercise of Power: American Failures, Successes,

and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World”.

 

Good luck with it, sir. Thanks again for being here. Come back any time.

 

GATES: Thank you very much.

 

MADDOW: All right. Much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW: A little breaking news for you from Montgomery, Alabama.

 

I`m just going to read to you directly from this story in “The Montgomery

Advertiser” that was just posted. The headline: Montgomery City Council

votes down mask ordinance sends doctors out in disgust.

 

Jackson Hospital, which is in Montgomery, Alabama, Jackson Hospital

pulmonologist William Saliski cleared his throat as he started describing

the dire situation created by the coronavirus pandemic in Montgomery to its

city council before they voted tonight on a mandatory mask ordnance. He

said, quote, it`s been a long day. I apologize. He said, quote: The units

are full with critically ill COVID patients. About 90 percent of them are

black.

 

He said: Hospitals are able to manage for now but it is not sustainable. He

said, quote, this mask slows that down, 95 percent protection from

something as easy as cloth. If this continues the way it`s going, we will

be overrun.

 

More doctors followed him to the microphone describing the dead being

carried out within 30 minutes of each other, and doctors being disturbed

when people on the street asked them if the media is lying about the

pandemic as part of a political ploy.

 

After they spoke and before the council voted on a proposal to mandate

mask-wearing in public in Montgomery, one Councilman Brantley Lyons

questioned whether mask wearing and six-foot distancing really helps. They

do, the doctors replied. Lyons was unmoved.

 

From the crowd, doctors called for him to visit the hospital sometime.

Instead, the council killed the ordinance after it failed to pass in a 4-4

tie, mostly along racial lines.

 

A trio of doctors who had waited hours to speak got up and left the chamber

in disgust. Unbelievable, Dr. Saliski said. William Boyd, one of the

several people who spoke in favorable of the ordinance, said he has lost

six family members to COVID-19. Boyd said before the vote, quote, the

question on the table is whether black lives matter.

 

That`s just happened tonight in Montgomery, Alabama.

 

We`ve got more ahead. Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY

OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: I think that we now just have widespread

sustained community spread. There`s so much infection out there, you could

go anywhere and be potentially exposed. People asked about a second wave

here and I`ve been saying, we never stopped having a first wave.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW: That is Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, who is the director of the Division of

Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama, at Birmingham, the

hospital there set a record this week for coronavirus cases, which is part

of what appears to be a wide surge in Alabama now.

 

Dr. Marrazzo joins us live now from Alabama.

 

Doctor, I really appreciate you taking the time. Thanks for being here.

 

MARRAZZO: Happy to be here, Rachel. Thanks for having me.

 

MADDOW: When you talk about widespread, sustained community spread, what

should we understand from that? What I take from that is that the rise

we`re seeing in Alabama case numbers shouldn`t be seen as an artifact of

increased testing or something, that there is a real rise, and that it

can`t be assigned to any – any one specific problem.

 

MARRAZZO: Yeah, exactly. A lot of times people make the case that the

increased effort to test people is what`s explaining the increased rate of

detection. That can be true and almost certainly contributing. But there

are a couple of other metrics that`s really important to follow.

 

And one of the things I talked about yesterday that we`re looking very

carefully at is the average positivity over the course of the last week or

the last two weeks. If you look at the average percent positive tests in

the state of Alabama over the last two weeks, it`s been about 8 percent.

You can contrast that to some place that is well past the peak of their

epidemic like Seattle, where it`s now below 2 percent.

 

In the last seven days, that percent prevalence or that percent positive

rate is now up to 14.5 percent. So, yes, we`re testing more, but we`re also

detecting more.

 

The other thing that`s important to know is that for the last week, pretty

much every county in the state has reported new cases every day, which

tells you something about how diffuse the infection is in the community.

Very much so.

 

MADDOW: How are Alabama hospitals doing in the face of this? I know that

it`s not uniformly happening the same in every corner of the state and

Alabama is a big place. But you spoke with the Montgomery mayor who raised

the alarm about hospital capacity in his state. I know that your facility

and UAB having its own strains right now.

 

How do you think hospitals in the state are coping?

 

MARRAZZO: I think the hospitals in Montgomery are really being challenged

right now. Their ICUs are considerably smaller than the ICUs we have here

at UAB. They`re being very much maxed out. Their ventilators are being

maxed out, even – equally important, their staff.

 

So, I think people aren`t paying attention to the much that health care

workforce is not an exhaustive supply. People can ship ventilators in, you

can try to ship people, in, but the people who are working really, really

hard to care for these patients are facing serious exhaustion, no to

mention the psychological stress of seeing patients die, and having to deal

with all the concerns about getting infected.

 

Here in Birmingham, we`re actually doing fine. We`ve actually had a very

steady census of people with COVID-19 between 40 and 65 since March. It

feels like Groundhog Day here. You get up and you see the same thing.

 

I couldn`t be surprised if we see an increase if this trend continues and

we start to see people being transferred from other parts of the state

where they can`t be adequately cared for this in those hospitals that we`re

talking about.

 

MADDOW: Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Division of Infectious

Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, we`ve been watching

Alabama as closely as we can from here. We want to stay on the story.

 

Please come back. We would like to be apprised about how things go. Good

luck to you and your staff.

 

MARRAZZO: Thanks very much.

 

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW: One last bit of breaking news before we go. “Politico” has reported

that senior pentagon official Elaine McCusker is resigning from the

department. You see the headline there, Pentagon official who questioned

Ukraine aid freeze resigns.

 

McCusker is a career civil servant. She saw her nomination for a Senate-

confirmed position at the Pentagon withdrawn by the White House in March

after emails she sent related to the Ukraine fiasco, emails she sent

questioning the legality of holding up military aid to Ukraine became

public as part of President Trump`s impeachment trial. You might remember

she sent the e-mail that said to the Trump White House official, quote, you

can`t be serious, I am speechless.

 

That scuttled her nomination for a higher ranking job. Now, tonight, she

has resigned. Her resignation is effective ten days from now. We don`t know

what is behind this, but we will try to figure it out.

 

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.

 

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.

 

Good evening, Lawrence.

 

                                                                                                               

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